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A drone lifts off at Kunde Family Vineyards near Santa Rosa, Calif. Ryan Kunde, a winemaker at DRNK Wines, flies his drones recreationally and has been testing drones with the goal of one day using them to help make decisions in the vineyard.

When Steve Morris began building unmanned aerial systems in the late 1990s, he envisioned flying them over fields and collecting data that would be useful to farmers.

But after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drones became largely associated with military strikes and surveillance operations. Morris said the technology became the subject of contentious political debates and public paranoia.

“The entire dream evaporated at that point,” said Morris, founder and president of MLB Co. in Santa Clara, Calif. “In an alternate universe where [drones] rose to prominence through helping the economy, creating businesses and jobs, people would have a different view of them.”

More than a decade later, attention is refocusing on development of drones for commercial purposes. Amazon.com Inc., Google Inc. and Walt Disney Co. are grabbing headlines with plans to develop drones for deliveries, mapping and entertainment. I think it’s going to change agriculture as we know it in North America. It’s definitely going to allow producers to become much more efficient. – Scott Shearer, a professor at Ohio State University and an expert in precision agriculture

But the big boom in unmanned aircraft may come from what’s known as precision agriculture — using high-tech systems to help farmers increase yields and cut costs.

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Earlier this month, first responders in China used drones to determine the hardest-hit areas following a massive earthquake that killed more than 600 people, in one of the first displays of how drones can be used during emergency situations.

One of the great promises of drones is the technology’s inherent ability to be flown above a disaster site, giving first responders a survey of the situation and allowing them to direct where to send aid to. But, until now, that’s been more of a theoretical benefit of drones—very few people have actually used them in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Take, for instance, the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan last year in the Philippines: Tons of search and rescue helicopters, but not a single drone, searched for survivors.

Well, after an earthquake hit Yunnan, China, earlier this month, rescue workers there called up Hong Kong’s DJI (the largest commercial drone manufacturer in the world), and asked its pilots for help.

“We sent a team of pilots to assist the China Association for Disaster and Emergency Response Medicine following the earthquake. This was the first time [the country] used [drones] in its relief efforts and as a result many of the cooperating agencies and bodies working on site have approached us for training / using UAS technology in the future,” Michael Perry, a spokesperson for the company, told me in an email.

Perry said that the drones were able to relay images back to rescue workers, who used them to determine which roads needed to be cleared first and which areas of the rubble to search for possible survivors.

“Aerial images captured by the team were used by workers in the epicenter area of Longtoushan, where most of the traditional buildings in the area collapsed,” the company said. “The dense rubble and vegetation have made ground surveying extremely difficult, so using aerial images has helped identify where relief teams can focus on searching for survivors.”

It’s not clear if the drones directly helped save any lives (and granted, everything we know about the aerial imaging effort in this case is coming from the company itself), but this is clearly the future of disaster relief.

Drones are cheap, can be flown close to the ground, and are safer to use than helicopters. It’s only a matter of time until the very first response by first responders is to toss a drone in the air to get a survey of the situation. After that, they just might toss a drone in the air to help deliver medicine and supplies.

Source: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/what-chinas-drone-led-search-for-earthquake-survivors-looks-like

With all the negative press that UAV’s (we try not to label them as ‘drones’ due to the association of small, unmanned aerial vehicles being confused as military applications/weaponry), it’s refreshing to see the sheer beauty this technology can capture. A good example of this is the YouTube video below. UAV’s, when used safely and properly, can capture aerial imagery that no other technology could ever do. Enjoy!

When Virginia resident Guillermo DeVenecia went missing last Wednesday, police and searchers were dispatched to find the 82-year-old man, who suffers from dementia and hearing loss.

For three days, police, search dogs, a helicopter, and hundreds of volunteers combed heavily wooded areas and fields around DeVenecia’s Fitchburg home to no avail. Concerned for his safety as the search dragged on, Fitchburg police issued a news alert to all residents to be on the lookout for the missing man.

It took David Lesh about 20 minutes to find DeVenecia with a drone.

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Lesh usually uses his drone to photograph skiers and snowboarders for his Colorado sports-apparel company, Virtika. Hearing about the missing man, Lesh, his girlfriend, and her father took to the skies on Saturday above a 200-acre soybean field to aid in the search.

“I thought what would happen would be we’d be able to give them the peace of mind to cross of some more areas quickly,” Lesh’s girlfriend, Katie Gorman, told local NBC news affiliate WMTV.

According to Gorman’s father, Gary, he didn’t think at the time that they’d find DeVenecia alive and safe.

“To be honest, when David was flying the drone over the bean fields, we thought we were looking for a body,” he told reporters.

Using a FPV, or first-person-view controls, Lesh was able to fly above about 200 feet above the area and view it through the drone’s camera. He canvased the field, which might have taken volunteers many hours, in just a handful of minutes.

At the end of the flight around 1 p.m., Lesh said he saw DeVenecia through his camera, standing in the bean rows.

“As we were making the last turn to fly it, we noticed a man out in the field sort of stumbling, looking a little disoriented,” Lesh told reporters.

Lesh and his group carried DeVenecia out of the field and drove him to the local search command center and his worried wife.

“To get a hug from someone’s wife when they’ve been missing, just a tear-filled hug, is a feeling I won’t forget for a long time,” Katie Gorman told reporters.

Despite being without food, water, or shelter for three days, DeVenicia was found in good condition, suffering only from some mild dehydration, according to police. Reports indicate that he had no idea he’d been gone that long or that a massive search was underway.

Source: http://www.examiner.com/article/amateur-drone-pilot-finds-man-missing-for-three-days
Thanks to John Ellenberger over at Cleveland Aerial Media for the link!

LINK: Watch the video here.

It’s a view of Tampa like you’ve never seen before, a dazzling look at some the city’s most beautiful sights.

“I was just blown away. It was a weird moment, this is like a whole new perspective,” said Ben Bradley.

USF graduate Ben Bradley is the guy behind the controls. He owns the Right Hand Films production company and he used a drone to shoot the video.

“I love Tampa. I want to share our city, show our city. I think from an aerial perspective, it’s a great way of doing that,” he said.

His video has gone viral, eclipsing 60,000 views. It’s garnering attention from all over the country.

“I got an e-mail from a lady who moved out of state a few years ago. She was born in Tampa and she got emotional from the video because it brought her back,” he said.

Ben is already working on future shoots with his eye in sky. He believes with drones, the sky is the limit.

“If you’re careful with them and responsible with them, they can be a great tool,” he said.

Source: http://www.myfoxtampabay.com/story/26017552/with-soaring-views-drone-video-of-tampa-goes-viral

The new FAA rules: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=FAA-2014-0396-0001

It’s hard to know where to even begin with the new FAA rules that could soon the law of the land when it comes to model aviation. This reminds me of when Senate Bill 71 got rolling here in Oregon – except that I immediately grasped that threat.

FAA_PQ_01For me, personally, this latest twist in the seemingly unending saga to establish a regulatory framework for civilian drone operations in the United States came with a slow-burning fuse attached. I was busy with other projects and, frankly, I didn’t take the time focus on this subject – even as e-mails with subject lines like, “This is Really BAD!” started stacking up in my inbox.

Part of it, I think, was that I could not conceive that such sweeping, draconian regulations could be put into place by the FAA on a whim. (Actually, there is a pretty good legal argument to be made that they can’t – but we don’t want to be tied up in court for years on this issue, so long as we have better options available to us).

And, make no mistake, these new rules are terrible. They would undermine everything that many of us have been working on for years. Here are some highlights:

  • FAA_PQ_02FPV is gone – a clear violation of FAA regulations;
  • All aeromodelers are held to heretofore unimagined standards within the federal aviation regulations requiring, in some instances, that they hold full-sized, manned aircraft pilots’ licenses; and,
  • Doing pretty much anything related to model aviation for pay – like reviewing a new model for a magazine or receiving a sponsorship – is forbidden.

…and I’m really just scratching the surface here. There are depths of badness within this proposal that require spelunkers more dauntless than myself to bring into the daylight – and perhaps the most galling thing about this proposal is that the FAA could have simply enacted it without allowing public comment. They have given us until July 25 to provide feedback as a “courtesy.”

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Marking a milestone for the industry, Monrovia drone maker AeroVironment Inc. announced a contract to use an unmanned aircraft to perform routine commercial services over land in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

The company’s small drone, called Puma AE, is now scouring BP Exploration Inc.’s Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska, a first under FAA authorization.

“These surveys on Alaska’s North Slope are another important step toward broader commercial use of unmanned aircraft,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “The technology is quickly changing, and the opportunities are growing.”

Since Sunday, the drone has been flying above the largest oil field in North America using high-tech sensors to create 3-D computerized models of roads, pads and pipelines for industrial applications.

The five-year contract could be a sign of things to come as drone technology becomes more advanced and demand increases from police agencies and others for using drones in the commercial world.

Melanie Hinton, spokesperson for Assn. for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the nation’s largest drone trade group, said the milestone is “an exciting moment in the integration process.”

Drones “have proven adept at safely and effectively performing aerial surveys, and can be an effective tool for the oil and gas industry,” she said. Hinton said her group believes more needs to be done to allow for such operations, with limits.

The Puma, which takes off after being thrown into the air, was designed to give troops on the ground a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening over a ridge or around a bend.

In one mission for BP, the AeroVironment drone assisted drivers moving  3.5-million-pound drill rigs on tight roadways in low visibility conditions by giving them high resolution 3-D models of the road ahead.

“This is an important achievement for our joint team and for the industry in demonstrating the safe and effective use of our proven UAS technology for commercial applications,” said AeroVironment Chief Executive Timothy E. Conver in a statement.

AeroVironment is the Pentagon’s top supplier of small drones — including the Raven, Wasp and Puma models. But the company, which makes drones in its Simi Valley facilities, has seen sales decline as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to a close.

Hoping for new revenue streams, AeroVironment has been waiting for the FAA to allow drones fly freely for commercial purposes here at home.

Currently, drones are not allowed to fly in the U.S. except with special permission from the FAA. As demand increases from commercial industries, though, the agency has moved to ease restrictions.

Oil and gas companies, like BP, want to utilize them to keep an eye on their pipelines. Movie makers want to use drones to film action scenes. The idea of using robotic aircraft as transport vehicles has been discussed as a way to deliver books for Amazon.com and pizza for Domino’s.

The FAA is working to meet a congressional mandate to integrate the airspace with robotic aircraft by September 2015.

However, the prospect of thousands of unmanned aircraft flying around U.S. airspace in populated areas beginning at that time appears unlikely. The FAA has said that remotely piloted aircraft aren’t allowed in national airspace on a wide scale because they don’t have an adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions.

Last summer, the FAA gave away two first-of-its-kind certificates that permitted operators to fly drones for commercial purposes. However, they were in remote areas over water.

The oil field at Prudhoe Bay is in the northernmost part of Alaska, near the Beaufort Sea. There, AeroVironment’s Puma, which has a wingspan of about 9 feet, flies at 200 to 400 feet above ground level for up to 3.5 hours at a time.

“This technology will help BP optimize the planning and implementation of maintenance programs for the North Slope infrastructure throughout Prudhoe Bay,” said Dawn Patience, a BP spokeswoman. “Targeting maintenance activities on specific road areas will save time, and address safety and reliability.”

Source: http://www.latimes.com/business/aerospace/la-fi-faa-bp-drone-20140609-story.html

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More forward-thinking farmers are dabbling with small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)—or drones—for a multitude reasons. For Donavon Taves, it all started because of the bears.

That’s right—black bears roaming the Louisiana countryside have a tendency to step on or occasionally bite through Taves’ poly pipe irrigation. It was easy enough to fix, but it was time-intensive to check his fields daily for the recurring problem.


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What You Need To Know About Drone Safety


Taves fitted his small hexacopter (six rotors) with a camera and programmed it to fly over the poly pipe. Each morning, he sits down with a cup of coffee and reviews the footage so he knows which poly pipes to patch before he leaves the house. Problem solved.

“There are so many great ideas to explore using this technology,” he says. “They are easy-to-fly work toys. A quick look at fields from 300′ up can help identify lodging and wind damage issues and help you make decisions regarding field harvest order. Return on investment comes very quickly.”

Taves emphasizes the importance of responsible use, which primarily means don’t fly the drone over your neighbor’s fields. Be mindful of limiting factors such as battery life, which typically is 20 minutes or less.

Matt McCrink, a Ph.D. student with The Ohio State University, says that UAVs have numerous other potential uses in production agriculture. Drones can also be used for monitoring and recording plant health, water usage and pesticide dispersal.

“This will allow for the creation of a historical database, which farmers might use to project future crop yields and soil health,” McCrink says.

Awareness—and scrutiny—for drone technology have grown side by side. Interest has skyrocketed since the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said that the agriculture industry would be the biggest benefactor of UAV use, says Rory Paul, CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook since then,” Paul says. If farmers could use UAVs to capture just 1% more efficient operations or just 1% more yields, “you’re talking about billions of dollars,” he says.

But the technology is not without its critics. Most consumers were introduced to drones as weapons of war, not as farm scouting tools. Public outcry varies, but some pockets have generated heated debate about civilian spying and other potential privacy concerns. The citizens of Deer Trail, Colo., will even vote this fall whether the town can issue “drone hunting licenses,” which would allow the townsfolk to shoot down drones and collect $100 bounties for their efforts.

There’s also the matter of legality, or possible lack thereof.

Most UAV operators follow 1981 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines for recreational model planes. Under these guidelines, a UAV can’t fly higher than 400′ and must stay away from airports and other “sensitive” areas such as schools and hospitals.

However, these guidelines were never meant to govern on-farm UAV usage. They are only for recreational use, which currently excludes commercial use by individuals or companies. Congress has directed the FAA to address commercial UAV use no later

Source: http://www.agweb.com/article/enter_the_drone_zone_NAA_Ben_Potter

While drones have generated controversy for their use in war zones as well as fascination for their potential use in delivering everything from pizzas to packages, unmanned aerial vehicles also hold the promise to revolutionize archaeology. Learn how archaeologists are employing the most high-tech of tools to discover and protect the most ancient of artifacts.

Remote Control Drones

Archaeologists are increasingly discovering that the best way to find out what is hidden below the ground is to take to the skies. According to an article in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers last summer employed a pilotless aircraft to learn more about an ancient village that lurks beneath the layers of dusty soil and sagebrush of remote northwestern New Mexico.

University of Arkansas archaeologist Jesse Casana and University of North Florida professor John Kanter outfitted a remote-controlled, eight-rotor mini helicopter with a heat-sensing camera that revealed buried structures in the 1,000-year-old settlement known as Blue J, approximately 40 miles south of Chaco Canyon, an ancient Pueblo cultural and religious center. The heat-imaging revealed stone rubble, ceremonial pits and the footprints of houses lurking beneath the desert landscape, discoveries that in the past would not have been possible without disturbing the site.

Kanter told the Associated Press that the use of drones saved archaeologists considerable time and money. “Really within a few hours we were able to survey this area that took me a long time, years of what we call ground reconnaissance and excavation to see what’s below the surface,” he said. “So this is great for quickly and pretty cheaply being able to find sites.” Plus, the aerial information will allow researchers to pinpoint exactly where they should dig.

For decades, archaeologists have known about the promise that heat-imaging holds in locating cultural remains buried underground because bricks and stone walls retain and emit warmth differently than the surrounding soil. However, low-altitude flights were needed in order for aerial thermography to be effective, something that wasn’t technologically or economically feasible until the development of affordable pilotless aircraft. In the past, archaeologists seeking bird’s-eye views needed to access satellite data, strap equipment to kites or balloons or rent crop dusters, but these failed to provide the more detailed views offered by drones and could be expensive. Small drones that can be operated with a radio-controlled handset cost around $1,000, and instructional websites such as DIYdrones.com are democratizing access to technical information.

Archaeologists are employing drones for additional uses besides aerial thermography. They are attaching infrared sensors, magnetometers, barometers and GPS devices on craft to assist in their work. In locations throughout the Middle East and South America that have been prone to looting, archaeologists are mounting video cameras on drones to keep an eye out for vandals, protect sites from destruction and create a digital record of ruins for posterity in case any damage reconstruction needs to be undertaken.

Pilotless aircraft are assisting researchers in creating data-rich, three-dimensional maps of archaeological sites. Since drones skim close to the ground, they can measure topographical changes within an accuracy of half-an-inch. The time-consuming task of mapping that previously had been done by hand and could take months and years can now be done in a matter of days.

Archaeologists are also employing unmanned aircraft to explore remote locations that they cannot safely reach. The flipside is that tomb raiders and antiquities traffickers interested in plundering ancient artifacts could have access to the same capabilities. By making these remote locations more accessible, the risk increases that they will not be kept intact.

While drones hold the promise of revolutionizing archaeology, potential obstacles remain. With current technology, flights usually can last only a maximum of fifteen minutes, and the mini helicopter used by the archaeologists in New Mexico has a tendency to suddenly stop and crash to the ground.

And as drones have proliferated, so have safety and privacy concerns. A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 63 percent of Americans believe that allowing personal and commercial drones to fly through U.S. airspace would be a change for the worse. While “hobbyists” are allowed to fly drones at low altitudes, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently prohibits their commercial use. However, the FAA is working to develop operational guidelines on the commercial application of drones by the end of 2015. Any easing of restrictions on the commercial operation of drones holds the promise in aiding the future work of archaeologists.

Source:  http://www.history.com/news/can-drones-revolutionize-archaeology?utm_content=buffer87166&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

North Dakota will soon get a glimpse of a future where farmers can monitor their crops using small, flying drones. That’s because the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given the state the go-ahead to start using its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) test site. It’s the first one to become operation among the six commercial UAS testing program sites chosen by Congress in 2013. The state’s Department of Commerce will hold two rounds of flight tests using Draganflyer X4ES drones not only to monitor crops, but also to test soil quality. These are relatively small, helicopter-like machines, which measure 36.25 inches in length and width and are equipped with Sony cameras.

While the mission’s main goal is to prove that drones can be used for those aforementioned farming tasks, authorities will also be collecting safety data from the flights.

According to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta:

These data will lay the groundwork for reducing risks and ensuring continued safe operations of UAS. We believe the test site programs will be extremely valuable to integrating unmanned aircraft and fostering America’s leadership in advancing this technology.

In other words, missions conducted in the six test sites will determine the future of UAS in the country and perhaps even to make the public realize that not all drones are harbingers of doom. The Draganflyer X4ES drones will take to the skies on the week of May 5th at North Dakota State University’s Carrington Research Extension Center and then again at Sullys Hill National Game Preserve this summer. But, as the permit to operate the site is good for two years, the drone will likely roam more Peace Garden state fields in the future.

Source: (Thanks Kevin!) http://www.engadget.com/2014/04/21/drone-test-site-north-dakota

Archaeologists flew a drone over an ancient site called Blue J in northwestern New Mexico to obtain aerial thermal images of the site.

 

Thermal images captured by an small drone allowed archaeologists to peer under the surface of the New Mexican desert floor, revealing never-before-seen structures in an ancient Native American settlement.

Called Blue J, this 1,000-year-old village was first identified by archaeologists in the 1970s. It sits about 43 miles (70 kilometers) south of the famed Chaco Canyon site in northwestern New Mexico and contains nearly 60 ancestral Puebloan houses around what was once a large spring.

Now, the ruins of Blue J are obscured by vegetation and buried in eroded sandstone blown in from nearby cliffs. The ancient structures have been only partially studied through excavations. Last June, a team of archaeologists flew a small camera-equipped drone over the site to find out what infrared images might reveal under the surface.

“I was really pleased with the results,” said Jesse Casana, an archaeologist from the University of Arkansas. “This work illustrates the very important role that UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have for scientific research.”

Casana said his co-author, John Kantner of the University of North Florida, had previously excavated at the site and the drone images showed stone compounds Kantner had already identified and ones that he didn’t know about.

For example, the thermal images revealed a dark circle just inside the wall of a plaza area, which could represent wetter, cooler soil filling a kiva, or a huge, underground structure circular that would have been used for public gatherings and ceremonies. Finding a kiva at Blue J would be significant; the site has been considered unusual among its neighbors because it lacks the monumental great houses and subterranean kivas that are the hallmark of Chaco-era Pueblo sites, the authors wrote in the May issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The images also could guide archaeologists’ trowels before they ever break ground.

“Now that we know what household compounds look like in thermal imaging, we could use it to prospect for structures at other sites,” Casana told Live Science.

How it works

Archaeological features like bricks and stone walls retain and emit warmth differently than the surrounding soil, meaning heat maps can provide an outline of rubble buried underground. Casana said archaeologists have been talking about using thermal imaging technology to probe ancient sites for decades, but it’s been almost impossible to operationalize.

“To do it, you need to get a really high-resolution thermal image collected at the right time of day,” Casana said. “It involves tasking a plane with a very expensive sensor to fly at a very low altitude, and that’s just not something that archaeologists could afford.”

Casana primarily studies archaeology of the Middle East and was leading a dig in Syria until civil war broke out in the country in 2011. In 2012, he got a Start-Up grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities to study aerial thermographic imaging. Casana has been investigating archaeological sites with an eight-rotor CineStar 8 remote-controlled copter, which he built from a $6,000 kit a few years ago. So far, he has tested the technology at a site in Cyprus, a Plains Village settlement in South Dakota and the ancient city of Cahokia near modern-day St. Louis, among others. He said he would be taking the craft to Iraq this summer for a new project in Kurdistan.

The uncertain future of drones for science

Archaeologists and other scientists who want to study the Earth from above are increasingly looking at drones as a research tool as the cost for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, goes down. But the technology is hardly perfect, and there are legal hurdles, too.

“People who fly them for fun say it’s not a question of if you’ll crash it, but when and how badly,” Casana said. He found that to be true in his trials. Hardware sometimes comes loose mid-flight and the software on the ground occasionally freezes, Casana said. He travels with replacement parts and backup systems like balloons and kites.

Meanwhile, the lack of regulations for UAVs in the United States makes it difficult to implement the technology just yet.

The Federal Aviation Administration has set a goal to implement commercial drone regulations by 2015 and recently designated six drone-testing centers across the country to research how UAVs could be safely introduced to U.S. skies. FAA officials have held that it is illegal to fly commercial drones until they write those rules, though they suffered a setback last month when a judge for the National Transportation Safety Board overturned the FAA’s decision to fine a man $10,000 for using a drone to shoot a promotional video, Bloomberg News reported.

To comply with these legal gray areas, Casana said he had to rely student volunteers to operate the drone in New Mexico this summer. (“Hobbyists” have no problem flying the aircraft.) He expressed concern that debates about drone use often ignore scientific applications.

“When legislators think about use of technology, they often don’t think about science,” Casana said. “They need to come up with some regulations. Until they do, it’s really kind of hamstringing science.”

Source: http://www.livescience.com/44679-drone-images-reveal-buried-archaeological-ruins.html

smalldrones
Arch Aerial Drone

A couple years ago, Ryan Baker founded Arch Aerial, a Houston-based drone manufacturer. An archaeologist by training, Baker worked on shooting excavations for clients, and eventually moved into working on films. Then, universities and high schools came knocking; they wanted drones to film their athletics. Now, with drones recently shooting sports at the Sochi Olympics, the idea might be gaining some mainstream traction.

Baker gave a talk at South By Southwest about how drones are changing sports, and we caught up with him after to chat.

Popular Science: Can you start by telling me a little bit about how drones are already being used in sports photography?

Ryan Baker: It made the most sense and it was first adopted by extreme sports, because one, the general user in extreme sports, a lot of times they’re younger, and they’re trying to get shots of them skateboarding or skiing or snowboarding. That’s where it’s at now.

Drones being used at Sochi—that was huge, for our industry in general, because it put it in the public eye. It’s becoming a thing that’s adopted by mainstream sports.

PS: Like what? Football?

RB: Football, initially people think wide game passes, that’s a possibility. But I think it’s more going to be used for practice film and promotional film for teams. Certainly you can get those long shots using those things, but I don’t know if they’ll actually implement that for liability reasons.

 

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Gadget Show

A federal judge slapped down the FAA’s fine for a drone operator, saying there was no law banning the commercial use of small drones.

The judge’s decision could open up the skies below 400 feet to farmers, photographers and entrepreneurs who have been battling the FAA over the use of the unmanned aerial vehicles.

NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled Thursday that the policy notices the FAA issued as a basis for the ban weren’t enforceable because they hadn’t been written as part of a formal rulemaking process.

The ruling, for now, appears to make it legal for drones to fly at the low altitude as part of a business — whether that’s delivering beer, photographing a baseball game or spraying crops.

The case, Pirker v. Huerta, concerned Raphael Pirker, a Swiss drone operator who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for operating a drone recklessly while filming a commercial for the University of Virginia’s medical school. Pirker is the only person the FAA has fined for violating the rule, but the agency has sent letters and made informal calls to other drone operators. The judge’s ruling dismisses the FAA’s fine.

The FAA didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Any appeal of the ruling would go to U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The FAA could also attempt to issue an emergency rule banning small drone use.

The ban was based on a FAA policy advisory given to agency employees who had asked questions about how to handle problems with model aircraft. Since 2007, the agency has insisted its rules applied to drones, as well. Pirker’s lawyer, Brendan Schulman, argued the advisory wasn’t enforceable, and Judge Geraghty agreed.

The agency had struggled to enforce the ban as more and more uses for the small drones popped up. Photographers and videographers were using drones to film everything from “The Wolf of Wall Street” to the Washington Nationals’ spring training. A video showing a Minnesota beer company delivering beverages to thirsty ice fishers went viral, forcing the FAA to shoot down the proposal.

The FAA has said it intends to propose a rule on small drone use by the end of the year. The ruling doesn’t affect larger drones that tend to share airspace with helicopters and planes.

A judge has struck down the FAA’s ban on the commercial use of small drones, potentially freeing up the skies below 400 feet for farmers, photographers and entrepreneurs.

NTSB Administrative Law Judge Patrick Geraghty ruled that the policy notices the FAA used as a basis for the ban weren’t enforceable since they hadn’t been written as part of a formal rulemaking process.

The case, Pirker vs. Huerta, concerned Raphael Pirker, a Swiss drone operator who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for operating a drone recklessly while filming at the University of Virginia. The judge’s ruling dismisses the FAA’s fine.

Filmmakers and others have increasingly flouted the FAA’s rule in recent months. The agency has pledged to propose a formal rule for small drones by the end of the year.

The FAA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. If appealed, the case would go the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

Source: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/faa-small-drones-ban-104393.html#ixzz2vJjgFoD6

Dubai's Turning Drones into Firefighters

It makes perfect sense. Burning buildings are very dangerous places for people to enter, so when there’s a fire that needs to be put out, why not recruit robots to do the dirty work?

That’s exactly what Dubai Civil Defense is doing this year. The emergency management organization just bought 15 quadcopters that it plans to use for patrolling high-risk areas like industrial zones for fires. In the event of a fire, Civil Defense plans to deploy the drones to inspect the scene so that they can assess how best to handle the situation. They’ll also use three drones while fighting the fire—one to do reconnaissance, one to assist firefighters, and one to take pictures for the media.

“If a firefighter isn’t going to do that, then let a robot do it. Once there is demand for this, it will revolutionize the industry,” says Folmer Kamminga, managing director of the Dutch drone developer Geoborn who makes the Knight Hawk, a drone with heat sensors and a navigation system. Some day, the Knight Hawk could be able to fight fires autonomously. “By the time my grandchild enters this industry, maybe all they’ll need to do is to press a button and robots will completely extinguish a fire.”

Sounds a lot better than running into a burning building, doesn’t it? Well, just add it to the list of the good things that drones actually do. Of course, this won’t be the first time drones have been used to help fight fires. Unmanned aerial vehicles have become an increasingly common part of the teams that fight wildfires. They’re mainly used for spotting and aerial photography so that firefighters can try to predict what the wildfires will do next. It’s interesting to see that same strategy applied to an urban center.

Source: http://gizmodo.com/dubais-turning-drones-into-firefighters-1505685714

Contrary to popular wisdom, drones are already among — or above — us.

 

I want to believe that when we talk about drones — also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems — whose bodies vary from pterodactyl-big to mosquito-small (the Robobee, a robotic insect, weighs less than 1/300th of an ounce), and any one of which will soon be taking off, in ungovernable numbers, in our coming (2015) deregulated airspace, we are not talking about General Atomics’ “Predators and their Hellfire missiles bombing daycare centers in Afghanistan.”

But the drone has already earned its inalterable reputation. Much to the chagrin of the man who uttered the sardonic quote above: the resourceful, loquacious, fingers-in-many-pies Lucien Miller, CEO of Innov8tive Designs, in Vista. Miller is behind his desk in a small office, next to an adjoining warehouse, one of hundreds of manufacturing warrens in the Palomar Business Park. Dressed in a light blue knit shirt, faded jeans, and comfortable loafers, Miller is a-flurry with info and PR on unmanned aerial vehicles and their possibility. Which is why he’s adamant that the word “drone” is a great misnomer.

Miller is a licensed pilot whose less than 20/20 vision did not qualify him to fly commercial jets, as he’d hoped to do. To replace it, he’s developed a next-best passion. He designs, builds, flies, distributes, and sells kits and fully assembled aircraft for the radio-controlled model-airplane industry. This technology has, in just three years, evolved into his specialty, the multi-rotor or quadcopter, the hobbyist’s drone. “Instead of having the one big main rotor” like a helicopter, “they have four small rotors with airplane propellers.” His quadcopters, complete at $2000, have “sophisticated GPS systems so when you set them down and power them up they learn the position they took off from.” Auto-command GPS gives them that sense that they “know” where they are because you, the controller, have positioned them so.

Miller has more fun with his drones than a man in his 40s should be allowed. Imagine him and his joystick, “chasing neighbor kids up and down the street on Halloween” with his “Ghost Quadcopter” — a torso-sized body, cloaked in black, with a frayed skirt, a derby-topped LED-lighted skull, and Frankenstein-stiff arms. In the video, the children scream in fright while the adults laugh at the anomaly, their cellphone cameras flashing and recording the stunt. One year, Miller buzzed the Ghost Quadcopter beside the driver’s window of a passing car, “and it no doubt freaked the poor woman out to no end.”

Video: Lucien Miller’s ghost quadcopter

The ghostcopter in action. Terrifying!

The ghostcopter in action. Terrifying!

Drone strikes in Pakistan — resulting in hundreds of innocent civilians blown apart — have so corrupted Americans’ thinking about drones, Miller notes, that not only does the press ignore the “good uses,” but the consensus remains that all flying things incur surveillance. “It’s all how the media portrays it.” It’s absurd, he says, police peering in our windows with bots. The personal computer and the cellphone did not meet with such bad press. Coverage, for the unmanned aerial vehicles, he finds moronic. So much so that he’s started the rolling blog, thetruthaboutdrones.com. Only positive posts, please.

It may be that our deepest fears of a National Security State arrive from outside and above, like in Steven Spielberg’s sadistic War of the Worlds — and not from within our super-hive of laptops and wireless connectivity. Post–Edward Snowden, many privacy rights activists believe the true menace comes from government and corporate surveillance of us via our devices. Still, because of our attack history, we fear the unexpected air assault — 9/11, Pearl Harbor. No wonder we’re spooked by flying machines — those incoming planes are coming for us.

Wunderkind

Lucien Miller hates the word drones. So does Monica England at Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the largest unmanned aerial vehicles lobby, which heavily romances both the military and Congress. England writes in an email that unmanned aerial vehicles are not “drones. A drone is a target used by naval aviators in combat training.” She attaches a photo. It’s not a target; it’s a missile, fired from a ship. Headed to Pakistan. Now, that’s a drone.

Jordi Muñoz’s 3D Robotics sells products to dozens of countries. “We’re worldwide neutral.”

Image by Howie Rosen

Jordi Muñoz’s 3D Robotics sells products to dozens of countries. “We’re worldwide neutral.”

Jordi Muñoz also hates, though good-humoredly, the word drone. The chief technology officer of 3D Robotics, who’s 27, a wunderkind, both affable and brimming with ideas, prefers “flying robots,” he tells me while clearing a desk in his no-longer spacious, research-and-development headquarters in the Kearny Mesa Industrial Park. Floor and shelf space is his number-one burden. He began in his garage, in Riverside, built his first drone at 20, sold it and more at 22, moved to San Diego, where he’s established one of the company’s three sites: a manufacturing plant bubbles along in Tijuana and business and sales are staffed in Berkeley, run by Muñoz’s partner, CEO Chris Anderson, a founding editor of Wired magazine.

A drone or unmanned vehicle, he says, can be anything that “makes a decision by itself or follows a preprogrammed mission.” In the air, underwater, inside buildings, searching the wilderness for a lost child — or, the future butler, Droney, as in, “Hey, Droney, slippers, please. The master wants to relax.” Muñoz employs open-source computer codes, taken from Nintendo and the iPhone, to design the “brain” of the unmanned aerial vehicles, also called the machine’s “autopilot.” The brain is a miniaturized panel of sensors that controls the functions of the unmanned aerial vehicles: a lithium-ion battery for an hour or two of flight; an accelerometer for speed; a gyroscope for locating itself in relation to the ground, other flying robots, and unmovable objects (“Look out for that wall, Droney”); and a magnetometer for finding its bearing vis-à-vis north.

Muñoz is dedicated to open-source design, in which software codes are shared on the internet for free. “It’s the way I grew up; it’s my mentality,” he says, showing me slides of his PowerPoint presentation. As he developed code for his robots, others used it as well, correcting and revising his language. Though such “online collaboration” remains viable, Muñoz found many hobbyists had no time to make brain and bot as he had. “Do it yourself,” he told them when they inquired if he had one for sale. Instead, they begged for his machines — voilà, 3D Robotics, an international supplier of drones and parts with 170 employees, still growing avalanche-fast. In the past four months, $30 million in new venture capital has fattened the company’s bank account. Already they’re scouting larger digs.

Read the rest of this story here: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2014/feb/05/cover-we-dont-call-them-drones-anymore/?page=2

Source:  http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2014/feb/05/cover-we-dont-call-them-drones-anymore/

There’s been a lot of news about drones this year—and most of it makes the near future sound like a scary place full of heavy government surveillance and aggressive Amazon marketing. But technology isn’t inherently good or bad, it depends how it’s used, and some people are trying to harness the potential of drones to make a positive difference in the world. Imagine that! Here are five initiatives that are working to get some good off the ground.

rescuedrone

Drone to the rescue

1. RP SearchServices
RP SearchServices
is the nonprofit division of RP FlightSystems, a company based in Wimberly, Texas, that offers drone data and other aerial data collection services. SearchServices specializes in search and rescue, support for disasters like fires, and environmental data collection. Gene Robinson, who owns RP FlightSystems and runs SearchServices, says that the group has assisted on more than 100 search-and-rescue cases around the country and has made 10 recoveries that were directly attributable to the UAVs. Furthermore, Robinson says that photos his drones took in Tijuana, Mexico, assisted in breaking up a human trafficking ring, and even allowed for the recovery of a pregnant llama. SearchServices is also partnered with the San Diego State University VizCenter, which has an unmanned aerial vehicle division. RP SearchServices often works with search and rescue groups that don’t have required FAA drone certifications so investigations can move forward quickly.

2. Height Tech
To bring defibrillators to remote areas, Height Tech is working on an octocopter system that autonomously delivers defibrillators to people in need. The German company, which also uses drones in movie productions and for surveying, is working with defibrillator manufacturer Schiller and presented the system in August. When prompted, a smartphone app transmits GPS coordinates to the drone so it can find the patient and then drop in a defibrillator by parachute. Currently the Height Tech’s octocopters have a range of about six miles and can fly in all weather at 44 miles per hour, so applications are fairly local for now but could still be faster than an ambulance in rural areas.

3. ConservationDrones.org
ConservationDrones.org
began in 2011 with a focus on wildlife in Southeast Asia. The founders, conservation ecologist Lian Pin Koh and primate biologist Serge Wich, built their own UAV for about $2,000 and tested it in North Sumatra, Indonesia, for 30 forest and wildlife imaging missions over four days. And enthusiasm for the project, specifically using low-cost drones in research, grew from there. In August, Mongabay sponsored the group to become a nonprofit. ConservationDrones.org is currently raising money to do research and conservation work with Mongolian snow leopards in 2014.

4. Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration
Alaska’s enormous size and undeveloped land create accessibility issues and make aviation the only option for reaching much of the state. As a result the University of Alaska Fairbanks’s Geophysical Institute started the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration to work on UAV development and research. The group bet that Alaska’s geography would create unusual pressure and demand to implement drone systems for everything from public services to resource management. And they seem to be correct. So far the group has used drones for things like fighting forest fires, mapping glaciers and sea ice, search and rescue, and monitoring marine life.

5. Matternet
Matternet
wants to bring a “physical Internet” to remote areas that aren’t easily accessible or don’t have consistent transportation options. To do this, the group has a fleet of drones and is developing network solutions that will allow the UAVs to carry and deliver light packages (no kayak drop-offs here, either) like drugs or medical tests. Matternet wants to create a system that can function in extreme conditions and can reach anyone, anywhere. The group claims that “doing good is our first priority.” Matternet is for-profit, though, and in a recent interview with IEEE Spectrum the company’s CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos, said, “Our plan is to develop the technology for other people to set up transportation networks.” When asked whether Amazon is a potential competitor to Matternet, he said, “We see Amazon as a potential client rather than a potential competitor.”

Source: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2013/12/30/five_ways_drones_unmanned_aerial_vehicles_could_work_with_nonprofits_in.html

When you hear the word “drone,” you may think of war and surveillance. But as relief efforts in the Philippines after super typhoon “Haiyan” have shown, the unmanned aircraft can also help save lives in times of crisis.

 

Mark Rösen’s greatest pride weighs about two kilograms, can stay in the air for up to 20 minutes and bears the cryptic name “AscTec Falcon 8.” What appears to be a model helicopter is actually a high-tech drone produced by the German company Ascending Technologies and outfitted with eight propellers, a GPS tracking device and a high-resolution camera.

Rösen has been working for the German aid agency I.S.A.R. (International Search and Rescue) for many years. He first deployed the drone – which was made available for free by Ascending Technologies – while working as a relief worker in the Philippines.

Up-to-date imagery

“The drone enabled us to film the area from the air and determine which streets were passable. We no longer needed to send anybody out to scout the area,” Rösen said, adding that the team was relieved by this, as exploring a disaster zone without the help of up-to-date imagery can be very risky and time-consuming.

The AscTex Falcon 8 drone (Photo: I.S.A.R. Germany)

The AscTex Falcon 8 drone can take high resolution images

I.S.A.R. Germany specializes in search and rescue operations and is on standby in the case of a building collapse, explosions, earthquakes, floods or storms anywhere in the world. In the Philippines, Rösen’s team was mainly responsible for providing medical assistance to the victims. His organization sent a total of 39 doctors, paramedics and assistants late November to Palo, a city located some ten kilometers south of Tacloban – one of the areas hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan, aka. Yolanda. Rösen and his team were able to treat more than 2400 people over a period of roughly two weeks.

When it comes to saving human lives, every second counts. But official satellite imagery of the affected areas is often not made available on time, according to Rösen. “It can take hours until a satellite is repositioned.” But things are different with the drone, he says. Once airborne, the drone transmits images to a ground station within seconds, and these images are often sharper than the ones provided by satellites, as they were taken from a much shorter distance, Rösen adds. With a 24-megapixel resolution, the pictures are said to be so detailed that one can even identify license plate numbers.

View of the destroyed areas within the city of Palo in the Philippines (Photo: I.S.A.R. Germany)

The drone sends back pictures to a ground station which are then compared to Google Maps images

Matching data with Google Maps

In the Philippines, Rösen and his colleagues transferred the areal photographs taken by the drone to a computer and then compared these to images from Google Maps.

With the help of coordinates they were then able to assign the operational areas and forward this information to other aid agencies. This allowed the team to make quick decisions as to where the best places to set up field hospitals would be. The images led the team to settle in a square right next to the cathedral of Palo. The mostly undamaged building lies in the center of town and could be easily reached by residents.

No approval required

But quick access to high resolution images is not the only advantage provided by the drone. It also helps elude an autocratic hurdle: “One can deploy the drone without the need to get anyone’s approval. And after a day of training everyone is capable of steering the aircraft,” says Matthias Beldzik, Ascending Technologies’ marketing chief.

The manager says the AscTec Falcon 8 is capable of withstanding winds of up to 10 meters per second. However, rain weather limits the drone’s capabilities: “When filmy under heavy rain, the camera lens gets wet, the rotor blades swirl the rain drops even more, thus worsening visibility,” said Rosen.

Looking for casualties

The Swiss firm Danoffice IT also provided two reconnaissance aircraft for the relief efforts in the Philippines. Engineer Liam Dawson traveled late November to the Southeast Asian country with two “Huginn X1″ drones to assist aid organizations on the ground. One feature of the device turned out to be very useful:

“Our drone carries a thermal imaging camera, which can help us detect people in the rubble who are still alive,” Dawson explained. The drone was also used for tracking down bodies: “There were many corpses floating in the ocean after the typhoon. The drone assisted us in locating them,” Dawson added.

Mark Rösen and another helper looking at the rubble left behind by typhoon Haiyan (Photo: I.S.A.R. Germany)

Rösen and his team were able to steer the drone after a day of training

A small, but pricey device

While the drones may be useful, these flying helpers come at a high price. With a range of up to eight kilometers, the AscTec Falcon 8 costs about 31,000 USD (23,000 euros) and the Huginn X1- with four propellers and a range of up to ten kilometers – is available for 49,000 USD (36,000 euros). Furthermore, the Huginn X1 fly at over 9849 feet (3,000 meters) and weighs only have as much as the AscTec Falcon 8.

Engineer Dawson justifies the high price by saying: “The drone can help you save time and lighten your workload. This enables aid workers on the ground to do other type of work.” Rösen sees a big future for the gadget: “It will remain part of our resources. From now on we will take the drone to every area we operate in.”

Domesticating drones

Posted: January 7, 2014 in Uncategorized

2014 may begin to show drones as useful servants and not just machines of war.

Luis Jaime Castillo, an archaeologist at Catholic University in Lima, Peru, flies a drone over an archaeological site in Trujillo, Peru, in August 2013. Archaeologists are turning to drones to speed up survey work and protect sites from squatters, builders, and miners. Falling prices mean drones are increasingly used for civilian and commercial projects around the world.

Military drones bring to mind an angry Zeus, the Greek god who hurls his lightning bolts from the sky at enemies below. But 2014 may be the year that drones take on more of the image of Hermes, the messenger and friend of commerce.

Amazon chief Jeff Bezos helped kick-start an ongoing conversation about a softer side of drones Dec. 1 when he introduced TV viewers to a delivery drone on CBS’s “60 Minutes” news show. Amazon’s “octocopter” could be delivering small packages to homes within a few years, he predicted.

On Monday the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it had approved six sites around the United States to begin testing commercial drones and exploring just what technological, legal, and logistical challenges they will present. The FAA expects test drones operated by the facilities to be in the air by mid-2014. Of course, it may be a decade or more before thousands are in regular use in US skies taking on a wide variety of missions.

Many questions still need answers. Can unmanned drones share airspace safely with both each other and manned aircraft, including airliners? Drones will need some level of artificial intelligence, in case they lose radio contact with the ground.

And what about privacy? What restrictions should be placed on the places drones can fly and the data they can collect?

These are important questions, and good answers must be found before widespread use is allowed.

Possible benefits to the US economy make drones more than a science-fiction curiosity and worthy of more research. One estimate predicts the drone industry will create 70,000 new US jobs by 2017. Another puts worldwide sales of drones, both military and commercial, as high as $89 billion within a decade.

The US Department of Transportation is also bullish on drones, projecting in one study that nearly 250,000 civilian and military drones will be in use in the US by 2035.

Far beyond being an exotic way to deliver a Kindle or a pizza, domestic drones could serve many useful purposes. They could inspect high-rise buildings or power lines for problems or check on a farmer’s field from above. And like ground-based robots, they could be used by fire and police departments to put eyes and ears into a dangerous location, keeping humans out of harm’s way.

The Internet now moves ideas around the globe at the speed of light. Drones promise to speed up the way physical objects move around and give people more knowledge about their world – if these high-flying unmanned messengers can be controlled by strong rules that guard safety and privacy.

Source: http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2013/1231/Domesticating-drones?cmpid=addthis_twitter