Elistair Airborne Solutions Used a Tethered Drone to Broadcast the Presidential Debate

Elistair Airborne Solutions Used a Tethered Drone to Broadcast the Presidential Debate


© Elistair

The United States of America is currently gearing up for it’s next presidential election. Tuesday, November 3, 2020, could quite possible be one of the most historic election days the country has ever seen. Experts are predicting that there will be more voters having their voices heard this year than ever before. In preparation of the presidential race the vying Democratic candidates, 29 of them at one point, have begun touring the country for the 2020 Democratic Party Presidential Debates. The first debates were held on June 26 and 27, 2019 in Miami, FL. The eleventh and final debate is scheduled for March 15, 2020 in Phoenix, AZ.

With the anticipation of the huge amount of voters for this year, each aspect of the presidential race is more critical than ever to be broadcast to the public so they can make informed decisions. The debates are being sponsored by various news channels like CBS, MSNBC, CNN, ABC, and PBS and have been drawing record breaking live views. The first debate brought in nearly 24.3 million viewers, 15.3 million on live TV and 9 million through streaming services. The Feburary 19, 2020 debate in Las Vegas, NV saw over 33.16 million viewers, and the upcoming final debate will probably surpass even that number. With so many viewers tuning in the broadcasters have to find a way to provide viewers with the video feed they demand.

The first debate of the new year, the seventh in the series, was held on January 14, 2020. It took place in the Sheslow Auditorium at Drake University in Des Moines, IA. The event was moderated by Wolf Blitzer, Brianne Pfannanstiel, and Abby Phillip. Hosted by CNN, they knew this would be the most watched televised event post the Super Bowl. To ensure the best coverage of the debate possible, CNN hired a company to deploy a drone to gather continuous footage of the debate that would span several hours.

Using a drone to film a news event has many benefits. The drone can record crystal clear images while staying discretely out of the way. There is no need for a camera person with bulky equipment. An operator simply sits back and controls the positioning and recording of the drone from a handheld tablet. However, there are some major obstacles to overcome when using a drone in this situation. The first is that the FAA generally does not allow drones to be flown over people, and for good reason too. If a drone were to malfunction over a crowd, it cold crash down and severely injure someone. The other problem is that drones that would be used for filming in this capacity can only be airborne for around 20-30 minutes at a time and their rotors make a lot of background noise.

But, on the 14th, this was not an issue as CNN brought in Elistair Airborne Solutions to provide them with drone coverage. Elistair is able to circumvent all of the above issues through using a tethered drone system. When tethered a drone can have a continuous power supply. It no longer has to be limited to the standard battery life of 20-30 minutes. The tether also allows the drone to fly safely over a crowd, yet high enough that the noise from it’s rotors do not become a nuisance. The operator is slightly limited to where they can position the drone, but unless you are filming a moving subject that really isn’t a problem. And when needed the system can easily be relocated.

A tethered drone system is great for uses in public safety, traffic monitoring, telecommunications, humanitarian efforts, government and defense missions, and as was used by CNN, for TV broadcasting. Some of the other events Elistair has set up tethered drone systems for was the 2019 Trinidad Carnival to monitor a crowd of more than 35,000 spectators, as a pop-up telecommunications center for the 10,000 people attending The Fazoli’s Freedom Festival in Morehead, KY, and to broadcast the 2019 Ski World Championship in Sweden. For the Democratic Debate at Drake University the drone was positioned in one location for 8 hours the first day, then easily moved to a new location for 5 hours on the second day.

On both days a DJI M210 drone was flown at a height of 60 meters while tethered to Elistair’s Ligh-T system, their tethering system that is designed to be moved about safely. Both the Ligh-T tether and their other system, the Safe-T tether can support a wide range of top of the line drones besides DJI like drones by Yuneec and Acecore. As the drone recorded over the debate, the images were instantly sent to a control vehicle parked outside. From inside the vehicle the video was then live streamed through a 4G link to the production team. The production team then seamlessly and instantly made the feed live to the millions of viewers watching the debate. Operating the drone was Howe Hildebrand, a pilot from Vector Solutions trained in using drones in this type of setting. “This solution provides excellent results for any venue that requires constant, uninterrupted over-watch,” Hildebrand said. “It allows for constant, coverage of the subject area. There’s no need to continually land and change batteries, therefore you never lose contact with the subject area.”

With the footage obtained by the drone, viewers had a chance to feel like they were really at the scene of the debate. The drones were able to film everything seamlessly, not missing a single moment for viewers to divulge in. Not only did the drone serve as a great filming tool, but it also attracts more viewers. People are intrigued by the idea of an old fashioned debate being spruced up with modern technology. As the debates and the race to the White House moves on it will be interesting to see what other rolls drones will take. From providing video feeds and security, to actual topics of debate, there is no question that we will be seeing and hearing more about drones over the coming months.



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