The U.S. military’s successful but controversial use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, is well known, but other variations of pilotless aircraft are finding new uses, as the vast amounts of footage of central Europe’s flooding show.
Czech publicly-funded broadcaster Ceska Televize contracted Geodis to provide footage for its round-the-clock news coverage of floods that forced the evacuation of more than 20,000 people, while in Slovakia daily newspaper SME hired Skyeye to send its helicopters above the Danube.
In Hungary a pilotless plane has been used to monitor floods.
The drones being used in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are closer to a children’s remote controlled helicopter than to the high-tech U.S. pilotless planes that fly over Pakistan to monitor suspected terrorist groups or to attack targets.
These small devices are cheaper to rent than helicopters or planes. A further advantage over planes is their ability to hover above a single location to provide sweeping, 360 degree images, their operators say.
In fact, the drone used by Geodis, a small business that primarily uses piloted planes for orthophotography and 3-D map-making, is an octocopter that has eight horizontally-mounted propellers, each blade with a diameter not much larger than a dinner plate. Such drones have various video or still cameras and are controlled by two operators on the ground who have the vehicle in constant sight. One operates the aeronautics while the second controls the cameras.
Octocopters and similar devices can easily be equipped with a global positioning system devices, or GPS, which would be a step needed to enable them to fly by themselves. But as the technology is new, its commercial use is still being developed and safety and privacy concerns have yet to be fully addressed. The Civil Aviation Authority in the Czech Republic, for example, prohibits operators from using the vehicles out of their line of sight.
Users of the drones say that if air-space regulation is updated to include the pilotless, automated version of this emerging technology, the unmanned airborn vehicles can cover a vastly larger area for commercial uses, including monitoring the integrity of crude oil and natural gas pipelines, which stretch across entire countries and regions.
Drones are still controversial, however, and much like the Google Street View, remote-controlled helicopters with cameras are raising concerns over privacy and whether snooping and eavesdropping could become a problem.
But as the cost from floods in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary and other countries quickly mounts and is likely to move into billions of dollars, aerial filming has given first responders a useful tool and kept television and internet viewers glued to their screens.
By: Sean Carney
Posted: June 12, 2013, 2:33 pm
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