Are you being watched?

Camera-equipped drones sales taking off

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 09:21 20/02/2014
MIKE SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

Remote controlled drones equipped with cameras are becoming evermore affordable and easy to fly for keen flyers and photographers - including the Waikato Times own staff.

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MARK TAYLOR/Fairfax NZ
UP UP AND AWAY: Sales are taking off at Dion Mellow's Hamilton camera store for camera-equipped drones.

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Sales of camera-equipped drones are taking off.

A Hamilton camera store has sold 10 of the radio-controlled aircraft to hobbyists since Christmas, after becoming an authorised reseller for US manufacturer DJI.

Snapshot Cameras salesman Dion Mellow put the sales down to the price of such flying cameras falling by half in the last year.

"Twelve months ago you were looking at $2500, now the DJI Phantom is selling for $899 plus $339 for the GoPro camera. The gimbal-equipped Phantom 2 is selling for $1499," Mellow said.

Both drones weigh 1kg, have a 1km range and the Phantom flies at a maximum speed of 10 metres per second, while the Phantom 2 can manage 15 metres per second.

You can video an entire flight, set the camera to take time-lapse photographs, or buy accessories which beam what the camera is seeing back to a computer.

But the limited battery life means you must land within about 20 minutes.

Both models are designed around the GoPro camera, but Mellow said he had modified them for other types of camera.

"We have got people using them for taking photos of their own property, guys whose boys race in motocross using them for taking photos and videos of that."

The drones are classed as a radio-controlled aircraft under New Zealand law.

"So long as you don't fly within 4km of an airport and you don't fly over 400 ft (121.92 metres) in the air and you can always see the vehicle, that's pretty much the law," he said.

Mellow said he'd read, on internet forums, of people flying these models 1km.

"They must be able to see what the camera is seeing."

He's seen novices get one of the drones airborne in 10 minutes.

"I can't get my radio-controlled helicopter off the ground, but I can fly one of these."

Office of the Privacy Commissioner spokesman Charles Mabbett said drones were an emerging technology the Privacy Commissioner was watching closely.

"We are monitoring developments in other jurisdictions like the United States and Australia to see how they implement legislation around drone use. As yet, the office has not received a single complaint about their use in New Zealand."

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Mike Richards said the operation of an aircraft over 25kg required a pilotless aircraft authorisation but the authority was working with the Minister of Transport to develop a rules framework for the operation of smaller drones like the DJI models.

Model aircraft are subject to CAA rules which constrain where they can operate.

"For example, aircraft cannot be operated within 4km of an aerodrome. Operation of an aircraft in controlled airspace would require clearance from Airways NZ and usually necessitate the aircraft having an operable transponder."

Raglan based Droidworx design and assemble helicopter-like remote-control flying machines such as the Ag Monster for the rural market. The airframes cost up to $3000 and the upgraded ready-to-fly model costs up to $25,000.

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The use of drones on farms was a hot topic at the Massey University-hosted 27th Annual Fertiliser and Lime Research Centre Workshop where remote sensing was on the agenda.

- Waikato Times

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