All posts by Sally French

Wal-Mart reveals it has been testing drone delivery for months

The following story is an excerpt of a piece originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire piece here.

Wal-Mart intends to test drones for package delivery and pickup and for checking warehouse inventories.

The retailer submitted an application Monday to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones outdoors, following in Amazon’s footsteps. Drones would be used for “deliveries to customers at Wal-Mart facilities, as well as to consumer homes,” according to the application.

“Throughout the years, Wal-Mart has been a leader in distribution and transportation methods to effectively move merchandise from vendors to distribution centers and from distribution centers to its stores,” the application states. It says Wal-Mart hopes to make its present distribution system “more efficient.”

Read a copy of the request here.

“We’ll have different methods that we’ll be testing out across our supply chain,” said Wal-Mart spokesperson Brian Nick. “We would be testing this kind of technology to mange our network of distribution centers, online fulfillment centers, as well as stores.”

Most long-distance drone deliveries are limited by flight times, since most drones are only able to fly about 25 minutes at a time. But Wal-Mart thinks it can capitalize on their expanse of stores to turn drone delivery into a real possibility.

There’s a Wal-Mart store located within five miles of 70% of the U.S. population, Nick said.

“That certainly creates some interesting possibilities for us,” he said.

Read the rest of this story here.

“Aerojournalism”: it’s about more than just ‘stunning’ photos


Earlier this year, InterDrone invited me to teach a class about “drone journalism.” Then, Jeff Foster of The Drone Coalition asked me to write about drone journalism for his site. It’s an important topic especially in light of the fact that 1 million drones are expected to be sold this Christmas, and inevitably some will be used by journalists or…’citizen journalists’ at least.

So in blog format, here is the class I taught. Do you agree?

Aerojournalism, dronalism, call it what you will — but drone journalism is coming.

It already has in some capacity. Right now it’s in its nascent stages — it’s quite common to see stories on Mashable or Huffington Post showing, “Canadian Rockies Are Magical In Stunning Drone Video” or “Drone Offers Beautiful Views of Massive Flower Garden.” CNN was quite public about its use of a drone to cover the 50th anniversary of Selma (Jon Stewart throws some solid jabs at CNN reporting on the drone, not using the drone to report: watch this video starting at the 4:30 mark.) But one day in our lifetimes, drones are going to becoming so ubiquitous that they will become a news gathering tool alongside a pen, paper, microphone or iPhone.

December 2012: I was in Costa Rica working on a photo essay for my photojournalism degree at the University of Missouri, before what I had hoped would be my last semester of college. But going through my degree requirements, I realized I was going to be one credit short of graduation.

Out in the jungle of Costa Rica, I quite literally stumbled upon a drone journalism class. Between chasing down monkeys to study their nesting patterns, we rested for lunch, and I explained to one of the professors my dilemma.

That professor would be teaching the Missouri School of Journalism’s first-ever drone journalism class, and he said I could audit it for one credit. I had never even heard of drones at the time, but I had no choice — I signed up.

There, we talked about using drones for journalism —the ethics, the legal issues (the law was quite a bit different in January 2013 then it is now in September 2015). We learned how to fly them, practicing in the school’s agriculture arena. And we even fly them a few times — once even covering a prairie fire.

The types of stories that can be shown with drones are endless. Here are the photos that ran in The Guardian and The Washington Post during the 2013 protests in Bangkok, Thailand over former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. 28,000 people were there, according to news reports.0304But to really understand what 28,000 people looks like, most people say you would simply have to be there yourself to experience it. That is unless of course, you have a drone. Here’s the photo The Nation ran.

 

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The same goes for stories involving natural disasters. The 37-foot Red River Flood caused destruction in the South, and CNN’s drone footage takes you there.

The drone can show, not tell, important questions like, “what was the scale of this?” It can give a broader perspective.

Aerial photography is certainly not new to journalism. It’s quite common for major TV networks to use helicopters to show traffic, fires or police chases. It’s dangerous to put a person in a flying machine over a fire on a moment’s notice, not to mention costly. Some estimates cost that a helicopter costs $1,300 per hour on average. A drone on the other hand, costs about $1,300 for a one-time fee, and no fee per hour beside the operator’s salary.

There are major roadblocks to drone journalism. The laws keep changing and vary by state and city, so, for any business operating a drone, it’s complicated to know whether something might be legal in one city but not its neighbor. But one thing is clear. Without a Section 333 exemption (which requires the operator to have a pilot’s license), drone use for commercial purposes is 100% illegal.

And that is a huge problem.

Continue reading “Aerojournalism”: it’s about more than just ‘stunning’ photos

Watch Google Project Wing drone successfully deliver a package

This is an excerpt of a piece originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

It’s not just Amazon.com  that’s working on drone delivery. Alphabet’s Google X is delivering goods by drone, and there is a new video to prove it.

Aaref Hilaly, a partner with Sequoia Capital, tweeted out video of a drone dropping off a small package during a Google event in Arizona on Monday.

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Buzzfeed cautions against a serious gender gap in drones

Drone Women Blue Pink
Photo via Buzzfeed

Drones many be too nascent of an industry to say for sure, but it’s getting dangerously close to becoming a permanent trend — drones are a “boy toy.”

In February I wrote about Team BlackSheep’s marketing tactic on their website that implied only men fly drones.

In June I asked why people insist on using “hot girls” to sell DJI Phantoms.

In July I wrote an open letter to the Arizona Drone Expo explaining that having “booth babes” — girls in scantily clad bikinis — was a main reason why women feel excluded from attending drone events.

And a piece published by Zara Stone in Buzzfeed today cautions against this gender cap getting bigger.

“While no one is overtly excluding women, drone vendors tend to target men,” Stone writes in Buzzfeed. “There are a few people trying to change that before it becomes a permanent trend. But if drones aren’t to be just another boy toy, they’ll have some serious lifting to do.”

Numerous studies show that people gravitate toward people who are genetically similar to them. And as with any culture, it’s easiest to join a group where people are “like you.” It’s a natural human tendency.

There are very few women in drones, so with that bit of psychology in mind, it’s easy to understand why more women wouldn’t want to join — there simply aren’t any people “like me.” Continue reading Buzzfeed cautions against a serious gender gap in drones

Drones will have to be registered, but there are still more questions than answers

This is an excerpt of a piece originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.MW-DW672_drone__20151019132517_ZH

Have a drone? You’re going to have to register it with the government by mid-December.

The Federal Aviation Administration on Monday announced a new task force that will develop recommendations for a registration process for drones.

“It’s really hard to follow the rules if you don’t know what the rules are and if the rules apply to you,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a news conference Monday. “People registering their drones will be exposed to rules and the reasons for those rules.”

Registering drones would force drone operators to go through basic education of drone safety, Foxx said. It would also help the government identify potentially irresponsible pilots.

“If unmanned aircraft operators should break the rules, there should be consequences,” he said. “But there can be no accountability if the person breaking the rules cannot be identified.”

The rules come at a time when drones — and drone crashes — are causing increasing concern. A drone made by Chinese company DJI crashed near the White House earlier this year. San Bernardino County supervisors agreed to offer a $75,000 reward for information in tracking down drone operators who they say interfered with firefighters during three major wildfires in California this summer.

“Finding the drone has not been as much of a problem as finding the person who is using that drone,” Foxx said. “The registration is designed to close that loophole.”

Pilots say “close call” incidents between drones and other aircraft pose one of the biggest threats; nearly 700 “close call incidents” have been reported between January and August of this year. But in most of those incidents, the drone itself was never recovered.

Drone registration wouldn’t help solve the issue of drones interfering with manned aircraft when the drone is never recovered, said Logan Campbell, co-founder of drone consulting firm Aerotas.

“This is targeted toward a select few high-profile incidents,” he said.

Read the rest of this story here.

Go inside Harvard’s first-ever Business + Engineering event — all about drones!

French, Doyle, Santa and Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria gather together after a successful t-shirt delivery via drone. Photo courtesy of Xfund
Sally French, Harvard SEAS Dean Frank Doyle, Matternet Cofounder Paola Santa and Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria gather together after a successful t-shirt delivery via drone. Photo courtesy of Xfund

I had the absolute blast of “Making Robotics Fly” as the host of Harvard’s first-ever drone demo day this weekend.

We took over the football stadium to demo 5 incredible drone companies — DigInovations, CyPhy Works, Matternet, Top Flight Technologies and The Drone Racing League for some incredible demos, including a live t-shirt delivery to the stadium and the first ever drone race on the stadium.

Unlike most drone events, where we put the drones in a cage, this time around, we put the spectators in a netted cage, protecting them in case of an incident (there were none of course!) and giving the drones for reigns to fly free.

See what happened here in this video  by ABC News Boston:

The event is special for many reasons besides just celebrating drones — it also brought together engineers, business people and creatives — all backgrounds of people necessary to build a future of drones for good.

From there, we headed to Harvard Business School to participate in a forum with some of the top minds in the drone industry, from executives at Facebook and Google, to lawyers, startup founders and even the FAA.

See some more photos of the event here, courtesy of Xfund.

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Thanks so much to Hugo Van Vuuren and the rest of the XFund team, Harvard Business School, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Aerotas for making it all happen!

No more drones? DJI is bringing ‘drone-like’ video to the ground

This story was originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

The company that has made its name putting cameras in the air is bringing them back to the ground.

DJI, the world’s largest drone manufacturer, announced today at the London Film Festival a new product called Osmo, which isn’t intended for drones at all. It’s a tiny, hand-held device (what’s known as a “three-axis gimbal” in videography) that integrates with cameras made by DJI and allows for video shot by people on the ground to have the smooth, gliding look of footage shot by an airborne drone. An Osmo costs $649, and also comes with a 4K, 12-megapixel camera.

Here’s how a video would look shot with an Osmo-equipped DJI camera:

“We’re moving into a completely new product sphere,” said Adam Najberg, DJI’s Global Director of Communications.

Najberg says the Osmo isn’t intended to directly compete with GoPro GPRO, -2.51% though there are similar use cases. Like a GoPro, its accessory options include a tripod, bike mount and extension arm — for filming action sports or taking video selfies. But, unlike a GoPro camera, the Osmo doesn’t stream video live, it’s not waterproof, and it doesn’t have GoPro’s durability.MW-DW009_osmo_2_20151007211743_ZH

Read the rest of this story here.

Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

The next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Eileen Shibley, the founder of Monarch Inc.

Monarch just launched a project to aerially survey and 3D map the 19th-century mining town of Bodie, California, and original California Gold Rush town that was the vibrant gem of the Wild West and now is kept in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ Monarch used high precision UAVs to help preserve data about the historic town, using the company’s custom-built drone and 3D-printed gimbal.

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Courtesy Monarch Inc.

Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?

Eileen Shibley: 5 or 7 years before I retired from defense, I was selected to run the unmanned systems division at the navy’s premiere manufacturing site for drone integration in defense. We worked with every size drone – from teeny ones to the Predator. That’s when I became aware that I had devoted my career to defense, but when I retired I truly wanted to make a difference. I thought, I know what these things are capable of.  I know these things can make a huge difference win the way we do things.

DG: And then?

ES: I led the California delegation to try to get California named as (one of the six drone) test sites. I was barely retired and I was asked to lead this delegation. I thought I should give something back since I’ve gotten so much from this community. When we weren’t selected, I figured, what am I going to do now?

DG: So now you’re mapping the old western town of Bodie.

ES: Bodie Stegosaurus Park — it was one of those thriving places in the 1880s. It became a huge thriving metropolis in no time at all. But now it’s old, it’s decaying. The state has made it a state park and they’re trying to preserve it. They put a request in to the FAA that Monarch be allowed to take our drone to Bodie and map it for them.

Courtesy Monarch Inc.
Courtesy Monarch Inc.

DG: So how did they find you? Continue reading Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone