Wilton business takes to the air

A Wilton company has gotten into the “drone” business, but don’t expect to see any unmanned military aircraft flying overhead.

The drones in question are indeed UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), but this is strictly a peaceful venture. The company is Metabulus LLC, and through its division called Vidifly, it sends up remote-controlled multi-rotor helicopters. The payload? High-definitiion cameras that capture aerial video for many types of business clients.

At Metabulus’s headquarters in Wilton Center, principals Adam Pemberton and Scott Benton showed off two models: a large helicopter about three feet in diameter with eight arms and a smaller version, about half the size with four rotors. The large copter weighs about 12 pounds. At the end of its aluminum arms are two-bladed rotors.

Mr. Benton jokingly referred to it as a “flying Cuisinart.”

“The technology has been evolving for years,” said Mr. Benton, who lives in Fairfield. “In Europe they have been all over the place for around a decade.”

What was once the realm of the hobbyist has become a formidable player in the commercial video business. When a full-size helicopter is too big or too expensive to get a shot, these drones can often do the job.

Controlled from a laptop, they can be directed into inaccessible places. In Europe, for example, Mr. Benton said, “they have been used to inspect the blades of a wind turbine.”

They have also been used to fly low over a forest fire to help direct suppression efforts.

“We’re using them for video marketing of things you can’t see from the ground,” said Mr. Pemberton, a Redding resident.

While the mini-aircraft can fly a kilometer away from its “pilot,” the two men said they work mostly within 100 feet so they can keep the craft in their line of sight.

The larger of the helicopters requires two transmitters, one for flight control and one to control the gimbals the camera sits on. A gyroscope keeps the camera level.

“We can adjust infinitely where the camera is pointed,” Mr. Pemberton said. In addition, the operator wears a set of goggles so he can see what is being photographed.

The smaller copter is more of a point-and-shoot unit, with the camera pointed in the direction the craft is flying. It can be adjusted on the ground, but not in the air.

A GPS receiver will lock the copter in position, a necessity against any wind. “It can stay in position in a 15 mph crosswind,” Mr. Pemberton said.

Although the bigger copter can go higher, they stay well within 200 feet. A higher altitude would involve stronger winds. In addition, airspace over 400 feet falls under the control of the Federal Aviation Administration. Ten minutes is the limit on actual flight time.

The men are just getting their aerial video business under way, having shot a Thanksgiving road race in Southport, Conn.

“We’re marketing guys,” Mr. Benton said. In looking to develop more online projects, he said, they investigated what tools their clients had to convey their marketing efforts.

“There’s nothing as engaging and gives you as impressive a visual experience as this medium,” he said.

Using real estate as an example, he continued.

“All you see are flat pictures. You can’t get any rich experiences. When you look at this,” he said, referring to aerial images of a luxury property, “it’s astonishing.”

For a regular helicopter to get a similar shot it would need a really long lens because of the altitude it would need to fly at. In some instances, the small remote-controlled helicopter can fly inside a building. In fact, they showed a video of a drone hovering around the head of a dinosaur in a museum.

It is like a flying Steadicam. Not even a crane can get the same shots.

“We are delivering a richer video experience in a market where video is in demand,” Mr. Pemberton said.

They do it by following best practices guidelines.

“We don’t fly over people,” Mr. Pemberton said, when shooting community events such as a road race or fair. “We fly in front of or to the side of them.”

If a client wants still photos they charge by the image. It is generally $500 for the first image and $100 to $200 for additional images.

Video pricing is more complex, depending on whether the client wants raw footage or an edited product. Prices start at about $1,500.

The types of clients they foresee working with include real estate, resorts, Chambers of Commerce, universities, commercial campuses, and destinations like golf courses. They will travel all along the East Coast.

More information is available at vidifly.com or 203-856-1800.