© Nick B Photos
TikTok has become one of the most popular apps worldwide. After merging with Musicl.ly in 2018, it was finally available in the United States, becoming the next big trend among millennials. It was the 7th most downloaded app of the last decade, and the top downloaded app of the 2018-19 year. When the world went into quarantine because of the coronavirus this year, TikTok became even more widespread than ever, entertaining people with music, dance, comedy, and more. One TikTok video that has gone viral features two chimpanzees flying a drone.
The video which has over 4.5 million views on TikTok was filmed by Nick Balestracci the owner of Nick B Photos and the Creative Content Coordinator for the Myrtle Beach Safari. The Myrtle Beach Safari is an animal park in South Carolina run by Doc Antle that got massive national attention after being featured in Netflix’s highest rated documentary, Tiger King. As the Creative Content Coordinator, Nick spends much of his time photographing creatures like tigers, elephants, and chimpanzees in exotic looking settings or with guests touring the facility. On June 14, 2020, he posted a video and photographs of two of the park’s chimps flying an Autel Robotics drone.
No information as to the specific type of chimpanzees featured is given, but they could possibly be bonobo chimps. The bonobo chimps are an endangered member of the great ape family that is native to the forests of the Congo Basin. Bonobos, along with common chimps are human’s closest relatives with whom we share 98% of our DNA. From their physical structure to their mental capacities and social behaviors, chimpanzees are remarkably akin to humans. As explained on Myrtle Beach Safari’s website, “they are able to use tools from nature, use American Sign Language, convey emotions like humans, have keen senses – but with up to seven times the strength.” It is not a big surprise that the chimps were able to operate a drone.
Drones have become one of the fastest growing emerging technologies of the last few years. What once was an expensive complex tool is now more user friendly than ever. Despite the easy use of most drones, it is also possible to hire a professional professional drone company for aerial filming. Models range from inexpensive toys to state of the art machines, but all have been designed so that nearly anyone can master flying one, even a chimpanzee. The drone being flown by the chimps in Nick’s video is an Autel EVO with a retail value of around $1,000. The EVO, which stands for EVOlution, is a compact, foldable, portable drone. It has a front mounted camera stabilized with a 3-axis gimbal that records 4k video and takes 12 megapixel photos. It has a battery flight time of 30 minutes with a range of 4 miles. It also comes with an easy to use 3.3-inch OLED screen remote controller.
In the video, one of the chimps sits holding the drone’s storage case while the other initially stands with the remote control in its hands. Using both hands the chimp flies the drone a few feet in front of the pair, hovering about 4ft off the ground. Moments later we see both chimps sitting atop of Autel drone storage cases while the same chimp operates the remote. The chimp keeps the drone at a steady hover, rotating it and slightly allowing it to move about, but it seems effortless. The video is only a few seconds long and then switches to some still photos of the chimp flying the drone. But the entire time the animals are interacting with the drone their eyes are trained on it and you can see that they seem to be enjoying the moment.
In light of the COVID-19 lockdowns, drones have become more important than ever. They are being used to remind people of safety concerns, monitor temperatures, sanitize public spaces, deliver medications and basic necessities, and keep jobs moving forward. But being able to see them in an entertaining and novel way, in the hands of a chimpanzee, sheds light on just how positive drones can be in our society. They are easy to use and not only serve as critical tools and help with aerial filming but can also bring us joy when there is so much uncertainty all around.