Jesse Ferrell

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Interview With Colin Guinn of Quadcopter Fame

November 14, 2013; 3:33 PM ET

UPDATE MARCH 2014: Colin has left the company and there is big news on the legalities of flying drones. DJI Quadcopter prices continue to drop, now $409 on Amazon.

I interviewed DJI Chief Innovation Officer Colin Guinn October 28, 2013 about his quadcopter business, which sells small, inexpensive "drones" to the public (such as the DJI Phantom that I reviewed and sent into the clouds, and their upcoming Phantom 2 Vision). The interview video (as often happens, my fault) had audio issues and I was unable to display it here, but I'll hit some highlights.

Colin got started in the drone business via real estate. He marketed mega-million-dollar homes to buyers, but found that the size of the homes often precluded taking simple photos. Instead he took photos via helicopter, but the FAA doesn't allow them to hover below 500 feet so the end product wasn't high-resolution enough. He joined DJI to help bring professional, commercial grade stability algorithms (using GPS, compass, gyroscopes, altimeter, accelerometers and more) to flying camera systems for consumers.

In addition to the consumer line of Phantoms, they have a professional line of hexacopters with satellite control. These drones on steroids can hold and rotate larger cameras used by the commercial industry (including movie production), and can fly matrices over the ground for GIS mapping.

The new Phantom Vision quadcopter (shown above and below during the interview; I am excitedly awaiting a unit for review) is a full-featured, one-in-all consumer solution for aerial photography/videography, including a camera with HD video (specs shown below), and 14 megapixel JPG and RAW photos, along with selectable settings for ISO, white balance, exposure, sharpness, and ant-flicker.

The lighting settings and 14 megapixel sensor are actually better specs than the GoPro3 Black series I've reviewed before and am currently using with my Phantom. Like its predecessor, the Phantom, it can hover in one place, return to home via GPS if it loses communication, and can also be tracked by GPS if it crashes away from you.

The camera can be previewed in real-time on your phone or handheld device (see below), which can be docked onto the transmitter and uses extended WiFi, up to a range of about 300 meters. The battery also lasts longer than the Phantom's. The selling price is $1,200 on Amazon as of this writing, but you can get another $200 off if you own an original Phantom.

Assuming no FAA regulations prevent it (I'm working on a blog about this, coming soon), what are some of the commercial and government use cases we can imagine for these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles? Colin and I brainstormed this list, and many of them are weather-related (many were also thought of by others, hence the YouTube videos).

- Storm surveys done by the NWS (I tagged along on one a couple years ago) are done from the ground because they can't afford to re-task aerial vehicles or satellites, but aerial photography from a UAV could be done by the surveyor on the spot for very little cost, considerably speeding up the process to determine whether wind damage was straight-line or tornadic.

- Forest (or regular) Fire Fighter Assistance: Drones can get a picture of where the fires are quicker than satellites can. Knowing where the fire is spreading can help save lives and properties.

- Drought and flooding are often best seen from the air

- Any sort of search-and-rescue operation, weather-related or not, can be done quicker and much cheaper with a UAV

- Inspections of just about anything (for example, the Washington Monument after the 2011 earthquake) are safer with a UAV versus using humans dangling from of things or getting too close with a helicopter. This would include commercial uses such as power lines, cell towers, etc.

Colin says that the goal of the FAA is to make our skies safe, so the FAA wants to use these systems to replace humans that are currently in danger in regular aircraft (for example, he said, people are killed by helicopter accidents during power line inspections every year).

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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About This Blog

Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.