Thursday, May 14, 2009

Public Service Panoramas

There always has to be a plan doesn't there? I'm not really sure. To quote Barack Obama: the answer to that philosophical question is "above my paygrade." I know that there's the eastern sort of David Carradine in Kung Fu approach. Life came to him and he dealt with it. (I know it was only a movie.) I know that there's also the western "write a business plan" approach. That's what people who need to borrow money have to do. We're not either. We're somewhere in between. We're "california style", Steve Jobst in his garage, let's invent a surfboard with wheels or a bicycle that can be ridden on dirt sort of guys. Whatever plan we have it's a broad brush stroke sort of thing, with only some detailing here in the near future. The overall plan for Aerial Vr is to explore all aspects of aerial and virtual reality photography and somewhere along the line, to find a series of customers interested in paying for our services. There are a few out there. We've found a few already.

Developers of tall buildings who hope to market the view they'll provide future tenants will ante up. You can walk onto a job site when the weather permits, float your robotically controlled camera up into the air on a balloon, spin it around, take a few shots, stitch them together and walk away with a nice paycheck. It's not as easy as I've made it sound. For one thing you need a really big balloon. For another you need a remote controlled robot. The FAA needs to be informed. The weather doesn't always cooperate. The sky can cloud over and the wind can kick up in a minute and send your blimp and your paycheck flying away.

We've decided we're not going to sit at home waiting for the weather to clear and for developers of tall buildings to call. We'd get old fast that way. We're going to get out there and have some fun and watch the market emerge. We're going to sharpen our skills and enjoy the process of meeting people whose lives or whose organizations might benefit from virtual reality photographs. We've paged through our little black books and quite a few opportunities for "public service panoramas" have emerged.

We started with the Narrows Center for the Arts where I volunteer. We did a series of 9 panoramas of their facility. It's a "great space" full of artwork and good vibrations, many of them musical in nature. They're a great organization ... a lean and mean arts machine that over 15,000 people a year visit. We did a series of panos and they publicized the fact using their email list of over 4000 names. That was a nice start.

One of the volunteers at the Narrows runs a business. He saw the panoramas we'd done for the Narrows, said (and I quote) "wow, I want one of those for my business." It's a graphically oriented business when you think about it. He sells and installs carpet. He has a showroom he's proud of and rightly so. He hired us to hang our camera from his ceiling fan and shoot his showroom. He'll be putting it on his website. He's a perfect client for us. His business has been very tight lately with the economic downturn. He's looking for an edge. He's been experimenting with his website as a way to attract customers. His showroom panorama is part of that experiment. We hope it works. We hope we helped.

But enough of the commercial world for the time being and back to the world of "public service panoramas." We approached Save the Bay in Providence Rhode Island. To be precise, we approached John Martin of Save the Bay. It's always best to start with a person. Approach an organization and the organization will often show you the door. John is well entrenched at Save the Bay. He's been helping to publicize their efforts at Save the Bay for many years. He may even have Save the Bay tattooed on his forearm. I'm not really sure. He's never shown me his forearm. He may not even have forearms for all I know. But I digress. I met John because his cubicle was just across the aisle from my wife's when she worked at Save the Bay. He's photographed my children for God's sake. One glance at his cubicle and one senses that John knows how to get excited about a photograph.

So we've been brainstorming with John Martin of STB. Aerial Vr and STB have a lot in common. We love the Narragansett Bay for one thing. We love lighthouses. We love cameras and we'd love to spend some time capturing the beauty of the bay in a series of panoramas. We're a match! We're like minded. We'll produce a series of great panoramas for them and won't ask a cent. All we'll ask is the chance to bomb around the bay in search of an image in the Alita Morris (their boat) with the wind in our teeth and our blimp trailing along behind. Wow. Better than caffeine. At the end of the day we'll hope that John Martin's expertise in publicity will find a way to push our cause along. We have high hopes. It's a good thing to have when you're starting a business in aerial photography. Sorry. (for the bad pun.)

During our brainstorming session we came up with some good ideas. We're going to start by putting our robotically controlled cameras on a pole 40+ feet long and putting that on their vegetative roof. Yes. They have vegetables on their roof and they're quite proud of that. They tell a lot of people about it and about their former brownfield site. They've turned brown into green and we'll help tell their story with a panorama. Our camera will be 40' above their roofline and close to 100' above the bay they're helping to save. With any luck the view will include stunning detail of their rooftop vegetables, their solar panel array, their former brownfield site, their lovely little stretch of coastline, the dock where the mighty Alita Morris starts up her twin diesels and the rocks where seals have been known to haul out in winter time to catch a few rays of sun. It'll be the bomb. If John Martin likes it then he'll make sure that visitors know who took it.

That's really just to be the start of our relationship with STB. John wants a new aerial photo of the front of the building in the morning light. Chris has reservations about flying a blimp so close to TF Green airport. Just as important, he thinks the FAA will have reservations about flying a lighter than air craft so close to the end of a runway. The blimp would be lower than 500' but a tether failure and uh oh .... it's lighter than air .... it could go up into the flight path of a 747. The solution may be to go fly a kite. Chris has a high performance kite that packs in a bag. He's designed and tested a trolley that will run up the tether as the kite ascends and lift a camera up hundreds of feet. The upside? The FAA won't care about our kite if it stays below 500'. If the tether fails on a kite it drops out of the sky. The FAA should be ok with that even if we aren't.

The list of photo ideas our brainstorm with John Martin generated grew fairly long. Some of the ideas involve photographs of the many lighthouses around the bay, something akin to a virtual version of the lighthouse tour that STB has created. We also hope to photograph their famous swim. Every year hundreds of swimmers celebrate the health of the bay by swimming the 1.7 miles from Newport to Jamestown. With any luck we'll be there with our blimp flying, in search of an unforgettable image.

So we've had quite a nice start with non profits. Save the Bay especially seems to hold out the promise of unforgettable images and good publicity. We needed something closer to home and something more immediate though. We've decided to move our quest into the spiritual realm in a sense. We plan to do a series of images of some of the most beautiful church interiors in Fall River. We took the first one at Santo Christo on Columbia Street in the heart of the Portuguese Cultural District. We hope to follow with images of the interiors of the incredible St. Mary's on Second Street and St. Anne's at the top end of Kennedy Park. Also soon to arrive will be a series of shots already taken at the lovely Blithewold in Bristol, RI during the annual flowering of tens of thousands of daffodills. You can't beat a daffodil in spring for a good image. We have one more important public service panorama in the works. It'll be a return booking, a second attempt. It'll be a walk along the cliffs in Newport, in short, a journey upon the famous "Cliffwalk" where people come to marvel at a world where architecture, money and ocean views all meet.... in Newport. Look for it.

Aerial Vr - "Your location in high definition virtual reality."
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This is the blog of Aerial Vr ( We create virtual reality photographs for viewing on the web. We also send our cameras into the sky on a variety of kites and blimps to see the world from a bird's eye view. We're blogging about our experiences as this exciting new technology and the market around it develops. We're also dedicated to developing a resource for visitors to the Narragansett Bay & Southcoast areas so that they can explore in virtual reality before they come. Try the links above to see all of the content we present in this blog, especially the "Vr Map" link which presents information with a Google map as starting point. "Home" will bring up several recent posts. Or page downwards and try the "Labels" or "Blog Archives" to bring up blog posts and panoramas from our expanding portfolio that fall within a given category. Fair Winds!

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