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Eagle Eyes up in the Sky

By Staff | Jan 29, 2017

This view of Blue Earth’s beloved Jolly Green Giant is courtesy of Taylor Smith’s new Eagle Eyes Drone Service, based near Pilot Grove.

Taylor Smith went from flying remote-control helicopters and airplanes to piloting commercial drones, and he did it rather quickly.

The 1999 Blue Earth Area graduate, born and raised in town and part of the father-son duo behind Elmore’s Smith Farms Drainage, was introduced Friday, Jan. 20, as the newest member of Blue Earth’s Chamber of Commerce, thanks to his Eagle Eyes Drone Services business.

Tasked with taking photo and recording video of area retailers from the lens of his high-flying quadrotor helicopter drone as part of his unveiling by the Chamber, Smith displayed the new-age expertise of capturing aerial imagery. It is a technology that relies on an unmanned flying vehicle, not much bigger than a large toy helicopter, and the vehicle’s built-in camera, to bring bird’s-eye images back down to Earth.

And it is one that Smith is admittedly mastering on the fly. (No pun intended.)

“It’s all coming together pretty fast,” he says. “Joining the Chamber pretty much kickstarted what I want to offer as a business.”

That is because Smith’s Eagle Eyes Drone Service, which just became a limited liability company (LLC) in December 2016, is still in the developmental stages. Advertising mostly on its own Facebook page with a shop stationed about 10 minutes from town near Pilot Grove Township, it has yet to establish its own Blue Earth-based retail store.

That has not, however, stopped Smith from sending his drones into the air and bringing media back down and drawing interest both in and around the city.

“I’m going to be displaying some prints at Becki Steier Studio in town,” Smith says. “And I really don’t know anyone else who’s doing this commercially. I’m planning to serve Blue Earth but also move part of the business to the Brainerd area and hopefully open a second location there.”

Technology studies indicate that drones are now owned more by civilians than the military or scientific outfits in which they largely originated. And even Faribault County has seen the aerial picture-takers sweep onto the scene in recent years, such as via Aker, a Winnebago-based service specializing in agricultural mapping and data collection.

But Smith says that drones as a whole still represent a relatively untapped market when it comes to commercial use of the devices. It is why he raced to embrace his old fascinations with remote-controlled recreation, studying up on drone piloting, attending preparatory classes at the Mankato airport and, ultimately, diving into the aerial photography game.

“It’s a brand new industry to begin with,” he says. “You’re so limited with what you can do as a recreational pilot, but with this, I’m hoping to benefit local businesses, highlighting their local products in a unique way.”

Whether it means flying his mobile camera to downtown storefronts, as he did to spice up his Chamber introduction, or sending a quadcopter to generate aerial wedding shots, pictures for real-estate advertisements or even farmland overviews, Smith says he is ready to put his piloting skills to work.

And with the pair of aircrafts he owns to start Eagle Eyes Drone Services’ first year of business, that should not be a problem.

Both the DJI Phantom 3 Professional and DJI Mavic Professional, Smith’s startup drones of choice, offer the usual perks of unmanned vehicles, from GPS-driven hovering capabilities and real-time remote commands to flight ranges of more than three miles. Their visual specs, how ever, enable photography and video recording as smooth as the flights, per Smith.

Both DJI drones are strapped with 4K video capability, with power to record up to 30 frames per second, giving them a high-definition quality comparable to an HD TV. And their photos can turn out in 12-megapixel format.

“As far as flying them,” Smith adds, “you’re limited to 400 feet (above the ground) normally, but you can request FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) waivers, too.”

From a business standpoint, Smith knows he has a ways to go to attract the type of attention that, say, his aerial captures of Blue Earth Chamber members may have warranted.

Speaking of the Chamber, if it were not for an online call for help by director Cindy Lyon, Smith’s newfound venture may not have sprouted as the project it is now.

“She had put a message on Facebook asking if there was anyone that could do aerial pictures of the Green Giant (statue),” he recalls. “I was in the process of starting this business and jumped right on it.”

Even as he continues to work as a tile/drainage contractor, Smith says he plans to keep on jumping into it. And if Eagle Eyes Drone Service progresses anywhere near as quickly as Smith’s transition from remote-control flyer to commercial drone pilot, he knows his venture will take off.