I’ll be headlining the main event in Las Vegas alongside famous dronies including Anthony Cools, Jim Bowers, Chris Cernuto and of course, That Drone Show hosts Sarah and David Oneal!
Join me on Saturday, March 14 to listen to my talk on the future of drone journalism. Learn about how news organizations are using drones, what the FAA is proposing, and what you can expect to see in newsrooms of the future.
One of the most common debates we hear in the drone industry is whether or not we should even call these things drones. It’s intimidating! Drones are so militaristic! It has a negative connotation!
Well, these drones don’t have the word drone in their names. Instead, they have delightful words like ‘Taco’ and ‘Cat’. Take a look at 5 drones (ranging from cute to creepy) that give new meaning to the name:
The Federal Aviation Administration unveiled new proposed rules this week for the operation of commercial drones.
Until now, the use of drones was essentially banned unless the operator applied for a Section 333 permit, which requires a licensed pilot and a cumbersome process of about 120 days.
Under the new guidelines, drones could legally fly for commercial purposes if they travel below 500 feet during daylight hours and within sight of the operator, and as long as the pilot is age 17 or older and has passed a written test.
The rules would “provide probably the most flexible regime for unmanned aircraft, 55 pounds or less, that exists anywhere in the world,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said on a conference call on Sunday.
And with more flexible rules regarding commercial drones, some predict funding for drone startups will skyrocket. Funding for such enterprises has already increased 104% year-over-year, according to data from CB Insights.
“The time is now for investors to allow the drone industry to grow, especially drone-integration companies focused on providing whole solutions for organizations unfamiliar with the market,” said Vinny Capobianco, the co-founder of Flyspan Systems, a drone startup that provides systems-integration services.
Capobianco’s company is among the recent explosion of startups focused on advancing drones. Capobianco has spent the past year working on the commercial side, including projects that involve film, security and agriculture. His company recently opened a seed round of funding.
“A new age of aviation has begun that will accelerate rapidly over the next few years,” he said.
Between 2010 and 2012, there were fewer than five venture-capital deals with drone companies, according to CB Insights. Now, there are at least 10 companies with Series A funding or more.
“We’re clearly at the very beginning of a really big commercial opportunity. I’m not sure that we see unleashing of demand in the wake of the FAA’s proposed regulations. Rather, the demand for commercial uses seems like something that will steadily grow in the coming months and years,” said Eric Norlin of SK Ventures, which has backed companies such as drone manufacturer 3D Robotics and aerial-robotics platform Skycatch.
The world’s largest drone manufacturer, DJI, which generated 2013 sales of $130 million, said it is in talks with new investors for funding, according to a Bloomberg News report. The Chinese drone maker said its sales tripled last year and that the company is worth “significantly more” than the $1.6 billion valuation it received last year.
It’s a seemingly impossible project, but they did it. This week, we caught up with one of the project teammates, Sonja Betschart who also happens to be Pix4D’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Drone Girl: How did you get involved in the Rio project? Sonja Betschart: I got contacted in early 2014 by a professor, Celso Santos, of the 3D lab of PUC University in Rio through DroneAdventures. The lab had been looking into how to get an accurate 3D model of the statue for over 15 years, including using laser scanners to do so. The project was just never feasible when it came to getting both results for the whole statue and affordable technology. When the professor saw one of our projects (mapping the Matterhorn in Switzerland with drones and Pix4D software), he hoped that this new technology would allow him to finally transform his dream into reality.
DG: What was the most challenging part in planning the project? SB: The huge amount of data acquisition, which needed to be done in a very specific way with special hardware. Although DroneAdventures would have loved to do the project, they lacked the hardware and believed that Pix4D might be a better fit because of its specialization in this kind of data acquisition. We knew that we were in for an “all-around challenge” when it took us over 9 months just to get the approval to fly a drone on the heritage site, which belongs to the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro.
DG: Why did it take 9 months to get approval?
SB: Flying drones is always tied with local legislation. To fly a drone in Brazil, one needs approval from the local government. The local government would only give us the necessary permission to fly our drone if the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, to whom the site of the Christ the Redeemer statue belongs, also gave us permission from their side.
DG: What was it like once you were actually on site?
SB: Amazing and very emotional! When you plan such a unique project for over 9 months and are in contact with the local partners without knowing them in person, it was a very emotional day when we finally met in person and came all together at the base of the Christ statue, to do our “onsite reconnaissance” on the first day. We were all overly excited, but also felt that this was only the beginning of our adventure. We had planned out the whole mission in detail over the previous months and being on site confirmed once more that you can plan all you want, in the end, plans will change and possibly many things will not go according to plan.
After the closing school bell at Choctawhatchee High School rings, the track team whizzes by the field. Overhead, something’s whirring.
It’s a drone, and it’s being operated by someone like 16-year-old sophomore Dharbi Jens or 17-year-old senior Jojo Parrett.
“My friends on the track team run by and see us flying and say, ‘wow, can I give it a go?’”, Jens said. “I think they’re pretty jealous.”
It’s something any adult who has a drone now would be jealous of: Choctawhatchee High School has its own drone team called Drone Team Pink.
The high school is one of a handful in the nation that offers private pilot training, engineering, and aviation legislation and regulation.
The group is led by Sean McSheehy, who teaches an Intro to Aviation course for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Worldwide at the Fort Walton, Florida high school, which allows high school students to get college credit. Drone Team Pink meets for about two hours once a week and is specifically focused on getting young women involved in STEM education while providing opportunities for students of all levels to fly drones.
“Women aren’t really represented in the STEM field,” Jens said. “We had a 3D printer in our school, and it’s just so fun flying drones.”
Some of the students were involved in 3D printing process, and they fly drones down at the soccer field with McSheehy.
“It’s a lot of hands-on work,” Jens said.
Senior Dana Heintzelman, 18, was involved in the 3D printing process.
“In our engineering department, we have 3D printers. You need to have a model and all the dimensions of what you’re trying to print,” she said. “A prop guard for DJI took about 2.5 hours.”
How do you map and model a 38 meter tall statue that’s located atop a 700 meter tall mountain? The obvious solution is LIDAR, a remote sensing technology that collects 3-dimensional point clouds of the Earth’s surface.
But with a statue so large and situated in a difficult to access location, it was a seemingly impossible task.
That’s until a team of engineers and drone pilots — along with the Aeryon UAV platform and Pix4D’s image processing software proved them wrong by mapping the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janerio, said to be Brazil’s most important monument.
“Creating the first ever accurate 3D model of such a renowned statue with our software is a great way to showcase how image processing technology can achieve results that traditional technologies haven’t been able to produce,” said Christoph Strecha, CEO and Founder of Pix4D. “With its intricate detail, the statue was also a perfect structure to test out our new 3D textured mesh.”
But even with a drone, collecting the data is not easy.
Piloted by Aeryon Labs’ April Blaylock the drone was constricted by weather and wind conditions at the mountain’s high altitude, while also restricted by specific daylight hours due to shadows that caused inconsistent lighting conditions.
When captured, 2,090 images were converted into a 3D model by Pix4D’s Lisa Chen.
The team also included Sonja Betschart, CMO of Pix4D, Lisa Chen, Celso Santos and Benoit Brot.
Some crazy numbers:
2,090: the number of images used to created the 3D model
2.5 million: the number of triangles with a texture of 16374X16384 used for the mesh
6: number of days it took to acquire the images
19: number of 10-minute flights it took to acquire the images
2: number of weeks it took for the 3D reconstruction
38: height of the Christ the Reedemer statue (in meters)
28: armspan of the Christ the Reedemer statue (in meters)
The project will eventually be used by Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
“This project took years of waiting by the NEXT lab team and many months of planning and collaboration across several time zones to pull the technologies together in Rio,” commented Dave Kroetsch, Aeryon’s President and CEO. “We are pleased to have participated and that the Aeryon UAV platform was instrumental in creating the first accurate 3D model of the Christ the Redeemer monument.”