How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Drone

2016 will definitely be remembered as the year that quadcopter drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) stopped being a novelty and started to be a part of everyday life.  In August, the FAA released a new set of regulations that enable widespread commercial drone operation.  In addition, a swarm of new consumer friendly drones from DJI, GoPro, and Parrot hit the market that will soon be buzzing overhead at a barbeque near you.  The size and cost of these drones is shrinking while they become smarter and more powerful with every new model.  Perhaps it is only a matter of time before they are prowling the sky, watching us, and reporting our movements to their unseen masters.  Oh wait, that process is already well underway.

There is something mildly disturbing about encountering a drone in the wild.  It sounds like a swarm of angry bees coming after you and then you realize that you are on camera.  It whirs and jerks and pivots before zooming off in search of more interesting subjects.

And yet, they are fascinating.  Piloting a drone is the closest I have ever come to really feeling like I was flying.  Not the canned feeling of sitting in a passenger plane, but how I imagine a bird must feel riding on the wind.  It is exciting and exhilarating seeing the world from a new perspective.  You can get amazing footage from inside a fireworks display, or cruise over a cliff.  The new software that is available allows amateurs to create compelling tracking shots or to follow a subject around.  Beyond this, it opens up incredible new avenues for landscape photography.

As a landscape architecture firm, Urban Ecosystems has embraced the use of drones in our practice, and I recently passed the FAA’s Section 107 examination to become a Registered UAV Pilot capable of conducting commercial drone operations.  In addition to aerial photography and video as a tool for site inventory and analysis, the revolution in photogrammetry technology allows us to use our drone as a site surveying and mapping tool.  By taking a series of overlapping photographs with GPS points recorded by the drone, photogrammetry software can triangulate a cloud of points that are a highly accurate 3-D model of a project site.  This can serve as a basemap for landscape design and a tool for visualization and virtual reality immersion.


Drones are here to stay, and like the internet of things, they will continue to evolve rapidly and we will find creative new ways to deploy them.  It is an exciting time, and I am curious to see where we land.  If you are interested in our drone services or want to talk about how you are using them, please send me an email at