Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about using a drone to livestream a yoga class. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.
I am a yoga student, and we practice outdoors. I was wondering if there was a way to livestream classes to a site like YouTube for students who can’t be there in person, perhaps using a drone. I was thinking a drone would be a good tool because it wouldn’t require a power source, though would noise be a concern? What drone would you recommend to livestream a yoga class?
I like where your head is at! An aerial, live view of a yoga class certainly sounds delightfully creative. But, there are many practical roadblocks to consider (and figure out how to overcome) including — as you mentioned — noise.
The tl;dr is that — while I don’t want to shut down your idea — I actually don’t think a drone is the best tool to livestream a yoga class, and here’s why:
I’ll start with the first consideration, since you brought it up: noise. Drones tend to generate between 70 to 80 decibels of sound. Sure, that’s about the same decibel range as normal conversation or — for a robotic comparison — a household washing machine. While not painfully loud, it might not be the peaceful yogic environment you’re seeking.
DJI has worked to make products that are lower-noise. One of the first major examples of that was the launch of the (now-discontinued) Mavic Pro Platinum, which took the original DJI Mavic Pro and added a new FOC sinusoidal driver ESCs and 8331 propellers — offering a 60% reduction in the noise generated (up to 4 dB) vs. the original DJI Mavic Pro.
These days, DJI sells versions of its propellers for most of its drones that are considered “low-noise.” Propellers are typically offered as an add-on accessory. For example, if you have the DJI Mavic 3 Series, you can purchase a pair of Low-Noise Propellers for $19. But while lower-noise, don’t expect library silence.
Presumably your yoga class is well over a half hour. Most consumer drones have battery lives of about 30 minutes.
DJI did something massively impressive when it launched the DJI Mini 3 Pro. While it has 34 minutes of flight time on the surface (already slightly better than average), it also launched it alongside an add-on accessory called the “Intelligent Flight Battery Plus.” This battery comes with an additional cost, but with it you get a maximum flight time of 47 minutes on a single charge. But even 47 minutes is likely insufficient for a yoga class.
Otherwise, you’ll have to bring the drone down from the air and interrupt the live stream to swap the battery.
Monitoring the drone in flight
When flying a drone under Part 107, which is required for operating a drone for commercial purposes (and presumably a yoga class counts as a commercial purpose), the Federal Aviation Administration mandates that every drone flight has a visual observer. That means a designated person who assists the remote pilot in command and/or the person manipulating the drone’s flight controls to see and avoid other air traffic or objects that are either in the air or on the ground.
Not only will your class demand someone to monitor the drone, but — if that’s not the same person — it’ll demand someone who can be the visual observer. You can’t be a good visual observer if you’re in downward dog.
Is your location legal?
While it might be totally fine to fly your drone at said yoga class location, there’s a surprising chance that it might not be. Drone flights are regulated by the FAA if they’re outdoors, and it can be tricky to legally fly them in restricted airspace, which includes areas around airports.
Even if the location is legal, consider other factors like wind or rain that might not make the drone flying realistic or safe.
Live-streaming with consumer drones simply isn’t that easy
And finally, the reality is that live-streaming with most consumer drones simply isn’t that easy. While it’s easy to go live on YouTube or Instagram from your smartphone, it’s surprisingly more complicated to do the same with drones.
What’s bizarre is that it wasn’t always that way, either. Here’s what you need to know about live-streaming with a drone these days:
If you really want to livestream with a drone
You mentioned that a drone would be a good live streaming tool because it wouldn’t demand a power source, but neither would a smartphone. While live-streaming directly with a drone used to be only a mild headache, now it’s pretty complicated.
Here’s the latest on how to livestream with a drone:
Use the (since-discontinued) DJI Smart Controller with DJI SkyTalk
Though it’s since been discontinued, DJI at one point made a product called the DJI Smart Controller. Launched at CES 2019, it had a a built-in 5.5” screen and an ultra-bright display with an output of 1000 cd/m2, twice the brightness of standard smart phones.
But perhaps the niftiest feature of all was something called SkyTalk, which allowed pilots to livestream the drone’s camera feed to social channels including Facebook, Instagram and WeChat.
Though discontinued, you can still find it for sale brand-new through sites including Amazon (and you can probably get a discount on a used one). But I might not recommend the DJI Smart Controller as the best option. Since it’s discontinued, you’re less likely to find reliable tech support, and you’re buying tech today that’s already out-of-date.
DJI’s response to the DJI Smart Controller is now the DJI RC. While it’s better in many ways, it’s worse on the conditioning that live-streaming through the DJI RC is not that simple.
Livestream from your drone to your phone
Another option is to simply use your phone as that streaming middleman. Any consumer camera drone (well, at least any I recommend) will send a live feed from the drone directly to your phone. From there, you can get a bit technical and simultaneously stream from your phone elsewhere.
Matthew Egan a drone pilot and creative director at Image Freedom says he often live streams using Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), which is free and open source software for video recording and live streaming. With it, he streams the footage from his drone to his phone, upon which he is able to capture that footage via an Apple TV and a capture card.
In short, the footage is live from the drone and from the OBS software able to be streamed to Twitch, YouTube, Facebook or pretty much any other streaming platform, though it’s still fairly technical. Apple AirPlay might be more accessible to a novice.
Use a custom RTMP link to livestream
If you’re willing to get technical, you can directly stream from the drone to a platform or a custom RTMP link which then can be ingested to a mixing deck and re-streamed elsewhere. RTMP is short for Real-Time Messaging Protocol, and it supports all types of live, online video streaming.
Though in addition to the drone and camera, you’ll need a reliable internet connection, a compatible device such as a smartphone or laptop and a live streaming platform or software that supports RTMP ingest, such as OBS Studio or Wirecast.
Speaking of a strong Internet connection, I recommend Google Fiber Webpass which uses millimeter wave technology. Given that Webpass is a mesh network, it offers further reach that what you’d get with a single, traditional router — which could be critical for your outdoor yoga class.
Then again, all that might be overly complicated for a yoga class, especially when there’s another, better option (more on that later).
“Live streaming with a drone can be a unique and exciting way to capture and share footage, but it requires careful planning, practice, and attention to safety and regulations,” said Firat Bayram Bakir, who runs a for-hire camera crew service called Get Camera Crew. “Honestly, it is not stable or convenient unless you have high-quality equipment.”
A better solution to livestream your yoga class: a GoPro on a stick
Even though Egan is a professional drone pilot, he says trying to livestream from a drone (or use a drone to gather footage, period) is often not the best solution.
“For an outdoor yoga situation, they make these big tripods that go up to sixteen feet in the air,” Egan said. “Using one of the super tall tripods would let them have a live feed but it’s more set and forget versus needing a dedicated drone person that can’t take their eyes off the drone.”
That might be a product like the $200 RAUBAY Sports Tripod. It expands as high as 16 feet into the air, making it tall enough to record sports and yoga classes. If you still want to have something drone-adjacent involved, you might mount something like a DJI Osmo Action 3 to it. The Osmo Action 3 is DJI’s response to the GoPro — a $330, practically-indestructible tiny camera. And yes, the Osmo Action 3 is capable of live-streaming, with wi-fi livestream that supports 1080p/30fps, 720p/30fps and 480p/30fps, and pausing recording during the stream.
Egan has gone the “GoPro on a stick” route before. before. Once he had to do an aerial shot for a client with the ocean in the background. But, the wind was dangerously strong, so he popped a GoPro on a super-tall tripod. He also does this in situations where the airspace is restricted, such as near airports.
With spiffy new tech like drones, people often come to me seeing drones as the solution. While my website is all about drones, I — like Egan — will tell you that a drone is not always the right product.
“When in doubt,” says Egan, “GoPro on a stick!”