It’s not a mini-blimp, and don’t call it a drone either. Micah Warren has poured $600,000 into his company, Carangi Airships Inc., to produce “airships,” including one debuting this week at the Thomas &Mack Center during Vegas Summer League.
During a game this week between the San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks, Warren sat in section 121, row N, seat 4 and controlled the flight of the vertical-based 17-foot-tall, 14-foot-wide airship, with an NBA Summer League banner as the sole advertising.
The summer league, which is a training ground for new digital and TV technology, has welcomed the airship.
NBA Digital, ESPN and Turner Broadcasting have expressed interest in using the flying vertical billboard to support video cameras, Warren said.
Albert Hall, one of the Vegas Summer League organizers, said the airship can allow cameras to give broadcasting companies unique content for their TV and web broadcasts.
“They’re interested because it adds a new element. It’s like sky camera in an arena,” said Hall, owner of Hall Pass Media in Southern California.
Warren is not charging the summer league to have his airship on duty at the games, while the league is giving the airship exposure so that Warren could potentially attract new customers.
Warren’s airship company’s biggest customer is the military, which uses the unmanned aerial devices for surveillance purposes. But Warren wants to break into the sports and arena market, and hopes to lease an airship for $15,000 a year to broadcast companies, professional teams and arena operators.
Warren can build an airship as small as two feet tall, which can carry 24 ounces of payload, to one as tall as 50 feet, which could carry a stage for a performer.
Most indoor aerial devices are blimp-shaped, but an unmanned flying object with a vertical design provides maximum stability, Warren said. His airships have carried as many as 17 GoPro cameras for use by the Discovery Channel’s “Gold Rush” reality TV show.
During the Vegas Summer League, the airship is used before and after games and during halftime to drop foam fingers, sunglasses and Nerf balls to fans below who raise their arms any time the aerial device floats overhead. It can carry 17 to 20 pounds of promotional supplies.
Warren’s production base is in Shelton, Wash., where he works with a seamstress to create the devices. Warren also deploys a worker, Steve Swearingen, at events to help him fly the devices.
The $45,000 airship is no toy. It can be maneuvered to an altitude of 12,000 feet and fly 30 mph.
Yet, Warren can control it like a small model plane, pinpointing its location to drop promotional goodies to specific fans.
Speaking of model planes, Warren said he is looking for expert model plane operators to also fly airships at arenas.
Hall expects the airship to return next year.
“It’s worked out really well from a technology standpoint and from a game operations standpoint,” Hall said Thursday. “It’s a great visual and we’re getting great footage from the cameras. We’re capturing great fan reaction.”
Contact reporter Alan Snel at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @BicycleManSnel on Twitter.