The most prevalent uses of drones today are blowing up suspected terrorists and unnerving French authorities. But organizations of all kinds have an opportunity to make business use of these flying machines.
IT should be out in front of the drone movement. As Chris Murphy at InformationWeek noted in a recent article, "IT pros should see drones as just another amazing node out on the Internet of Things, and another ticket to obliterate boundaries around traditional IT."
Tim Porter, Information Systems Director at WS Development, participated in a company project in which a video camera mounted on a drone shot footage of a property development around Seaport Square in Boston. WS Development builds, manages, and leases retail properties across the US.
"We use the video for marketing properties, leasing purposes, and for the financial community when we're trying to give investors a sense of what we do," said Porter.
As the drone dips, rises, and turns over the city, prospective tenants and clients get a unique aerial view that has more energy than traditional still photos or architectural drawings of the location.
Porter noted the drone project was marketing's idea, but IT was quick to come on board. "I have to make sure business units have all the tools to be successful," he said.
To that end, Porter purchased a NAS storage device from QNAP to store the video rather than upload it to the company's existing array. This was a low-cost option that allowed him to get 16Tbytes to store the video, and to get the video into employees' hands quickly.
"It made sense to find an additional storage medium that integrated fully with vSphere," said Porter. "We could display it all as mapped network drives." This made it easy to give staffers access to the video over the company's network so they could begin editing right away.
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In addition to editing the video, employees integrated architectural renderings from Adobe Premier Pro to give a sense of how the project would look when finished.
And because the video is high resolution, Porter said employees can grab video stills to be used in other collateral.
Before IT pros get hooked on the idea of piloting drones as part of their job, keep in mind the company hired a contractor to do the shoot.
Laurel Sibert, VP of Corporate Marketing at WS Development, said using an aviation expert is essential. "He's a licensed pilot and stays current on regulations and permits." In particular, because the site of the shoot was close to Logan Airport, the drone operator had to know and comply with FAA restrictions on altitude.
Don't Just Show Up
While drones are fairly simple to operate and deploy, Sibert said using a drone for aerial videography requires some legwork.
One concern is that drones are weather-dependent, so contractors have to be flexible. "We had days where it was too windy to shoot," said Sibert.
She also said the company does a walkthrough of the site before shooting, to define the angles and shots it wants to capture. Light levels will also affect the outcome of the video, so time of day is important to keep in mind.
The size of the site must also be considered. "If it's a large site we're shooting, the drone operator has to move quickly." She said the company rented a golf cart and had a driver to keep the pilot in sight of the drone while it was flying.
Tim Porter added one more essential detail. "We now know it is a good idea to notify the state police if we're going to be flying a drone near a federal courthouse."
Drones: What's Next?
Drone video will play a part in an upcoming project for WS Development. The company is building a large retail site in Wisconsin. It's using a Webcam to record construction. Once the site is built, it will shoot the finished project from the air, to show the process from start to finish.
"The combination of the Webcam and drone footage gives a comprehensive look at what we do," said Sibert.
Porter envisions drones playing a role in facilities management. "It'd be great to inspect roof and HVAC conditions, and give facilities more tools to get the job done quickly," he said.
Porter didn't know if drone operation would ever be brought inside the company, but he's confident the flying machines are part of the organization's strategy going forward.
"It's something we'll do more frequently. Where we have the capability to use it, we're going to take advantage of it."
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