Hi everyone. After some time off of the blog due to a pressing workload, I am going to start up again on the blog.
This is a bit early in the year to be posting about fall foliage, but I saw this video from New Hampshire. I went to college in New Hampshire and spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains. It is beautiful both by land and air.
Additionally I want to post an article about an ad made with a drone near the Hartford, Connecticut capitol building. You might think the main concern would be flying near the state capitol, but that isn’t the case (it would be different with the federal capitol). In fact, the main issue was that the flight was in Class D airspace due to a surrounding airport and hospital helipad. There are many legal landmines in the airspace.
I am working on an article about drones and insurance written on Forbes recently, but I am doing a bit of legal research to develop the story more. Look forward to that soon!
According to a spokesman: “During the show a drone is used to get crowd shots and some nights Enrique grabs the drone to give the audience a Point of View shot. Something went wrong and he had an accident,” the statement read. “He decided to go on and continued playing for 30 minutes while the bleeding continued throughout the show.” This wasn’t a rogue drone, but one that was part of the presentation, he didn’t seem too hurt, and the show continued.
He was confronted by both police and Phillies security. One should note that he was asked to erase the data because it contained intellectual property. This is another consideration of imaging with drones – make sure you’re not recording something that is protected IP! Citizen’s Bank Park is in a restricted Class B airspace since it is near Philadelphia International Airport, and the FAA prohibits UAS near stadiums while professional sporting events, including MLB games, are in progress.
I am going to start with the most exciting part of my day, meeting with the 3D Robotics team. This was one of the interviews I was most excited about, and the 3DR team did not disappoint. I met with Dan McKinnon, who joined the company recently to develop 3DR’s Enterprise program (i.e.: commercial applications). Of course the Solo is the big hit, and it is actually central to their Enterprise program as well. It was great to meet a company filled with young and energetic engineers, and in a lighter moment he had to step away since he left a bag in an Uber car last night. But using Uber, they were able to get in touch with the driver and get his bag back – modern technology and innovation!
Dan’s background in in agricultural surveying. About halfway through his PhD program he started an agricultural survey business with his father. It is still running and is called Agribotix, and their use of 3DR UAS is what brought him to 3DR.
He and Jeremiah Johnson, a senior product engineer at 3DR, went over the versatility of the product and how it makes aerial photography and cinematography much easier. The Solo has “cable” and “orbital” functions for taking video. This means you can set the Solo to follow a path or circle an object respectively, and it will take care of the flight through its powerful Linux computer allowing you to focus on camera operation.
These features make for great consumer videos, but will also make the Solo a powerful Enterprise tool. For example, one can circle a cell tower for an inspection or plan a flightpath along a pipeline. Additionally, the Solo is entirely modular. This will allow for commercial application since users will be able to employ different imaging sensors and 3DR plans to add a mission planning component for advanced users.
I then met with Colin Guinn, a co-founder of 3DR. He is undoubtedly a busy person and a headline speaker at the conference, so I am grateful that he took the time to meet with me. His background is in cinematography, and we share some non-UAS similarities in boating so we got sidetracked for a short bit.
He started taking ground photos for home builders and eventually built an RC helicopter for a camera (I believe he said a Canon 5D, but it was hard to hear). The videos were shaky, so he set off to create the best UAS gimbal on the market, and now arguably the best consumer UAS on the market.
We discussed the modularity of the Solo, which also applies to consumer upgrades of various components. 3DR’s model is open innovation and modularity. They are working on a tethered drone for long-term operations and have partnered with Aurora Flight Sciences‘ Panoptes to work on Sense and Avoid issues. Panoptes is based in Cambridge, Mass and has developed a basic collision avoidance system for the Phantom and 3DR’s Iris.
I’ll round up the day chronologically now. The day began with two announcements, one from AUVSI and one from the FAA. The Unmanned Systems conference is being rebranded as “Exponential,” starting with “Xponential 2016” in New Orleans, LA. “Xponential encapsulates the tremendous growth and innovation in the unmanned systems industry, as well as the broad societal benefits of the technology,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “Xponential will help the world understand the potential of this industry by providing a single gathering place where people can see and interact with the technology and systems that will soon become part of our everyday lives.”
The FAA made their own announcement. They will release the B4UFLY App this summer and the Pathfinder Program. The app’s purpose if fairly self-explanatory and will be entering beta-testing. The latter is is a partnership with three businesses to research how to best harness UAS for various purposes. The three companies are: CNN (VLOS for news-gathering in urban areas), PrecisionHawk (BLOS to survey crops), and BNSF Railroad (BLOS to inspect rail infrastructure in isolated areas).
I stopped by NUAIR’s booth, which runs the test site in upstate New York and Massachusetts. I’ve linked to my previous article about them, and it was a pleasure to meet their Executive Director, Lawrence H. Brinker.
I also dropped in on my friends at American Aerospace, whose test flight I attended in Cape May a few months ago. Their work has been going well and they just received a COA from the FAA to start operations out of Cape May Airport. They are also hoping to being flights at the Massachusetts test site (which is linked to the New York test site and NUAIR) in the near future. Not only do they have great pilots and technology, but they have a knack for finding the best locations to fly!
I then went to Airware’s booth. They produce operating systems and hardware for commercial drones across the world, including the DAx8 shown below.
I went to NASA Langley’s booth and got to put on goggles to watch a flight of an experimental UAS. It is called the Greased Lightning GL-10 VTOL UAS. It currently runs on LiPo batteries, but they are developing a hybrid diesel. Hence the name Greased (it can run on Biofuel) Lightning (the electric propulsion system).
Finally, I ran across Persistent Systems. They are in communications, which is not my forte, and I will admit I went to the booth for the swag (a Nalgene bottle). Their company grew out of a PhD project and has been focussed on military communication applications. They have tested their systems in the cavernous midtown section of Manhattan and have had found that the WaveRelay system has great range. It is also applicable to UAS, since it can be used to send multiple encrypted video feeds from a single UAS. It sounds like a great company, and I suggested they test shipboard applications by heading over to the Intrepid Museum in NYC and testing it in there.
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.
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.
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.
– 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.”
– 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.
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:
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.
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.
DJI announced the Phantom 3 this week. It looks similar to the Phantom 2 but has much more “under the hood.” As part of their announcement, they showed off the 4K video option by posting a video taken by a Phantom 3 over Lake Hillier, Middle Island, Australia.
Make sure to select 4K in settings on the video below, if you have the bandwidth to do so. The video quality is amazing, especially on the Apple Retina display! As an aside, one of the great things about this blog is exploring different parts of the world through the eyes of UAS and their users. This is a place I’d never heard of but find fascinating.
In other news, this past Wednesday another UAS giant, Amazon, finally received the 333 exemption it has been seeking. Apparently the Congressional testimony and report of R&D just over the Canadian border spurred the FAA into action. The exemption is one of the now fairly boilerplate ones that have been issued by the FAA. Unfortunately the details of the aircraft were filed confidentially and are not available for review.
(The featured image on the main page is a still shot taken from the 4K video linked to above. Note that DJI refers to “Pink Lake,” which is a Lake on the mainland of Western Australia. Based on the geography, I am confident this is “Lake Hillier”on Middle Island, part of Recherche Archipelago off of Western Australia. )
Applied Aeronautics has announced the Albatross, the first “fully composite airframe.” Interestingly, the initial sales are only being offered through the Kickstarter program, a funding source that has already met its goal. This is a fixed-wing aircraft with specifications including an electric motor, 100+ mile flight range over 2 hours, a top speed of 90 mph. Airframes start at $650 and prices range up to $3,250 for the Deluxe Ready to Fly Albatross – although none include a transmitter or receiver. It is a powerful UAS to be in the hands of the average consumer and its posted specification are close to making it Missile Technology!
Top Flight, a small business in Malden, Mass., has developed a gasoline/battery hybrid technology which the company states can power its six 26″ rotor UAS for over two hours at a time in gusty winds, while carrying imaging or crop-dusting payloads. This follows the solar-hybrid being produced by Silent Falcon. Top Flight’s COO, John Polo, says that for one gallon of gasoline and “$19,000, you’ll be able to carry five pounds for two and a half hours, fly 100 miles semi- or fully autonomously, and have gads of redundancy built into it.”
UAV Turbines, Inc. has announced a gas turbine engine designed for UAS. Engines will range in power from 30 to 150 hp and will increase reliability significantly over combustion engines for tactical-sized and above UAS. According to the company, their team is comprised of veterans from both military and civilian engine programs and they have been able to increase the mean-time-between-overhaul (MTBO) from less than 100 hours for combustion engines to about 2,000 hours.
Finally, low-tech meets high-tech in the fields of Australia. The Wall Street Journal reports on people who are using UAS to shepard their herd. For example, Michael Thomson in New Zealand says he is successfully using a drone to herd sheep on his sister’s 200 acre farm. He says the sheep respect the drone and are naturally scared of it. Other farmers in the community are leery about using drones since they haven’t had to “reboot one of [their] dogs.” Paul Brennan in Ireland named a quadcopter that he uses on a 100 acre farm “Shep.”
On the other hand, a South Carolina farmer has tried to use a drone he got for Christmas to herd his 20 cows to less success, and helicopter pilots in the Australian Outback are confident that the current battery life in drones won’t allow cattlemen to herd cattle with UAS across areas as large as 1 million acres.
(Photo Credit: From the WSJ, Michael Thomson piloting his UAS to herd sheep at Battle Hill Farm outside Wellington, New Zealand.)
Pictometry, a subsidiary of EagleView Technology Corporation, will be working on a research project with NYSEARCH/Northeast Gas Association, a consortium of natural gas companies across the U.S. and Canada. Pictometry will be collaborating with NUAIR, both discussed in previous posts, to research the “feasibility of using UAS to improve the overall safety and speed of routine and emergency surveys and inspections of pipelines for gas utilities.”
The project is intended to develop methods to image natural gas pipelines and possibly use methane detectors as well. This comes on the heels of a recent FAA grant of a 333 exemption to San Diego Gas and Electric Company to use UAS for infrastructure imaging. Utility companies from production to delivery are excited about the potential UAS have to reduce costs, reduce the risk from dangerous inspection activities, and increase the reliability of their systems.
Pictrometry also recently helped found the Property Drone Consortium (PDC). From their website: “The Property Drone Consortium represents a collaboration among insurance carriers, construction industry leaders and supporting enterprises who have agreed to work together to promote research, development and the establishment of regulations for the use of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) technology across the insurance and construction industries.”
Amazon Prime Air
Amazon has been making quite a bit of news, in what appears to be a coordinated media response to the FAA regulatory processes. Amazon granted exclusive access to its Canadian UAV test site to Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington.
The FAA reported to great fanfare on March 19 that it had granted Amazon an Experimental Use Certificate for its testing programs. Days later, Amazon told Congress that it was useless because they had moved on to more advanced designs while waiting for FAA approval.
We now find out that they have relocated their testing less than a mile over the border into Canada, taking with them a NASA astronaut, the designer of the wingtips for Boeing’s 787 airliner, and “a formidable team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing.” Amazon said it was hoping to develop Prime Air in the U.S., but testing indoors is limiting and their frustration with regulators is evident – and not unreasonable.
For example, the article states that the FAA granted 48 “outdoor drone testing licenses” (I believe they mean Experimental Use Certificates) while Transport Canada granted 1,672 commercial drone certificates in 2014. This is a daunting difference, and I doubt anyone can reasonably argue that Canada is taking safety for granted. In addition, Diana Cooper, head of the Unmanned Aerial Systems and Robotics Practice Group at LaBarge Weinstein said that other American companies have contacted her about UAS opportunities in Canada.
I hope that the U.S. can maintain its edge in UAS R&D, but stories like this are disheartening. Larry Downes wrote What’s Wrong with the FAA’s New Drone Rules in last month’s Harvard Business Review. It is a great article about the problems with the FAA’s approach – one being its refusal to consider beyond line of sight operations such as those envisioned by Amazon.
Both the Guardian and HBR article are great, so I encourage you to read them in their entirety.
Today was the Team Delaware International Drone Day at Brandywine Creek State Park. It was a chilly day but a beautiful park and a great place for the event. My wife was reminiscing about the cross country races she ran there when she was at Padua Academy in Wilmington, but the rolling hills and large fields made it a great place for flying drones too!
Thank you to everyone who listed to me speak. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in insurance coverage, wife Kristen at email@example.com can help. (as my wife, I guess she is technically the Dutchess of Drones, but she’s fine with just “Kristen”). Also, I wasn’t able to catch too many names while I was there. If you see a picture below that is of you or your drone, please let me know. I’m happy to credit you and/or send you the full size file.
There were a number of tents set up with local companies that sell and operate UAS, an FPV race course, and a flight line for standard flying. The team received permission from the park to fly, had the FAA issue a NOTAM for the event, and ensured that everyone was operating safety. It was a great event and I am thankful that Dan Herbert of Sky Gear Solutions invited me to speak.
I gave a brief talk on risk mitigation for UAS operation and mentioned some of the good uses for UAS – the Koala research along Australia’s Sunshine Coast seemed quite appealing given the chilly day. I won’t summarize my talk since all has been discussed here before. I was hoping to stay longer but the baby was tired and we had to get on the road back to Connecticut.
Legal, Photographic, and Other Drone-related News From the "Duke of Drones"