Drones check on Issaquah construction project for managers; documentary reminds us what airplanes have brought us; Amazon’s limited offer of trunk delivery.

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A drone buzzes across an Issaquah construction site every week, flying up to 400 feet high, to take aerial photos of the eight-story midrise being built at Timber Ridge at Talus for the project’s construction manager and investors thousands of miles away.

The X-shaped drone, a DJI Phantom quadcopter that weighs almost 3 pounds and sells for about $1,500, is a harbinger of things to come in the construction business.

“We’re saving the owner money because we’re not spending money each month to have a plane fly over, plus we can use it for much more information gathering,” said Kevin Butts, senior project manager for the building’s general contractor, The Weitz Co. of Des Moines, Iowa.

“Frankly, in the construction industry, we’re just at the tip of the iceberg of what we can use this tool for.”

The company is also using drones on construction sites in Iowa, Minnesota and Florida, Butts said.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration bars businesses from flying drones for commercial uses without a waiver. For now, the National Association of Realtors warns its members not to use drones to sell houses.

The industry is waiting for the FAA to issue rules for commercial use by Sept. 30. In the meantime, drone operators and regulators seem to disagree.

An FAA spokesman said using a drone to track construction progress was a commercial use and requires a waiver from the current ban.

A Weitz Co. spokeswoman said the firm didn’t need a permit to fly a drone.

Real-estate developers and builders aren’t the only ones eager to use drones in their business. More than 150 people attended a drone trade show earlier this month in Kent, where the city hopes to create a regional hub for drone businesses.

“We have a lot of aerospace companies and electronics companies that relate to this technology,” said Bill Ellis, a Kent economic-development official.

Participants presented a range of drone uses: The state Transportation Department wants to use them for bridge maintenance where people can’t go safely. Seattle-based Vulcan is using drones in Africa to track rhino poachers. And through aerial photos, farmers in Japan are identifying crops on their plots that need more water or fertilizer.

Construction on the 145-unit midrise began last October as part of Timber Ridge’s $154 million expansion. Scheduled to open late next year, the project is a joint venture of Life Care Services, an Iowa-based manager of retirement communities, and Illinois-based Westminster Capital, a real-estate investment manager.

The Issaquah drone videos also support the marketing of the apartments on the Timber Ridge at Talus website. And as construction progresses, if there’s any questions, the company can share real-time video from the drone with the project’s architect in Bremerton, said Butts, the project manager.

“It does look like a toy,” he said, “but it’s a very sophisticated toy.”

— Sanjay Bhatt: sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Film reminds us of flying’s wonder

The experience of traveling coach class on commercial airlines has degenerated into something largely drab, cramped and awful.

For most of us, it’s almost killed our sense of flying as a wonder that in just 100 years has totally transformed the world.

A new National Geographic documentary — “Living in the Age of Airplanes” — aims to lift you into the air and remind you of that wonder.

Panning out in the opening scenes to an extraordinary high-definition aerial shot looking down upon San Francisco airport, the movie first offers a quick history lesson on humanity’s earlier modes of transportation.

For thousands of years, the size of the world experienced in a lifetime was confined by how far a person could walk.

While trains, cars and ships sped up our progress on land and on sea, it was the invention of the airplane that allowed us to leap over both and at previously unimaginable speeds.

The movie, produced and directed by Brian Terwilliger and narrated by Harrison Ford, is about how this amazing shrinking of the planet has affected our lives.

It takes us on a deliriously beautiful tourist travelogue spanning the wonders of every continent as a reminder that the airplane serves like some science-fiction transporter to take us to faraway places, or even back in time as we visit ancient sites.

We look around a shopping mall and a living room, and see how many things have arrived there by plane. We see cargo planes filled with fresh roses newly cut in Kenya, delivered just three days later to an isolated home in Alaska.

Even kings from earlier times never had such riches to choose from.

The new wonder of today’s age is the mobile connectivity provided by the Internet, making Apple and Google cooler to youngsters than Airbus and Boeing.

Yet no virtual technology can ever match the physical connectivity airplanes provide.

The movie is playing now on giant screens at aviation and science museums around the country and comes to Seattle’s Pacific Science Center IMAX theater at the end of May for a summer run.

It’ll give you pause to think, next time you’re stuck in a TSA line, about how Boeing’s 80,000 local employees have so dramatically changed the world.

Boeing partisans be warned though: the movie illustrates the current “nearly-perfected” state of aviation with repeated shots of majestic A380 superjumbo jets taking off from Airbus headquarters in Toulouse.

— Dominic Gates: dgates@seattletimes.com

Amazon’s offer of trunk delivery

Amazon wants to put a bit of junk in your trunk.

The online retail giant announced a pilot project this past week with Audi and DHL Parcel to deliver orders directly to the trunks of German customers’ cars.

The service, which debuts next month, will initially be available to a limited number of members of Amazon’s Prime service, which offers free next-day shipping on millions of items to customers who pay an annual fee of 49 euros (roughly $53).

The pilot will only be available in Munich, and only to Audi owners whose cars allow keyless access and wireless tracking.

Those customers can choose trunk delivery by giving DHL temporary digital access to their car’s trunks.

During checkout, shoppers will also need to let DHL know the car’s approximate location during the delivery period, and the delivery service will be able to use tracking technology to locate the precise parking spot when it arrives with the parcel.

The service is part of Amazon’s continuing bid to make shopping on its site more convenient than driving to the store.

“The pilot is the first step towards eventually offering Amazon Prime members around the world the ability to use the trunk of their car as a delivery location,” Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Cheeseman said in a statement.

— Jay Greene: jgreene@seattletimes.com