Is it a bird? A snowboarder? No, it's a drone.
Is it a bird? A snowboarder? No, it's a drone. A drone camera follows Norway's Aleksander Aurdal during the men's ski slopestyle final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia (AP photos)
Is it a bird? A snowboarder? No, it's a drone.
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If Lindsey Jacobellis, Nate Holland or those other snowboarders feel like something is following them at the Winter X Games, they'll be right.

ESPN is adding camera-carrying drones to its coverage of the Winter X Games, using the cutting-edge technology to cover snowboardcross and snowmobiling events this week in Aspen, Colorado.

"It's always been an event that has, in many aspects, been a working laboratory for technical innovation," said senior coordinating producer Rich Feinberg. "It's kind of like the sports here. They're all about progression and we want the coverage to progress as well."

ESPN worked for approval with several entities, including the Federal Aviation Administration, which approved the use of drones for commercial use last year.

One rule the network has to follow is to keep the drones inside a "closed-set environment." In other words, not over spectators, or anywhere near where they could interfere with incoming flights to the Aspen airport, which is little more than steps away from the Buttermilk ski area that hosts the X Games.

So, the network will put its cameras on the drones and have them hover over, aside and behind racers on sections of the snowboardcross course and at the end of the snowmobiling course. The events start Thursday, with the TV coverage planned throughout the weekend.

"Any piece of technology we feel brings viewers closer to the event, we're interested in," said Chris Calcinari, who spearheaded the approvals process for ESPN. "I don't think there are many events that would actually allow us to fly a drone. This is a big opportunity."

Last year at the Sochi Olympics, Russian officials approved drones to help get shots of snowboard and ski jumping events.

Drones have also been making appearances at more football practices. Miami, Louisville, UCLA and Tennessee are among those who have used them to get different looks during workouts over the last season. But they are not allowed at games, because regulations don't allow flying over stadiums.

Colleges use drones to help football players

ESPN works with a company that specializes in taking video with drones, and its technicians will operate the devices, which will be equipped with cameras that can feed footage back to the main truck.

"I'm as excited as anyone to see what this looks like," Feinberg said. "You can picture them flying in front of the pack of racers, next to them, or just about anything else. We want the viewer to hopefully feel like he or she is seeing something he's never seen before. If it gets them to watch a little longer, then we've achieved our goal."

Critical thinking challenge: How will the use of drones change ESPN's coverage? Which part of ESPN's coverage may be reduced to make room for coverage from drones?

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Assigned 18 times

  • NickB-2
    1/22/2015 - 09:10 p.m.

    This article is about X-Game drones. In the winter X-games this year, camera drones will be used to get aerial footage of contestants. ESPN has helped getting this program up and running, and drones have been used for many other sports' coverage. I think this is a really cool and innovative way to film sports.

  • GrantW-2
    1/22/2015 - 10:03 p.m.

    This article is about the use of drones in sporting events. They use drones to get interesting camera angles at college football practices and at the Olympics. They use these drones at the Winter Olympics and at colleges like UCLA. I like this article because I love drones.

  • KiraWvA-4
    1/22/2015 - 10:54 p.m.

    ESPN is beginning to use drones to make viewers feel like they are up close and personal with the contestants in the Winter X Games this week. Restrictions from the Federal Aviation Administration means the drones cannot go over the crowds, near the nearby Aspen, Colorado, airport. This was used at the Sochi Olympics and at university football workouts for new perspectives into the game. I think drones are very debatable in their credibility and how they should be regulated, but it is interesting to see how media giants try to add modern technology into their way of broadcasting events.

  • SeanD-Kan
    1/23/2015 - 09:31 a.m.

    I think it is a very cool concept, personally i skateboard all the time and i have seen before proffesional filmers using drones to take action shots of the skateboarder and the footage looks amazing compared to a regular and more often seen shot.

  • waylon12
    1/23/2015 - 10:20 a.m.

    I think this is really cool. I think the need a biger camra on that thing but sweet. What kind of camra are they using. The world will never know. This is totaly awsome.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    1/23/2015 - 01:26 p.m.

    ESPN finds creative loopholes for everything. They have the best footage of sports and other events. These drones are going to enhance the quality of their footage and bring in more viewers. I'm looking forward to watching.

  • CharismaM
    1/23/2015 - 01:42 p.m.

    Adding a drone to get more camera footage is a good idea. Viewers will be able to get an even closer look at the competitors while they perform.

  • MadisonSch
    1/23/2015 - 01:52 p.m.

    With this drone more people will defiantly watch the Olympics that year. Not only is it cool,but it will help viewers get a better view of the games then they ever did before.

  • mykalb-Orv
    1/23/2015 - 04:34 p.m.

    i always wanted to have a drone because it would be awesome to fly around the world and view it from hundreds of feet in the air looking at people and buildings.

  • LAOE20CatherineM
    1/27/2015 - 09:58 a.m.

    The use of drones will change ESPN's coverage by taping the games from different angles. Like right above or along side the games, making the viewers feel more a part of the game they are watching. The part of coverage that may be reduced to make room for the coverage of drones is the side line coverage.

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