May 7th, 2011
07:32 PM ET

iPad-controlled drone captures Tuscaloosa storm damage

In the week since a series of powerful storms and tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa, Alabama, most of the images we've seen have been taken at ground level.

But CNN's Aaron Brodie caught a bird's-eye view using the Parrot AR.Drone, a quadricopter that can be controlled using an iPad or an iPhone. He said he got the idea to experiment with the relatively new technology about a year ago, and finally got the chance to test it out Friday above the ruins of Alberta, a neighborhood in Tuscaloosa.

"It's a bit challenging to fly, but when you get the hang of it you can get some nice aerial footage out of it," Brodie says.

The electronic aircraft retails for about $300 and comes equipped with two cameras, one facing forward and one facing down. Not satisfied with the quality of the video for broadcast purposes, Brodie rigged a GoPro HD camera to the drone, bringing the total cost of the outfit to about $550.

"This is really at the low end of what's possible," he says. "There's much more sophisticated drone technology out there that is now available to really anybody, including us in the news media, and I think this is going to continue to provide a whole new perspective on things."

More than 175 tornadoes hit the South and the Midwest April 27 to 28, weather officials said. The twisters caused at least 327 deaths, 249 of which were in Alabama. In Tuscaloosa, a massive tornado cut a 5.9-mile path of destruction, damaging or destroying more than 5,700 structures and affecting an estimated 13,700 people who lived and worked there, a spokeswoman said.

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Filed under: Alabama • Technology • Tornadoes • Weather
soundoff (79 Responses)
  1. Frankie

    Be careful dear banasy, you are falling prey to Lucifer(Cesar). He will seduce you with his fake charm then turn around to play mind games with you. And my comment was directed to him not you. He is a TROLL and a very sick, evil one.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • deter

      So many trolls, idk who to trust. but idc anyways...

      May 8, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  2. Cesar

    Be careful banasy, the Frankie of 9:36 is a fake. This troll is having fun. Might be female and a regular. Frankie of 9:08 was a real poster.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. nur amabo nur

    How do you get to Carnegie Hall ??? @real cesar not pick but... So many in the US don't pay attention to the practices of the companies they do business with. Apple has created no-suicide pacts with their employees who have been killing themselves because of the strenuous work loads placed on them. This is a new policy and has already been broken 14 times. Do you still want to applaud steve jobs ?
    Only one way to get to Carnegie Hall..practice, practice, practice.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cesar

    @Frankie of 9:36: Hey fake, what's up with you, b*t/ch. Get a life, LOSER.

    May 7, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joey

    Good a new toy for target practice

    May 7, 2011 at 9:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. banasy


    Or one could take a taxi.

    Not to take anything away from Joey, who *does* practice, practice, practice.

    May 7, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. wheelz


    (troll bait)

    hah hah ahaaaaa

    May 7, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • deter

      Troll: nom nom nom

      May 8, 2011 at 3:07 am | Report abuse |
  8. banasy

    @wheelz: uh, oh!

    May 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Lee

    This is really going to be cutting edge once more news reporters use this tool. I learned more about the destruction from this one video than I did from watching an hour long special on the weather channel. My heart goes out to all the victims.

    May 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Stilt Entrepreneur

    I will sell this guy a pair of wooden stilts and my wireless webcam for $35.

    May 8, 2011 at 12:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Klaark

      Looked like it was up a bit higher than stilts, bub. Just watch the news and save the jokes for the people you greet at Walmart.

      May 8, 2011 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. terry

    Worthless video. I live in Alabama and a friend who's daughter lived through this, although is homeless now, took many pcitures that are much better than this.. Waste of time....time would be better spent helping people that endured this catatrophe. Waste of internet access.

    May 8, 2011 at 12:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Stilt Entrepreneur

      I wonder how much food and water you can get with $550 dollars for a human being who just lost their home.

      May 8, 2011 at 12:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Klaark

      I'll be spending $0 on helping the people in the south, sooo....heck, I might go buy something I don't need right now, just in case that money gets spent on these freaks.

      May 8, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
  12. Condor4679123

    So CNN you may just have broken FAA regulation for flying a sUAS for commercial purposes.

    May 8, 2011 at 1:05 am | Report abuse |
  13. steveo

    something tells me it wasnt a ipad controlling it, but then again who knows with todays technology.

    May 8, 2011 at 2:08 am | Report abuse |
  14. Klaark

    Pretty slick. You can tell it's neat because the old people who comment on these forums are angered and confused by it.

    May 8, 2011 at 2:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. PARROT


    May 8, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Phil

      I own a drone I just wanted to point out that the reporter likely only had limited time flying the ar drone. It takes a bit of time to get used to flying the drone. Another thing it really does not handle wind very well. In the wind it tries to compensate and loses most of the time. Being first generation technology I am sure they will improve it. There is no problems getting it to fly some distance away around 150 to 200 feet if not more. I have had mine up around 70 to 100 feet in the air. I am sure having a 550 dollar investment for the drone and the GoPro can make you worried.

      May 31, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
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