Justin Miller knows what shot he wants.
The filmmaking enthusiast just needs a drone with a GoPro and the Ares app to fly over Mount Nittany.
“I want the big reveal, all of State College — the homes, downtown, the university, Beaver Stadium,” Miller said. “I really want to get that shot to show what a beautiful place we live in.”
Miller thinks his team — himself and fellow Penn State IT managers Sherwyn Saul and Ben Brautigam — has produced a drone to do just that and a whole lot more.
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The trio founded Ares Drones, a tech start-up based in Innovation Park’s Technology Center, in June to build a drone that anyone with an Apple operating system device can fly.
They think their drone will be a big hit with the real estate and insurance industries, among others, that spend a lot of money with drone companies for images of what they want to view from the sky.
“What we are doing with drones is a function of what we do at our job,” Saul said. “We take complex processes and simplify them for teachers and students. We see that the way drones work now as way too complicated for people not intimately involved in building the drones or interested in drones as a hobby.”
Miller, who built his first drone three years ago, admits there are other apps that allow users to automate a drone’s course, but none, he said, as easy and safe as Ares One, the drone they designed and are trying to manufacture in part by launching a Kickstarter campaign.
The early-bird pre-sale price for the drone is $699 through Kickstarter, which is about $20,000 away from reaching its $50,000 goal that needs to be met by April 24.
“There are other apps, but none geared to be this easy or none that we’ve seen that are this easy,” he said. “Ours is three steps and you’re up.”
To demonstrate, Miller drew a course for the drone on the app’s map, pinpointed what he wanted the drone’s GoPro to focus on and selected an altitude of 90 feet.
If he weren’t in his office, he could have let the drone take off for up to 18 minutes, take video and land right back where it started.
A typical drone remote has no such features and looks like an oversized video-game controller.
The simplest commands — the ones the operator maneuvers to determine altitude and direction, are complicated. It can take, according to the Ares Drones team, about 100 hours of training to get quality aerial footage with a manual controller.
“To learn about how to get good aerial footage with a typical drone, people don’t have the time to worry about that,” Brautigam said. “They want something they can easily and quickly get to photograph a house, construction site, terrain and whatever else they have in mind.”
That was evident in October when Miller, Saul and Brautigam gave a demonstration of a miniature manually operated drone and their automated drone to the State College TechCelerator.
“We had a little micro drone for a first demo for the TechCelerator,” Miller said. “They had it up for a good 20 seconds before they crashed it into the trees. After that we handed them the iPad and they were taking turns flying it within a matter of minutes.”
Brautigam said safety is also a primary concern before an Ares One drone goes vertical.
“No one else has the safety features we have with warnings of no-fly zones and recommendations for weather and altitude,” Brautigam said.
“There’s a reason we have recommendations for weather built into the app,” Saul added. “You don’t want to fly a drone in bad weather or with too much wind.”
The app assesses factors like flight path, altitude and weather to keep users out of trouble and to safely use the drone.
Flight path recommendations pop up if the user wants to take flight in an FAA no-fly zone. Altitude suggestions can range from telling the user 40 feet is the approximate height necessary to safely view a two-story house and that you can’t go any higher than 400 feet. And weather advisories alert users when it might not be safe to fly due to approaching rain or wind.
They hope their product opens new horizons for people who want a drone.
“I feel good about being able to open up technology to other people,” Saul said. “I really believe there are people who would never think about dealing with drones, but if they see our app and drone they’d do it.”
“I’m excited to see what people do with this, too” Brautigam said. “Like Justin said, he wants to get beautiful images of state parks and State College, but there are so many other things you can do with this — things we haven’t thought of — that will be a great use for people.”