Archive for September, 2014

The FAA will approve Hollywood’s request to use drones for filming, government and industry sources familiar with the process have told Forbes. On Thursday afternoon the FAA will announce its decision, and explain the procedures under which production companies will operate and the aviation rules which they are exempted from, the sources say.

In May, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked for regulatory exemptions (known as a 333 exemption) that would allow the film and television industry to use drones with FAA approval. Those seven companies and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), were asked by the FAA to develop the guidelines and safety procedures under which they planned to operate. The FAA reviewed those procedures and is expected to approve the drone-specific rules and standards that will enable Hollywood to be exempt from existing aviation regulations.

The process was an onerous one that began more than four years ago with aerial cinematography companies working to develop internal guidelines. After filing their request for an exemption, the industry began drafting rules and guidelines, with the participation of pilots, lawyers, consultants, unmanned aviation experts, cinematographers, representatives from the studios, and experienced cinematography companies including Aerial Mob, Astraeus Aerial Cinema Systems, Flying-Cam Aerial Systems, Heli Video Productions, PictorVision, Snaproll Media and Vortex Aerial.

A representative from Vortex Aerial, one of the companies involved in the exemption process, said, “We are very proud to be a part of this monumentally historical event. Being the result of over 4 years of industry leader collaboration we can only hope that this most daunting and financially taxing of tasks will finally come to fruition and not be yet another false start for our industry.”

Aerial Mob, one of the aerial cinematography companies involved in the exemption process features this image on their website.

The exemption is expected to specify detailed procedures under which companies may operate. The companies involved expect to release clear safety rules and guidelines that will set the standard for other companies to follow. The exemption allows the companies to fly pursuant to specific rules for the types of flights film productions plan to conduct. By definition, the exemption means that Hollywood will not need to to comply with some of the general flight rules covering pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates and certain airworthiness certification requirements.

Hollywood is an appropriate industry to be granted one of the first exemptions, said Tony Carmean of Aerial Mob, because it can address the FAA’s two major concerns: safety and privacy. “Most studio productions take place on closed sites with an established perimeter, ensuring that personnel on those sites are affiliated with the production and are aware of inbound aircraft,” he said. Aerial Mob has worked with clients such as the BBC, Nike, Harvard University and MTV.  The company suspended all operations inside the United States while awaiting FAA approval, oftentimes filming in Mexico, which has a more permissive environment for aerial cinematography.

The companies involved in the exemption process have extensive flight experience with both manned and unmanned aircraft, suggesting that certification as a pilot of manned aircraft may be a criteria that the FAA believes is important for the operation of unmanned aircraft.  To date, the FAA has received 45 requests for exemptions from large and small companies across a range of industries including agriculture, oil and gas, pipeline inspectors and surveyors.  “We have even received an exemption request from a realtor, and a person asking for permission to use a UAS for news gathering,” said FAA spokesman Les Dorr.

Currently, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization are available to public entities that want to fly drones in civil airspace.  The FAA says that commercial operations are authorized on a case-by-case basis. Such operations require a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. The exemption process under Section 333 provides an additional avenue for commercial UAS operations.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gregorymcneal/2014/09/23/drones-are-coming-to-hollywood-faa-will-announce-approval-this-thursday/

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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.

(more…)

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