Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A local is finding ways to make money with his drones. Now he wants them to save lives too.
When government officials in Detroit gathered to celebrate the demolition of the Brewster-Douglass housing projects downtown last week, they were joined by a few drones.
One belonged to Harry Arnold, a local drone enthusiast who's turned his long-held interests in videography and radio-controlled helicopters into a marketable service (he runs the company Detroit Drone now). "It was like spilling peanut butter on chocolate," he says. Arnold was at the old complex for one of the demolition companies on site, providing them a way to watch and promote their own work:
Arnold says he gets asked to bring his drones over to film something around the Detroit area once or twice a week, typically for demolition-related clients clearing out a site for future development. When he's not filming for clients, he's shooting for himself, anything from Occupy Detroit, to a quest for Jimmy Hoffa's remains, or his personal favorite, a drift car race in front of Michigan Central Station:
The more Arnold puts his drone to work, the more aware he becomes of its usefulness. "One of my main focuses right now is to get working with fire department and first responders," Arnold says, an interest made obvious by the many videos of buildings ablaze on his YouTube page.
He wants drones to become part of the typical fire-fighting experience, capturing images humans can't get near and providing ground commanders an aerial view they otherwise wouldn't have. Just last week, Arnold was invited out to film a hazmat training session in the city, showing response crews what it would be like to have an extra layer of technology in the case of something like a chemical fire.
Arnold is optimistic his vision will become reality soon. "It's a technology that can have a public service," he says. "It has a chance to save lives."