Subscriber Discussion

Aerial Surveillance Recommendations

Hi, I am looking into non-military Aerial Surveillance. Which power source, communication and camera would you recommend? The setup has to be as light as possible.

Do you mean a drone?

Note that if you're looking to do this for anything other than "personal" use you may run into issues with the FAA (assuming you are in the US):

In regards to your specific question, it would be helpful to know what you are looking to accomplish in terms of flight time, operational height, and if you're looking for coverage of a general area, or looking to do an aerial tour. Also, do you have any experience operating aerial vehicles?

When you say the configuration has to be "as light as possible", is this because you have a craft in mind already? If so, what are payload parameters for it?

Hi John, drone seem to refer to those very expensive UAV?

On few occasions, I saw such exhibit in security trade show. But facing the same challenges of short flight time (20 mins?), short distant, low payload and low image quality. If I remember, the price was like 50 - 100k.

Anyone happened to come across a better one in that price range? Say fly 70 - 100m height and cover a radius of few hundred meters?

Aerial surveillance, for situational awareness.

This can easily be accomplished with quad-copters. There are hacks to use GoPro cameras and stream the video back wirelessly. Like others have mentioned - short-term surveillance (20min) is achievable.

If you are the Handy-Manny type and can build your own - I'm sure there is a significant cost savings. Here's an example.

Quadcopters are by far the most popular right now as well among DIY-ers and local government agencies because of their small size, cheap price and ease of use. 100K sounds a little high. This is one of the most popular companies in Europe when it comes to this type of aerial surveillance, and their prices start at around 20K (Their UAVs are pretty light. One I held weighed about as much as a ceramic bowl).

You can find DIY UAV kits for around $100 with attachments to configure point-and-shoot cameras, GoPros and DSLRs. The image quality isn't terrible either. Like Undisclosed mentioned, if you're looking to stream video there are hacks and kits to do that too.

This appears to be the top selling quadcopter kit on Amazon. Here's a video of it in action:

You would think a small blimp of sorts might be a potential platform for a fixed 24x7 aerial camera. I've never seen one, so there must be technical challenges. I can't be the first to think of it.

I've seen quadcopter kits that you can program via GPS, no flight experience required. But these are designed for surveying not real time surveillance. REF: VTerrain and Popular Mechanics Overhead Surveillance and Aero Drum surveillance system

it is my understanding that aerial vehicles cannot be operated out of sight... I will try dig up a faa link regarding this... this would only matter if you were doing surveillance out of your range of sight...

Keep in mind that there are countries who aren't as restrictive as the U.S. about UAV use. And even in the U.S. it's not illegal to fly UAVs. You just need approval from the FAA and here's who has it (law enforcement and universities mainly). The FAA has been mandated to find a way to integrate them into the airspace. It's taking so long partially because UAVs lack any kind of 'sense and avoid' technology. For now they're limited to 400 ft above the ground within line of sight and that's if you have a certificate from the FAA.

Carlton, so how does these quadcopters relate to UAVs? If I am a security manager at a factory or a corporate campus, is there anything blocking me from buying a quadcopter with a camera and using it?

Carlton, good info I was just reading up on that at and an interesting blaze article regarding uavs for commercial use...

Keefe, thanks. According to that article, you can fly drones all you want as a hobby but are shut down if it's for a business?

The quadcopters are considered UAVs. Basically if it's not a manned aircraft and it's not a model aircraft, it's considered a UAV.

Manned and model aircraft have their own set of rules (model aircraft are already limited to flying within line of sight below 400 feet). Model aircraft rules specifically exclude individuals or companies flying model aircraft for business purposes.

So, a security manager could use a UAV to cover a campus as long as it stayed below 400 feet, within line of sight, away from airports and away from populated areas (so no one is injured by a crash). I should have added before that the authorization process is only for public entities. So there's no way the manager would be able to get FAA authorization to do more.

Another thing: A lot of these UAVs people want to use for agriculture or surveying construction sites or whatever -- especially the quadcopters -- have the ability to autonomously fly pre-arranged routes. That's a no-go for use in the U.S. until there's better 'sense-and 'avoid' technology on board.

Not true, it's still used for business, and 100% illegal. It's a tremendous task for the FAA to safely integrate UAV's into the airspace system and it's going to be a long time before some of the ideas here are legal. The FAA will start with allowing law enforcement and emergency responce. Other uses will follow over time, but it's a long term project

"So, a security manager could use a UAV to cover a campus as long as it stayed below 400 feet, within line of sight, away from airports and away from populated areas (so no one is injured by a crash)."

The line of sight restriction is pretty significant. Any easy way to overcome that? It pretty much wrecks the value proposition of UAVs for surveillance if it has to be line of sight.

Not any way that I've heard of yet. Instead of people trying to overcome it, I think it's just worked to slow interest in domestic UAV use. Business get excited about the potential uses then get disappointed once they realize the rules. The FAA says its main concern is UAV collision with other aircraft or people. UAVs (military and other) frequently lose communication with their operators on the ground.

Think about how this technology can be used in a terroristic and life threatening capacity. If the UAV can be equipped with a camera and a decent payload, what is keeping a non-friendly individual or group from deploying a swarm of these to attack diplomatic facilities and places of interest.

Ok… tin foil hat removed.

I wanted to call out a link shared by Aaron. The company is 'Aero Drum Ltd' and it's making essentially surveillance blimps. Here's an overview photo from their site:

There obviously very expensive but it might be useful for surveilling a large outdoor area.

Apparently in the UK, UAVs can now deliver pizza. Line of sight be damned.

I refuse to order another pizza until it's delivered by Domicopter.

This one found Sarah Connor's soft drinks, watermelon and cell phone.

Thanks all for sharing!

Chris Anderson who used to be the Editor at Wired Magazine started his own drone company in San Diego - 3DRobotics.

Also, Go to DIYDrones and you'll find a treasure trove of resources for drones.

Draganfly - Consumer to military grade. Check it out.

Droidworkx have build your own kits and custom kits. Seem reasonably priced.