Steve Huntley is something of a character in Paonia, Colo., my hometown. He moved to this rural mountain town more than a decade ago, with a background in show business (and the long hair to prove it), and set about making it his home with energetic contributions to the local radio station and the nearby community college where he’s taught videography.
Lately, his UAS videos of local scenes and events have been making a splash. His recording of the controlled demolition of the Oxbow Mining Silo (visit https://youtu.be/4LWTeTLGaz8) was a big, if controversial, hit—the silo’s local landmark status and association with the coal industry made its destruction a flashpoint for the region’s progressives and conservatives.
“It was crazy!” says Huntley. “Just on my Facebook page, I got 25,000 hits in 48 hours, and I’ve never had that many before. And the footage got picked up by a CBS news affiliate.”
An Early UAS Adopter
Getting the silo-demolition work was lucky in a sense—Huntley ran into the project’s foreman in a local restaurant—but it’s the type of axiomatic luck that comes when preparation meets opportunity. And Huntley certainly was prepared; he’s been thinking about, working with and consulting on UASs for several years, from almost the moment he heard about them.
The initial motivation came from his Hollywood camera experience. Among many other longtime gigs, he was a cameraman for the TV show “Cops,” and he can remember carrying around a 70-pound camera with 45 pounds of batteries.
“I was always interested in getting the best shots I could, so I was running around a lot with that load,” he adds. “When I realized I could do the same thing, better even, with a drone, I was definitely interested.”
On the silo project, Huntley was using a 4K camera capable of shooting 120 frames per second (fps). By comparison, most of the video on Youtube is just 30 fps—translated, that means the footage he acquired is extremely high resolution and can be shown in very slow motion. For the demolition contractor, Controlled Demolition Inc., the footage isn’t just pretty, it’s also extremely useful.
“For them, it’s all about gathering data,” notes Huntley. “There were other drones in the air for this demolition, and several mounted video cameras, all synchronized. That’s enough data to create a 3D movie of this particular demolition, and in the case of my footage, you can practically see individual bricks coming apart. That makes future work a lot safer.”
Safer and More Efficient
Huntley’s interest in civil uses of UASs extends well beyond photography. His enthusiasm for the technology led to relationships with several manufacturers, and he’s used public-domain tools to customize UAS interfaces for work in several fields, particularly utilities and agriculture. He’s particularly happy with work he’s done for use in cell-tower maintenance.
“It’s one of the most dangerous jobs out there,” he says. “It used to take at least three trips up a tower for a technician to complete a repair, and most of that was gathering information about the repair, and tools and parts needed. Now some of my clients are using drones and sensors to figure out the kind of repair needed and see exactly what’s going on—that’s cutting trips up the tower from three to one, and it makes a big difference in safety and efficiency.”
He also mentioned a UAS application that was new to me; several UASs used as motion detectors to complement security staff in warehouse facilities. “With an investment of about $12,000, you can cut security staff tenfold,” Huntley explains. “That industry is definitely going to be shaken up by drones.”
One of many, most likely; Huntley’s example shows there are many opportunities for practical use of UASs at the local level as well as many ways to find a successful niche in the civil use of this fast-growing new technology.
A freeze-frame of Huntley’s silo-demolition video shows the tower starting to collapse. (Credit: Steve Huntley)
Angus W. Stocking is a licensed land surveyor who has been writing about infrastructure and technology since 2002; e-mail: email@example.com.