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Drones Give Travelers' Vacation Videos a Lift

<p>If your travel videos have been looking a little flat lately, it may be time to consider a new angle.</p>
This undated photo provided by David Fisher and taken by a camera mounted on remote-controlled mini-drone shows the waters and marsh off Jekyll Island, Ga. Atlanta-based photographer David Fisher has been giving his aerial images of the state park to Jekyll Island officials for promotional use. Jekyll Island officials are using the new set of sweeping aerial photos to promote the island state park’s natural beauty, and they’re crediting the images to an unusual sort of photographer, a miniature drone equipped with a camera.David Fisher / AP

If your travel videos have been looking a little flat lately, it may be time to consider a new angle. Strap your camera to one of the new, lightweight drones now available and you can join the ranks of travelers who are discovering that the sky really is the limit.

“Before, if you wanted to show all the beauty of Fiji, you’d have to rent a helicopter,” said Michael Toscano, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “Now you can get a 360-degree view with a 5-pound device.”

Such devices — technically Unmanned Aircraft Systems but drones in common parlance — are on the cusp of going mainstream. And while delivering products to people’s homes remains just a gleam in Jeff Bezos’ eye, people are already using them to boldly go where only the military and law-enforcement agencies have gone before.

The reason, not surprisingly, is that smaller cameras and more affordable drones have put the technology within reach of would-be videographers. A Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, a quadcopter with an integrated camera, will run you around $300; a more advanced DJI Phantom with a stabilizing gimbal and remote controller, can be had for less than $900.

“Remote-controlled aircraft have been around for years but it’s only been in the last few years that they’ve gotten intelligent enough that you can get good quality,” said Eddie Codel, a San Francisco-based video producer who used a drone to capture aerial images at last year’s Burning Man festival. “It’s changed the nature of the game.”

Still, there’s likely to be turbulence ahead. The FAA is currently trying to determine how to integrate drones into the nation’s airspace — they’re currently prohibited for commercial use — and there are issues of privacy and personal safety.

About 250,000 drones could be flying in U.S. skies by 2035, of which roughly 175,000 will be in the commercial marketplace, according to DOT’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

Until then, the legions of travelers who like to shoot videos of their adventures may prove to be among the most avid users.

“It’s so easy to get started,” said Codel. “I can easily see someone packing up a quadcopter and bringing it with them to the beach or the barbecue at the family reunion.”