It was nearly a year ago that a group of nine skiers from Australia captured footage of life on a remote glacier in Alaska which had only previously been accessible by airplane. Their footage also included dramatic shots of their Alaskan skiing. What made this video shoot so unique was its being performed by an aerial drone.
Once the subject of top secret surveillance missions during the Bush presidency war on terror, aerial drones mounted with cameras are becoming common consumer items used in security, outing expeditions, farming and various amateur activity filming including, skiing.
Drones are lightweight, quiet, highly maneuverable, remote-controlled aerial vehicles. Their appearance resembles a helicopter with between four and eight electrically powered rotors. Although frequently remotely controlled by a human operator, the newer generations can be put in an autopilot tracking mode and be controlled by a remote transmitter attached to a human or other subject.
Drones have many practical uses from military and law enforcement to package delivery and locating lost and missing campers and hikers. They have also been used to create exciting cinematographic effects in the Harry Potter and Skyfall films.
The use of drones in ski filming is already having several impacts on the hobby. Drones are used to track skiers, creating small movies that can immediately be shared with the world. They are also used to provide valuable feedback training and can help locate skiers after an accident or having become lost.
Ski Resort opinion is split on the subject. Several large resorts offer packages that come with drones and remote transmitters which have become very popular with amateur and professional skiers. These resorts insist that their competitors which do not provide this service will find their resort numbers dwindling. While the resorts which do not yet have a drone offering cite safety concerns related to the aerial traffic and collision potential created by multiple skiers using drones simultaneously.
At the heart of this issue are legal matters still awaiting preliminary rulings from various local and federal agencies concerning drone use. The American Bar Association cites privacy and security concerns among others. While the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has imposed immediate and very strict restrictions on commercial use of drones.
The FAA, which maintains jurisdiction over most airspace within the United States, already allows recreational remote controlled aircraft within minimal safety guidelines including: maintaining an altitude at or below 400 feet above ground level, remaining clear of populated and restricted areas including airports and licensed aircraft operations.
Some risks, safety and legal issues with the use of drones come from their being the latest target of hackers.
Drone hacking made world news when the CIA's undamaged RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone was displayed in a military airfield hanger as a trophy which the Iranian government had claimed to have captured not by having shot it down, but rather by drone hacking. The Iranians claimed to have captured it just inside their airspace near a border they share with Afghanistan. The Iranians disclosed that they jammed the drone's communication frequency, forced it into autopilot, then sent false coordinate information and caused it to land in their selected destination.
Civilian drones, which do not have anywhere near the security of CIA drones are even more susceptible. Commercial and hobbyist drones could be hacked to steal delivery payloads and used to deliver and smuggle narcotics instead of customer packages. The cost of hacking, as it relates to drones, is an increase in illegal activities using remote controlled consumer devices.
Skier filming drones could just as easily be hacked and used for malicious purposes thus adding to the security of drones and further increasing the cost of hacking in a popular American sport and hobby.
Whatever the future of drones in skiing, two things are certain, they are here to stay and certain to add, in unanticipated ways, to the already high cost of hacking.