All posts by Sally French

Ex-Twitter engineer wants to shake up drone industry (and raised $25 million to prove it)

Drone startups are flying high among investors, drawing $450 million in 74 deals with venture capitalists in 2015 and $111 million the year prior. One of those companies is just now making itself known to the public after two years of developing a consumer-focused drone in “stealth mode.”

Chinese drone-maker Zero Zero Robotics announced Tuesday its Hover Camera drone and $25 million in funding from investors including IDG, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund and ZUIG.

The drone-maker spent the past year secretly developing Hover Camera, a drone carrying a 4K video camera that can track and follow people, can be folded up to the size of a book and that can hover as soon as you let it go from your hands.MW-EL098_Pushin_20160425141307_NS

But the key to this drone’s design is the safety. The carbon fiber enclosure design protects the propellers, a design move that could have prevented injuries caused by the sharp blades of whirring propellers, like the one Enrique Iglesias experienced last year after attempting to grab a drone onstage.

“I want it to be portable, I want it to be safe, I want it to be user friendly,” said Zero Zero Robotics CEO M.Q. Wang, a former Twitter software engineer. “Our goal is to build personal robotics for anyone.”

It’s something that realistically could compete with the more inexpensive drones from the two established market players, Phantom maker DJI and Yuneec. DJI so far has received at least $105 million in two rounds of venture funding, and Yuneec in August received $60 million in funding from Intel Capital.  Continue reading Ex-Twitter engineer wants to shake up drone industry (and raised $25 million to prove it)

Meet Zoe, the world’s top female drone pilot

In Zoe Stumbaugh’s world, it’s drones pretty much 24/7. Even when she’s not racing (she is the U.S.’s top female drone racer, after all), she’s designing new propellers, working on her own racing drone, or flying for fun near her home in Santa Cruz, California.

After being bedridden in her early 20s, Zoe found a hobby — racing drones. Since then, it ballooned into her winning the first ever sanctioned FPV (First Person View) race in the U.S., and she is now working on 3D Freestyle flying. Plus, she developed the world’s smallest competition-level FPV Racing Drone, the Zat 109.

I had the joy of flying with Zoe in San Jose, where she taught me what goes into FPV racing, building drones and what’s new in drone racing.

Learning to FPV from grand master @zoefpv

A photo posted by Sally French (@sallyannfrench) on Mar 31, 2016 at 6:18pm PDT

Drone Girl: How did you get into FPV?

Zoe Stumbaugh: I was really, really sick. I had to go through a lot of different surgeries. I was bound to my bed for a good 2 years. I was depressed. My friend told me, ‘You need a new hobby.’ I went to the hobby shop. I found a micro drone. Then I got a larger one. I saw videos of people flying FPV on YouTube, and thought, ‘I need to do that.’

It took me 2-3 months from hearing about it to flying FPV, because I had to build it myself. I never soldered anything in my life. I had to teach myself to do that.

Then I started winning races.

DG: How would you describe FPV to someone who has never done it before?

ZS: FPV is like having an out of body experience that you get to control. I liken it to being a monk where you can have an elevated experience and get to leave your body. Continue reading Meet Zoe, the world’s top female drone pilot

International Drone Day is coming in 2 weeks!


“Drones are good.” You know it if you’re a reader of this site.

But not everyone does! I still get asked questions about drones spying, stalking, taking your data and crashing.

And then there are the drones that are protecting endangered animals, bringing medicine to you, or helping harvest food.

That’s why my friends David and Sarah Oneal of “That Drone Show” created International Drone Day. The 2nd Annual Event will happen Saturday, May 7 around the world.

A snapshot of David and Sarah Oneal at International Drone Day 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Each location will be different, with some highlighting drone racing, aerial photography and videography instruction, search and rescue demonstrations and more.

Find an event near you: Continue reading International Drone Day is coming in 2 weeks!

DJI introduces new Matrice 600 and Osmo at NAB

This year’s National Association of Broadcasters event in Las Vegas gives both filmmakers and developers who are interested in drones a reason to celebrate.

DJI today announced the Matrice 600 (M600) at NAB in Las Vegas. The Matrice 100 was the Chinese dronemaker’s developer quadcopter.

The M600 integrates DJI’s brand-new A3 flight controller onboard and features advanced Lightbridge 2 video-transmission technology that offers high frame rates and HD live-streaming capability at distances up to five kilometers.

“The M600 is the most-powerful and easiest-to-use professional platform DJI has ever produced,” said Senior Product Manager Paul Pan. “We’ve pre-programmed all M600 platform data and information into the A3 flight controller, remote and transmission system to minimize setup and get you flying as quickly as possible.”

The M600’s retail price, including the integrated A3 controller with Lightbridge 2 and 6 batteries, is $4,599.

And for dronies who aren’t developers but looking to get their hands on new DJI gear — there is this: an Osmo compatible with the Micro Four-Thirds Zenmuse X5R camera.

The new system, known as the Osmo RAW, uses the same technology DJI launched last month on the Inspire 1 RAW aerial to bring unmatched cinematic-quality stabilized video to the skies.

The X5R will attach to existing Osmos via an adaptor. Another new product, the Z-Axis, will sell for $129 and provide stabilization on the fourth vertical axis.

“Now, creators and filmmakers will no longer have to choose between image quality and image stability, no matter from what perspective they’re shooting,” Pan said.

DJI also introduced a new battery for Osmo that offers up to 96 minutes of shooting time at 4K resolution, vs. 66 in the prior battery. It will offer 78 minutes of shooting time for Osmo pro, vs. 60 for the other battery. The four battery charger can charge four batteries in about two hours.

Both the Matrice and Osmo are game changers for people in the film industry, providing integrated video in the air and drone-like video on the ground.

“There are other options out there, but none that integrate a top-class flight controller, video-transmission system like Lightbridge 2 and support for such a range of cameras and gimbals,” said DJI Executive Creative Director Sheldon Schwartz.

Drone Girl featured in Alma Mater’s magazine

While commercial drones are prohibited currently from flying over populated areas out of safety concerns, the Federal Aviation Administration recently released recommendations  from a government-sponsored committee that would make it legal for drones adhering to certain safety standards to fly over crowds for commercial purposes.

One take on the news comes from Vox Magazine, the student run magazine from the Missouri School of Journalism which, coincidentally, offered a drone journalism class that got me hooked on drones in the first place.

Check out this piece from Adrienne Donica, featuring quotes from yours truly.Drone delivery is one step closer to reality   Science   Tech   Vox Magazine.png

Drones are coming to ESPN

This is an excerpt of a story originally written for

What do you get when you mix Formula One auto racing with competitive video gaming with flying robots? A spot on ESPN.

The International Drone Racing Association on Thursday announced it has signed a multiyear deal with ESPN to air drone racing across the network. Drone racing features a series of elaborate courses—like abandoned malls, NFL stadiums and subway tunnels—with miniature drones racing at speeds greater than 80 miles an hour and controlled from afar by pilots wearing “first-person view” goggles that show a live video feed from the drone’s “cockpit.”

The first IDRA race, which will send drones through Governors Island in New York City, will air live on ESPN3 on Aug. 5-7. Another race will be held in October. Both events will be followed by a on-hour TV special on ESPN.

“To go from a first-ever, U.S. national drone race to partnering with ESPN for international distribution in eight months is truly a sign of great things ahead,” Dr. Scot Refsland, Chairman of the IDRA, said in a news release.

Drone racing has been slowly rising in popularity, with IDRA claiming a presence in 35 countries. Another group, the Drone Racing League, announced in January that it raised $8 million in funding, including investment from Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’s venture-capital firm RSE Ventures. Other investors included Hearst Ventures, CAA Ventures and Muse lead singer Matthew Bellamy, according to a Jan. 21 SEC filing.

Shares of ESPN parent company Walt Disney Co. DIS, -0.85%  are down 5.3% year to date while the S&P 500 is up 0.9% in that time frame.

Ask Drone Girl: Where can I fly?

Got a question for Drone Girl? Ask her here!

Dear Drone Girl,

Perhaps you can point me to someone in San Francisco, my home town. First I’m 64 and just started flying quad copters.  I’m in a public park in San Francisco flying my quad copter and get told I can’t fly there. I go online and can’t find a blog or forum to connect with other quad operators.  Do you know of any active site where I can talk to other ‘flyers’? I’m not real happy since my park has zero people, tons of space and I’m not a safety hazard. Ugh!

-Seeking Out Flying space in SF

Thanks for your question — which seems to actually be twofold. The problem here is 1. you need some flying buddies, and 2. You don’t know how to approach people saying your flying is illegal, or even if it is illegal.

Let’s tackle the second question first. Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: Where can I fly?

DJI just launched a new app that is basically the Tinder/Uber/Meetup for drones

When I first got my original DJI Phantom 1, I was the only person I knew on the planet who was interested in drones.

I did something highly NOT recommended — message random strangers on the Internet who I could tell lived near me and ask if they could give me a drone tutorial. (It worked out for me, and I made some lifelong friends this way, but don’t try this at home!)

But DJI just came up with something a whole lot less creepy. Continue reading DJI just launched a new app that is basically the Tinder/Uber/Meetup for drones