After more than two years of service, Sherman recently had to replace its drone, nicknamed Sherman I by city staff, with a new model.
“I need to give a very short eulogy here for Sherman I,” City Manager Robby Hefton said during the City Council’s budget workshop earlier this month. “Rest in peace Sherman I. It lost a propeller and so we had to replace it. We got nearly three years out of it and it was the best $1,500 that we’ve ever spent, I believe.”
City staff showed several minutes of aerial video footage captured by the city’s new drone, nicknamed Sherman II, throughout the budget workshop to illustrate areas and projects discussed during the meeting. Like Sherman I, the city’s new drone is basically a high-tech remote-controlled helicopter with a camera mounted to it. However, instead of having just one rotor, the drone is equipped with four, making it a quadcopter. The camera records high-definition video that allows the city to get the kind of raw footage that could cost significant amounts of money if done by an outside vendor. Hefton estimated the city got $50,000 worth of use out of the first drone, which cost around $1,500.
“We used a contract to do this work (before) and it was very expensive,” Hefton said. “I remember a stat, SEDCO (the Sherman Economic Development Corp.) paid a company $4,400 to do about a five-minute flight and video of their Northgate (industrial) park. So when we started looking at this and started to get into development, I thought ‘We’re going to be doing a lot of this. We can’t pay thousands and thousands of dollars to somebody to come do this. So let’s look into getting our own and somebody learn how to fly it.’”
The job of operating the drone has been one of Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch’s duties since the city acquired Sherman I in 2016.
“We can demonstrate both to the council and to the public in a way we never could before what is exactly going on in the city, what their tax dollars are being used for and what the plans are for the city’s future,” Strauch said. “I think city management feels like that initial cost up front is really invaluably spent.”
Strauch said the new drone also cost the city around $1,500, despite being more advanced than its predecessor, something Hefton touted to the council during the budget workshop.
“It’s got better technology — it’s three years advanced,” Hefton said. “It’s got a greater range. It’s got higher definition in its camera shots.”
City staff said the former drone could go out about a mile from its controller, but Sherman II has a range of about 8,000 feet, which is around a mile and a half.
“It’s technically in my line of sight, but I can’t physically see it,” Strauch said of when Sherman II is flying that far away from the controller.
Hefton said that 8,000-foot range can easily be doubled by setting up the controller in the middle of an area to be filmed.
“That’s what he does,” Hefton said of Strauch. “He’ll fly it 8,000 feet that way, come back and go 8,000 (the other way), so he really has about a 16,000 (-foot range) on one linear flight.”
In addition to providing video for the council and the city’s social media pages, Hefton said footage captured by Sherman’s drones have been used in various promotional materials for things like the city’s annual Lights on the Lake celebration and to capture images of the crowds at the free Hot Summer Nights concert series.
“I mean if a picture’s worth a thousand words, a video’s worth a million,” Hefton said. “We’ve also used them in other applications, like over fire scenes to see where fires start.”
The city manager said the use with Sherman Fire-Rescue has been done immediately after the department had extinguished a blaze, as a way of assisting with firefighters’ investigative process. And while Hefton said he can’t imagine the city ever needing more than one drone at a time, he didn’t hesitate when asked whether there will be a Sherman III should anything ever happen to Sherman II.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said.