- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - That drone you might have spotted hovering and zipping around the Sochi Olympic slopes isn’t searching for terrorists or protesters hiding behind the fir trees.

It’s being used to transmit live video of snowboard and ski jump competitions to a screen near you.

Unlike military drones, which often look like a remote-controlled airplane, the creature floating around Sochi resembles a huge flying spider. Drones are increasingly common at sporting events, and these Olympics is the highest-profile showcase yet for their use in broadcasting.

Here’s a few questions and some answers about the drone and its place at the Sochi Games.

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Q: Why use a drone to film Olympic events?

A: “We can go really, really close. And we are really quiet, so nobody is distracted,” said pilot and cameraman Remo Masina, who has used drones to film skiers in Switzerland for commercials.

And it’s cheaper than a camera crew on a helicopter.

A drone with mounted camera can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to $37,000 for a top-of-the-line Ikarus from Britain’s Heliguy, which is advising broadcast clients in Sochi on using drones, said Heliguy’s Justin Pringle.

That compares with the cost of a few thousand dollars an hour to rent a helicopter with pilot, not including the camera crew and equipment.

Flexibility is key. Drones allow unique angles and “allow more height than a crane, but are able to get lower than a helicopter,” said a statement from Olympic Broadcasting Services, which provides the official world feed of all the events at the games and is using one drone in Sochi.

Broadcasting live from a remote-controlled device is more complicated than recording, but not hugely so. It requires an extra transmitter to send back live video, which adds weight and limits how fast the drones can fly. But Masina, who is not involved in the Olympic footage, said he can still fly a drone at up to 40 mph while transmitting a high-definition, live image.

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Q: How does the drones work?

A: The legs of this flying spider hold the rotors that spin around to keep it airborne. The drone then has a flight deck that holds the flight control system with GPS for navigation, sensors and receivers. Then there’s the camera, which can be mounted in the middle or suspended below the flight deck.

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