Category Archives: Profiles

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.

Call for videos – 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima

I had a post all set to launch today, but it is delayed until tomorrow.  I heard a spot on the news reminding us that today is the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Iwo Jima.  The Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation has started a 36 day drive to raise money for their mission and has asked people to share videos of them and their family/friends raising the flag in memory of the Battle of Iwo Jima.  I encourage you to do so – and maybe try to get one from above (to keep in the UAS theme of this blog).  If you do PLEASE check to make sure you are within FAA hobby guidelines and if you are doing it in a public place, check with local authorities to obtain written permission!  This can be an opportunity to use a UAS to commemorate and important event in our history.

This isn’t the 70th anniversary of the iconic flag raising on Mt. Suribachi – the battle lasted 36 days and the United States suffered heavy casualties (6,800 killed, 25,000 wounded).  The Japanese, however, had almost 19,000 killed, virtually their entire force on the island.

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Iwo Jima and Mt. Suribachi – then and now

United States Marines made up the bulk of the American force and my words cannot describe the battle and the loss they suffered.  The power of photography to capture a moment is evident in Joe Rosenthal’s photograph of the Marines (and one Navy Corpsman) raising the flag following a hard fought victory.  This sacrifice isn’t always being taught in school, so it is up to us to pass to our children the sacrifices Americans have made for our freedom.

The Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation’s primary mission is to provide financial support for the education of children of Marines and Law Enforcement officers who died while on Active Duty.  We have been at war for over the last decade and have lost many soldiers to battle.  Many have left behind children, and the MC-LEF has been working to help those children.

From their website:

The “$70 for 70 Drive” is a 36 day campaign from February 19th thru March 26th. Our goal is to reach $500,000.00 or more in donations.

We encourage all patriotic Americans to make a flag raising video, as Greg did, to commemorate the historic flag rising on Mt. Suribachi 70 years ago, and to nominate three of your friends to participate in this campaign. While $70 is the suggested amount, paying tribute to the 70th anniversary of the invasion, any financial contribution is greatly appreciated. HELP MC-LEF reach our goal and continue our mission of honoring our fallen by educating the children of those who sacrificed all.

Be sure to include the hashtag #70for70 when you share your video on your social media pages. Additionally, please send your flag raising video to MC-LEF by emailing us at info@mc-lef.org and we’ll share it on our website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

(please also add @dophoto or email it to me so I can share).

Profile: Alta Devices

One of the major drawbacks relating to consumer drones is battery life.  Some of the best have an advertised battery life of 25-30 minutes and increased battery size is generally not viable for small consumer UAS due to their limited lift capability.

Factors that decrease battery life, giving you an effective battery life of, at best, 10-15 minutes:

  • Using the camera, and particularly streaming video to your controller.
  • Batteries degrade over time and store less energy.  Think about that cell phone that is almost up for an upgrade and lasts about 2 hours on a charge!
  • Cold weather decreased battery efficiency.  This isn’t limited to UAV batteries – even the amazing Telsa has seen decreased battery performance.
  • Power reserve to return home safely.  Typical 333 Exemptions have offered to land when battery power is down to about 30%.  While hobbyists aren’t required to keep such a reserve, it is a good idea!
Solar Powered UAV (Image from Alta Devices website)
Solar Powered UAV (Image from Alta Devices website)

Solar power isn’t ready for prime time on land-based fixed structures, at least in my opinion, because the costs are astronomically high and the cells are made from relatively toxic materials.  Below is a diagram of the costs of various forms of energy, and you’ll see that solar is the most expensive.  However, given the drawbacks associated with batteries on UAS (and that your home electrical outlet can’t run a UAS), solar is promising.  But to this point, it has been expensive and bulky.

energy-reality costs

This is where Alta Devices, based in the Silicon Valley, comes in.  They are developing ultra-thin solar panels for a wide array of devices,  and have partnered with Airware to incorporate them into UAS.  The cells are only about 100 µm thick and are made of a gallium arsenide base.  Here is a short video about how their cells are made and work:

 

They were acquired about a year ago by Hanergy, an Chinese clean energy company, after it was reportedly having trouble raising investment capital.  However, the recent news appears to show that they have the capital to develop their products and are having some success.  I’ll keep an eye on it and see where it goes.

Here is a video put on in conjunction with the Department of Energy:

 

– Duke of Drones

Happy Valentine’s Day

Cupidrone-20150211040646500I’m sure most of you have other thoughts on your mind rather than UAS, so this will be brief.  From Marketing Magazine in the UK:  an ad agency developed “cupidrone” to promote the Flower Council of Holland – which is deceptively based in the UK.  A red drone was enlisted to drop roses on young couples in Verona, Italy, which was recorded and put up on the internet.

Given that I and over 150,000 others have watched the video, I’d say it was a successful, low cost campaign!  Enjoy and Happy Valentine’s Day!

– Duke of Drones

Profile: Burnz Eye View

First some housekeeping – as my blog expands, it is no longer truly just a blog about aerial photography and, as such, I have moved it to a new domain.  As of now, I’m still working on the presentation and have not decided whether it will remain titled “Droning On” or if its name will change.  The content is still coming strong, though.  So, please update your bookmarks.

I’ve also added a MailChimp mailing list to the right hand column, so please sign up.  I won’t inundate you, and I’m thinking I’ll do a weekly email with a short summary of the week’s stories.  I had never hear about MailChimp until I heard their ad on the Serial podcast.  If you are looking to add your own mailing list, it is easy! This aspect of the blog is still a work in progress, so bear with me!

So what is with the name “Duke of Drones?”  Well, for starters www.droningon.com wasn’t available. I then attempted to be creative and came up dry, but I just finished a book about the Plantagenets who ruled England in the 11th-14th centuries and loved creating Dukedoms for various relations.  I will note that being a Duke was not necessarily conducive to a long life in Plantagenet England, but I hope that has changed.  Separately I have always enjoyed the song “Duke of Earl.”  I thought I’d self-crown myself – but designating myself the King seemed a bit presumptuous (more importantly, www.kingofdrones.com was unavailable).  So welcome to my Dukedom, or Duchy if you prefer, where I share stories about drones/UAV/UAS with the world.

Burnz Eye View

I’ve generally stopped reporting on the specific details of 333 exemptions since they’re coming a bit quicker and have become somewhat formulaic.  However, one caught my eye – Burnz Eye View.  Burnz Eye View is a company based in San Diego that creates videos for use in real estate sales.  They requested a 333 exemption in order to use UAS to film real estate from the air so brokers can include that in their marketing materials.

The owner, Mark Burns, was recently profiled in UAS Magazine.  He is a former Marine with experience in aerial photography and hopes to expand his business nationally.  As a vet myself I am more than happy to help promote other vets and their businesses!  I also think using aerial photography for real estate sales is a fantastic idea.  I haven’t used aerial photos before, but I can say that pictures make a big difference in real estate.  I always have taken my own and given them to the agent.  Sometimes the agents are well-intentioned but don’t have the photographic equipment that I do so we’ve gone through together and used my camera.  Others have failed to recognize the importance of photos, so I took the initiative myself.  However, getting a picture from above to truly understand the property is wonderful.

Example aerial images – © Burnz Eye View – used under §107 Fair Use for reporting

From my review of the exemption, they are authorized to use a DJI Phantom 2 to record aerial video of real estate.  They have guaranteed that their pilots will have at least 100 hours of flight time prior to operating under the exemption and that each will have a private pilot certificate and a third-class airman medical certificate.  They will also have a visual observer present during flight.  The exemption is not limited geographically either, good news for Burnz Eye View.

However, as with other 333 exemptions, operation within 500 feet of people, buildings, or vessels is prohibited unless the people are under cover and owners of property have granted their permission.  This will be tough when it comes to real estate, especially given recent public opinion on UAS, but since the company’s videos are geared toward luxury real estate there might be sufficient land to accommodate this requirement.  There are a number of maintenance, training, weather, reporting, and administrative requirements as well that I will not go into.  Operations are under VFR rules during the day, and they must still obtain a COA from the local Air Traffic Control tower before flight.

I’ll finish with an interesting video that was on their website.  It is long but interesting.

Altura and News Round-up

Today I am not going to focus on anything in particular but address a number of stories that caught my interest.

A company based in the Netherlands called Aerialtronics recently had one of its UAS participate in Avalanche Search and Rescue in the “angry” Norwegian winter.  The UAS is the Altura Zenith, a smaller UAS that is designed to handle winds up to 14 m/s, a payload of 3 kg, and moderate weather.  This isn’t necessarily the UAS one would think is best suited for rough winter conditions, but the team was well-trained and braved white-out conditions to accomplish the testing.

Taken by  Knut Torbjørn Moe, Special Projects Manager at Aerialtronics
Taken by Knut Torbjørn Moe, Special Projects Manager at Aerialtronics

I wanted to start on a light note, before getting to some of the less positive domestic legislative news.  The media has been highlighting negative UAS stories and what one author describes as “paranoia.”  This is why I try to write daily about at least one company or group that is using UAS in a positive way.  It is interesting how there has been a surge in negative stories and perceptions are changing noticeably – but many of the fears are not based in science or reality.

William Jelani Cobb, a professor at nearby UCONN, wrote “What Our Paranoia About Drones Says About Us” in the New York Times Magazine.  It is an interesting read, and here is what I consider the pull quote: “We increasingly glance at one another through a veil of suspicion, doubt and fear….Yet our privacy is far more vulnerable in the face of surreptitious phone photography or recording than it is to a noisy conspicuous device hovering in plain sight. The problem is not technology. It is, as it always was, us.”  He is dead on here.  Let’s be honest, few of us have lives as exciting or bodies so interesting as to warrant a stranger peeking into our private lives.  And if they were, recall how loud a UAV is – it’s not the ideal way to spy on someone.

Back to the “paranoia.” Two states are considering bills that are antagonistic to civil UAS use.  Washington is considering a bill that would add a year of jail time to sentences for crimes that are committed with a UAS.  I’m not sure why selling your drugs or the like is worse when you use a drone, but we’ll see what the state does.

While I personally consider Washington’s proposed law a bad idea, at least it is squarely within the state’s police powers.  That contrasts with Oklahoma’s proposed bill, which would provide civil immunity to one who shoots down a UAS over their property.  What Oklahoma cannot do, however, is immunize the shooter from federal prosecution under 18 USC §32 for destruction of aircraft, something I have discussed multiple times in previous posts.

Add to this California’s proposed bill SB 142.  It would ban UAS users from trespassing in airspace below what has been defined by the FAA as “navigable.”  Media outlets are already reporting that this means users of UAS cannot fly below 400 feet since navigable airspace is defined as something higher.  Again, I think this will just cause confusion.  I’m working on an article that discusses the history of navigable airspace.  The 400 foot height limit is just a guideline, not a law or regulation – furthermore, it would seem to imply that the FAA has designated anything below 400 feet as navigable for hobby UAS in certain circumstances.  Finally, the courts have spend decades defining navigable airspace for manned aircraft, and navigable airspace can include any altitude required for take-off or landing.  This is a very brief overview, and I hope to write more on this topic in the future.  In the meantime, these proposed state laws are only causing more confusion.

On the other hand, the Wyoming Senate has rejected a bill that would limit police use of UAS without a search warrant.  Last weekend I wrote that the public feels more comfortable with police use of UAS than with private use.  I think we need to balance both and both have advantages – and disadvantages.  I worry that if we put UAS just in the hands of the government and prohibit civil use, then we risk heading toward one of those dystopia’s described in recent books and movies; at least in that the government will have the means to watch us at all times.

However, the FAA did release some good news.  They have approved two COAs for the Northern Plains Test Site in North Dakota, and expects to approve two more – opening up almost 2/3 of the state to test flights.  This doesn’t allow commercial operations, just flights in conjunction with the test site, but still progress.  Hopefully this will speed up and encourage the use of the sites for R&D to integrate UAS into the national airspace.

On a lighter note, the Netherlands is planing the first “Drone Show,” called Air.  What it is is yet to be seen, but the trailer is pretty cool.  Yahoo reports that it is being put on in conjunction with the Royal Dutch Air Force.

 

And to finish up, a restaurant called Timbre in Singapore is testing using drones to help delivery food at their restaurants.  Don’t worry, you’ll still have a real waiter.  The drones will deliver your food to a location near the wait staff, and they will still give it to you after personally taking your order.

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The restaurant says it spend over $1,000,000 for this project, which includes using Infinium Robotics UAV at its five restaurant locations.  The FAA does not regulate indoors so American restaurants could do such a thing, but they are probably skittish after the Mistletoe Drone incident at TGI Fridays last Christmas.

Drones for Good

My posting today is going to be fairly short because I am working on another post that I hope to have out by mid-week.

The results of Drones for Good came out.  The international category was won by a Swiss company named Flyability for a collision resistant UAV called Gimball.  It looks like a drone inside of a buckyball, but will gently collide with objects and then bounce off.  It bounces off of people too without injuring them.  For anyone who has seen a drone crash, this is a great idea!

Flyability's winning "Gimball" drone design
Flyability’s winning “Gimball” drone design

The inventors explained that they were inspired in part by Fukushima, where the unmanned vehicles which were sent in could not work in the area due to obstructions hindering navigation. They had struggled to find funding for their concept, but now hope that the $1,000,000 prize will help them commercialize it within the year.  Congratulations to Flyability.

Watch the Flyability video here.

The domestic UAE competition was won by NYU Abu Dhabi for its Wadi Drone.  The Wadi Drone will be used to document flora and fauna in the country’s parks.  The team was inspired by the story of rangers talking long hikes in the heat to retrieve SD cards from camera traps in order to retrieve images.  The Wadi Drone will be able receive transmissions from the traps with more ease.  They will be using the prize money (AED 1 million (over $250,000) to implenent the program in the parks.

Watch the NYU Abu Dhabi video here.

Finally, my attention was brought to this picture that was taken by a photographer in Michigan of the Outer Light.  I’m a big fan of iced-over nautical photos to begin with, but this is absolutely gorgeous! The composition and timing is fantastic, but he is hoping to get a camera with a better sensor this spring (this is with a GoPro).  That is all that could improve this otherwise great picture.  You can see his full collection on Flickr. The ground-based photos, taken around the same time of day, have phenomenal color.  Just buying a good camera won’t get you these photo, but for one who knows how to take photos, it will help correct some of the loss of vibrance in the GoPro.

Outer Light
© Christopher Kierkus, February 6, 2015 – Used under Fair Use (17 U.S.C. §107)  Grand Haven State Park, Lake Michigan

Fire and Ice

Ice

A Canadian icebreaker, MV NUNAVIK,  became the world’s largest icebreaker when it was launched in 2014 and plies the Arctic carrying nickel ore from the Nunavik Nickel Project in Québec to Beijing.

NUNAVIK's Historic Voyage
NUNAVIK’s Historic Voyage – click on the image to read the Log Book from the passage

The ship’s captain, Randy Rose, has a daunting task – navigating through the Northwest Passage that eluded countless Renaissance and Victorian age sailors. I didn’t know the first thing about icebreaking before researching this story, but it is an art. Brute force along the most direct route is rarely the best option. An experienced captain can read the ice and will be able to discern the young ice from the more mature ice.  I understand that the mature ice appears blue while the young ice is the route to take.

The Canadian government had generally supplied Coast Guard escorts to the icebreakers, but that fleet is aging and the NUNAVIK can travel where even the Coast Guard icebreakers cannot. So Captain Rose is experimenting with drones to provide a birds-eye view of the ice ahead. He initially tried the less expensive commercial models, but they are hard to keep up in the strong Arctic winds and is going to try helium balloon mounted cameras next. You can see a corner of the UAS in an image from a Toronto Star article.

Icebreaker from Drone

This is an important project, since even a small piece of ice is the size of a Cooper Mini and is hidden below the surface. Hopefully the aerial camera will be able to see it before the Captain, because even the reinforced NUNAVIK is susceptible to ice. I wish Captain Rose success with his innovative idea, especially since his ship cost four times the price of a similar non-icebreaking cargo ship and getting stuck is costly – time is certainly money for mariners.

Fire

I’ve written about how CASA, Australia’s FAA counterpart, has been more accepting of UAS than the FAA and big news recently came out of that country about the use of an American-made UAS. Firefighters in Australia have begun to use a Lockheed Martin UAS, the Indago, to aid firefighting missions. I have a bit more experience with fire than with ice, having been a part of the investigation into the fire onboard USS MIAMI back in 2012.

Last week, the Indago was used in its first real-world fire and provided invaluable information to the teams on the ground, including the location of the fire’s edge, hotspot data, and identifying people and property that were at high risk. Unlike most COA’s and exemptions I’ve seen that have been issued in the U.S., the Indago is allowed to operate at night. At least in this fire, manned firefighting aircraft had to land at nightfall. The Lockheed article linked above shows a picture of the UAS obtaining intel from the fire at night.

Indago is a highly versatile UAS, weights 5 lbs, can fly for 45 minutes up to a 10 km range, and at 10 m is only as loud as the “hum of a refrigerator.” I’ve included a spec sheet for one version. It can operate day and night and in rough weather conditions, which is important for a drone flying above a fire.  While I am sure these are quite costly, I bet they would withstand Arctic winds well.   Lockheed Martin has announced that the autopilot is no longer ITAR controlled and therefore at least one version of the Indago is more readily available to international customers. It is still controlled under the EAR, however.  The first Indago UAS were delivered to the Heliwest Group, which provides aerial services in support of firefighting around Australia, in November 2014.

Prior to this first real-life mission, Indago underwent testing at one of the six FAA test sites at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York (I visited here as a kid and saw the then-new stealth fighter). It provided situational awareness to the ground crew as well as to an unmanned helicopter, designed to supply USMC troops in Afghanistan. The latter was able to apply about 3,000 gallons of water on the fire over the course of an hour with information from the Indago.  Hopefully it will not be long before we here in the U.S. can use this American technology in real-life emergency situations.

Aerial Photography Profile: SkEye

I wanted to write a short article about a Photography Studio called SkEye Studios.  They are a photography studio out in Hillsboro, Oregon that also has an aerial photography component to it.  I spoke with Chris Kiefer, a production manager at SkEye about a video that was sent to me from the West Coast Walk to Life.

As a reminder, this is not a political or advocacy blog, but I was intrigued by this video because a company was using a UAS to record a large congregation of people in a metropolitan area.  Chris told me that they took this video purely for their own personal interests in photography.  They were curious about the size and extent of the event and wanted to see how it would come out.  They did not do this for commercial purposes, so they are not bumping up against the FAA’s ban on using the Model Aircraft guidance.  While I’m sure the FAA could make some commercial argument, SkEye has done everything right, in my opinion.

SkEye was in contact with both the San Francisco Police Department and the California Highway Patrol to get their buy-in on what they were doing.  Interestingly, neither agency really know what to do, but were excited to help and agreed to the plan that SkEye developed.  SkEye used a Phantom to make the recording and this is what came out of it.

This will be a powerful use of UAS once the FAA does approve small aircraft for commercial use.  Groups of all types will want to document their events and share the extent of participation – both to encourage more to join and to encourage companies to advertise at the event.

SkEye has a lot of work online, and it pains me to show this this one, since I’m a Patriots fan and excited for the Super Bowl tomorrow.  SkEye also took this video of a Green Bay Packers stadium recreation with Christmas lights and portions are filmed with a UAS.  It is pretty cool, even if the choice of teams is questionable.

On that note, don’t forget that aircraft of all types are prohibited around major sporting events year round, but the FAA has issued a special advisory for the Super Bowl and is trying to get out the word that it is a “No Drone Zone.”  No UAS near the Super Bowl – no excuses.  Enjoy the game!