By Doug Hallett
A local business that’s a dream job for any young boy – making money flying a remote-controlled drone – has big goals after one year in operation.
Eye Fly Media Inc., which is in the business of low-altitude precision aerial imagery, has a long-term goal of branching out across the country, says co-owner Phil Maurion. This would obviously mean adding to its current stockpile of one lone aerial drone.
“In the short term, our goal would be to be Canada’s go-to company for this sort of thing,” adds co-owner Andrew Goodwin. “There is not a lot of competition, and I feel we are already close to that goal, actually.”
To do their work, the pair get airborne as passengers in small planes or go up on roofs to get footage when that’s appropriate. But their drone, which has eight small propellers, is “for low altitude, the stuff that’s really cool, the stuff you don’t usually see from a plane,” Maurion says.
It’s a lot of fun, Goodwin concedes, “but there is stress involved when we have a task to create something that we think is visually stunning.”Goodwin, who remotely pilots the drone while Maurion remotely controls the camera that’s mounted under it, says there’s also stress from having to contend with wind and trees. “I always have in the back of my mind that this thing could hit a tree and hit the ground catastrophically, and then what would we do?”
The 30-year-old lifelong Guelph resident said he got the idea of starting the business after seeing stunning video footage of Australian surfers that was created with “much less sophisticated” equipment than what Eye Fly uses. He and Maurion both own local photography companies, and they’ve been hiring extra staff for those companies to free up more of their time for Eye Fly.
There are people in the same business who come at it from a hobby background with remote-controlled toy aircraft, they say. But Goodwin and Maurion didn’t, and they say their serious, businesslike approach is a good thing. They’ve been doing work for big clients, including universities, developers, builders and real estate agents.
A video tour of the campuses of Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo that they created using the drone was shown on 180-degree screens during a gala for a large humanities conference hosted by the two universities, they say.
Their drone includes flying parts made in Germany and a video mount from New Zealand. It is worth “between $20,000 and $30,000,” including all of its accessory equipment, Maurion says.
On top of this, insurance for the business costs “a crazy amount per year . . . so you have to have a good client base to keep it going, or you’ll be out of business pretty quickly.”
One of their current projects is a video for the company that is planning to build the Serene Condominium development, which borders a natural area on Gordon Street South.
Their “sales documentary” will include unusual views of the site’s natural areas and wildlife and unusual views of how the luxury condos will fit into the landscape, they say.
They also mention that they’ve posted some aerial views of spots in Guelph, including Goldie Mill, on the “videography” section of their website, eyeflymedia.com.
After forming their partnership last August and testing out their flying skills using small remote-control toy helicopters, “we quickly realized who the pilot (of the drone) would be,” Goodwin says with a smile.
“I have good not-crashing skill.”
With the big drone that forms the backbone of their business, “we’ve had what I call hard landings, which required a few repairs, but no out-and-out crashes,” says Goodwin, who notes that he was a Guelph Tribune carrier for four years as a youth.
Transport Canada, whose approval is needed each time the drone flies, wanted to know what qualified Goodwin to operate it in a safe manner. No licence was needed, but “for me it meant hundreds of hours on a simulator,” he says.
People who’ve seen them using the drone have expressed privacy concerns to them. However, “it’s a wide angle view of things” that they get using the drone, says Maurion.
“We are not zooming in on anything,” says the 34-year-old, who has lived in Guelph for 10 years.
Asked if there are military applications for the sort of drone they use, Goodwin grins and says, “So far we haven’t been given any targets in Guelph.”
He adds that their drone is “designed for stable flight for camera footage. There is definitely no military application.”
However, he notes, some police forces do use similar drones, which are assembled in the United States.
Their drone is restricted to operating at under 400 feet, they say, but to further reduce the danger of collisions they keep a special radio on hand so they can quickly make contact with any small aircraft that unexpectedly appear at low altitude.
Asked the funniest moment they’ve had since the business began, they recall their first practice flight at Exhibition Park.
“We had just got the drone and we were excited to see what it could do,” says Goodwin.
He says Maurion was so excited that he didn’t see the 10 km/h speed limit sign or the accompanying huge speed bumps on the park’s access road. The new van Maurion was driving had the drone in back, in a container without a lot of cushioning material.
“Phil didn’t see the speed bump and did a full-on Dukes of Hazzard with this thing in the back,” Goodwin says with a smile.
Looking a bit sheepish, Maurion agrees his van probably went airborne. “But the drone survived, and the van did too.”