All posts by Sally French

Department of Defense is using SkySafe to crack down on rogue drones

As the drone industry takes off, there is another industry taking off with it — the anti-drone industry.

San Diego-based startup SkySafe, which creates technology to disable drones from flying where Skydio’s customers don’t want them to, announced that it won a $1.5 million contract with the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide mobile counter-drone systems to Naval Special Warfare units. The company will be rolling out demos and tests over the next year and hopes to have its systems in place with the DoD by 2018.

SkySafe is able to detect and selectively control individual drones, largely via radio waves. Its systems are not available to the general public, but the company works with “qualified public safety customers.”

Courtesy SkySafe

Drones that can be purchased for a few hundred dollars have been increasingly causing problems at major events. They have crashed into cyclists during races, and in 2015, a DJI Phantom drone crashed near the White House. Just last month, a drone crashed during a Padres game at Petco Park in San Diego, Calif. And in an event much like Thursday’s anticipated Warriors parade,  a drone crashed into a woman, knocking her unconscious during Seattle’s 2015 Pride Parade. The drone operator was found guilty of reckless endangerment.

Anti-drone companies like SkySafe have grown in the past few years.  DroneShield, for instance, sells a Dronegun, which is a jammer that can disrupt a drone’s remote control, forcing it to land or return to its starting point. In some European countries there are companies training eagles to take down drones midair. And San Francisco-based startup Dedrone has developed software that can detect drones in the vicinity before they even take off, and its software is already being used in a few prisons and for events, including during the 2016 presidential debate at Hofstra University and at the Golden State Warriors parade  in Oakland, Calif.

Courtesy SkySafe

Dedrone uses sensors, including RF/WiFi scanners, microphones and cameras to collect data and determine whether or not a drone is in a certain area, as well as analyze its flight path and the type of drone.

Skysafe also announced today announced that it closed $11.5 million in Series A funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz.

In 2016, the startup raised $3 million in seed funding in a round, also led by Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from Founder Collective, SV Angel, and BoxGroup.

Andreessen Horowitz has invested in a number of drone companies including Airware, drone delivery companies Zipline and Matternet and drone auto-pilot startup Skydio.

Ask Drone Girl: how do I legally travel internationally with my drone?

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about how to travel internationally with a drone. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I have a DJI Mavic Pro and love it, and I’m travelling to 8 countries in Central Asia and wanted to bring it. I have to ship it through Uzbekistan because they aren’t legal, and need to register it in Dubai and Turkey. If I am transporting the drone and not flying, do you think I’d get in trouble for having one?

Also, I might just bring a Spark because it’s still pretty good and under the 250g weight limit most of the countries have for hobby drones (without a battery) meaning I don’t need to register.

I’m already jealous of your vacation plans. Throw a Mavic in there, and your vacation photos are going to be incredible!

Travelling internationally with a drone can be really tricky. I’ve heard everything from drones being confiscated, to travelers being asked to leave their drone at customs and being told they could pick it up at the end of their trip.
Just ask filmmaker Chafic Saad, who arrived at the customs department in Bali, which would not let them bring a drone through despite what they though was the proper paperwork.
“They thought I was going to sell it,” he said. “I had to put down a deposit of $2,000 US dollars and it would not have been returned if I didn’t bring the money back. That was scary.”
UAV Coach has a really excellent master list of drone laws by country. There you can find out if you need to register, if you need a license, and if you can even bring that drone into the country. Though, sometimes it seems laws change on an almost-daily basis, so I would also check with each country’s aviation regulatory agency’s website as well.

Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: how do I legally travel internationally with my drone?

The competition for DJI’s SkyPixel video contest is heating up

Didn’t get a chance to enter the 2017 Dronestagram contest before the winners were announced? There are still three major drone video contests accepting entries.

SkyPixel, an aerial photography community run in cooperation with DJI, is holding its own contest — this one an aerial videography contest. The deadline to enter is August 2.

There are three categories: Nature, City, and Sport.  There’s also a People’s Choice Prize for the top ten most liked videos. Submissions should not be longer than five minutes and should include at least 30 seconds of aerial footage. And while the contest is hosted by DJI, videos captured from any type of aerial platform are welcome.

Prizes include a DJI Inspire 2 Premium ComboNikon D750 Body + 24-70 mm VR 2.8 Lens, a DJI Mavic Pro Fly More ComboDJI Spark and more.

The contest has received more than 700 entries so far, and to give you a sense of the competition, the organizers have already revealed some of the shots that are in the running.

Here are some of the best videos yet (click the hyperlink to watch): Continue reading The competition for DJI’s SkyPixel video contest is heating up

What’s more environmentally friendly: drone delivery or truck delivery?

With all the hype around the impending era of drone delivery, the industry is grappling with questions like air traffic management, pickup and drop-off locations, and security.  There’s the debate over whether drones are more or less cost efficient than traditional postal trucks.

But one of the questions that the industry has only scratched the surface on: are drones more environmentally friendly than parcel delivery trucks?

The short answer is: sometimes. And here’s the long answer:

On the surface, drones create less carbon pollution than trucks. Most drones are battery powered, and can be recharged through green energy sources like solar power. There is no gasoline involved or exhaust produce from delivery trucks.

But delivery trucks can also offer a massive amount of packages in one trip, while a drone can only transport small payloads at a time.

Moving ALL Amazon deliveries to drones would be the equivalent of running approximately 3-5x as many vans on the road, according to iniLabs CEO Kynan Eng. But most delivery companies are pushing drones for either “last-mile deliveries” or for extremely lightweight deliveries.

Impact of drones vs. trucks on carbon pollution


UW civil and environmental engineering graduate student Jordan Toy analyzed various real world scenarios to estimate carbon dioxide emissions for a paper published in Transportation Research Part D.

Toy created a heat map to show carbon dioxide emission differences between drone and truck deliveries as a drone’s energy requirements, which are measured in watt-hours per mile and the number of stops on a route increase. Red areas reflect conditions in which drones emit less carbon dioxide than trucks (lighter packages, fewer stops), while blue areas denote conditions in which drones emit more (heavier packages, more stops).

In a nutshell, small, light packages are very environmentally friendly from a carbon emissions standpoint when delivered by drones, but once the delivery route adds more stops or runs farther out from the warehouse, it becomes less environmentally friendly.

Impact of drones on wildlife

But it’s not all about carbon pollution. There are other environmental factors at stake.

A 2015 study on black bears in Minnesota found that bears’ heart rates went up significantly when it was near a drone, despite not visibly acting bothered.

In one case, a drone flying overhead caused a bear’s heart rate to spike 400% from 39 to 162 beats a minute, said University of Minnesota’s Mark Ditmer . That’s well above the heart-beat jump experienced by people riding a double-corkscrew roller coaster, according to National Geographic.

Not to mention, drones have been known to agitate birds.

That being said, cars aren’t exactly friendly to animals. An estimated 1.25 million insurance claims are filed annually due to vehicle collisions with large animals, while building roads can cause habitat destruction or fragmentation.

It seems the consensus is that drone delivery could be useful for last-mile deliveries, helping a central warehouse get items out in 30 minutes or less to customers who live in the same city.

Or as Eng puts it: “Under certain circumstances, if one insists on drone delivery it may be most efficient to have a giant drone carrier hovering constantly above a city, similar to that seen in the Avengers movie franchise. Or not.”


World of Drones Congress in Australia is a month away, and the lineup looks brilliant

Looking for an excuse to go to Australia?

The World of Drones Congress is coming to Brisbane, Australia this August, and the lineup looks brilliant. The conference is August 31 through September 2, with a bonus pre-Congress day of workshops on August 30.

The speaker lineup is the most diverse group of people I’ve seen at a conference yet, coming in from all over the globe and from a variety of industries. There’s Kathryn Cook, Facebook’s technical program manager for the Aquila drone project, DJI’s Director of Education Romeo Durscher, renowned conservationist Professor Lian Pin Koh and more.

The day before the conference officially starts will be a day of workshops, including the one I’m most excited about — a cinematography class by XM2, the same team that made the drone shots in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”pirates of the caribbean xm2 drone johnny depp

There will also be panelists, including Flying Ag Australia owner Meg Kummerow, a leader in drones for agriculture who was named one of Queensland’s Top 20 under 40 the Red Cross’s Aarathi Krishnan, and yours truly, who will be talking about the global drone economy alongside DaVinci Institute futurist Thomas Frey and Silicon Valley Robotics managing director Andra Keay,

Beyond the workshops and panels, there will be other events, including a design a drone competition for students

The conference will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre. Registration is open now.

Drone drag racing puts drones at Guinness World Record-level speeds

Drone racing has taken the world by storm in the past few years, but there’s one catch: it often seems like the drones don’t go that fast.

The drone industry is changing that, as leagues promote their new, faster drones that can clock in speeds of nearly 180 miles per hour.

The Drone Racing League on Thursday set a record with its new RacerX drone, which clocked in at a record speed of just over 179 miles per hour. The tiny drone, which weighed less than two pounds, flew along an 100-meter course at an average speed of 163.5 miles per hour, certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Earlier prototypes of the drone burst into flames when hitting its highest point of acceleration due to the amount of power being applied.

And though the Drone Racing League has seemed to have gained the most traction in the drone racing industry (it recently scored another $20 million in Series B funding, and its races have appeared in spots like ESPN2), they aren’t alone in the trend.

The Titan Grand Prix Racing Organization is hosting its inaugural Formula E Qualcomm New York City ePrix this weekend at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

The event is partially to promote the new Titan Grand Prix GFD1 drone, which its creators say is powerful enough to lift a 200lb man. The drone has eight propellers and has clocked in speeds of 110 mph. The drone is 43 inches (more than 3 feet!) diagonally from motor to motor (for comparison, a typical racing drone is about 9 inches).

titan grand prix
The Titan Grand Prix GFD1 alongside a typical racing drone. Photo courtesy of Titan Grand Prix Racing Organization

Drone pilots Zachry Thayer and Jordan Temkin will be at the controls for the drone race, in which the drone will compete in a best 2 out of 3 contest against the Formula E car on a 1/3 mile section of track, including the hairpin T01.

The race will happen at 2:30 p.m. on July 16, though the area will be available for spectators throughout the weekend.

This race is intended to be a preview of more to come next year, with the Titan Grand Prix expected to announce the complete 2018 race schedule this fall.

And over on the West Coast, the first ever drone “drag race” is happening in San Francisco next week.

The Aerial Sports League is hosting a California Drone Speed Challenge on Thursday, July 20. The drone race has sponsorship dollars from Comcast, with the winner walking away with a $10,000 prize purse.

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi is helping drones fly without GPS

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi wants to make it easier for drones to fly — even in areas where GPS isn’t reliable — places like street canyons, indoors, and even forests.

Shahbazi received her BSc degree in civil/surveying engineering in 2009, her MSc degree in geomatics/photogrammetry engineering in 2011, and then moved on to doing PhD research focused on the development of drones for 3D modeling at the Université de Sherbrooke in Canada. She is currently an assistant professor of geomatics engineering at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi
Courtesy of Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi

Drone Girl: You’ve done incredible work based on enabling drones to know their environment without the use of GPS. What does that entail?

Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi: I’m working on different types of sensors for autonomous navigation – those based on vision and those not based on vision. The ones not based on vision I cannot discuss because they are confidential! But the parts based on vision are more exciting.

They include laser scanning, which is a type of active sensing. Measurements are done from a type of instrument which sends laser beams to objects and calculates its range from them.

Then there are visual sensors. Cameras don’t measure depth, so what I’m working on is multi-view stereo. In the case of a drone, we set cameras on all sides so we have a 360-degree cover. It’s important to shoot the front, back, side and ground. And because of bird attacks and to be aware of other aircrafts, it’s important to have a view pointing up too!

DG: Bird attacks?! Is that an issue? Continue reading Dr. Mozhdeh Shahbazi is helping drones fly without GPS

Airdog’s new ADII is the new drone for action sports athletes

Airdog captured athletes’ imaginations with its initial Airdog drone that hit shelves in 2015. It marketed itself as a follow-me drone, able to track athletes whether they were surfing, skiing, biking, or even just walking — as long as they wore the tracking device.

Airdog today announced the drone’s successor, the ADII — yet another autonomous, follow-me drone. This time, it’s taking what the creator’s learned last time and making improvements — and at a lower price tag for consumers.

airdog adii

Most drones today depend on the user holding an RC transmitter and controlling its flights with the stick, but the ADII (and the original Airdog before it) is different. To fly the ADII drone, users wear a waterproof “AirLeash” tracking device that looks like a large watch. It has simple controls that allow the user to select various modes, including a “scenic mode”, which captures me in a selfie mode and then flies backwards, panning out to capture the broader landscape around me.

airdog adii airleash the drone girl
The Airleash

The ADII drone “follows you” based on a few different modes. There’s something called “adaptive follow mode,” which means that you can set the drone in front of you like a selfie, and if you turn, the drone will pull around to always remain positioned in front of you. There’s a circle mode so the drone will circle around you while following you for a more cinematic shot, and there’s a fixed follow mode which is like the traditional follow-me mode on most drones.

The ADII also comes with a new customizable flight path feature, which allows the drone to fly a pre-programmed flight path while still following you and keeping you framed in the shot. This feature could be used as a guaranteed obstacle avoidance, in situations where the user might traveling past trees or buildings and you want to ensure the drone doesn’t crash into it.

Unlike the drones that need to keep eyes on the person in order to “follow them,” this drone follows the flight path it was assigned, and detects the speed at which to fly based on the AirLeash, allowing the user to bike through trees or skateboard under a bridge and the drone won’t lose sight of the person — and won’t crash either.

Like its predecessor, this drone also folds up so it can tuck into a backpack. The Airdog ADII markets itself as the first auto-flying drone camera technology that lets you go hands-free, meaning that other drone cameras are still manually piloted with “follow-me” added as a feature to assist the pilot with capturing motion shots.

Whether that’s a good or bad thing is up to you; this drone won’t be coming with an RC transmitter to allow ultra-precise flight navigating over forests and oceans.the drone girl adii airdog

The ADII depends on a GoPro camera, sold separately,  meaning it could be a great product for someone who already has a GoPro — but could get costly for someone who would need to buy that too. GoPro’s Hero5 Black, which shoots 4K video and has an LCD so users can view their video on the camera, costs $399.

The ADII launches on Kickstarter July 11 and is expected to deliver to people who pre-order by August. The ADII will start on Kickstarter at $999, and the price will go up after the Kickstarter campaign is complete.