Category Archives: Imaging News

Live Blogging – Unmanned Systems 2015 Day 2

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.

 

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Drone America’s search and rescue UAS

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).

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IMG_8506IMG_8510Finally, 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.

I’ll finish on a light note.

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My run this morning took me under the flightpath for the airport.
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I believe this is Jasmine, but if you can help I would appreciate this. I remember the smell from Charleston and it always reminds me of a southern spring.
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Watermelon Gazpacho “shooters” at the conference. Although I appreciated them with significant trepidation, they were surprisingly good.

 

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.

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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.

 

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!

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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.

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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:

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News Round-up

Pictometry

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.

 

 

UAS in Western New York

This is a follow-up from the article I wrote about Rochester Institute of Technology and its Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, which is well-poised to develop UAS imaging technology.

Rochester’s local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, wrote an article about RIT and local UAS activities.  I mentioned the Center for Imaging Science’s expertise with photography – whether by aircraft or satellite, but RIT is working to apply this to real-life UAS applications. The D&C article quotes the Center’s interim director as saying that they are getting calls daily for their expertise and their graduates are almost 100% employed at graduation.  This is something not many university programs can say these days!

The Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Lab within the Center has over 40 graduate students and its mission is as follows: “DIRS focuses on the development of tools to extract information about the earth from aerial and satellite imaging systems with an emphasis on the application of science and engineering to solving end-to-end remote sensing problems using a systems engineering approach. This includes design and development of imaging instruments, developing algorithms to extract information from remotely sensed systems and measurement and modeling of the physical phenomena associated with the formation of remotely sensed images.”

RIT has also partnered with MIT to help lead the FAA test site based in Rome, NY and Cape Cod.  This is the same test site that tested Lockheed Martin’s Indago UAS for firefighting.  The test site at Griffiss International Airport is managed by Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR).  I haven’t written about them directly but have been following their work with interest.  I visited the site of their headquarters as a kid, then Griffiss Air Force Base.  I still remember getting to take a look at the relatively new stealth fighter on the ground – it was so new that there was a perimeter roped off and armed military guards.  It is great to see that Griffiss and RIT are ushering in a new generation of aircraft.

Goose Watch Winery (by the author, December, 2009)
Goose Watch Winery overlooking Cayuga Lake (by the author, December, 2009)

One of the programs that RIT is working on is precision agriculture.  We’ve heard a lot about this type of research for UAS in the mid-west, but not that many people think about farming when they think of New York.  But Rochester is 7 hours from New York City and Western New York is well-known for its agriculture – including the vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes Region.

The test program will start with tests over farm in Batavia, NY in Genesee County with a 3 lb hand-launched Lancaster Hawkeye Mk III made by PrecisionHawk.  Cornell Cooperative Extension, a program at the state’s land grant university, is also participating and they have three goals for the various test sensors:  (1) estimate yields and count crops, (2) spot pests/disease and obtain thermal images, and (3) optimize fertilizer application.  Also, according to the D&C article, “Another project by an RIT student examined vineyards in the Finger Lakes, using spectral imaging to assess water levels in plants.”  This certainly intrigues me, but I can’t find any additional information about it – I will update this post if I do.

They are also working to make progress on one of the FAA’s pet concerns: Sense and Avoid.  They are hoping to (1) develop effective sensors that are less expensive than the $80,000 interial navigation systems in manned aircraft and (2) design algorithms that process the data more effectively.  The hidden aspects that make a UAS safe and versatile.

A Sonoma Vineyard: Taken by the author during a trip to California with his father, an RIT alum.
An unknown Sonoma Vineyard: Taken by the author around 2005 during a trip to California with his father, an RIT alum.

Notes:

Special thanks to Sean Lahman and David Riley, whose D&C articles that I linked to above were phenomenal!

The cover photo on the main page is of Kontokosta Winery, taken by the author October 2013.  Yes, I ran with the winery theme.

 

News Round-up

Since I have been gone awhile, I figured I would highlight some recent articles that caught my attention.

The Alaska Board of Game is banning the use of UAS to spot salmon.  With salmon season coming up later this spring, this will be something to keep an eye on.  The article has some pretty good comments, and it doesn’t appear that most people are that up in arms about the ruling.

Alaska 737-800 WL N559AS (12-Wild Alaska Seafood)(Grd) SFO (MDB)(46)-M

 

Australian researchers at QUT are testing sense and avoid technology as part of their “Project ResQu.”  The website is great and I hope to write more about this in the future.

MotionDSP, which has been involved in providing components related to imaging on military UAS, but is transitioning to commercial applications.  They are collaborating with the University of North Dakota and University of Kansas (both discussed  in the article linked to with QUT regarding UAS Education), as well as Auburn University.  They are excited for applying video applications to commercial UAS.  They’ll have some export issues to address, but I’m sure they are on top of it.  Auburn has a summer program relating to UAS, funding in part by the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense.

I wrote about the SoCal UAS entrepreneurs at 3D Robotics, and now there is an article about Aussie drone entrepreneurs.

  • Matthew Sweeny, owner of Flirtey is from Sydney but is based at the University of Nevada – Reno.  Unfortunately for us, he’s looking to head to New Zealand to test his UAS, since it is more drone friendly than we are (there are almost no limits for UAS under 25 kg, except that they stay away from airports, remain under 400′ and those over 15 kg remain in the line of sight).  He’s looking to break into the drone delivery service, à la Amazon Prime Air.
  • Nick Smith owns Drones for Hire, the country’s largest group of professional drone operators.  In Australia, one must get certified to operate commercially – typically by taking a roughly $2500 AUD course and can then make $100-$600 per hour.  Honestly, I think that a course like this would be welcomed by many for commercial operation in the US, but the FAA is not planning to require it.

Boeing is testing the combined use of solar energy and fuel cells on UAS.  The fuel is Hydrogen gas and solar energy is used to cause it to react with Oxygen in the air, creating water and electricity used to power the UAS.  They say it can keep the UAS in the air for 8-9 hours. View the video below.  This is exciting since the weight with traditional batteries have made them prohibitive for small UAS flight time over 20-30 minutes!

The Italian Air Force will be the first customer for the Piaggio Aerospace P.1HH HammerHead UAV.  Piaggio was originally an Italian company but is now 98% owned by an Abu Dhabi company.  General Atomics has been attempting to increase sales in Europe, whose prospects increased after recent news from DDTC, but Italy was involved in the HammerHead’s development and went with that product.  The article also reports that European countries were hoping to develop a joint Medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE) UAV, but Italy chose another path.

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Changes are coming to ECCN 9A012, which will loosen requirements on commercial UAS.  They will be proposed in the coming months.

Michigan State Police was the first public agency to receive a license from the FAA to fly state-wide.  I’m assuming they received a public COA, and they’ve already flown a mission over a fire.

Arthur Trembanis, Associate Professor of Oceanography at the University of Delaware School of Marine Science and Policy used a UAS to assess damage from a February storm along the Adriatic coast, in conjunction with Paolo Ciavola from the University of Ferrara.

Drones and Fracking

The Mars Rover Curiosity has been broadening our knowledge of the Red Planet and, especially since his selfie, seems to have his own personality.  Now I think of WALL•E when I think of him (it).  But the technology that went into him is also helping us back here on the Blue and Green Planet.
Selfie on Mars – by Curiosity 
Methane escape is a concern both because of the loss of useable energy and because of its propensity to trap greenhouse gases.  Methane can trap between 20 and 30 times more greenhouse gases than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide.  “Natural gas,” the fuel used in many homes for cooking and heating, is made up primarily of methane.  Natural gas is also used by an increasing amount of utilities to power their turbines because environmental regulations are making coal too expensive.  However, it has not been practical to survey pipelines for methane leaks – until now.  A number of technologies are being adapted and developed to detect methane with UAS.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California has been working to adapt a methane detector used by the Mars Rover to detect methane loss from natural gas pipelines.  This is a lightweight, laser-based technology that is being developed in conjunction with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) after California passed a law requiring utilities to minimize natural gas leaks from pipelines.  The device can come in a hand-held or UAV mounted format, is accurate to 10 ppb, and can use isotope analysis to track a leak to its source.
JPL's prototype methane detector (with Starbucks and what looks like a government-issued Blackberry)
JPL’s prototype methane detector (with Starbucks and what looks like a government-issued Blackberry)
Separately, an Australian company called Draco Scientific is developing an alternative UAV-mounted optical sensor to detect methane.  Their sensors are advertised to have a sensitivity of better than 1 ppm at less than 2.5 kg. They appear to be as less sensitive but lighter – an important factor for any UAS payload. Since an American study found that energy generation from natural gas is more environmental friendly than coal only if the loss of gas is less than 3.2% (from well to ignition), Dr Maryanne Large, Chief Scientific Officer at the company, is excited about how this technology will aid energy producers.
Draco Scientific is also working in conjunction with Melbourne Water to increase the recovery of biomethane from their treatment plants.  For those who don’t know, methane is a natural decomposition product from human (or other) waste.  If you’ve ever gone by a capped landfill, the tubes sticking out are to release this gas evolution.  Surprisingly, Melbourne Water already saves about $5 million per year through trapping this methane, but Draco Scientic believes it can help them trap 20% more and save an additional $1 million.  You can read the Press Release here.
Draco-MelbWater
Back in the U.S., UAS are combining with another controversial technology – fracking.  I personally believe that fracking has net benefits and is being done safely, but there is significant opposition to the technology.  A recent report discusses how drones are being used to limit the release of methane from some of the country’s 500,000 fracking wells – something that could both improve safety and efficiency and improve public perception of both technologies.
As a very brief introduction, fracking is used to release natural gas from underground wells.  There is gas in the Marcellus Shale deposits, shown below.  Pennsylvania has tapped these deposits to great economic benefit while New York has a moratorium on drilling pending environmental studies. The gas, which is about 90% methane, is trapped in the shale and cannot be reached through normal drilling methods.  Instead, the well is drilled and a solution primarily made up of water is injected into the shale to fracture it open – hence the term “fracking.”  The natural gas is released and trapped for use.  Local residents are concerned both that the gas will leak into and contaminate their drinking water and that the fracturing solution will do the same.
 marcellus-shale-map
Returning to UAS, the traditional method to search for leaks is evidenced by TransCanada Corp., which used manned-helicopters mounted with lasers.  The lasers diffract when they hit methane, so the remaining amount of light that returns to the source is used to determine the amount of methane in the air.  Robert Jackson at Duke University is researching mounting this technology on UAS.  The biggest problem is their weight, which to date has limited flight time to 30 minutes.  This is not enough time to assess a shale “play.”  Colorado State University Ventures is developing a competing technology using something called cavity ring down spectroscopy (CRDS) that can also deterime if the methane is from natural gas or oil.
Additionally, small companies are receiving grants from the United States to develop UAS-based methane detecting technology.  For example, Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI) has received support from the Department of Energy to survey methane emissions from altitudes up to 80,000 feet.  Southwest Sciences, Inc. has received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the DOE to research a lightweight methane-detecing diode laser that can be mounted on UAS.
I will admit that my background is on the legal and chemistry side of this issue, so the methods used to detect the methane are somewhat outside of my experise.  The ASME Hydraulic Fracturing 2015 Conference  is coming up in the middle of March and I hope to have at least one follow-up article based on the conference.
Needless to say, UAS could prove to be a great resource in detecting methane for a variety of purposes and is a promising application of UAS.

Drones around San Diego

I’m out in San Diego working hard but also enjoying their version of “winter” (highs in the upper 60’s – this is not a complaint by any stretch of the imagination).  I’m hoping to get out to Torrey Pines this weekend, so I’ve included a drone video of this beautiful park.  It made me think that I should write about UAS in San Diego.

I’ll start with invasion of privacy, since that is hot news in the press. California has some of the toughest invasion of privacy laws in the United States. In the most basic sense, you can’t trespass to get a picture of someone.  This predates UAS, since the state has attempted to limit paparazzi for decades, but now drones allow you to take pictures without physically trespassing.  A well-known case in the early 90’s illustrates the limits of the law. Barbara Streisand sued a company making a photographic survey of the California coastline, including her oceanside mansion, but lost because there was nothing offensive or invasive about the distant photograph.  This was a manned flight, but now Californians, not just movie stars, are worried about drones invading their privacy.

In response, a bill was passed last year to amend California’s invasion of privacy law.  It is now illegal to make a recording with a device (i.e.: a drone) that is “offensive to a reasonable person,” of a person “engaging in a personal or familial activity under circumstances in which the plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy,” when the “image, sound recording, or other physical impression could not have been achieved without a trespass unless the device was used.”  (Cal. Civil Code §1708.8(b)).  In layman’s terms, if you can’t get the picture without using a drone, you are violating the law – even if you are not actually trespassing.  One who violates this provision is liable for damages to the aggrieved party and a civil fine of between $5,000 and $50,000!

California also has other bills pending.  One that would have restricted the ability of law enforcement to use UAS was vetoed by the governor last year .  Two similar bills have been introduced this year and are under consideration.  Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, who introduced the legislation that was vetoed, makes a good point.  It is important to pass balanced UAS legislation before more dramatic action, such as a full ban, occurs.

San Diego County has a particular interest in UAS.  The area is a hotbed of defense contracting, which includes General Atomics and Northrop Grumman, makers of the Predator/Reaper and Global Hawk, respectively.  The Union-Tribune article also cites a National University System Institute for Policy Research (based in San Diego) study from 2011 that found the UAS industry added $1.3 billion and more than 7,000 jobs to the county’s economy.

I wrote previously about AeroVironment, which had been granted permission by the FAA to use its Puma UAS to survey BP assets in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.  The authorization take the form of a restricted type certificate, a broader but more difficult to obtain authorization than the 333 exemptions.  AeroVironment is based in Southern California and can boast that the first over Prudhoe Bay flight occurred on Sunday January 18th!

It is great to see an area’s economy benefitting from UAS and I hope San Diego can continue to develop this technology.

(Note: the featured image on the home page, also found below, is of Del Mar, CA from a Drone.  It is from a drone photo website http://www.dronestagr.am.)

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Drones Down Under (and over Snowy Boston)

Before heading to warmer climes, some news out of snow-covered Boston…  The city of Somerville, just northwest of Boston, is using UAS to inspect city buildings. For those of you who haven’t been subjected to an endless parade of snowstorms or have not lived in snowy areas, roof collapse is a serious concern when this much snow falls and doesn’t melt.

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The aerial coverage is being performed by a company called “Above Summit,” based in Somerville and boasting a large portfolio of aerial work.  The article reports that they are working within FAA guidelines, but does not explain the details of how they are doing so.  If you recall my post about batteries, Above Summit said that their UAS can fly for about 15 minutes in warmer weather, but only 5 min in colder weather.  I’m in San Diego for work but understand there will be another burst of cold back home, so this is a good reminded to think about battery life before flying.

Here is Above Summit’s highlight reel from 2014, which doesn’t include the video of the snow.  That can be found here.

In warmer news, the Aussies are making headlines in regard to American military UAS.  As I reported last week, the Department of State issued a press release summarizing its new, classified guidelines relating to export licenses for UAS.  These two stories make it clear that the U.S. is serious about expanding the sale of military UAS within the newly prescribed limits.

Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk, which set the record as the first UAS to cross the Pacific back in 2001 with a flight from California to Australia, made an encore appearance when it arrived for the Avalon Air Show in Geelong (west of Melbourne).

This comes as the Royal Australian Air Force (“RAAF”) is working to procure the MQ-4C Triton variant of the Global Hawk.  Reports today also indicate that a number of RAAF aircrew and support personnel are being trained at United States military bases to operate the MQ-9.

The MQ-4C is designated as a “broad area maritime surveillance” (“BAMS”) modification of the RQ-4 because it is better-suited for maritime operations – something that would help cover the vast expanses of the Pacific.  With refueling capability the “UAS can fly 24 hours a day, seven days a week with 80% effective time on station (ETOS).

 

 

Mapping Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer

Pix4D led an effort with Aeryon Labs Inc. and PUC University of Rio de Janeiro to produce a 3D map of Christ the Redeemer, the Art Deco statue that stands high above Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Corcovado mountain.


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Pix4D develops image processing software that converts thousands of images into a single 2D or 3D image.  I was first introduced to 3D image mapping by a local company that I met at the 2014 New England Museum Association Conference called Digital Ark.  They are based on Providence, RI and one aspect of their business is to develop searchable 3D images of World War I monuments so that family members can find their relatives names on monuments.  It also serves to preserve aging monuments.  They are a great company whom I know personally and it is a powerful technology!

Aeryon is based in Ontario, Canada, and develops small UAS.  Their UAS have been used to aid oil spill cleanup, emergency fuel delivery, drug busts, and local police departments.

Due to the unique location of the statue, an accurate 3D map had not been possible before now.  The NEXT Lab at PUC University of Rio de Janeiro contacted Pix4D and coordinated with Aeryon to develop a plan that would allow them to obtain the pictures needed to input into the processing software.

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Special permission was needed to fly a UAS at the heritage site and it took months of planning to put this together.  From the press release:

“Data was collected for six consecutive mornings, on-site in late October. The main challenges for the data acquisition were the changing weather and wind conditions, restricted hours for data acquisition (flights could only take place before and after visiting hours) and inconsistent lighting conditions (shadows in early morning and late afternoon). A total of 3,584 images were acquired during 19 ten-minute flights.”  2,090 pictures were used to develop the 3D mapping image.

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A video is below and the technical details can be found in a white paper put together by Pix4D.