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The Future of Aerial Videography

The future of aerial videography is bright. Camera drones are in their infancy, and we don’t yet know how they will evolve in the future. Certainly, we’ll see hardware advances in every functional area of a drone: flight controller, sensors, batteries, propulsion systems, cameras, gimbals, wireless systems, and so on. In the short term, we can expect improvements in camera quality, system redundancy, flight time, and more.

It’s likely that a functioning sense-and-avoid system will appear sometime before the end of 2016 as sensors are embedded in drones to help them do real-time reconstruction of their environments. At the moment, drones are essentially flying blind, with little knowledge of their surroundings, which is why early efforts at automatic flight algorithms like Follow Me are so rough.

Speaking of automatic flight, we’re already seeing an evolution in ground station software; instead of relying on dumb waypoints that users put down on a 2D map, cinematic toolkits currently in development allow planning and previsualization of flight paths in 3D environments. When a drone operator is happy with the plan, she can simply put a drone on the ground and hit Play to execute the mission. Because the software is designed for cinematography, the appropriate timing and easing controls are integrated, allowing flexibility to account for timing variation between takes and smoothing all motion so everything looks natural.

Advanced autonomy in flight is certainly going to be part of how we capture aerial footage in the future, especially in cases that don’t require explicit path planning by a human. The ultimate Follow Me camera drone will appear at some point in the future, and it will be able to navigate in diverse environments without hitting anything.

Finally, we can expect camera drones to get smaller and smaller. There are already small and light drones that carry HD cameras, but the poor quality of both cameras and flight controllers prevents them from truly being useful. Once decent cameras shrink down in size and weight, we’ll see usable camera drones that weigh just a few ounces and can navigate by themselves.

Most of the challenges we’ll face in this industry are regulatory and cultural. We can already see technological progress accelerating exponentially, as it always does when something new becomes popular. Technology will not be an issue. However, people are not used to drones flying around, and much remains unclear about how regulatory and cultural issues will shape the direction of camera drone usage. I’ll talk about these issues in detail in Chapter 6.

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