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A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged drone

A LeWeb session on drones, curated by Mr Robert Scoble.

Robert Scoble

Scoble & Loic

Robert loosely puts drones in three categories:

  • Toys – and other things you’ll chase your cat with
  • Professional drones – made to carry cameras and other payloads.
  • B2B drones – soil analysers for farmers, architectural drones…

What Amazon’s doing is interesting – but I don’t think that people will be delivering things to your home with then any time soon. They’re dangerous, and they will be regulated.

Edwin Van Ruymbeke, Bionic Bird

Bionic bird

Birds are light – and making a functional bionic bird required waiting until the weight of motors came down to make it feasible to fly. They’re using the sorts of motors that allow phones to vibrate. And in the meantime, computer power and metals have got cheaper and lighter.

The Bionic Bird’s charger is an egg. You charge the egg, and the bird recharges from that.

€100 for the Bionic Bird – and you can order it now.

Christian Sanz, Skycatch

Skycatch

The Skycatch drone is designed to be used continuously, with a “landing station” that the drop homes in on, switches the battery pack (which also holds the storage) and gets back in their air. The “tractor” beam is a microwave signal that guides the drone back.

This is useful for monitoring construction sites, for example, allowing them to speed up construction. They work like Uber – you identify the area you want done, and three hours later you get a map.

A lot of early autopilots were designed for hobbyists, who did;t mind rebuilding drones that much. For a commercial business they have to be much better – they use a lot of noise detection to double check directions.

It costs $1000s to lease one per month, along with the fully autonomous ground station. Their biggest data is in acquiring data for people, though.

Henri Seyoux, Parrot

Parrot bebop

The Parrot Bebop is not really a drone – it’s poetry. When you are a child, you like video games where you can be a hero. In real life, not so much. But can we bring you something like that?

It’s fun and easy to fly, with an unique camera. It’s designed to work with your smartphone or tablet. It has no moving parts, and can shoot HD images. And you can now use it as VR. It’s officially a toy, and while it might hurt you when it hits you, it won’t cut you.

Eric Cheng, DJI

Dji inspire 1

The DJI Inspire 1 is essentially a flying camera. It has indoor stabilisation, an integrated camera which shoots 4k, and wireless streaming of HD video. The problem with using land cameras on drones is that you can’t control them in the air the way you can a specially designed one.

It shifts configuration in the air, and shows remarkable video stability in the air, even when swinging around. It can fly at up to around 50mph. Without GPS you can get up to 70mph – but you have to be a very competent pilot to make that work.

They use propriety Lightbridge wireless tech to talk to the drones, so your smartphone retains full connectivity to the cloud.

Regulation

IN the US you can fly up to 400 feet – and they’re banned in national parks. Parrot works within the guidelines for toys – which are rigorous and stop the drones becomes too dangerous. They’re light, with flexible blades. In Switzerland, for example, you can fly them pretty much anywhere.

They need to regulated and treated like any tool. A hammer is a very dangerous weapon, but most people have one. Users need to be aware of flight space – flying one into an airport will be a big problem.

There are three issues here:

  • Regulation
  • Innovation
  • Safety

Some countries are very heavily regulated – you need to be a pilot to fly any size of drone, for example. Some safety issues can be addressed in software – but there’s open source software that will allow you to circumvent those sort of safety protections. We need a standard protocol for communicating with drones.

A lot of drones are vulnerable to weather. DJIs drones have sensors that will ground the fleet in dangerous weather conditions. Everyone wants reasonable, risk-based legislations. Everyone’s taking steps towards that, but it’s taking time.

People are working on “following” drone, where they’ll follow a person or object with a device attached to them. It’s a big challenge right now – it’s too easy for the probe to end up following into a tree.

A drone on display at BlueLightCamp

One of the highlights of last week’s blogging at BlueLightCamp was the chance to see a drone in action, live:

The one in the video wasn’t the biggest one present – that was the one pictured below, which is capable of carrying and filming with a Canon 5D:

An UAV carrying a Canon 5D for filming

Takes two people to operate it, interestingly. One to film, and one to fly…

Now, technically, these aren’t drones – they’re UAVs, but the drone usage is so common now, I think we can skip the distinction.

There’s been a awful lot of fuss about drone journalism, which I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to, partially because I thought it would always be a minority interest, but mostly because I didn’t really understand the fundamentally technological changes that have taken place to make this possible. The drone talk I liveblogged at BlueLightCamp changed that.

Fundamentally, two things are driving this change:

  • Avionics sophisticated enough to keep a drone in flight level have got cheap enough to make filming possible
  • Battery technology has got good enough to support the rotors for long enough flight times. (The old fluxed wing model aircraft were petrol-driven, often).

Two technological changes have enabled a whole new class of aviation, and opened up all sorts of possibilities, from filming to delivery. And the innovations that have enabled this are only going to keep improving.

I’m going to have to start paying more attention to this.