Drones replace selfie sticks as tourists' new toy

BIRD'S EYE VIEW: A customer (left) holds a DJI's Phantom 3 Standard drone at the firm's first flagship store in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.


    Mar 15, 2016

    Drones replace selfie sticks as tourists' new toy


    FOR Chen Cheng, a 35-year-old photographer, a camera-loaded drone has been his new favourite toy since last year, especially when he travels.

    "I don't carry my single lens reflex camera anymore as my drone provides a fresh experience," he said.

    Civilian unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs, as drones are technically called, are fast proving to be essential accessories for top-end Chinese tourists.

    Mr Chen spent 9,000 yuan (S$1,900) to buy Phantom 3, the drone for photography enthusiasts, from DJI-Innovation in October last year.

    He has used the machine in several countries, including Spain, Finland, Japan, Germany and the United States.

    The drone can take pictures and videos from positions, angles and heights that ordinary cameras cannot reach.

    For instance, he manoeuvred the drone up a castle in Prague, Czech Republic, to capture panoramic views.

    It is fun most of the time, but not when the drone's battery is low or the area does not support communication signals.

    Low battery once resulted in Mr Chen losing control of the drone. Luckily, he could retrieve it after a long search in the area as the device had landed by itself, but some of its propellers broke, entailing expensive repairs.

    "It could have been messy had it damaged others' property while landing automatically," noted Mr Chen.

    Onlookers abound when he flies his drone, and frequently ask him questions.

    "Be it China or overseas, people are curious," he noted.

    Another drone aficionado, Zhang Han, a 36-year-old architect in Beijing, flew his device in Phuket, Thailand, when he went to snorkel there.

    But his primary use for it is to measure building exteriors as part of his work.

    Mr Chen and Mr Zhang exemplify how UAVs are fast becoming popular in China, said Gao Yuanyang, director of aviation industry research at Beihang University.

    The latter added that consumer drones, like Phantom 3, mainly focus on entertainment and are used to pursue hobbies.

    But they cannot be used everywhere, especially near airports and other facilities, for security reasons, he said.

    So, enthusiasts would do well to stay aware, particularly tourists keen to use drones in other countries, as violating local rules could land them in trouble, he warned.

    It was reported last month that a Chinese traveller from Zhejiang province was briefly detained in Vietnam and his drone was confiscated.

    "I try to understand local rules before I carry my drone on my travels," said Mr Chen.

    But, sometimes, such a precautionary approach proves unnecessary as some countries and regions do not yet have any drone-related regulations in place, he pointed out.