Back on the Blog

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!

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.

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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.

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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 (http://www.cedricreversade.com), Italy 18_-_Villa_Tirrena_Sculpture_Gardens_3

 

Legal Analysis and a Cave Video

Hang Son Doong

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Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam – copyright Ryan Deboodt, this and profile picture used under 17 USC §107 (Fair Use).

I’ll start with some videography since I came upon this amazing video.  Ryan Deboodt, owner of Ryan Deboodt Photography in Beijing had the opportunity to record an aerial drone video of the world’s largest cave – Hang Son Doong in Vietnam.  The video is amazing, both for the natural features and the quality of the footage.

The cave boasts its own river and jungle and is large enough to hold an entire block of Manhattan or allow a 747 jet to pass through it.  It wasn’t accessed by humans until five years ago, but now a developer has the unfortunate idea of building a cable car that would allow mass access to tourists.  Enjoy the video.

 

Rivera v. Foley – Hartford, CT

This is a follow up to an article I wrote about a Connecticut reporter, Pedro Rivera, who was stopped by Hartford Police for flying his personal UAS near an accident scene.

Mr. Rivera filed suit last year against Lt. Brian Foley, major crimes division commander at the Hartford Police, alleging a violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights.  The suit is based on his appearance at an accident scene on February 1, 2014.  He was acting in his personal capacity and not for his news station, was standing away from the scene on public property, and was flying the UAS about 150 feet over the scene.

The complaint filed by Mr. Rivera contained multiple allegations, and as such the ruling is somewhat complex.  This ruling was in response to the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (a “12(b)(6)” motion, for the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure that addresses it). I’ll break it down as succinctly as possible below, but in short the District Court ruled against Mr. Rivera on all grounds but one.  Some of the reasons were procedural, but will effectively allow police to do the same thing in the future without the UAS user having legal recourse.

Also, the court noted that some of its ruling was based on cases that apply only to the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont).  Mr. Rivera can appeal if he so chooses, and this case does not bind other courts.

Mr. Rivera’s claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are as follows (Section 1983 essentially allows a person to sue a governmental entity for violations of other federal rights, such as those protected by the U.S. Constitution):

  1. Violation of Plaintiff‘s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, as a result of the officer’s actions at the accident site,
  2. Violation of Plaintiff‘s First Amendment freedom of speech when the officers prevented him from recording police activity.
  3. Violation of Plaintiff‘s First Amendment right to assemble at the accident site and monitor the police response to a motor vehicle accident,
  4. Retaliation against Plaintiff for exercising his First Amendment right to assemble at the accident site and record police activity, and
  5. Violation of Plaintiff‘s First Amendment right to freedom of the press as a result of the officer’s attempt to have Mr. Rivera suspended from his job at a local television station.

Court rulings:

  1. The lawsuit against the Hartford Police Department was thrown out on procedural grounds because it is not a “legal entity” under Connecticut State Law that can be sued under §1983.  Therefore, one must sue the municipality and not a component of it.
  2. However, the court took the claims against the Police Department and considered them as if they were against the City of Hartford.  The Court then found that Mr. Rivera did not state any official policy of the City of Hartford that caused the situation to occur, which is required to sue a municipality under §1983.  An “official policy” can be one that is (1) actual municipal policy, (2) municipal custom or practice (including if the City acquiesced to or tacitly authorized the conduct), or (3) the decision of a municipal policymaker with final policymaking authority.  The Court found that none of these were satisfied and the the case against the City was also thrown out.
  3. This left the two police officers, which the City claimed were eligible for “qualified immunity.” This allows municipal officer performing discretionary functions to be shielded from suit in their individual capacity.  The Court recognized that this is a difficult defense for the officers to prove.  It can be met if the officers conduct violated a constitutional right that was clearly established, and if it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted (the comments below match with the numbers above relating to Mr. Rivera’s claims):
    1. The Court found that the officers had a basis to stop Mr. Rivera and detain him and his property, therefore dismissing the Fourth Amendment claim.  In short, he refused to stop flying “an unusual and likely unidentified device into a cordoned-off area at the scene of a major motor vehicle accident and ongoing police investigation” and therefore allowed the officers to conclude that he was interfering with a police investigation.  The Court said that at a minimum, reasonable officers could disagree on the legality of their conduct in stopping Mr. Rivera.  I’m intrigued by the “into a cordoned-off area” statement, since he was 150 ft over it, but more below.
    2. There is no First Amendment freedom of speech)right in the Second Circuit to record police activity and therefore no basis to argue there was a violation of his rights (1st, 7th, 9th, and 11th Circuits do provide such a right; the 3rd and 4th do not; and the remainder are silent).  Furthermore, the Court found that the Circuits which do allow recording have addressed hand-held devices, not UAS.  The Court also cited United States v. Causby, an aviation case from the mid-century, which found that a landing aircraft at 83 feet was in the landowner’s private airspace.  I find the Court’s reliance on Causby to be overly simplistic.  Later cases have found that rather than using a fixed altitude to delineate private from public airspace, one must perform a fact-specific analysis.  That was not done here, and I don’t think one can say that 150 ft over an active police scene is in the private airspace of the landowner below without a more detailed analysis.
    3. The Court found that there is no basis to say one “has a clearly established First Amendment right to assemble at the scene of an active police investigation and fly an unidentified object into a designated crime scene.”  This sentence gives some insight into the Judge’s opinion regarding UAS, but tracks with the reasoning above.
    4. See Number 3 – since there is no right to assemble, there could be no retaliation.
    5. The Court found that Mr. Rivera could proceed with his case on the First Amendment “prior restraint” claim.  The Officers “acted to suppress Plaintiff‘s right to freedom of the press when he contacted Plaintiff’s employer and threatened to withhold the ‘goodwill’ of the Department if Plaintiff was not ‘disciplined,’ resulting in Plaintiff‘s suspension from his job as a photographer and editor.”  The Court noted this is a particularly concerning allegation given his role in the press.  This does not mean he won on this claim – only that the case can proceed.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this case, but will keep an eye on the prior restraint portion of the lawsuit as it progresses.

Electronic Privacy Information Center v. FAA

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) sued the FAA regarding privacy concerns with the proposed rules for small UAS.  EPIC is petitioning the court:

  1. to set aside the NPRM regarding small drones published on February 23, 2015;
  2. to review FAA’s denial of EPIC‘s March 8, 2012 petition; and
  3. to hold unlawful the FAA’s withholding of proposed drone privacy rules

EPIC contends that the FAA Modernization and Reform Act requires the FAA to promulgate rules regarding privacy concerns with UAS.  The FAA denied the request in November 2014, stating that the FAA triages the regulations that must be updated, this is not an immediate safety concern, and that rules regarding small UAS would be forthcoming.  EPIC does not believe the rules address privacy concerns, which is accurate since they are focuses on physical safety of people and property.  This will be a case to watch.

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 www.sealbeachusa.com.

New Horizons passes Pluto

While not what we generally think of as a UAS, NASA’s New Horizons Probe made its closest approach of Pluto today.  This complex unmanned system will certainly increase our understanding of space, and the technology will certainly trickle down to UAS.

From NASA: New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and will conduct a five-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015. Pluto closest approach is scheduled for July 14, 2015.

The highest resolution image from its closest approach at about 4pm today has not yet arrived from New Horizons, but the images so far are amazing!

Pluto High Resolution

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. (Picture and Caption from NASA)

Here is a size comparison:

Size Comparison

Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km, 18.5% that of Earth’s, while Charon has a diameter of 1208 km, 9.5% that of Earth’s. (Picture and caption from NASA)

I’ll update this post tomorrow with the image that is expected to arrive and is promised to be even better than the one posted above.

Since I’m talking about NASA, here are a few pictures of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  It gave me chills to be so close to a shuttle that our nation launched into space 39 times!  The docent said they made a conscious decision not to paint it, and it was interesting to see the effects of reentry on the thermal protection.

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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.

 

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

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

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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!

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

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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.
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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