Asha DuMonthier on Tuesday, Aug. 13th
SAN FRANCISCO –While drones have played an increasingly prominent role in America’s military and surveillance operations – at home and abroad – lesser known is the growing use of this new technology in civilian life. Some of these applications are far less sinister than one might expect.
For Jason Lam, owner of San Francisco’s first personal drone shop, the aerial crafts could just be the latest and most exciting wave in the field of digital photography.
Walk down 6th Street in San Francisco, an area long blighted but fast becoming a hub of tech entrepreneurialism, and you could easily miss AeriCam. The modest exterior houses an array of remotely-operated vehicles that, as the name suggests, promise a bird’s eye view for photographers.
“One day these could be something that all photographers use,” says Lam, pointing to the radio controlled helicopters that line his studio, which like a lot of the other tech startups in the area has a casual, creative flare to it. A sort of tinkerer’s paradise, the store is part office, part creative suite and part living space.
Soft spoken and impeccably polite, Lam moved with his family from China to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was ten years old. A lover of photography, he become a commercial fashion photographer soon after college and moved to New York. While pursuing a successful career working for companies such as Coca Cola, he picked up the hobby of flying radio-controlled helicopters and became eager to try aerial photography. Interested in mechanical gizmos, he began attaching small cell phone cameras to his flying toys to get aerial photographs.
Six years later, the 34-year-old left his fashion photography career behind. He now runs AeriCam out of the San Francisco shop where he sells his inventions for $12,500 a pop. His most popular “Hexacopter” model is about 3 feet by 3 feet and takes substantial training to use.
“People seem to really need these close range, aerial shots. When I was a kid I always wanted something that could fly and film in the air so I’m sure a lot of people out there have that same fascination,” says Lam.
His customers are professional photographers and videographers, mostly men in their late 20’s, who see the radio-controlled “helicams” as fun tools that can add a new dimension to their work. After only three years in business, Lam has customers flying in from as far as Istanbul to get their hands on their own drone.
“There are only three or four start-ups in the country like ours that have been around for a few years. But there are probably hundreds that have very recently started because this industry is getting big.”
Indeed it is. A new study shows that the worldwide market for drones will total $89 billion over the next decade, with buyers extending well beyond the military. In the past year alone, energy companies, journalists and private individuals have begun purchasing and making use of drones.
Read the rest at New America Media.