An amazing drone

Ask anybody. I’m the guy who thinks the whole “drone thing” is overblown, and that it probably represents a clear signal of a bubble in the world of high-tech venture capital. I don’t care if you manufacture audio cable or provide payroll services to the film and video industry, your company is selling a drone. It’s that hot. It’s that dumb.

Well, then I stumbled upon the video of the Lily system this morning, and good grief, I may be hot to buy a drone for video production!

Don’t share this with anybody. I don’t want them to know I’m weakening.

Lily uses a wearable device to track its subject and can be directed to lead, follow, parallel, or circle the homing device. Awesome. I haven’t done enough research on it to know if it can also be operated independent of the homing device – but if it can, or eventually be made to do so with a “traditional” set of R/C controls like other drones … it’s on its way to being worth its weight in gold.

Here’s where my mind really starts racing: the real beauty I see in this thing is that if the device is subtle and stable enough, filmmakers and videographers may be able to quit lugging around jibs, dolly tracking systems, dolly bars, wheeled dollies and all other manner of clunky, heavy camera support systems. Hell, it might even replace the tripod! If it can hold a tight position, with the help of a little stabilizing in post, could be a rock solid tripod shot – maybe with a move? Can it shoot low angle shots close to the ground?

Audio will be the limiting factor in my dream scenario – where my little robotic cameraman dollies, jibs and tracks my shoot. For now, I can’t get decent natural or on-mic sound with the drone whining-away. So silent running – or a big enough and great enough lens to allow a big standoff – is the next challenge. Still though.

And of course, to expand on the point I just made about the lens – the other limiting factor will be the quality of the camera and lens the thing can support. But here again my mind begins to wander. Couldn’t a tiny, broadcast quality, gyro-stabilized zoom lens be fitted to a very small – but large-sensor, high frame-rate camera on this thing? Yes me thinks. It’s coming. Black Magic Design, the DSLR manufacturers, Red, Sony and several others are all circling around putting this mystical camera of which I speak into service. They’re all too big for Lily right now – but Lily (or something like her) will get stronger and better, and cameras will keep getting smaller and better. The trends are good.

So I now envision a day now where all I have is the drone in the back of my car – ready to shoot ground level “tripod” shots – or launch with a toss to provide every other angle. All I’ll have to carry is a mic on a boom with a little audio recorder – shooting an interview (who is holding the homing device) while the drone holds a position, or circles us 48 hours style. Or how about I even take it into somebody’s office – and let it shoot a sit-down interview and two-shots.

After that, I can disable the homing function, and fly it to pick up other shots like a “normal” drone.

It sure as heck won’t tell a story – but it can help illustrate it and provide a unique perspective if appropriate. Or, it can just serve as an eye-level tripod without legs. Either way, it carries itself.

Lily is a few solutions away from film/video–production Nirvana. The true test of these devices is when the demo reels STOP being about extreme sports, and START being about editorial work. Then we’ll know we’re there. I think I’ll live to see it.

And if I can ditch all that other gear – well, then – drop the mic and walk away.