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. )
Before I start with the law here is a video from the Birmingham, UK St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was taken by Didier Soulier with a drone. He is an experienced professional with experience in filming parades. I chose not to add one from the U.S because they appeared to be amateur productions and not approved by the FAA. Hopefully next year we’ll have a major parade filmed in the U.S. by an experienced drone pilot with approval from the FAA. I have also included a non-UAS picture in the spirit of Australia’s drone progress (see New Year’s Fireworks, military collaboration, Koalas, and entrepreneurs). I didn’t know until last week that Australia has a large Irish population and their St. Patrick’s Day parade is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has proposed a new regulatory approach for UAS (called RPAS, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, in the EU) in the European Union. It is called “Concept of Operations,” and is supposed to be a flexible approach – the requirements will increase proportionally with the risk. They considered comments from users and manufacturers as they developed standards that cover safety, security, privacy, data protection, insurance and liability. This is a high-level framework, not a detailed regulation.
EASA proposes three categories of operation: Open, Specific and Certified. Open would not require operation as long as the aircraft stays within specified limits – remain under 150 m, stay within visual line of sight, and away from certain areas. The Specific category will require authorization and limitations crafted to the operation – the operator would be required to complete a risk assessment and receive approval from the relevant National Aviation Authority. Certified operation would be for the highest risk activities – specifically for aircraft over 150 kg.
The EASA is hoping to increase communication between member states over the course of the year in order to help harmonize regulations throughout the EU in line with the Concept of Operations. The EU’s number of registered drone operators far surpasses the U.S., as Bloomberg illustrates (see below), with France leading the pack. We’ll see if the CoO comes to fruition and how it effects usage across the E.U.
Back in the United States, Massachusetts has proposed a bill regarding UAS directed primarily at government use. It limits the use of UAS by law enforcement to situations in which a warrant has been issued and restricts the ability to collect various forms of personal data. Private parties would be required to comply with FAA regulations and could not arm their UAS. It was filed in January 2015, but appears to be a new attempt at a bill that died in a previous session (the date on page 6 is 2013).
This is in addition to bills introduced in neighboring Rhode Island. The first proposed bill would give the state exclusive ability to regulate UAS. The FAA has authority to regulate most aspects of UAS, but the state does have limited ability to legislate (this is a discussion for another day). This bill would be aimed solely at restricting municipalities from passing their own ordinances. The second, more ambitious bill would do the same, and further require registration of all UAS used in the state. The bill would also restrict UAS from certain sensitive areas and prohibit their use to look inside of private buildings.
I found this amazing video online and wanted to share it. This was taken during a Whale Watch tour that was going from Dana Point, Orange County, California to Catalina and is of a Super Pod of Gray Whales and other amazing sea life. It was taken by Captain Todd Mansur and Captain Frank Brennan with what appears to be a Go Pro attached to a DJI Phantom (I’m not positive on this, but am assuming based on the DJI hashtag). I think it is great videography and also a wonderful way to raise awareness about these endangered, majestic animals!
This is only one of many videos they have taken from a drone during whale watch tours. Capt Brennan has significant experience with whales and practiced with the COPTERWHALECAM for weeks before using it over sea life. He has done this responsibly based on his wealth of knowledge and experience. Very few of us share his level of experience in both whales and UAS. However, I caution the general public against doing this on their own. NOAA guidelines regarding whales address boats (remain 100 yards from whales), and manned aircraft (stay at least 1000 ft above cetaceans), but they do not address drones. However, many whales are endangered, and interfering with them can lead to criminal penalties. Only one experienced in both whales and UAS has the experience to prevent such an incident, so I would leave this to professionals like Capt Brennan.
Interestingly, Captain Mansur was in the news on a semi-related topic. Even the Navy follows the Endangered Species Act and avoids whale strikes, which can be lethal to the whale. Last year he notified the USS CORONADO that it was headed directly toward a pod of Gray whales. The warship came to a stop and did not hit the whales.
If you want more information about the Endangered Species Act, you can read about it here. Even if you don’t care about losing your drone to King Neptune, remember that it falling on a whale is considered a whale strike and subjects the user to severe civil and criminal penalties.
In the meantime, enjoy these amazing videos, and check out Dana Wharf Whale Watching tours.
Yesterday I have the privilege of talking with JJ Trinidad, the owner of Skyecam. He first caught my attention when I read a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that referenced a BMW commercial, which included UAS video filmed in the United States. I thought this was going to focus primarily on the BMW commercial, but after a fascinating conversation with JJ, I’m having trouble choosing what videos to include in the article.
Skyecam provided the aerial shots for the BMW commercial, shot at locations in New York and Massachusetts. Particularly exciting for Patriots fans will be that a part of it was filmed outside of Gillette Stadium, as seen in the preview below and on the main page of the blog! He does build his own custom UAS. He was getting the aircraft up to 40 or 50 mph during the shoot, but at those speeds the images start to get shaky.
We moved on to general drone topics. I asked him about his interactions with the FAA and local authorities. He has not had trouble with local authorities, and the FAA wasn’t particularly helpful some time ago when he contacted them about obtaining permission. More on the FAA below.
I asked him about the WSJ article and how the FAA regulatory issues affect his insurance coverage. He carries insurance through the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics), but that only covers him for recreational flights at an AMA location. His experience has been that typical commercial policies will exclude any losses that occur without a permit – if one is required. This means that any accidents during shoots over public areas requiring a permit will not be covered, but accidents during one on private property would typically be covered. In the context of a shoot such as for BMW, he was working for the production company and under their insurance. Technically, this insurance policy should cover a loss, but the carrier would need to know that a UAS is in use. Because of the FAA’s position on commercial use, that notification isn’t always made. JJ said that in the end, it isn’t that easy to get coverage for the work he does.
JJ started flying RC planes as a kid off of the cliffs of California. He got into something called Dynamic Soaring and eventually his Skyecam Team captured the world speed record, at close to 400 mph! This is amazing given that the planes do not have any engines and use only wind and physics to gain such speeds. The cliffs found in California provide the appropriate natural wind patterns for this type of flying.
JJ believes Dynamic Soaring taught him more about how to fly a UAS than anything else because he needed a thorough understanding of lift, yaw, and other concepts that keep an object airborne. Interestingly, albatross do something similar – they can fly thousands of miles using little energy by diving toward the leeward side of a wave.
He got into aerial videography around 2006, when he taped a camcorder to one of his RC planes. The images where shaky and you could see parts of the airframe in the image, but he dreamed that one day the technology would evolve to the point that he could create professional aerial videos – and that day is here. JJ hasn’t shied away from risky flights, either. One story he didn’t mention to me, but which I found online, was about a flight he took over LA’s notorious Skid Row. He set down his $3,000 custom UAS when the battery was low and someone tried to steal it. He did get it back, only to be stopped by cops during the “get-away” (they let him off after explaining to him that the area is controlled by street gangs). Here is the resulting video from the drone.
I asked him about the current state of FAA regulations, a subject on which he had a lot to say. He has spoken to the FAA about flights, but found them unprepared to answer his questions or provide useful guidance. He wasn’t enamored with the 333 Exemption process either and believes that the requirement for a traditional pilot certificate is not appropriate. For example, a Boeing 747 pilot wouldn’t understand how to fly one of his drones, and vice versa. He is also adamant that the proposed rules fall short in that they do not require UAS-specific training prior to being allowed to fly commercially. He firmly believes, and I agree, that UAS users should get training on their airframes so they know how to react in an emergency; such as the loss of a propeller or loss of radio communication with the aircraft. In his eyes, it is no different than driving a car without a license.
JJ worries that the DJI and similar platforms that allow for autonomous flight, with the amateur users they are attracting, are harming the public image of UAS and causing unnecessary accidents. He thinks that these features should be used only in emergencies. He does use FPV when he is flying recreationally, but all commercial work is done within line-of-sight. In his opinion, FPV is unsafe if one isn’t sufficiently experienced or when one is flying commercially (FPV is conditionally allowed under the FAA’s proposed rules). He also stays away from airports, except when using Apollo Airfield, which is fairly close to an airport but a sanctioned model aircraft field.
He will be commenting on the FAA rules, as any member of the public can. He hasn’t submitted his yet, since Skyecam is working to put together a thorough comment, but I look forward to the result.
Finally, this past weekend he took some video in the clouds from the Angeles Crest in the Angeles National Forest, boasting the highest elevations around Los Angeles. He was already at a high elevation before launching, so the aircraft wasn’t that far from him when it was up in the clouds. He does use UHF radio frequencies that have a range close to 10 miles and can penetrate through clouds. The beach portions of the video are at Big Sur and the overhead shots of the zebras are from a prior trip to Africa. I had to ask about the latter part, and he said he took some artistic liberty in adding that portion.
I’ll close with that most recent video. Make sure to chose the highest resolution possible. It is shot in 4K, better than HD, and on the Apple Retina screen it is absolutely amazing. JJ is a highly-experienced UAS pilot and videographer, and is well-positioned to take advantage of this new technology. His work is excellent and I’m sure he and Skyecam will continue to awe.
What does a koala have to do with UAS? Read through to find out!
Today I want to briefly touch on programs that universities are beginning to develop in order to educate future UAS developers and users. The programs are just starting to proliferate, but I will focus on a few. The UAV Marketplace has a list of universities offering anything from UAS majors to clubs and it appears to be fairly up to date.
There are only a few schools in the U.S. offering a full-scale UAS major. One is the University of North Dakota. I chose to mention UND because the Northern Plains test site has been active in developing its capabilities and was recently in the news when it received two COA’s from the FAA.
The University’s course catalog, as of February 2015, states that the major is aimed at the civil UAS industry, a Commercial Pilot Certificate is required, a minor or second major is strongly encouraged, and that a number of courses are restricted to U.S. persons. The final note is an important consideration for any schools considering such a program. The courses are restricted because they discuss technology covered by the ITAR (Avit 331 – Unmanned Aircraft Systems; Avit 332 – UAS Ground Systems; Avit 333 – UAS Sensor Systems; Avit 334 – UAS Comm/Telemetry Systems; Avit 338 – UAS Operations).
These majors will teach a student all aspect of drone operation, but most UAS are being used for imaging of one form or another. A university in my hometown of Rochester, NY is pulling from the imaging experience of the city (original home of Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch and Lomb). The Rochester Institute of Technology now has the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science, which is well-poised to develop UAS imaging technology.
Some also hope to turn Rochester into the Drone Capital of the World because of its imaging companies. The article mentions Pictometry International, which developed a technique of stitching together aerial photos from low-flying airplanes to create overhead images that look three-dimensional. The article also points to Exelis Geospatial Systems, which has built the camera systems for most of the commercial imaging satellites. These cameras can pinpoint a ground location to within a few meters, even while flying at 17,000 mph and over 350 miles above the ground. Both companies are based in Rochester and well-positioned to leverage their imaging expertise with UAS.
Finally, universities have been actively performing applied research. In a photogenic example, the Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation is using UAS equipped with heat sensors to monitor the decreasing koala population in Australia. The first flight was tested in bushland near the Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and was developed to help researchers better understand koalas and why they were not surviving relocations.
(Photo Credit: www.abc.net.au – A koala joey named Frodo suckles on a syringe of food at Australia Zoo on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast on November 19, 2010. Australia Zoo)
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.)
On Monday February 23rd, On Point with Tom Ashbrook had a segment entitled “All-American Drones.” You can listen to the podcast and review the comments from listeners by clicking on the link, but I will summarize it below. To readers of Droning On, most of the topics will not be new, but it is good to see what others are saying on the issue.
Mr. Ashbrook’s guests were as follows:
Jack Nicas, aviation reporter for The Wall Street Journal
Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Coalition
Gregory McNeal, professor of law and public policy at Pepperdine University
Mr. Nicas wrote an article last Friday in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Drone Ban? Corporations Skirt Rules,” which is self-explanatory. He started off the segment by discussing some of the uses to which drones are already being put in the United States and abroad.
Drones are being used in small to medium-sized farming to monitor crops and collect data for a new technique called “Precision Agriculture.” The draft rules from the FAA would still preclude their use on large farms because of the line-of-sight rules.
Construction is another area in which drones are being put to use. Construction companies have been unable to collect desired data about their site progress due to the pace of construction, but UAS can fly over the site every day to create three-dimensional models. These models can be laid over the site plans to determine if the progress is as planned.
Mr. Nicas also addressed frequent headline news – Delivery drones from Amazon. This would still be prohibited, both because of the line-of-sight requirements and a prohibition on external loads. He was relatively understanding of the FAA’s slow progress, given the increase in air traffic that drones will bring about. He was also happy because many in the industry were worried that the FAA would propose manned aircraft-like requirements (including aircraft and pilot certification).
As I’ve addressed, the FAA is hesitant because of technological limitations, particularly regarding Sense and Avoid. He did mention a number of companies that are working on Sense and Avoid technology. In addition to General Atomics’ DRR technology and Honeywell working with NASA, he mentioned Intel, Qualcomm, and numerous start-ups. Industry believes they will have Sense and Avoid technology in place by the time the rules are finalized (likely 2017).
Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon, was on with Charlie Rose of CBS and in December 2013 they expected to have deliveries by drones accomplished within 30 minutes!
Michael Drobac was excited with the proposed rules. In particular, he was happy that pilot certification will not be required. As he put it, “what does a Cessna pilot know about UAS?” However, he said we are far behind other nations and the proposed rules are not sufficiently elastic for commercial use.
Mr. Drobac discussed a rancher near Telluride who likes using a drone to survey her cows, saving her many trips up the hill to do the same manually. He also discussed the debate on Capitol Hill, where the issue may be forced with legislation. UAS opinion is not falling along party lines, however: Senator Schumer (D, New York) says he will consider introducing legislation if the FAA will not reconsider their line-of-sight stance, while Senator Feinstein (D, California) wants to see more restrictions.
Mr. McNeal, who I’ve mentioned previously, started by discssing the economic dynamic of drones. He responded to a question from a caller by saying that Amazon must clearly see a market opportunity if they are investing millions and hiring Mr. Drobac. He also mentioned other opportunities, such as in bridge and cell tower inspections, noting the higher than average fatality rate among the industry.
A caller asked about the “considerable noise pollution” that drones create. Mr. McNeal summarized the rule laid out in United States v. Causby (very briefly: a landowner has rights to some airspace above his house – a case interpreted and fought over in courts for decades as airports expanded). Amazon UAS will operate at 300-500 feet and create much less noise at ground level than your average UPS truck (and in the author’s case, the even louder noise created by his dog). He also noted that Google’s prototype will not even land but rather use a tether to lower the delivery. In short, innovators are hearing the public’s concerns and creating new technology to address these issues!
A caller asked about the legislation in his state that would allow one to shoot down a drone over their land. Mr. McNeal reminded the audience that since the FAA considers UAS “aircraft,” there are severe penalties associated with such conduct.
There was a brief FPV discussion, and Mr. Pirker came up. The take-away is that it isn’t always about the aircraft, but about the skill of the user. Mr. Pirker has flown around New York City and the Statute of Liberty and through tunnels with his FPV goggles. But he is that good.
Next, insurance was addressed. I am going to have a guest blogger in the near future talking about the insurance aspects of drones in more detail. FAA guidance hasn’t stopped people from flouting the rules and nothing can make an activity zero risk. Even if users don’t fear the current FAA ban, commercial users will heed the guidance of their insurance carriers and take steps to fly safely and keep their premiums low.
Mr. Drobac also discussed the safety risks and was concerned about the underutilization of the test sites. He said that many potential users want to test their skills and plans in controlled environments, and have been asking for time at the test sites to do so. He is attending a conference in Santa Cruz in May where they will be looking at reams of data on testing and discussing safe operation.
A caller asked if we are losing the “Drone Race” (see my comment at the end of this post regarding the “Space Race”). Other countries, like France, are allowing their operators to fly beyond the line of sight. They don’t care about their citizens less, but it does show how we are falling behind. In defense of the FAA, we do have a complex National Airspace, but that excuse only lasts so long.
The comments online were generally against the “one-hour long commercial for Amazon.” Writers felt that the segment didn’t address the privacy or human rights concerns. As for the latter, this was about commercial, not military UAS. As for the former, I wish it had come up. As I’ve discussed, I think there are good answers for that. However, Mr. Ashbrook couldn’t have done that and the NPRM issue justice in one segment, so hopefully there will be a follow-up segment on the privacy aspects of UAS!
All in all, this was a great segment that touched on most aspects of the current regulatory debate.
There was UAS news last night, and lest you think I forgot: drones were spotted over a number of French landmarks, including the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, and the American Embassy in Paris. We don’t know much about this yet, but I don’t think it changes the dynamic. Just as people can buy guns illegally, they can fly drones in violation of no-fly zone rules. France is investing 1 million Euros in a program to detect UAS in unauthorized areas and I have to imagine we are doing the same. I’ll keep you updated on any developments.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.
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.
A video is below and the technical details can be found in a white paper put together by Pix4D.
If you haven’t heard, Niagara Falls is almost 85% frozen over! There have been pictures all over the internet, and NBC News posted a video taken from a drone (from the Canadian side of course – they don’t have the legal ability to use it in the US). The last time Niagara Falls froze over completely was in 1848!
The drone video from NBC is embedded below. I was having some trouble with the embed, so here is the link to the NBC site. There isn’t a ton of actual drone coverage since a good portion is dedicated to interviews, but it is still worth a look. Enjoy.
Legal, Photographic, and Other Drone-related News From the "Duke of Drones"