Category Archives: Interesting UAS Applications

Paolo e Noemia d’Amico Winery

I have not been able to post since Unmanned Systems 2015, but I serendipitously came upon an idea for a post yesterday evening.  I stray from UAS for a bit, but keep reading and I promise it will circle back to UAS.

My wife and I enjoy visiting Madison Wine Shop in downtown Madison, CT, a family-owned shop that was rebuilt after a devastating fire in June 2013.   On Friday evenings there is often a wine tasting and the owners, Whitney and John Algieri make wonderful selections that have expanded our wine horizons.  You can follow them on Facebook for updates.

The owners inside of Madison Wine Shop

Yesterday evening they had Riccardo Bertocci from Paolo e Noemia d’Amico in Tuscany running a tasting of wines from Italy.  The wines were all absolutely amazing, particularly the Umbrian Cabernet Franc, Atlante.  Unfortunately at $85 it was above our price range for a casual Friday night, but it was a pleasure to taste.  We did get a couple of more moderately priced, but still amazing, wines from them – shown below.



Paolo e Noemia d’Amico is located in Italy and I’ve attached a map with its general location.  It is a beautiful estate, and the wine cellar is particularly stunning.  I’ve also attached a few pictures, and a Condé Nast Traveller article about the estate.

Most importantly for the blog, there is a video shot by a drone.  It even goes into the wine cellar with an exciting trip through the halls leading to it.  I don’t have an embed code, but click on the link in the previous sentence and the video should start after it loads.  I hope to get a bit more information about the video, but for now enjoy the amazing views.

Winery Vaiano, Private Property (, Italy 18_-_Villa_Tirrena_Sculpture_Gardens_3


Shark Drones

I’ve written about using drones to monitor whales (Dana Wharf and NOAA), but now lifeguards are using a drone to monitor their beach for sharks.  In the video below, Chief Joe Bailey describes how lifeguards at Seal Beach, California are using a drone to monitor for sharks.  They will fly over the water at about 100 feet and can readily identify if sharks are near the beach.  They even saw a juvenile shark in waist deep-water, but will allow the beach to remain open unless larger or aggressive sharks are coming into shallow water.

Lifeguards in Chile are testing UAS for lifesaving, but this is the first instance I’ve seen in the U.S.  With the recent shark attacks in North Carolina, the drone news has gone viral.  I hope this will help spread the news about a beneficial use of UAS.

Headline photo courtesy of

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.

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.



News Round-up


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.


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.


UAS Week in Review


I wrote about how UAS are being used in Kenyan anti-poaching efforts, and now South African National Parks (SANParks) is testing methods of using UAS to prevent Rhino poaching in Kruger National Park.  SANParks Chairman, Mr Kuseni Dlamini, said “This aims at investigating the effectiveness of various UAV technologies as instruments in rhino protection efforts under a range of operational conditions.”

The photo below was taken by the author at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  This is Nola, a Northern White Rhinoceros – she is only one of five left in the world.  Admittedly, this is not from South Africa, but it illustrates just how badly rhino populations have been decimated by poachers, so I hope the program is a success.Nola 3


Predator Downed in Syria:

I wrote this week about the Predator drone that was lost over Syria.  The Daily Mail has posted what appear to be pictures of the downed aircraft.  Syrian media is claiming that the Predator was shot down by the country’s air defense, but the U.S. will not confirm that it was taken down intentionally.  A video can be found here:


Chile and Iran are both going to be testing lifesaving drones.  Having been an open water lifeguard for a number of years, I am all for this.  The video below shows the relative speed of a human vs. a drone lifeguard.  We’d still want human guards to complete the rescue, but it is much safer to approach a scared but floating person rather and a drowning person.

Drone v. Plane Study

A big concern regarding drones is the effect of an impact on an airliner.  David Schneider asked George Morse about a recent study analyzing the risk of UAS/airliner collisions.  Mr. Morse owns Failure Analysis Service Technology, based in Arizona and is well-regarded in the field.  He is an expert on foreign object damage (“FOD” – hence his web address) and was asked about using research regarding birds to analyze UAS collision risk. here is a quick summary:

  • He didn’t seem to think that the difference in composition between birds and UAS is a big deal.  There are two issues:
    • A UAS entering a turbofan engine – in which the engine speed is most pertinent.
    • Collisions against the aircraft – where relative speed is the biggest concern.
  • Delta2Turbofans (The damage to the Delta turbofan above was caused by a herring ingested during takeoff in Portland, Oregon)
    • A 1-2 kg drone is likely to hit the leading edge of a blade and get chopped up into a million pieces.  It will be similar to a bird strike.
    • The damage is unlikely to cause a fan blade to break, but could cause it to come out of high speed.  This is important since we are assuming the greatest risk is a low-altitude collision during take-off.
    • The batteries are unlikely to cause an explosion.  Worst case scenario is that they get sucked into the combustion chamber and burn up (just like the jet fuel).
    • Birds are actually more concerning, since they travel in flocks, which can result in multiple birds getting ingested at once.
  • UAS v. airliner hull
    • He was more concerned about the UAS hitting the windscreen (windshield).
    • However, the composition (bird vs. drone) doesn’t matter.  Speed and mass do.
    • So a 1-2 kg drone poses no more danger than a bird of the same size.
  • We shouldn’t minimize the risk.  Even if human life is relatively safe, the cost of a small UAS entering a turbofan engine would be quite high.  Much more than the drone – and the UAS user would likely be liable.

Apple iDrone


Apple Drone

Crossrail, Abu Dhabi, and 3DR update

The Abu Dhabi Business Centre, an affiliate of the Department of Economic Development, announced that sales of UAS will be banned in Abu Dhabi until new laws are passed that regulate UAS.  This follows an incident in January where the Abu Dhabi Airport was shut down temporarily due to a drone sighting.  The General Civil Aviation Authority is supposedly in the final stages of developing their regulations.  In the meantime, Abu Dhabi has surpassed the U.S. in terms of UAS restrictions.

On the other hand, BBC received authorization to fly a DJI Phantom in the Crossrail, a giant underground train tunnel project in London.  It took four months for BBC to negotiate a plan with the Crossrail safety team, but they got it done!

Finally, here is an article I wrote for my firm: WINDS OF CHANGE: A FLURRY OF UAS REGULATORY PROPOSALS.

Also, an update to a prior post.  I previously reported that 3D Robotics was second in the funding race for drone companies.  That information is out of date. They are number one after they received $50 M in the most recent round of funding.  They have also teamed with Qualcomm to use their Snapdragon chipsets in UAS.