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Home-made drone stays above the competition

The Skyviewair can take higher quality images than a typical drone, guaranteeing its owner and maker good business from architects and government agencies.

An aerial tour of Budapest’s major sights, a bird’s-eye view image of Hungary’s ski tracks or a panoramic photo of the Hungaroring: These images allow you to view Hungary from an angle thus far unfamiliar. The maker of the shots is Skyviewair, one of the leading Hungarian firms specialized in aerial photos and videos, using a drone purpose built by the company founder and manager, Attila Pethe.

A former radio controlled helicopter pilot and photographer, Pethe decided to build his own computer-operated drone with the aim of cutting costs. Yet by the time he finished, the price tag – around HUF 3.5 million – was nearly equal to that of a prebuilt model. You never stop developing, because technology is changing so quickly, Pethe notes.

What makes his SVA-X8 copter unique is the arrangement of its rotors. Unlike the typical octocopters, which have all their eight rotors facing above, this machine has four placed on the down side of the arms. This arrangement allows for shorter arms and a better and wider angle for shots, but it doesn’t affect the copter’s weight bearing capacities. This copter and the camera are controlled separately, so the cameraman can focus on the composition. And the camera is of a higher quality than a typical drone camera. An eight-hour shoot with the SVA-X8 usually costs around HUF 150,000, depending on the complexity of the job. This is markedly less expensive than an aerial photo shoot with a helicopter, in which an hour’s rent of the aircraft alone will cost the same amount.

So an octocopter is both a cheaper alternative to traditional airplane photography, and easier to control. The high quality images are mainly in demand from architectural studios and technology firms that use the images for planning and design. This corporate clientele and some state work make up 90% of Skyviewair’s work, as this is the circle of customers willing to pay most for its services. The company took images of Dagály spa and bath for the architects designing the new swimming pool complex for the 2017 world championships. This year, Skyviewair took a stock of aerial shots of Hungarian ski tracks, and a 360-degree view of Lake Balaton during the Kékszalag sailboat race.

The investment in the octocopter was returned in roughly a year; with very few drones of similar capabilities on the market, the company has enough orders to be profitable. Still, drones of this scale are pricey toys. A set of batteries – enough to keep the machine airborne for 15 minutes – costs HUF 60,000 and lasts less than a year. Spare parts shipped from abroad (especially those which turn out to be useless in the building process) can be costly as well. You’ll need separate cameras for shooting photos and videos – it all adds up.

Ready-made models of similar size and capacity are equally expensive, but international demand continues to soar. A report by U.S. market researcher MarketsandMarkets put the value of the global drone market in 2014 at $15.22 mln and said it would reach $1.27 billion by 2020.

Drones are not regulated in Hungary, but a law is due by next year. Pethe said he hopes it will allow for a more professional market, by weeding out the hobbyists.