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. The network is using the cutting-edge technology to cover snowboardcross and snowmobiling events. The X Games are 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. Those included the Federal Aviation Administration. It 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. Nor anywhere near where they could interfere with incoming flights to the Aspen airport. It 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.
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ESPN works with a company that specializes in taking video with drones, and its technicians will operate the devices. The cameras on the drones will 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?