Drones, Dogs, and Avocados

1-caninesdroneThese are two things that I didn’t think go together, but they do.  There is a beetle spreading a fungus that rapidly kills avocado trees and spreads to other trees. However, a  $150K grant is funding a Florida International University-University of Florida study that is attempting to use drones and dogs to stop this blight.  UAS equipped with thermal imaging payloads find the distressed trees and then specially trained dogs seek out the smell from the tree infected with the laurel wilt disease.

Unfortunately, the disease often spreads through roots to other trees before the tree shows symptoms, but the dogs can detect infected trees before they show signs of disease.  Avocado farming adds about $50 million to Florida’s economy, and more to California’s, so hopefully this proves “fruitful.”  One video can be found here, and another below.

Florida is not open season for drones, however.  The governor just signed into law a bill that restricts the ability of people to take images of private property.  I encourage you to read the bill in its entirety, especially if you operate a drone in Florida (reminder, this is not legal advice!).  It becomes effective July 1, 2015 and essentially prohibits a UAS from taking images of private property, or a person on that property, where they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  That is basically defined as where one cannot be seen from street level.  It also restricts government use to situations that pose an immediate risk or in which a search warrant has been obtained.  The law provides from civil relief by the aggrieved party.

Drones Survey and Assist with the Nepal Earthquake

For the last few days we have been hearing about and seeing the devastation in Nepal following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.  The death toll is over 4,500 and the region’s infrastructure has been devastated.  This makes recovery difficult, as we’ve seen after natural disasters in both New Orleans and Haïti.  I wrote some time ago about how UAS could be used to assist in disaster relief, and that time has come.

Dharahara Tower Hindu shrine (a UNESCO heritage site)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting that a Canadian relief team is on its way to Nepal – armed with drones.  But these drones aren’t armed with weapons.  Instead they are armed with imaging payloads.

GlobalMedic is based in Toronto and its mission is “to help those in need around the world by providing relief supplies and equipment, and has adopted ‘Serving the Global Community’ as its motto.” They are bringing with them three UAS from Aeryon Labs, based in Waterloo, Ontario.  They intend to collect high-resolution images to streamline aid.

In this instance, drone-maker Aeryon Labs of Waterloo, Ont., not too far west of Toronto, has loaned GlobalMedic’s team two Scout quadcopter UAS and one SkyRanger, a UAS designed with the military in mind that can handle higher winds and can stay in the air for almost an hour!  Both carry impressive imaging hardware too.

There are numerous charities assisting in the relief effort besides GlobalMedic and I hope they all can work to relieve the suffering of those impacted. You can get to GlobalMedic through the link above, and I’m also a big fan of Catholic Relief Services, since I feel they do great work with lower overhead than other organizations.

This video is on YouTube and unrelated to the CBC video contained in the article linked to above.


Honey Bees and Drones

There are some interesting stories relating to the LOCUST program, which I wrote about the other day.  There is a project run by researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex in the UK that are attempting to recreate the honey bee brain and use that information to automatically pilot a drone.  In the video below, a UAS used the checkerboard pattern to aid in navigation with an early version of a honey bee brain.  You can find out more about the “Green Brain Project” at the group’s website, and the image credit above goes to them.

Separately, Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, head of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico wants to develop the ability for multiple UAS to work together without relying on the RF spectrum and its inherent unreliabilities (hacking, weather, etc).  He is looking at termites, who use pheromones to work together, for inspiration.  “Without communicating they sense the environment change around them, and they instinctively know which way to go.”

The technical side of this is fascinating, but on the other hand it sounds a bit Orwellian and conjures images of Terminator to those of us who have seen it. So where do we find the right balance? The Center for a New American Century’s “Project on Ethical Autonomy” has published MEANINGFUL HUMAN CONTROL in WEAPON SYSTEMS: A Primer, by Michael C. Horowitz and Paul Scharre.  The White Paper discusses the concept of “meaningful human control” of weapons systems, how that concept is implemented in manned systems, and broaches the issue in relation to unmanned systems.

The Project notes that the U.S. is one of the few countries with guidance currently in place, which is found in  Autonomy in Weapons Systems (Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, dtd Nov 21, 2012).  In short, it requires that “autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force” and “complete engagements in a timeframe consistent with commander and operator intentions and, if unable to do so, terminate engagements or seek additional human operator input before continuing the engagement.”  It is signed by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (now Secretary of Defense).

I think it would be interesting to understand how a bee’s mind works and apply that to UAS, but I firmly agree that rational human decision-making, and accountability, need to be responsible for the ultimate actions of the system – specifically use use of force and other defined mission goals.  The policy is a good first step, but the Project on Ethical Autonomy and others like it will help put meat on the bone of the basic DoD policy and hopefully work toward internationally recognized rules of unmanned warfare.

To finish on a light note, I have a video below.  I’m not a South Park fan, so I’m admittedly behind on this one.  The clip certainly touches on a perception among portions of the public, but it is amusing.  As is another South Park clip, which is borderline-NSFW, depending upon your workplace.

Aerial Photos of NYC

I was traveling this morning, but had a beautiful flight out of NYC this morning.  The flight was scheduled for 7:59 but we didn’t take off until 10:30 because they “couldn’t find the first officer.”  However, there were some beautiful views once airborne.  Enjoy the photos, and more substantive posts will be back.

Old hangers at LaGuardia being demolished:IMG_7986



New York City from the air (a manned airplane, not a drone!):IMG_8003



IMG_8007 IMG_8008One of the longest piers in the world at Naval Weapons Station Earle, NJ (strategically placed during WWII to be near NYC but away from population centers and the main shipping channels.  The latter two pictures are obviously not from the air – I took them from a patrol boat when I was working a case in Earle a few years back.  The aerial photo doesn’t do the size of the pier justice!


9971600496_ba74aa397f_k 9958993014_ebbf5c269a_h

Norfolk, VA, home to the largest Naval Base in the world:


UAS News April 22nd Edition

A number of stories are out there, so this week’s news round up is out.

I’ve written a lot about 3DR.  Here is a profile of their editorial director, Roger Sollenberger.

Cargill, one of the large agricultural companies in the US, will be launching UAS in Malaysia to combat illegal palm oil production.  Palm oil is in demand, but its production can be destructive to rainforests and can also displace local populations.  Cargill is training pilots, and separately has a goal to have 100% sustainable operations by 2020.

The Office of Naval Research announced tests of its Low-Cost UAV Swarming Technology (LOCUST) program. “The ONR demonstrations, which took place over the last month in multiple locations, included the launch of Coyote UAVs capable of carrying varying payloads for different missions. Another technology demonstration of nine UAVs accomplished completely autonomous UAV synchronization and formation flight.”  As part of this program, ONR tested a BAE Systems/Sensintel Coyote, which can be launched from the air or ship and was developed under a ONR Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant.  The video below is quite interesting.

Danielson Aircraft Systems (DAS) has created turbo-diesel engine designed specifically for UAS use.  The inline three-cylinder (I3) 100 TD2 is pictured below.

Danielson-Trident-engineThere are two education stories in the news.  Auburn University received a 333 exemption from the FAA, which will allow them to start a Flight School as part of the Auburn University Aviation Center. Training can be conducted throughout the state and continues a 75 year tradition of flight training at the university. The University of Denver will be offering a “UAV for GIS” online course, that will run for 10 weeks this summer. It will be followed by a Digital Image Processing course in the fall.

The interestingly-named “Gooney Bird” is going to attempt to break the <55 lb UAS endurance record this summer by flying over 5,000 nm.  The Gooney Bird is another name for an Albatross, known for its efficiency in the air and ability to dynamically soar.  It is designed by Rob Coatney, an aero/mechanical engineer at Zepher Inc.

In military news, the Israeli Hermes 900 a MALE UAS, is poised to help Israel with both combat and intelligence activities.  The specs are available from its manufacturer, Elbit Systems.  Unfortunately, or allies aren’t the only ones in the game.  We might be restricted sale overseas, but Russia is rumored to be selling to China.

The FAA Maine’s Down East Emergency Medicine Institute a 333 exemption to conduct aerial search and rescue with VK–FF–X4 Multirotor and VK-Ranger EX–SAR Fixed Wing UAS.

I wrote recently about UAV Turbines.  They announced that they will produce 15 of their new engines for lease to manufacturers.  This $20M investment will allow companies to test the engines on their airframes quicker than if the companies entered Joint Development Agreements.



From Top Gun to the X-47-B

On March 5, 2015, the former USS RANGER began its final voyage – to the scrap yard.  The carrier is one of four Forrestal-class super carriers and, while commissioned, it served extensively in Vietnam and the first Gulf War.  This ship is famous as the carrier depicted in the opening scene of Top Gun and stood in for the USS ENTERPRISE in one of my favorites, Star Trek IV.

Recently, a drone videographer filmed a video of it while the tugs were refueling in Balboa. It is an inevitable but sad part of the life of a ship.  The propellers and rudders on the flight deck near the stern illustrate the size of the propulsion system for a ship this large!  The video is below.  See the end for clips from Top Gun and Star Trek IV.


The ex-USS Ranger had been in Bremerton, Washington for the last eight years while the Navy attempted to find a museum or historical society that could accept the ship.  Unfortunately, the group could only raise $100,000 toward its $35 million operating budget.  So ex-USS Ranger is now on its final voyage.  Since it is too large for the Panama Canal, it will travel around South America to Texas.  The Navy paid one cent to International Shipbreakers, who will pay to transport it, cut it up, and sell the scrap.  I’m sure they’ll have an easier transit than Donfgeng, who I wrote about this month.

As the ex-USS Ranger heads to the yard, the Navy performed its first mid-air refueling of Salty Dog 502, one of two X-47-B carrier-based UAS.  The X-47-B was developed by Northrop Grumman as part of a $635.8 million contract that grew to $813 million, in addition to a $63 million contract for “post-demonstration” development that funded these demonstrations.  The Salty Dogs are being retired and the Navy plans to move on to the Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) UAS.


The Navy does see the value of UAS.  Last week, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that he would create and assign a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Unmanned System and add a Navy Staff office for unmanned in N-9 (Warfare Systems).  He wants to ensure that “all aspects of unmanned – in all domains – over, on and under the sea and coming from the sea to operate on land – will be coordinated and championed.”

As an aside for government procurement enthusiasts, the ex-USS Ranger contract is considered a “procurement” and not a sales contract, so the government was obligated to obtain the lowest price possible.  The metal might be valuable, but the government was seeking a service, specifically the disposal of the ship.


(The featured image is from GreenDef and is an X-47-B landed on USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (CVN-77).  You can see the wire if you look closely)

Cape Henlopen High School Drone Photography

Today I am writing from “sea.”  It’s really just a ferry crossing of Long Island Sound, so nothing too exciting.  An article caught my attention since one of the ferries (although not the one I’m on), is called the Cape Henlopen.  I saw this article in Delaware’s Cape Gazette about a class at Cape Henlopen High School.
Students in Jason Fruchtman’s photography class at Cape Henlopen High School, pictured below, are learning how to safely operate Inspire drones purchased with a combination of district funds and fundraising as a way to capture stunning photographs.  It is great to see that Mr. Fruchtman and Cape Henlopen High are teaching the students skills that are interesting and useful in a country where technology advances daily.
Some of the images are below.  Photo credits:  Melissa Steele (class photo), Sara Desmond (high school and football game), Jason Fruchtman (seaside photos).  Congratulations to the class for the amazing pictures and keep up the good work!
t600-Rehoboth tower t600-image-1 t600-image t600-DJI00750 t600-DJI00357
For those who are interested in an aside, below is a photo I took of the ferry M/V Cape Henlopen following a summer evening race on Fisher’s Island Sound.  The ship is named after Cape Henlopen, Delaware, but was originally named the USS Buncombe County (LST-510).   It is run by nice family business called Cross Sound Ferry and now sails between New London, CT and Orient, NY.  As the USS Buncombe County, it landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  It was an honor sailing on a ship that took part in that offensive.
Finally, I have designed a new logo for the site.  I took this shot of a UAS taking off and it is styled to bring together the cutting-edge modern UAS industry while reminiscing about the Art Deco golden age of propeller flight.
I took this photo from the point of Cape May, the corner of New Jersey during a run after the NJIT test flight.  In the far distance on the left would be Cape Henlopen.  Cape May and Cape Henlopen mark the entrance to the Delaware River.
House Pix (1)

UAS Tech News Round-up

I’ll start with a PSA:  No Drones at the Boston Marathon next Monday.  This should go without saying, but it is worth mentioning.  Good luck to all the runners!



There have been a lot of exciting announcements coming out of the UAS industry recently.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they are meant to coincide with the build-up to AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference!  Instead of cherry-picking my favorite stories, I’ll briefly mention a number of them and link to the original stories for those who want to read further.

Northrum Grumman signed a lease for facilities and access at the North Dakota Grand Sky UAS Tech Park and will break ground in September.  General Atomics is coming out in July and the state has provided funding and support for UAS operations.  This is the first in the nation UAS Technology Park according to the site.

– According to SeaPower Magazine, “the Coast Guard received $6.3 million in its fiscal 2015 budget to purchase a small UAS for its National Security Cutter (NSC) fleet and the end game is to have a small UAS on cutters over its entire future surface fleet. This includes the NSC, Fast Response Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter.”

– In unmanned, but not aerial, military news, the Navy will for the first time deploy drones from the versatile Virginia Class submarine fleet.  These will include Remus 600 Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.

The older Los-Angeles Class attack submarine returning to homeport in Groton, CT after Hurricane Irene. Taken by the author in 2011.


– DJI is hoping to raise more capital with a valuation for their company of $10 billion.  They are the most well-known consumer UAS manufacturer and easily the most valuable.  Compare this to the recent $50 million raised by 3DR.

– The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a partnership between Norut, UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Lufttransport, has opened.  According to the director, “The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems will be a national and international focal point in the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for emergency response and environmental monitoring in the Arctic.”

–  Boeing has acquired 2d3 Sensing, a company specializing in motion imagery processing of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data.  Boeing already uses 2d3 Sensing products on their ScanEagle and Integrator UAS.

– Zookeepers at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in the Netherlands thought they’d try to get aerial images of a chimpanzee with a UAS.  The chimp disagreed:

–  Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. is introducing SmarTopo Harvest.  The technology delivers obstacle survey and detection technology and is Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified to a level 1B.  According to the company, SmarTopo Harvest:

  • Searches for obstacles – the height for the search is set by the analyst
  • Detects objects or structures may be compared to the FAA obstacle database
  • Estimates height of the objects or structures
  • Creates new obstacle for a proprietary database

– Finally, the well-regarded De Zwann restaurant in Etten-Leur, North Brabant, Netherlands has used race cars, hot air balloons, and helicopters to deliver the first asparagus of the season.  This year they tried a UAS, but the plan went up in flames:


3DR Solo Announced and Special Ops Mid-Endurance Solicitation

3DR Solo

The headline news in the UAS world today is 3DR’s announcement of the Solo.  It comes with an optional Go Pro gimbal and significantly more advanced control of the camera than previous or other consumer UAS.  The 3DR website has a detailed summary of the features.  The website has a lot of moving parts, so you can also check out the press release for a more text-based version of the announcement.

In short, it contains two computers and is designed for aerial photography/cinematography.  One interesting feature is that it can lock onto a point, allowing the user to focus on independently controlling the camera.  It also has a flight simulator for safe skill training and it has a 30 day money-back guarantee.  All around, this looks like a highly advanced UAS that can be used by one of any skill level.

Other posts on 3DR:


USSOCOM’s Request for Proposals – Medium Endurance UAS

U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) has put out a solicitation on FedBizOpps for a Mid-Endurance Unmanned Aircraft System (MEUAS III) Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Services (Solicitation # H92222-15-R-0001). I’ve been writing about the potential opportunities for small businesses in the UAS arena who are willing and able to contract with the U.S. Government.  It isn’t easy and roadblocks about (think “False Claims Act!), but it can be lucrative.

Some details of the proposal:

  • There will be one, but possibly zero or more than one, IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) contracts awarded
  • Period of Performance: 54-month Period of Performance, with four 12-month ordering periods followed by one 6-month ordering period
  • The new requirement is being solicited under NAICS 541330 with a Small Business Size Standard of $15.0 Million (requirement is currently being performed by Boeing subsidiary Insitu)
  • All personnel must have a Secret clearance with select personnel requiring Top Secret clearance, with the contractor having a TS certified facility
  • Tasks:  all planning, coordination, certification, installation, pre-deployment, deployment, logistics, maintenance, flying, and post-deployment efforts necessary to successfully conduct worldwide missions.
    • Tasks orders will be issued based on mission-defined locations
    • 300 to 1200 hours per month of near real-time feed of ISR data availability from customer processing systems.
    • Contractors shall provide these services using non-developmental contractor-owned, contractor-operated unmanned aircraft systems.
  • The solicitation is for a Line of Sight (LoS) UAS for 300-900 hours per site and a Beyond Line of Sight (BLoS) UAS for 500-1200 hours per site. Both requirements must be capable of fulfilling a simultaneous Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) and Electronic Warfare (EW) mission

The actual solicitation is unclassified but sensitive and not publicly available.

Dongfeng’s New Mast

This weekend was spring cleaning so I haven’t been watching the UAS news that closely.  However, I did have an update that is tangentially related to UAS.

I wrote about Dongfeng and its on-board photographer, Sam Greenfield.  They are a team in the Volvo Ocean Race and Sam is a photographer from Connecticut who filed an amazing video from a UAS on the open ocean.

Unfortunately, they had a rough rounding of Cape Horn and damaged their mast near the bottom of the world!  Fortunately everyone was ok, but it cost they had to retire from the leg and lost points for the Aukland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil leg of the race.

Map of break

Here is video of the damage during the storm:

Some photos from Dongfeng’s Facebook page on the progress of the replacement mast, and one beautiful shot with dolphins along side are below (various credits, see Facebook) .  You can follow the team’s progress and they should be getting into Itajai anytime.  I wish them luck with the new mast and hope to get some more great footage from Sam as they sail up to Newport!  I’m looking forward to seeing them and the other boats in May.

Dolphin On planeComing off planeOff plane mast on planeOn truck