If you need to fly anytime, anywhere and for as long as you want and still comply with FAA rules, a balloon may be your best choice. It’s a persistent platform which is considered safe to fly on public places and over people.
Drones are excellent tools for capturing images – either stills or video – from above, but they do have some limitations: where they can fly and how long they can fly. The FAA regulations define exactly the “where” conditions, meaning there are situations where the use of a drone is not viable. While a balloon does not offer the same advantages of a drone, it does have others that may be exactly what a photographer/videographer needs to get the job done. In fact, we’ve been so excited with drones that we seem to have forgotten that balloons have been used since as far back as 1858, to allow photographers to take aerial photos.
The first balloons took the camera… with the photographer attached to it, something drones are not able to do… yet! The first photographer to take to the skies was, according to History, the French Félix Nadar, who dared to go airborne to get an aerial photo of Bièvres, south of Paris. Unfortunately, it seems the photograph vanished, so the earliest surviving image, titled “Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It”, was taken by James Wallace Black and Samuel Archer King on October 13, 1860. The photo shows the city of Boston as seen from a height of 630 meters.
Photographers and videographers have explored different ways to get images from above, with some solutions that, although still bound to Earth, allow them to get cameras high above our heads. From professional masts, some of which we’ve mentioned here at ProVideo Coalition, to the humble selfie stick that allows the common tourist to get a camera a few feet above the crowd, there are multiple solutions available, for different needs.
Last July (2016) I wrote here at PVC about Panasonic’s The Balloon Cam, a prototype which can be equipped with a camera, LED, and projector, so it can also light up and display a wide range of information. At CES 2017 Panasonic continued to demonstrate the concept, showing how the system can project real-time 360 video in 4K Ultra HD as it flies around stadiums and arenas.
The Smart Balloon from Apicsworld, the company behind the solution, is another option and one available to buy right now, if you need an aerial platform. The catalog from the company has various solutions, adapted to the wide range of areas balloons can be used to, from Aerial Surveying & Engineering Inspection to Security & Surveillance, Search and Rescue & Disaster Relief or Environmental Compliance & Precision Agriculture, to mention some of the industries where drones are also being used intensively. What interests me here, though, are the aspects related to image gathering. From Sport Photography and Videography to News Gathering or Aerial Photography and Videography, balloons seem to be an old solution still able to deliver results.
When covering sports, having a platform that does not need to stop for refueling or changing batteries means it is possible to capture the totality of games, tournaments, competitions, races or any other sport event without ever missing the most important moment. To capture and broadcast newsworthy events, the platform is silent and non-intrusive and deploys in seconds, providing the immediacy required by this extremely fast-paced industry. One important aspect of the system is that it can use up to three switchable HD cameras simultaneously, recording at different focal points with imperceptible delay.
Apicsworld has various solutions available, starting with a Take-Off kit that includes all you need to start flying, with a price of $999.99. The Take-Off kit includes two (2) Balloon envelopes with both inner and outer balloons, a Flight Deck, 3 AH Lithium Polymer battery, HiVu Gimbal and Camera Combination, Nut Driver Tool, Manual Reel with Carbon Fiber Line and Carabiner and FlySky FS-T6 Controller. To this the user has to add Apicsworld’s own Lumenier Slim FPV monitor or, alternatively, use another one. Any FPV monitor will work with the system.
A balloon does not substitute a drone if what you need is a platform able to move fast over an area, but if you’re mostly working from a static position, the Smart Balloon is not only a viable choice but also less of a headache in terms of permissions to fly. In fact, according to Apicsworld, the “Smart Balloon was designed and developed to comply with current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations allowing balloon flyers to deploy the platform on demand without previous FAA clearance or authorization, even if collecting aerial photos, videos or other imaging data for commercial purposes. In addition, operation of the Smart Balloon does not require a pilot’s certification/license or the presence of an assistant during flight.”
One of the reasons the Smart Balloon is exempt from FAA regulations is because, continues Apicsworld, “our platform is considered safer to fly on public places and over people, with respect to drones and other UAS/UAVs in the market. Our exclusive and patented system has both an inner and an outer balloon that float independently, and both balloons are equipped with independent release valves that allow the flyer to retrieve the platform gently and safely from the grown in case of an unlikely malfunction.”
Besides the safety and legislation aspects, one important asset of the Smart Balloon is its capability to stay aloft for hours. This means that uninterrupted aerial photography and videography is a possibility. Because of that aspect, the company says that “the Smart Balloon is the most suitable choice to obtain aerial photos and videos, and to monitor and survey prolonged events with significant concentration of people not directly involved in the operation of the UAS (such as concerts, sports events, competitions, wedding and social gatherings, fairs, festivals, etc.); which is not allowed for drones and other UAVs in the market, according to current FAA regulations.”
So, if you’re after a “safe”, “legal” and “persistent” UAV, check the Smart Balloon, which allows you to fly anytime, anywhere and for as long as you want with no restrictions. It’s not a drone substitute, more a complementary tool that should be explored.