Category Archives: Shorts

UAS Tech News Round-up

I’ll start with a PSA:  No Drones at the Boston Marathon next Monday.  This should go without saying, but it is worth mentioning.  Good luck to all the runners!



There have been a lot of exciting announcements coming out of the UAS industry recently.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they are meant to coincide with the build-up to AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference!  Instead of cherry-picking my favorite stories, I’ll briefly mention a number of them and link to the original stories for those who want to read further.

Northrum Grumman signed a lease for facilities and access at the North Dakota Grand Sky UAS Tech Park and will break ground in September.  General Atomics is coming out in July and the state has provided funding and support for UAS operations.  This is the first in the nation UAS Technology Park according to the site.

– According to SeaPower Magazine, “the Coast Guard received $6.3 million in its fiscal 2015 budget to purchase a small UAS for its National Security Cutter (NSC) fleet and the end game is to have a small UAS on cutters over its entire future surface fleet. This includes the NSC, Fast Response Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter.”

– In unmanned, but not aerial, military news, the Navy will for the first time deploy drones from the versatile Virginia Class submarine fleet.  These will include Remus 600 Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.

The older Los-Angeles Class attack submarine returning to homeport in Groton, CT after Hurricane Irene. Taken by the author in 2011.


– DJI is hoping to raise more capital with a valuation for their company of $10 billion.  They are the most well-known consumer UAS manufacturer and easily the most valuable.  Compare this to the recent $50 million raised by 3DR.

– The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a partnership between Norut, UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Lufttransport, has opened.  According to the director, “The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems will be a national and international focal point in the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for emergency response and environmental monitoring in the Arctic.”

–  Boeing has acquired 2d3 Sensing, a company specializing in motion imagery processing of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data.  Boeing already uses 2d3 Sensing products on their ScanEagle and Integrator UAS.

– Zookeepers at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in the Netherlands thought they’d try to get aerial images of a chimpanzee with a UAS.  The chimp disagreed:

–  Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. is introducing SmarTopo Harvest.  The technology delivers obstacle survey and detection technology and is Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified to a level 1B.  According to the company, SmarTopo Harvest:

  • Searches for obstacles – the height for the search is set by the analyst
  • Detects objects or structures may be compared to the FAA obstacle database
  • Estimates height of the objects or structures
  • Creates new obstacle for a proprietary database

– Finally, the well-regarded De Zwann restaurant in Etten-Leur, North Brabant, Netherlands has used race cars, hot air balloons, and helicopters to deliver the first asparagus of the season.  This year they tried a UAS, but the plan went up in flames:


UAS Technology Advances

There have been a number of announcements regarding UAS advancements that have hit the shelves or are around the corner.

An announcement by 3DR is being built up by an interesting YouTube pre-announcement video. I’ve written about 3DR and their unique business model in “CaliBaja.”

Applied Aeronautics has announced the Albatross, the first “fully composite airframe.”  Interestingly, the initial sales are only being offered through the Kickstarter program, a funding source that has already met its goal.  This is a fixed-wing aircraft with specifications including an electric motor, 100+ mile flight range over 2 hours, a top speed of 90 mph.  Airframes start at $650 and prices range up to $3,250 for the Deluxe Ready to Fly Albatross – although none include a transmitter or receiver.  It is a powerful UAS to be in the hands of the average consumer and its posted specification are close to making it Missile Technology!

Top Flight, a small business in Malden, Mass., has developed a gasoline/battery hybrid technology which the company states can power its six 26″ rotor UAS for over two hours at a time in gusty winds, while carrying imaging or crop-dusting payloads.  This follows the solar-hybrid being produced by Silent Falcon. Top Flight’s COO, John Polo, says that for one gallon of gasoline and “$19,000, you’ll be able to carry five pounds for two and a half hours, fly 100 miles semi- or fully autonomously, and have gads of redundancy built into it.”

UAV Turbines, Inc. has announced a gas turbine engine designed for UAS.  Engines will range in power from 30 to 150 hp and will increase reliability significantly over combustion engines for tactical-sized and above UAS.  According to the company, their team is comprised of veterans from both military and civilian engine programs and they have been able to increase the mean-time-between-overhaul (MTBO) from less than 100 hours for combustion engines to about 2,000 hours.

Shepard Drones

Finally, low-tech meets high-tech in the fields of Australia.  The Wall Street Journal reports on people who are using UAS to shepard their herd.  For example, Michael Thomson in New Zealand says he is successfully using a drone to herd sheep on his sister’s 200 acre farm.  He says the sheep respect the drone and are naturally scared of it.  Other farmers in the community are leery about using drones since they haven’t had to “reboot one of [their] dogs.”  Paul Brennan in Ireland named a quadcopter that he uses on a 100 acre farm “Shep.”

On the other hand, a South Carolina farmer has tried to use a drone he got for Christmas to herd his 20 cows to less success, and helicopter pilots in the Australian Outback are confident that the current battery life in drones won’t allow cattlemen to herd cattle with UAS across areas as large as 1 million acres.

(Photo Credit: From the WSJ, Michael Thomson piloting his UAS to herd sheep at Battle Hill Farm outside Wellington, New Zealand.)