Look up in the sky! Drones bring big budget shots to low-cost commercials

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by Doug Miller / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on January 3, 2014 at 12:27 AM

Updated Friday, Jan 3 at 12:40 AM

HOUSTON -- If you’ve ever driven down the North Freeway near West Road, you’ve probably seen Mac Haik Chevrolet. But you’ve probably never seen it the way it’s seen in the dealership’s latest promotional video.

A camera hovers over the car lot, slowly maneuvering over the cars and trucks and jeeps below, demonstrating a cinematic capability many movie directors might envy.

“Those video perspectives, I mean, they’re awesome,” said Don Ruguleiski, the dealership’s Internet/Digital Marketing Director. “You just can’t replace them.”

That’s right. Television commercials for car dealers, once distinguished by long pitches from fast-talking salesmen walking around the showroom and slapping their hands on windshields, now feature aerial shots from unmanned aircraft – drones. Even relatively small businesses can now afford what was once expensive aerial photography, as drones shoot pictures for everybody from real estate agents to the oil and gas industry.

“It’s a good technique for getting shots that you normally wouldn’t be able to get for advertising purposes, because you get a different perspective,” Ruguleiski said. “It’s tough to get a boom out here with a camera on it.”

The Chevy dealership’s video was shot from a drone with six propellers – an aircraft light enough for a child to lift – owned by a small Houston-area business called JAM Aviation.

“You know, people used to be scared of it,” said Don Hirsch, the drone’s owner. “Now they’re saying, ‘Hey, that looks like a UFO! Hey, that looks like a really cool piece of equipment!”

Still, privacy concerns – mainly about people using drones to peer over neighbors’ fences – led the Texas Legislature to pass a law last year regulating the use of drones. Texas became one of a number of states adopting legislation restricting or outlawing the use of unmanned aircraft.

But this state’s law stands apart. Unlike other states, which focus mainly on restricting the use of drones by law enforcement, Texas gives police and government agencies broad powers. The legislation features dozens of exceptions, including one that offers law enforcement officers the opportunity to use drones if they have “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity.

That phrase gives the government such wide latitude, constitutional law expert Gerald Treece, the dean of the South Texas College of Law, openly laughs and predicts the Texas drone law will face court challenges.

“We go out and we hug both the state and federal government and say, ‘Law enforcement, use those drones all you want to, even if privacy rights are violated,” he said.

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