The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Money

March 30, 2014

Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s ... a drone

LEWISBURG — With the launch this month of “Chopper Foxfire,” Foxfire Realty has become one of the first real estate companies in the region to experiment with “drone” technology.

The four-propeller, remote control aerial camera eventually will become a significant component of Foxfire’s marketing platforms, according to company officials.

Paul Grist, associate broker with the Lewisburg-based firm, and pilot Jonathan Collins recently took Chopper Foxfire on its maiden flight at the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea.

“It’s exciting to bring this new marketing technology on board,” Grist said.

“Until the Federal Aviation Administration releases its commercial guidelines, we will use Chopper Foxfire experimentally and outside our commercial marketing,” he added. “We’ll experiment, learn the equipment’s limitations and possibilities and work closely with the National Association of Realtors to create appropriate commercial rules.”

The company will also donate Chopper Foxfire’s flying time and videography to boost upcoming community festivals and sporting events.

“Offering a bird’s eye view to a local event is just one of the ways we will be able to use our Chopper Foxfire as we experiment with commercial marketing,” Grist said. “Our first priorities include safety, privacy, security and working within state and federal guidelines.”

Though most often associated with national security and recreational uses, drone technology is increasingly in demand for commercial applications, such as providing panoramic real estate photography and videos. But existing regulations ban the commercial use of drones, except on a limited, case-by-case basis, Foxfire officials said.

Citing the year-old Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, which allows the commercial use of drones by real estate professionals, they said until FAA regulations for such use are in place, the National Association of Realtors has advised real estate firms to proceed cautiously.

Grist said Foxfire Realty intends to follow that advice, but he remains eager to take the company’s marketing beyond the experimental stages by providing a bird’s eye view of farms, country estates and residences.

Chopper Foxfire is equipped with a high-resolution GoPro camera capable of taking both HD video and still photos. It flies at heights of up to 200 feet and can safely travel up to one mile. The drone can hover in place, pan 360 degrees and zoom front, back, sideways, up and down.

“Whatever the camera is seeing from the air, we view in real time on our on-ground tablet,” said Collins, Foxfire’s pilot.

Equipped with a global positioning system, the drone will automatically return home if the pilot loses sight of it.

 

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