All posts by Sally French

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

Drones vs. driverless cars: A tale of two robotics policies

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

When a 2-pound drone crashed on the White House lawn in January, the nation was thrown into drone hysteria.

That drone was a $1,000 model made by Chinese technology company DJI, but a basic camera-equipped drone can be had for $40—a fact not lost on those who pontificated about the crash. “It’s pretty worrisome if you’re in the Secret Service, you’re in law enforcement, a drone comes in and you don’t know if this is some 14-year-old kid who got a drone or if this is some al Qaeda sympathizer wanting to send a message,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said at the time.

The White House drone belonged not to a 14-year-old or terrorist, but to an off-duty government employee who reported the mishap to the Secret Service. The incident nevertheless illuminates the confusion that exists about drone laws—and how little the government has done to clarify it.

Some say the government should leave well enough alone, allowing drone-makers and operators to innovate. Others think a coming boom in consumer robotics technology — whether drones, driverless cars, or other devices yet to come—needs a comprehensive government response and, perhaps, even a “NASA for robots.”

“People thought they knew how [aviation] was regulated,” said MIT professor David Mindell, whose upcoming book “Our Robots, Ourselves” explores robots ranging from drones to Mars rovers. “Drones have thrown a monkey wrench into that.”

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The drone industry takes flight

President Obama, who wasn’t home during the White House crash, acknowledged issues with drone regulation after the incident: “I’ve actually asked the Federal Aviation Administration and a number of agencies to examine how we are managing this new technology, because the drone that landed in the White House, you buy in RadioShack,” he said.

Drone purchases have taken off at places ranging from Amazon to the Apple Store. 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson estimated in 2014 that half a million drones have been sold in the U.S. alone.

But while hobby use of drones is legal (with a few exceptions, such as flying in restricted airspace), the FAA has banned commercial drones. That means any 14-year-old can fly a drone, but any business cannot.

Businesses wanting to fly drones—from a local farmer to Amazon AMZN, +0.32%   or Google GOOG, -0.32%  —must apply to the FAA for a “certificate of exemption, ” a process businesses call needlessly complex. (One requirement is that the operator be a licensed airplane pilot.)

Congress asked the FAA to come up with rules governing commercial drone use in 2012, setting a Sept. 30, 2015, deadline. But the FAA will likely miss that mark: DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel III said in 2014 that the FAA is “significantly behind schedule.” In an email, an FAA spokeswoman declined to say whether it would meet the deadline.

“We are working to finish our part of the rule-making by the end of this calendar year,” the spokeswoman wrote. “The FAA is committed to the safe integration of drones. Our first priority is the safety of people on airplanes and on the ground first while allowing safe, expanded use of drones.”

The FAA’s position is that “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University. But that, he says, is hampering innovation in the field.

“The entire mission of the FAA is to be highly precautionary and protective of airspace because they’re afraid of an accident,” said Thierer. “But there might be technologies not able to be tested that can solve those accidents.”MW-DU427_google_20150916172923_ZH

Driverless cars have followed a different path

Between White House drone crashes, misunderstandings of the practical purposes of drones, and fears that drones will spy on people, flying robots suffer from an image problem. But driving robots have been mostly welcomed or, at least, accepted as inevitable—both by the public and the agencies that regulate the cars—even though they’re not consumer-ready.

Departments of Motor Vehicles in several states and Washington, D.C., have laws that regulate operational permits for companies. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has essentially given the all-clear: Any car that has met NHTSA vehicle safety regulations and made it to market is still legal after being made driverless.

In the absence of federal laws, companies wanting to operate driverless cars in states where DMVs haven’t established rules just go ahead and do it. Google, for instance, runs driverless car tests in Texas, which doesn’t have regulations directed at them.

Read the rest of this story here.

Skysense charges drones with “portable landing pads” through Qualcomm investment

MW-DU755_skysen_20150921172945_ZHThis is an excerpt of a post originally written for MarketWatch.com.  Read the rest of this post here.

Murky FAA regulations could be limiting commercial adoption of drones, but the real challenge may be limited battery life.

That’s why Qualcomm Inc.’s QCOM, -0.97% investment in Skysense Inc. — a company building a charging infrastructure for drones — is a big deal.

To better understand how batteries can cap the use of drones, one has to get a sense of how the devices are used. Most drones have a flight time of about 15-25 minutes, which means typical enterprise usage like mapping a large field or inspecting a spread-out area — think a pipeline or oil rig — is impractical.

To combat that, Skysense created a “Droneport,” a hangar that allows drones to charge and wirelessly transfer data back to the operator. The Droneport is solar-powered and can be placed anywhere, such as in various locations around a field, to recharge any equipped drone through wires that make direct contact with the hangar.

With that technology, an operator could deploy a drone on a regular pre-programmed flight, and never touch it again. The drone would be programmed to land at the charging station and send back the data before its next flight.

Read the rest of this post here.