Harris: Even dry cleaning is going digital

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He has produced one stunning video over the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn and another over Chicago's Humboldt Park.

"This hobby, for the nerd community, has really just blown up," Forman said. "It's huge. It's 3-D printing times 10. … There's a lot of interest in the space, and it's awesome, but sometimes … people ask really inane questions. Like, 'Why can't you just strap a bomb to this thing? What happens if it falls out of the sky and hurts somebody?'"

Instead, Forman argues that a quadcopter with a camera is "way cheaper and way safer" for an aerial photographer than boarding a real helicopter. And that the technology could improve the quality of independent films, for instance.

Forman operates his drones as a hobby. Using drones for commercial purposes won't be legal until September 2015, when Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration to open U.S. airspace to commercial drone traffic, Tribune Newspapers reported last month. Experts estimate 10,000 unmanned aircraft could be aloft five years later.

If commercialization were permitted now, battery technology would hold it back. Forman said his drone can't stay aloft for more than 12 minutes before needing to be recharged.

"They're amazing energy hogs," he said.

Forman got hooked about four years ago after watching an online video of a German man, Holger Buss, flying a multirotor copter he built.

"This thing looks like a UFO," Forman said. "It's on the ground, and it goes from 0 to 50 miles per hour immediately, right up into the sky. Then it flies all the way back to the field he's standing at and lands right in front of him. … I thought, 'Wow, I need to have one of these things.' But at the time, I didn't have any money. It was priced out of my reach."

That's no longer a problem, both because of the windfall Forman reaped from OMGPOP and because the cost of the technology has dropped to as low as $40 or so for a cheap, miniature quadcopter.

Melissa Harris can be reached at mmharris@tribune.com or 312-222-4582. Twitter @chiconfidential

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