New drone technology unveiled on Treasure Island

Thursday, November 13, 2014
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A drone was unveiled on Treasure Island -- the latest in a skyrocketing industry.

TREASURE ISLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A new product launched on Wednesday, literally. A drone was unveiled on Treasure Island -- the latest in a skyrocketing industry that's already flying high.

It was more than a year ago that ABC7 News first met Eric Cheng, the photographer who made waves with a viral video of surfers in Santa Cruz shot with a drone he put together himself.

"It was essentially a kit that you had to assemble. You had to put on your own camera and do a lot of soldering and it was not very user-friendly, but it got the job done," Cheng said.

But that video got Cheng noticed. Now he's the Director of Aerial Imaging for the drone company DJI, and what a difference a year has made.

At the event on Treasure Island, Cheng unveiled a new drone called the Inspire One.

No assembly is required. It shoots video good enough for the movies, straight out of the box, for just under $3,000.

He was joined onstage by the stars of the TV show Mythbusters. "We are not going to blow anything up today, unfortunately," one of the stars said.

The Inspire One is aimed at very serious hobbyists and, eventually, professionals. That is, when the federal government makes it legal to do this professionally.

"This is a massive shift from manned aircraft to unmanned, and it's happened very very quickly -- too quickly for policy makers to keep up," Cheng said.

This shift has happened quickly, in part, because computers have made drones so easy to fly. "It knows when it's not level and it will automatically calibrate itself so it holds that position. It also uses GPS," DJI Public Relations Manger Michael Perry said.

It is also because they've become more affordable.

It costs about $1,000 for the smaller DJI Phantom, which photographer Evan Kilkus used to survey damage from the South Napa Quake.

"Pretty much every natural disaster has a Phantom in the air within 30 minutes these days, and I think as long as that activity doesn't interfere with rapid response, we are all for that sort of thing," Cheng said.

Cheng hopes the FAA agrees and creates a special class of aircraft just for these small photography drones.

After spending years underwater with his GoPro, Cheng is eager to dry off and make more images.

"Photographers who are running around on the ground are always imagining new points of view that haven't been captured before," Cheng said. "And now it's very easy to explore that third dimension without much hassle."