Drones Not as ‘Far Out’ As You Think

This morning I attended a BIMA Breakfast Briefing on Drones and Emerging Tech. It was a really interesting session with presenters Jonny Tooze from Lab, Scott Ross from DigitasLBi, Adam Gee from Channel 4 and Paul Watkins from production house 360 Skylens.  Until this session, the only things I had really seen about drones were the Amazon Prime Air discussions since the end of 2013.

For me those initial discussions conjured up all kinds of worries about the sky being full of drones from every brand with an ecommerce site, like branded clouds buzzing around.  Would we have to start worrying about drone strike as well as bird strike every time we took off in a plane? How would deliveries be secure? Where would it leave it if you weren’t in? To name just a few. However after the session this morning, I feel more reassured and also quite excited about the opportunities drones might bring us. As you may know from other blogs I’ve written, I’m not a fan of using technology for technology’s sake. However when you start with a true consumer need, then you can discover some brilliant applications for the technology.


Adam Gee, a commissioning editor for multi-platform content at Channel 4, commissioned some films to be captured entirely by drone. His brief was that he wanted it to be a spectacle and that it should only use footage that was particular to a drone, if it could have been captured by a helicopter or another form of filming, he didn’t want to include it. This was the final output and I have to say I love it!

There are so many ways to use a drone to produce different creative, another thing that was mentioned was filming a fireworks display from the inside!


Jobs that are time consuming or potentially dangerous, such as monitoring ice flows or populations of rare animal species, can now be done by drone too. This is a fantastic use of drones for good! Check out this National Geographic video about counting Orangutan nests.


Privacy is a massive area for debate when it comes to drones.  Already they are being used by paparazzi to get pictures which would otherwise be impossible or by people who want to listen-in to conversations.  That’s obviously deliberately using drones for bad, but there are also accidental privacy breaches waiting to happen.  If you have a camera on your drone and are just filming as you fly, you could easily capture things that other people are doing without their consent. I don’t think this is an issue particular to drones though, I have the same concerns about some of the new live streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat. It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming months.


Obviously there is a wide range of drones available, from small compact ones like Zano which allows you to take selfies or ‘dronies’ (yes apparently that is a word!) from the air, right up to huge ones weighing over 20kg.  But what was interesting from the talks today is that it seems that the really exciting part is the software.  Software is being developed at rapid speeds and people are also starting to build apps. It will be these areas that lead to more innovation with drones.

Licence to Fly

There are a lot of things to consider if you are wanting to use drones for commercial purposes – and with the technology still in its infancy, I am sure there are more things to come.  At the moment the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are the ones who control this area as drones are considered aircraft.  As a result you have to do a 2-3 day theory test, a practical test and write an operations manual to cover all your health and safety. This isn’t just a piece of kit to use for marketing, like the latest smartphone, you will actually be piloting something through airspace.  If you are flying drones for commercial use e.g. being paid to do so, then you need to apply to the CAA for Permission for Ariel Work.  Currently there are 800 licensed drone pilots in the UK and the CAA has a list of accredited suppliers.  The CAA are not fully resourced up to cope with the increased demand for licences for drones just yet so there can be a long wait. I would recommend going through an accredited supplier, rather than trying to do anything yourself as they will also have great experience with the best kind of kit to use.

Recreational Use

Now that all sounds a bit daunting but don’t let that put you off trying out a smaller drone just for recreational use.  Personal use drones are treated like model aircraft so you still need to follow guidelines in terms of staying lower than 400m (300m in helicopter areas) and being careful in areas where there are lots of people. There are some drones that you can set to follow you, make sure you are thinking ahead with that, what possible dangers are coming up infront of you? I imagine it a bit like those people who walk their dogs on extending leads at full stretch – don’t get tangled up!

And obviously if you are filming with your drone, think about the content you have captured and any possible issues with it before you load your films to YouTube!

For a more visual summary of the session, check out David Burton’s amazing notes!

Thanks to BIMA for an enlightening morning!

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