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.”


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.


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.


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, 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.


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.

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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.


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.

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. 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
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.”


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.


Unmanned drones, which may look like the one above, are being tested in six parts of the United States. If successful, the aircraft could be utilized by the likes of Amazon to transport goods.

WASHINGTON — New York was among six states selected Monday to develop sites to test drones, a decision that likely will bring the unmanned aircraft to New York’s skies and badly needed jobs to upstate.

The New York site will be at Griffiss International Airport, a former Air Force base in upstate Rome. Aerospace firms and universities in New York and Massachusetts will be involved in the research.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s selection of the test sites represents a big step toward the commercial use of drones by businesses, farmers and researchers.

Congress members lobbied to bring the work to their states. One study claims that Monday’s designation could could bring 2,700 jobs to New York and Massachusetts, boosting local economies.

In addition to New York, Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia were chosen after a 10-month selection process during which the agency sifted through 25 proposals submitted from 24 states.


Six sites seen on the map above will be test sites for commercial use of unmanned drones.

Six sites seen on the map above will be test sites for commercial use of unmanned drones.

The FAA said the six finalists were picked after the agency considered “ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, safety, aviation experience and risk.”

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicle, are used primarily for military purposes but in 2013 the FAA began issuing licenses for commercial use of the aircraft units on a case-by-case basis.

Consumers were appalled in December when Amazon revealed it was testing how it could use drones to deliver packages as part of its Amazon Prime Air service.


“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the company said, adding that Amazon was “ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place.”

The expansion of drones has not come without protest, though. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) famously launched a 12-hour filibuster in March to raise attention to how drones could violate the Fifth Amendment right to due process if the government used a drone to attack an American on U.S. soil.

In announcing the testing sites, the FAA tried to offer assurances to the public of its commitment to “ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are protected at the test sites.”

“Test site operators must comply with federal, state, and other laws protecting an individual’s right to privacy, have publicly available privacy policies and a written plan for data use and retention, and conduct an annual review of privacy practices that allows for public comment,” the FAA said in a statement.



Eric Mortenson/Capital Press
A four-rotor, camera-equipped drone hovers during a demonstration flight at a McMinnville, Ore., forum.

Speakers say agriculture will be an early adapter of drone technology.

MCMINNVILLE — Young Kim is a former U.S. Air Force pilot and familiar with the “outcome oriented” use of drone aircraft by the military. Get them over a target, conduct the surveillance or fire the missile – that’s how success is gauged.

Putting drone technology to work in agriculture, as he does now as general manager of Bosh Precision Agriculture in Virginia, requires an entrepreneurial mind-set.

“Do not waste growers’ time,” he said at drone technology forum in the heart of Oregon’s wine country this week. “You’ve got to deliver value very, very quickly. Show them how it will increase yield and lower inputs costs.”

Kim believes unmanned planes, equipped with sensors and cameras, will rapidly transform agriculture by providing quick, detailed information on plant health, soil and water conditions, disease or pest outbreaks and more. He said it’s a change similar to moving from analog to digital technology.

Agriculture is in the midst of a significant transformation, he said. The “biggest ag boom since the 1980s” is accompanied by a trend in which the number of farmers is declining but the acreage farmed by each is increasing, Kim said. At the same time, those farmers working large plots of land want the intimate knowledge they used to have of smaller acreage. Drones can provide that, but Kim said people shouldn’t get hung up on the “sexiness” of the technology.

“The real value is the data,” he said. “Focus on the problem of the grower and work backward from there.”

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A quadcopter running the algorithm is able to remain in control, even after losing one propeller

A quadcopter running the algorithm is able to remain in control, even after losing one propeller

Whether it’s for Amazon-purchased goodstext books or defibrillators, unmanned multicopters are increasingly being considered for use as delivery vehicles. Given that this would involve their flying over heavily-populated areas, however, many people are rightly concerned about the aircraft malfunctioning and crashing down onto someone below. That’s why researchers at ETH Zurich have created a control algorithm that allows any quadcopter to keep flying, even if it loses multiple motors or propellers.

Because of the risk of crashes, most of the currently-proposed delivery drones are hexa- or octocopters. With their six or eight motors/propellers, they’re already able to remain airborne if one of those should konk out. With all of that extra hardware, however, they’re also larger, heavier, more complex, and thus less efficient than quadcopters.

The ETH algorithm can be added to the control system of existing quadcopters, and requires no physical changes or additions to the aircraft.

When the software detects that one or more of the propellers has stopped working – either because it’s come off, or due to motor failure – it initially uses the remaining props to put the drone in a hovering horizontal spin. Then, by selectively altering the thrust of each propeller, it steers the quadcopter by tilting the angle of its rotation, and eases it down to a controlled landing.

The algorithm reportedly works even if only one prop is operational. A quadcopter using the technology to land on three propellers can be seen in the video below.


As Direct Relief’s relief and recovery efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan continue, civil drones are helping our organization and others respond more efficiently to the most pressing needs of people affected by the super storm.

About a week after Typhoon Haiyan struck, an assessment group from Direct Relief’s partner, veterans’ response organization Team Rubicon, sought to determine the operational status of the Carigara District Hospital, located northwest of the city of Tacloban.

Travel along damaged roads was difficult and slow. Rumors of an uncertain security situation were circulating. Comprehensive structural assessment seemed highly challenging at best.

Yet, the assessment group was able to provide local officials and aid groups with a rapid and highly accurate visual analysis of damage to the Carigara District Hospital – at minimal risk to the people conducting the assessment – by deploying the latest in close proximity aerial imaging technology with a Huginn X1 civil drone.

The assessment provided enough information to allow Team Rubicon to proceed with setting up a medical relief station there to help survivors access emergency care. Direct Relief has been supporting Team Rubicon’s medical responders on the ground with critical medicines and supplies.

A civil drone is the peacetime and humanitarian cousin of the aerial robotic units which have been discussed extensively in the press throughout several recent US-led military conflicts. The Huginn X1, manufactured by Anthea Technologies and distributed by DanOfficeIT, is a ruggedized quadcopter drone adapted primarily for search and rescue support. It comes equipped with high definition digital cameras as well as thermal imaging to detect the heat signatures of people on the ground who may be in need of help.

DanOfficeIT contributed the drone technology and manpower free of charge to nongovernmental organizations working on the front lines of the typhoon response to help organizations learn where to focus their work.

Civil drones have had an immediate and substantial impact on the ability of groups like Direct Relief and Team Rubicon to gain high-speed visual awareness of complex situations that threaten to put humanitarian responders at significant personal risk.

Likewise, civil drones allow for detailed aerial mapping in support of operational planning. The Huginn X1 was not only valuable in terms of structural assessment but also as a way to scout locations in advance to determine the best possible routes of approach and assistance.

While policy, procedural, and technical challenges remain, current work in the Philippines foretells a future where humanitarian responders may be able to collaborate closely with advanced robotic tools to improve the speed, accuracy and safety of response efforts.


What are drones? A infographic.

Posted: December 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

As Amazon gears up to roll out PrimeAir, consumers are putting drones under the microscope hoping to weigh in on the potential pros and cons of the service. Precision Hawk put together a comprehensive infographic to help you cover the UAV/UAS basics!



Andreas Raptopoulos and his colleagues at Matternet are attempting to create a network of drones that operate like the internet, only for tangible objects. This company — which sprung out of an idea surfaced at Singularity University in 2011 — aims to deliver items wherever they are needed, even if no usable roads go there.

Andreas Raptopoulos: No roads? There’s a drone for thatAndreas Raptopoulos: No roads? There’s a drone for thatIn today’s talk, Raptopoulos explains why a system like this is needed — to reach the one billion people worldwide who don’t have access to all-season roads. He also wowed the TEDGlobal 2013 audience when he landed one of Matternet’s drones on the TED stage, smack dab in the middle of the red carpet.

This week, he told the TED Blog more about the Matternet concept.

“At the inception of the internet, who would have anticipated the explosion of social networks, of machine-to-machine awareness, of distributed workflows, of the disruption of the music, video, photography and TV markets, Bitcoin or Snapchat?” he said. “The internet connects information, but it hasn’t connected all people. We’re designing the very edge of the web that can reach every unnavigable place where there’s human need.”

Matternet is a big idea. Below, read the real-world applications — two that Matternet has field tested and four that are still concepts.

Matternet has done this:

Delivered medical supplies to places in need. Matternet conducted one of its first field trials in Haiti in September 2012, testing three remotely piloted drones to see how they functioned in both urban and rural areas. The most fascinating use? Delivering medications to camps set up after the earthquake of 2010. “The system that is used currently is antiquated, to put it mildly: one big truck delivers one big box of medicine to a remote clinic every quarter,” Raptopoulus told the TED Blog. “It’s quite inefficient and very wasteful. There is no tracking, no information on if the medicine is used or not — and it’s very hard to predict demand and real needs for medicine in some part of the country. So the application we’d like to see there is routine, just-in-time logistics of much more discrete packages, exactly when you need them.” He stresses: “In places of extreme need … the aim should be to leapfrog rather than try to catch up on old practices and systems.”

Delivered supplies, information and diagnostic tools between medical centers. Around the same time, Matternet ran its second field test in the Dominican Republic, flying supplies and diagnostic tools from big healthcare centers to smaller ones in remote areas, and zipping samples back for analysis. They hope to turn this test into a year-long project to improve healthcare service for the poor and low-income populations of Samaná, where 60 percent of people live in rural areas. Paola Santana, Raptopoulos’ co-founder at Matternet, told the TED Blog, “We’re working with one of the big development banks in the region to fund this project.” And while they haven’t field tested there, Matternet has also thought a lot about Lesotho, and how Matternet could connect HIV/AIDS clinics there to provide better care and faster tests for patients. “While the battle against the disease is being won in most of the world, it’s being lost in Lesotho,” says Raptopoulos.

Matternet could do this in the future:

Help in disaster response. When an earthquake or tsunami hits, Matternet could potentially be a way to get supplies to people in need, before assistance in the form of manpower can arrive. Raptopoulos asks, “Can we help immediately after a disaster with first response? Instead of sending one big helicopter out, can we send 100 of these vehicles? After the first few days, can we rely on a system like Matternet to do routine transportation of small packages to get a country going again? Our answer is ‘yes.’”

Create a courier service that can’t get stuck in traffic. In both Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Matternet tried this, though on too small a sale to be considered a trial. “Port Au Prince has few roads and they are quite congested,” says Raptopoulos. “Several years after the earthquake, tens of thousands of people still live in temporary shelters and camps — as is typical in many regions that have experienced a natural disaster.” As for Santo Domingo, he says, “It’s an emerging city, growing quickly, and roads can get very congested in peak hours.” Now, to get hypothetical, imagine this in megacities like New York or Tokyo.

Deliver food. Matternet could also be very effective for getting food and water to areas that need it, especially in times of disaster, war or crisis. The trick here will be increasing Matternet’s load size. Currently, it is able to transport a two-kilogram load, covering a ten-kilometer distance in 15 minutes. As the weight-bearing ability increases, this use will become more and more viable.

Support the freedom to live where there aren’t roads. Marc Shillum, Matternet’s Creative Director says, “People live far away from roads for many reasons. Some have no choice, some are seeking seclusion … That’s a whole load of people who also can’t access the world’s products, services or care. We want to bring fulfillment to where need exists rather than where roads end. The beauty of unmanned autonomous vehicles is [that there’s] no physical infrastructure. UAVs fly wherever there is air.”


The drone economy is booming abroad and an underground version is growing fast in the U.S. The FAA plans to draw up regulations by 2015, but that’s not quick enough, according to drone entrepreneurs.

SAN FRANCISCO — CEO Jeff Bezos says in the future drones delivering packages will be as common as mail trucks. But for many entrepreneurs, the drone economy is already here.

“There are many people out there making extraordinary amounts of money,” says Gene Robinson, who uses drones to help authorities with search and rescue missions. “You can even get liability insurance to operate now.”

While the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t yet drafted regulations for the futuristic unmanned devices and limits their commercial use, some players have already plunged in:

Real estate specialist Manie Kohn uses drones to video luxury properties. Terence Reis flies them to photograph surfers. Brad Mathson monitors farmland in the Dakotas, while Ryan Kunde uses a drone to improve production at his vineyard.

Bezos thrust drones into the spotlight when he talked about his plans to use them to deliver packages on 60 Minutes Sunday night. But thanks to drones’ ability to shoot aerial photos and video steadily and collect other data cheaply, they are already being used in many sectors, including movie making, sports, mining, oil and gas production and construction.

Most of the activity is outside the U.S. because of regulatory uncertainty. But there are a lot of U.S. drone operators who are either hobbyists, or who provide drone services for free or in return for donations. Business owners can also operate their own drones for their own benefit. And at times, money changes hands out of the FAA’s gaze.

Read the rest of this entry »

A technician checks a surveillance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) drone operated by the United Nations in Goma

(Reuters) - United Nations forces in Democratic Republic of Congo launched unmanned aircraft on Tuesday to monitor the volatile border with Rwanda and Uganda, the first time U.N. peacekeepers have deployed surveillance drones.

The aircraft will be used to look out for threats from a host of local and foreign armed groups in the mineral rich east where Congo and U.N. experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda of sending arms and troops to back the recently-defeated M23 rebels, something both countries deny.

“The drones … will allow us to have reliable information about the movement of populations in the areas where there are armed groups,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said at the launch of the drones in Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.

“We will survey the areas where there are armed groups, and we can control the frontier,” he added.

The U.N. mission has deployed two Falco drones manufactured by Selex ES, a unit of Italian defense group Finmeccanica.

One of the 5-metre (16-ft) long aircraft – painted white with the letters UN in black on its wings and tail – performed a demonstration flight for the crowd at the launch.

The drones will be flown out of Goma by Selex staff. They can fly for between eight and 14 hours and as far as 200 km (125 miles) from their base, according to the company.

U.N. peacekeepers have received widespread criticism for doing too little to end fighting in eastern Congo, a hilly and thickly forested region that Kinshasa has struggled to control during two decades of virtually constant conflict.

But the drone deployment comes after the peacekeepers helped defeat M23, the most serious rebellion of President Joseph Kabila’s 12-year rule.

General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, commander of the U.N. force in Congo, said the drones would only fly over Congolese territory, as U.N. peacekeepers have no mandate to operate in neighboring countries.

Victory over M23 was the first time Kinshasa had militarily defeated a major uprising in the east. It was helped by strong U.N. support, major reforms in Congo’s army and intense diplomatic pressure on Congo’s neighbors to halt rebel support.

Congo and U.N. experts say foreign backing for M23 was significant. Following the defeat, experts are examining the origin of a significant stash of weaponry and trucks found at M23′s bases in hills along the Rwandan border.

The drones were due to be launched as early as September, in the hope of monitoring the conflict taking place on the border. However delays meant they arrived only after M23 was defeated.

While a final political deal with M23 is still being ironed out, Congolese and U.N. forces are now expected to turn their attention to the Rwandan Hutu FDLR rebel group and Ugandan ADF-NALU rebels, both of which are based in Congo’s east.



OKLAHOMA CITY – Privacy concerns weigh heavy on the governmental use of UAS. But for farmers in Oklahoma and all around the United States, UAS could be a necessary tool to the future of farming.

“The technology is pretty new to our members but as we go and technology gets stronger I see a huge market for it in the future,” said Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s John Collison.

UAS is already a tool for many Oklahoma Farmers.

“Check their cattle, check their property, use these drone for precision agriculture and make sure we are farming the most efficient and effective way possible,” Collison said.

Oklahoma Farm Bureau’s John Collison still hears concerns from other farmers across the state.

“Farmers want to use these drones in a correct manner and under FAA guidelines and using them correctly,” Collison said.

In an exclusive statement to News 9, the FAA clarified the issue, stating:

“Farmers may operate an unmanned aircraft over their own property for personal use and Guidelines for the operation of model aircraft, such as those published by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, may be used by farmers as reference for safe model UAS operations.”

One priority guideline from the AMA… “(c) Not fly higher than approximately 400 feet above ground level within three (3) miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator.”

“System are much smaller, and has the capability to sense where his crops need to be watered,” said Retired Major General Toney Stricklin.

Retired Major General of the US Army and member of the Oklahoma Unmanned Aircraft Council Toney Stricklin knows the difference between military and commercial drones, and feels farming is just the beginning.

“I Like to say the genie is out of the bottle. This technology will continue to grow in public safety and agriculture,” Stricklin said.

It really is just the beginning. General Stricklin estimates in the next 20 years, UAS will be a multi-billion dollar industry.

Source: Academy of Model Aeronautics National Model Aircraft Safety Code

Multi rotors perform a lot of useful tasks, but here’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. Henry Evans, who has been paralyzed by a type of stroke, uses a quadrotor to navigate space. The aircraft’s FPV view allows Henry to look around a garden or take a stroll across campus and gives him greater accessibility to the world. This is worth watching!

FPV drone lets a paralyzed man stroll outdoors