The droid you’re looking for

MOULTONBOROUGH — A self-taught drone operator who has started his own business using the unmanned recreational vehicles to create stunning videos from on high says that many of those who will be receiving drones as Christmas presents this year can do themselves a favor by learning about the restrictions placed on their operation, especially when it comes to commercial use.
Charlie Lyle, whose full-time job is working as a lineman for the New Hampshire Electrical Co-op, has started his own business known as NexGen Aerial Imaging and says that he has had to pass many hurdles to obtain the right to use his drones for commercial purposes.
“I had to get a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration in order to operate my drones commercially and even had to become a licensed pilot in order to qualify. There are all sorts of requirements – from having a registered tail number to filing flight plans in advance when you’re within 5 miles of a public airport – that most people don’t know about,’’ said Lyle.
Lyle is concerned that many of those who will be receiving drones as gifts this year have no idea of how to fly them responsibly and may cross the line from having the drone as a hobby to trying to make money with it.
“They may think they can go out and sell videos they make without any problem. But that’s specifically forbidden by FAA regulations,” said Lyle. Even businesses which want to use drones in their line of work need to get a Section 333 exemption and have their drones operated by a licensed pilot. Lyle earned his pilot’s license this last summer by taking lessons at Emerson Aviation at the Laconia Airport.
He noted that large companies like Amazon want to use drones for deliveries, which will raise many more issues to be dealt with.
Drones have become so popular in recent years that the FAA is scrambling to keep up. Concerns have already been raised over privacy issues as well as drones flying near airports and public events.
In February, the agency proposed regulations on the private use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds that would limit use to daylight and require they be kept within the operator’s line of sight. The FAA has also issued temporary licenses and certifications to some companies for commercial purposes on a case-by-case basis.
The Consumer Electronics Association says the vast majority of drones which are being sold are inexpensive hobby-style drones with limited range and capabilities and cost $150 or less.. Other more complicated models sell for over $1,000.
Lyle has three drones, a DJI Inspire with advanced capabilities as well as two smaller DJI Phantom, which he does the bulk of his work with with. They have a gimbal, a gyro-stabilized mount, which keeps the high-definition SLR camera that they carry perfectly balanced so that there is no wobbling for the video .
He also uses a hand-held DJI Ronin 3X, which costs around $3,000, for other applications and has already created videos for Miracle Farms in Moultonborough and Stevens Landscaping and says that he can perform a number of other services, ranging from weddings to roof inspections.
Lyle got the idea of using drones after having spent hours walking five miles along a power line to see what had happened to cause an outage.
“We couldn’t put it back on line until we had checked everything out. If I had a drone, I could have checked out the line a lot quicker and saved a lot of effort.”
Since then he’s been learning about drones, how to use them and how to edit the final product caught on camera.
“They’re really amazing,” he said. “They can hover in the same spot being held in place by GPS technology and are programmed to take the same route back to where they took off if something goes wrong with their communication system.”
Lyle says that he would like to see his company develop a concentration on utility inspections and is looking to establish himself in the local market as a reasonably priced alternative to what he sees as a future wave of businesses competing for customers with their drone services.

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Opechee Conference Center to close

LACONIA — The Conference Center at the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, which has long been home to the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction as well as various other civic and commercial events, will close in June.

Michelle Dupont, the owner and operator of the complex, said Thursday that "the space will be renovated, reconfigured and repurposed for commercial use as we continue to expand and develop the property." She stressed that the closure and conversion of the Conference Center will have no effect on the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa and O's Steak & Seafood, both of which will continue to operate on the site.

The Conference Center represents approximately 30,000 square feet of the 187,000 square feet of building space on the 12.5 acre lot. The inn, spa and restaurant account for some 40,000 square feet, warehousing space amounts to about 87,000 square feet and another 30,000 square feet is leased to a manufacturer.

"We're not expanding our restaurant and hospitality businesses," said Dupont, who added that the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa will continue to host events like weddings, parties and meetings of a size suited to the capacity of the facility. She said that in deciding to close the Conference Center she anguished most over the future of the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction.

Dupont said that she is confident that once the space is renovated "it will be filled by a commercial enterprise." Although she declined to identify the prospective tenant, she indicated that it would most likely be a firm relocating operations to Laconia.

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I'm with R2 – droid replica gets Gilford family into elite Star Wars world

GILFORD — Movie houses will likely be packed today and into the weekend for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The Powers family plans to be among the crowds, though they have a unique relationship with the franchise, all thanks to a dream that Dana Powers had eight years ago.
Powers, like many his generation, was a fan of the original Star Wars trilogy when he was growing up, but his young fascination didn't move past the collection of a few action figures. In 2007, then a father of a three year-old, he decided to dress up as a Jedi knight for Halloween, and gave his son Jesse a matching costume. Afterward, he said, "I had a dream about building an R2-D2," referring to one of the film series' characters, a charming droid. "I went online and found a building community where people shared ideas about building an R2-D2... I thought, wouldn't it be cool if my son had an R2 unit."
The construction of the R2-D2 replica proved to be beyond cool. Powers's droid is an exact copy of the machine seen in the films – actually, the production utilized about a dozen different R2-D2s throughout its filming, each with their own idiosyncrasies, so he picked one of them to recreate. And, with electric motors and a remote control, it moves, chirps and squeaks just like the one on the big screen.
Having their own functioning Star Wars droid turned out to be just the beginning. Powers's R2-D2 was so faithful to the real thing that he became a star at fan conventions, which the Powerses began attending frequently. At these conventions, the family has met nearly lead every actor from the films, with the exception of Harrison Ford. They've even met George Lucas, who directed the original films, as well as J.J. Abrams, director of "The Force Awakens." Jesse's favorite celebrity encounter has been with Anthony Daniels, the actor who portrayed the droid C-3PO.
"He was very nice to me, and I really like C-3PO," he said.
It took Dana about a year to build R2-D2. He started by spending about six months researching techniques, compiling a large file of plans and schematics. Then, he took six months off from work to build the robot.
"You start with one piece," he said. "There's no kit, there's no right way to do it."
Dana said he was "meticulous" in his attention to detail and feels his creation is "100 percent screen-accurate."
The Powers family has grown since then. Jesse has four younger sisters now, and the whole family is known to dress in Star Wars costumes for local parades, as well as at fan conventions. The robotic family is growing, too. Dana has built a landspeeder, the vehicle seen on the fictional planet Tatooine. Like the one used in filming, his is a fiberglass body placed on a stripped-down electric golf cart. He ordered parts to create a C-3PO replica, and plans to place that droid in the landspeeder next to R2-D2.
He also has begun working on a replica of the BB-8 droid, which appears in "The Force Awakens." A spherical droid, BB-8 will be much more difficult than R2-D2, though Dana hopes online communities, as well as advancements in 3-D printing, will help resolve technical challenges. "It's going to take some figuring," he said.
Star Wars is unique among film franchises, because its appeal has proven to last through several generations. If the excitement surrounding "The Force Awakens" is any indication, there's no end in sight for Star Wars films. Powers said he intends to continue his creative form of fandom, and with a bunch of daughters now in the family, he's especially glad to see the proliferation of female heroes in the Star Wars universe.
This winter, the Powers family will take their landspeeder to Canada for a show of famous cars, and expect to continue exhibiting their creations at fan conventions across the country, where as many as 30,000 people attend. As a featured exhibitor, he sometimes will receive enough to cover travel expenses, but it's not a profit-making venture. "You do this because you love it. It's our adventure."

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