Drone project aims to capture Savannah sites
by Dash Coleman
January 19, 2014 12:00 AM | 1583 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A drone piloted by Ian Nott hovers near the Confederate monument at Forsyth Park in Savannah on Jan. 8. <br>The Associated Press
A drone piloted by Ian Nott hovers near the Confederate monument at Forsyth Park in Savannah on Jan. 8.
The Associated Press
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SAVANNAH — Ian Nott flicked a switch or two on the large remote control in his hand, and four small propellers whirred to life. Within seconds, a small, X-shaped craft was airborne and hovering in front of him, then it climbed higher into the Forsyth Park air, its cameras aimed at the Confederate Monument.

Through thick goggles, Nott can see what the two cameras attached to the drone can see, along with GPS coordinates.

It’s not just a hobby for the 23-year-old college student. Aside from schoolwork, it’s sort of his day job.

Nott, who studies industrial design at the Savannah College of Art and Design, recently founded his organization DR1 with a primary goal in mind: Documenting Savannah’s historic sites from above and putting them online so anyone with Internet access can see what the city has to offer.

“The applications just from a historic standpoint are amazing,” Nott said. “And that’s really what’s so exciting to me and the rest of our team is we get to define this new technology in such an amazing place like Savannah. One of our big motivations is to get amazing photos and videos, and what better way to do that than by utilizing all this beauty and rich history that Savannah has to offer?”

Nott says he and the small team at DR1 are working within the Federal Aviation Administration’s current guidelines for operating a small unmanned aerial system. The craft is flown fewer than 400 feet, kept at least three miles from airports, the operator keeps a line of sight on the craft at all times and stays a safe distance away from people and structures.

Nott said DR1 isn’t operating commercially right now. Late last week, the startup launched a Kickstarter campaign online to try to raise $15,000 to buy a better drone and higher end photography gear.

The FAA has announced plans to tentatively integrate drones into the national airspace in 2015. Recently, the agency announced six test sites across the country as plans to regulate more civilian use of the craft are further developed.

“That’s why we’re going the Kickstarter route, so we can develop this technology in a noncommercial way that gives back to the city of Savannah so that when those policies do let up in hopefully about a year and a half, we’ll be set to hit the ground running and we can offer commercial aerial packages of various types,” Nott said.

Getting in the game now, he said, might allow his small group to serve as an example as federal regulations are drafted.

“That’s one of the exciting things about it is we have the opportunity to set the standard and actually define how other future businesses might build their models through what we’re doing today here in Savannah,” Nott said.

“And we’ve been trying to partner with others who are like-minded across the country. There’s a lot of young entrepreneurs kind of like me who are trying to do similar things to promote the positive uses of this, because it’s really exciting.”

Nott said he knows that when some people hear the word “drone,” they begin to worry about what an aerial craft equipped with cameras might mean for privacy.

“People like to compare it a lot to the type of technology that the government uses,” Nott said. “From a technical standpoint, you’re comparing a children’s RC car to a full-size military tank. It’s not even really apples and oranges. It’s two entirely different technologies.”

For starters, he said, the batteries the DR1 craft uses barely let it stay airborne 15 minutes and operators are required to keep the drone within direct line of sight.

“As far as privacy concerns, that’s something that we can alleviate by showing the public what this technology is, what it’s really capable of,” he said.

He mentioned other entrepreneurs across the country who are developing civilian uses for drone technology. Famously, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos announced in December his company, the world’s largest Internet retailer, was experimenting with delivering packages with unmanned aerial craft.

Nott compared what’s going on now with the expansion of drone use to the advent of personal computing.

“That’s similar to how we are now,” he said. “We’re really passionate hobbyists, professionals and enthusiasts that are coming together to build something new and something amazing. We’re on the cusp, I think, of a bit of a revolution.”

Nott said he and his team are experimenting with something called photogrammetry.

“That’s actually scanning an object in the round so that you’ve got a 3D model,” he said. “So one of the things that we’ll be potentially able to do once we have our new equipment is come out here and actually scan that monument, put it on the computer in a 3D model and actually 3D print out miniatures of that monument.

“So from a historic preservation standpoint, we’re capturing that monument for eternity in all of its full detail, and it can be replicated in a 3D environment or even in a physical one with a 3D printer.”

Visit Savannah President Joe Marinelli said he thought Nott’s plans sounded interesting. He said people typically respond well to images shared by Visit Savannah on social media.

“People respond to images and videos we put up of everything from blooming azaleas to outdoor concerts at Forsyth Park,” Marinelli said. “So I think it could be interesting.

“It’s hard to say, because we’ve never actually looked at pictures from the air as we have from the ground, but Savannah’s very photogenic.”

People who visit DR1’s Kickstarter page can watch a video of what Nott’s drone has been doing.

Backers of varying pledge amounts receive different gifts if DR1 reaches its $15,000 goal by Feb. 8.

“It’s awesome stuff at the end of the day,” Nott said. “It’s amazing footage. It’s perspectives that people have never seen before, and because we have such a passion for safety and what we do, we’re able to execute those photos with the knowledge that what we’re doing is completely safe, completely reliable.”

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