(Source: The Guardian)
You float above a garden in Belgium. There’s not a soul in sight. In another picture a group of men stare up at you from the entrance of a church, eyes squinting in the sun. In another you drift across a charred landscape, black and scabbed, as if the desert has bubbled up in blisters. A caption by the user who uploaded the photo on to Dronestagr.am, Eric Hanscom, says: “I was at a seminar a while back where a man from the military explained that his strategy for drones was to put a drone in harm’s way before he would put a person. I took the same approach with my Bebop over the mud volcanoes of the Salton sea.”
Bebop is a consumer multirotor aircraft, a personal drone, and sites such as Dronestagr.am allow users to upload and share photographs and videos taken using their drones. The images on Dronestagr.am are mostly scenes of natural beauty: grand vistas, panoramic shots of beaches and red-roofed villages tucked between rolling hills. These photos are charted across a world map on the front page of the website, clustered around Europe, North America and South East Asia. There are very few photographs on the website from the Middle East.
Aside from Hanscom’s brief mention of military tactics, there is no trace on Dronestagr.am of drone warfare. These are drones in the growing commercial sense of the word, as luxury gadgets with grand, cinematic appeal.
Likewise, British NGOs’ current use of drones in Nepal to assess earthquake damage and in search-and-rescue missions illustrates their humanitarian possibilities.
Dronestagr.am recently partnered with the NYC Drone Film Festival. National Geographic sponsored the website’s annual competition in 2014. There are channels on Vimeo dedicated to “dronies”, selfies taken using drones. On YouTube, a recent video of a man running to save his drone from a watery grave has garnered millions of views. South Park even dedicated an episode to the subject.
At the same time, drone warfare is in the headlines. There are regular strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. Recently it was reported that a US drone strike killed an American and an Italian citizen held captive by al-Qaida. With two faces of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) developing side by side, what exactly do we talk about when we talk about drones?
The founder of Dronestagr.am, Eric Dupin, makes a clear distinction between the 400g multirotor vehicles used by drone photographers and military drones like the MQ-9 Reaper, which has a maximum take-off weight of more than 4,500kg. “People still tend to get confused between ‘bad drones’ (drones with warfare or surveillance purposes) and ‘good drones’ (drones to help people and show the beauty of the world),” he says. “But I’m confident in the fact that it will probably change when people take personal drones for what they are: smart flying cameras that take stunning images of their surroundings.”
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com