25 Nov 2016
There’s the Instagram picture of a bride and groom perfectly framed on the grassy rooftop of a Causeway Bay high-rise, captured “accidentally” by travel filmmaker Brandon Li.
The Central business district is depicted as a mass of skyscraper spaghetti by photographer Andy Yeung. A video of stunning coastal and countryside scenery was compiled by one amateur enthusiast on a mission to deliver a chocolate bar to a friend. And that’s just the beginning.
The extreme contrasts between bustling metropolis, rural greenery and rugged coastline, along with the city’s compact size and ease of accessibility, make Hong Kong an ideal place for drone pilots to hone their skills and capture amazing aerial photography.
Drones, otherwise known by their formal name, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), originated for use in military surveillance. But the technology has since been embraced by hobbyists and commercial operators alike. Entry-level drones cost just a few hundred dollars, with more sophisticated models going up the price scale for those who want to do more.
|Where You Can Fly|
Recreational drones weighing not more than seven kilogrammes (without fuel) are allowed to fly in Hong Kong without a permit. It is, however, the pilot’s responsibility to keep a safe distance from people and property. Certain areas are off-limits, as advised on the Civil Aviation Department website.
The site also lists several scenic locations in the New Territories, noted as model aircraft flying hot-spots. These include Tai Tong and Nam Sang Wai in Yuen Long; Tate's Cairn in Sha Tin; Tseung Kwan O in Sai Kung; and the Clearwater Bay Peninsula area in Sai Kung.
Drones may be flown during daylight hours only, and not above an altitude of 300 feet. Etiquette also requires remaining mindful of people’s privacy.
In Hong Kong, according to government estimates, there are some 5,000 drones deployed for recreational or commercial uses. Between 2013 and 2015, 84 applications to use drones for business purposes were approved. (A permit is not required for recreational use of drones weighing up to seven kilogrammes).
Some of the wide-ranging business applications for drones equipped with technologies such as GPS, high-resolution cameras or thermal sensors include crop monitoring in agriculture; site and layout planning in construction; oil and gas exploration in mining; repair and maintenance of public utilities; goods delivery in logistics; aerial photography for media and entertainment; and search and rescue.
Nick Foxall, a British-born creative professional and qualified drone pilot, established dronesurvey.HK in January to provide high-quality mapping images and 3D modelling data for the architecture, civil engineering, urban planning, construction and structural inspection fields.
The business is a sideline to his established film and video production company nickfoxall.com, whose clients have included BBC World, BBC Scotland, National Geographic Channel, TVB Hong Kong, Al Arabiya News, NRK Norwegian Television, ABC Australia, Maya Vision (for the BBC’s The Story of China series) and AVH Live (a division of Ogilvy).
Recognising the business potential of drones, Mr Foxall set up the new division to focus more on land-mapping and structural inspections. “A lot of big construction companies are using this technology in their surveying and monitoring work, as it’s a lot more cost-effective than sending up a helicopter,” he said.
The business is still in its formative stage, but Mr Foxall said he’s starting to get specific projects, and expects next year to be “very busy.”
Drone Export Hub
Hong Kong also plays a key role in supplying drones to the global market. More than 90 per cent of the world’s drones are estimated to be manufactured in the neighbouring Chinese mainland border city of Shenzhen, a large proportion of which is shipped via Hong Kong to North America and Europe.
Shenzhen-headquartered global brand DJI, a market-leading drone manufacturer, in September, opened a retail flagship store in Hong Kong’s major shopping district of Causeway Bay.
The three-storey, 10,000 square-foot outlet displays DJI’s full range of aerial and handheld products, and with a flight cage on the ground floor, visitors can view DJI drones in action even from outside the store. The SkyPixel Gallery on the first floor showcases breathtaking examples of aerial photography from around the world.
The second-floor houses a technical support centre and a dedicated space for workshops, seminars and special events. Adding to Hong Kong’s iconic skyline is an animated display on the façade of the building, illuminating the instantly recognisable shapes of the DJI drones themselves.
DJI was founded in 2006 by Frank Wang, a graduate of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Originally from the mainland, he built his first flight controller while studying at the Hong Kong institution. From 20 people at start-up, the company today has more than 6,000 employees worldwide. Apart from its new retail flagship, DJI has two offices in Hong Kong and an R&D laboratory at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park.
Kevin On, Associate Director of Communications for Asia-Pacific, said the Hong Kong flagship – its third after Shenzhen, the mainland and Seoul, South Korea – offers the company high visibility.
“Hong Kong is at the heart of Asia, so it’s not just local drone enthusiasts who come to our store, but visitors from around the world,” Mr On said.
“We give them a tailored experience. They can see the products in action; talk to the pilots; and address any issues with our after-sales team.”
The Joy of Flying
Apart from retail sales, DJI is also growing its B2B division in Hong Kong.
“A lot of businesses are coming to us to see how we can meet their needs. Already, our presence here is opening doors,” Mr On said.
Company founder Mr Wang added, “We want to provide a truly unique experience for anyone who walks into our store and leave with a sense of curiosity, excitement or inspiration. We hope our technology can provide a new perspective and allow us to see the world differently.”