Those of you who visited us at IBC may have had the opportunity to hear about our recent partnership with Italdron, an Italian producer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones. As our cellular bonding solutions have become smaller and more powerful we've been looking for new and exciting applications. Mounting a LiveU unit on a UAS will give broadcasters a level of access to events that they've never had before. Not only does the use of drones provide an exciting new vantage point of news events at minimal cost, it also allows broadcasters to safely get closer to dangerous or volatile situations such as forest fires, or hazardous weather conditions.
BBC News is one of the first news corporations in the world to adopt drone technology and one of the few who can claim their own in-house drone journalism team. The BBC is continuing to experiment with this technology as they gather footage for their upcoming news segments.
LiveU's drone ambitions started with the development of our recently updated video encoding algorithms, enabling a stronger broadcast from fewer modems. The compact LU400 and ultra-small LU200 became the ideal units for drone use. One of the first classes of drones being evaluated for commercial use in many countries is the small UAS (sUAS), whose takeoff weight cannot exceed 2 kg (2.2 lb.). When every gram counts, the LU200's 568 g weight makes it the perfect passenger for sUAS. For more critical applications, Italdron has also developed a drone large enough to carry the LU500 safely inside the craft, giving our strongest unit the power of flight.
At IBC we displayed two different drones from Italdron, the small, lightweight Scrabble4 and the professional High One HSE. With a maximum takeoff weight of 1.7 kg, the Scrabble4 is categorized as an sUAS, a classification which puts it under the jurisdiction of more lenient laws in many countries. To ensure the safety of onlookers, the drone and any attached equipment, this small drone is programmed to return to 'home' if the control signal is lost or if it flies out of its 1 km range. While flying within the 1 km radius, the Scrabble4 is able to stay in the air for between 12 and 25 minutes, depending on the payload. Italdron recently tested the Scrabble4 with the LU400 to capture breathtaking views throughout the Italian countryside.
The professional grade High One HSE, while heavier than the Scrabble4, includes several extra in-flight features. High One HSE supports a 1.5kg payload for 12-18 minutes of flight time within a 1.5 kg range. The drone also comes with an autopilot option, allowing for a choreographed broadcast and eliminating the probability of human error. Because of its larger size, High One HSE also incorporates additional fail safes and safety measures. Like the Scrabble4, the High One drone is programmed to return home when the signal is lost. High One HSE is also equipped with an onboard parachute and auto-landing function in case the fuel runs out.
Rapid advances in UAS technology and the increased safety of operating unmanned vehicles means that legislation is still catching up to the capabilities of modern drone use. The laws on drone use vary widely throughout the world, making it important for every broadcaster to stay abreast to the options and obligations of UAS use in their region.
Several countries in Europe are permitting commercial drone use, allowing local broadcasters to take advantage of this developing technology.
In Italy, the home country of our partner, Italdron, new laws, passed in April of this year, permit the use of drones for commercial purposes.
In the UK, there are not currently any pilot licenses for remotely piloted aircraft, however the Civil Aviation Authority requires that any hopeful pilots demonstrate their skills before they are allowed to operate for commercial purposes according to sUAS News.
Across the Atlantic, Canada has similar regulations about commercial drone use. A recent post by a Canadian news blog, Metro, details current and impending legislation regarding commercial use of UAS in Canada. Current regulations require "all commercial operators, no matter the weight of the craft, to get clearance from Transport Canada". However, Transport Canada recently announced that new regulations will allow for commercial sUAS to legally take off without this documentation.
For broadcasters in the US, the Federal Aviation Administration regulates the commercial use of UAS more strictly. The FAA is working to add provisions to their current legislation, which will allow for commercial operations in low-risk, controlled environments. In the meantime, several television stations are trying to push the process along on their own.
In an effort to speed up the legislative process, CNN is partnering with the Georgia Institute of Technology to study how to operate unmanned aerial vehicles safely and effectively.
KATV, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas, had a clash with the FAA when they aired areal footage shot by a drone. The ABC affiliate station argued that as the footage was shot using a videographer's personal drone, it was being treated as any other volunteered footage and therefore completely legal. Cases like these are putting pressure on the FAA to reach a decision about the use of commercial drones; lawmakers are hoping to reach a conclusion by early 2015.
Throughout 2014 many countries have been updating their laws regarding commercial drone use. As we see more and more allowances for UAS, it is imperative for broadcasters to be up to date on legislation in their area.
Here are a few articles to help you get up to date about laws in your area; so that you can take advantage of the exciting new broadcasting opportunities that drones are creating: