All posts by Sally French

Intel Capital is latest investment group to fund drones

Intel Capital announced today its participation in PrecisionHawk’s $10 million series B funding round.

PrecisionHawk, a startup that operates UAVs for data gathering, processing and analysis, is the latest startup to receive major funding from an investment group. Since the funding round was announced, PrecisionHawk has launched a tool called DataMapper that automatically interprets data from a UAV. They have also announced plans to release a new model of its fixed-wing UAV, Lancaster Mark IV, in early 2015.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 2.41.37 PMAmong PrecisionHawk’s problems they aim to solve include:

  • Better monitoring crops and predicting yield to help feed a growing population
  • Overseeing operations across hundreds of oil rigs so we catch oil spills in square feet instead of square miles
  • Assessing property damage to immediately issue insurance claim checks after a disaster.

“Drones hold the promise of revolutionizing many industries, some new and some very old, like farming,” said Intel’s Jerry Bautista in a news release. “We are pleased to be working with PrecisionHawk, whose unique approach of combining versatile remote-sensing devices with powerful data analytics fits well with Intel’s strengths in hardware and software for the Internet of Things.”

 

Drone captures slack lining

You thought flying your drone over water was nerve-wracking?

You know, how you risk a mistake that could send your fancy equipment to a past-the-point-of-no-return state of never being able to be repaired? Well, try something 100x scarier. These daredevils slack-lined over the cliffs in Hong Kong. Now, that scary stunt has been captured by a drone.

Watch the video from DJI, shot on a S800 EVO and Sony 5N.

Ask Drone Girl: What flight simulator software should I use?

Got a question for Drone Girl? Email it to me!

Question: I was wondering if you can recommend or point me in the right direction of a flight simulator software and joystick that I may use on my computer as a stepping stone into the drone world.

Answer: That’s a great question, and to be honest – I’ve never used a flight simulator software! In my eyes, drones are an awesome tool because they have a multitude of entry points based on your pre-existing skill level. If you don’t have any drone experience, you can pick up a toy drone to practice on. If you have RC experience, pick up a Phantom. The graduate to a more expensive, bigger drone that suits your needs.

However, I won’t leave you hanging. Thus, I reached out to Arland Whitfield, President and Founder of The SkyWorks Project. (Check it out!)

Here’s what he told me:

You can actually use the real remote to control a flight sim on your computer. I highly recommend getting AeroSim and purchasing a Spektrum DX8. That way you can use the actual remote you are going to use to fly the real drone. The AeroSim software comes with a cord that will allow you to plug your DX8 directly into your computer! It really doesn’t get better than that. The software allows you to fly the DJI Flamewheel as well as bigger drones such as the Cinestar.

So there you go – and thanks for the additional advice, Arland! Happy flying!

UAV group links drone pilots with humanitarian groups

screen-shot-2014-06-24-at-2-23-08-pm-300x225-1This story was originally written for Air-Vid.com. Read the entire story here.

Patrick Meier started off in the drone community with a story familiar to many. He was interested in photography as a hobby.

He bought the original DJI Phantom just to play around with. But he also happened to be working with the UN in Manila, Philippines in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda struck. “I was there, and I kept coming across UAV project after UAV project,” he said. “There were a dozen projects.”

The issue? None of the projects were communicating with each other or sharing imagery.“Eventually I starting trying to put them in touch with each other,” Meier said.

That’s when he launched the Humanitarian UAV Network, UAViators.org,

A global network of civilian/hobbyist UAV pilots who safely and responsibly fly UAVs to support peaceful, humanitarian efforts.

Meier, whose extensive resume in humanitarian efforts includes cofounder of Crisis Mappers Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Crisis Mapping Program at Harvard University, found that often drone pilots want to help in a disaster situation. But problems arise when they aren’t trained in appropriate humanitarian response techniques.

“We should not expect UAV groups to be experts in humanitarian response,” he said. “Meanwhile we (humanitarian groups) are the last adopters of every technology on the planet.” Merging the two groups could be the perfect Match.com-esque pair, Meier realized. Pilots who have joined the network can post their location, equipment and work they are capable of doing, while a group needing a volunteer drone pilot can easily find someone to do the job.

While in the Philippines, Meier was able to connect a number of projects that extend throughout the life cycle of disaster response, including:

  • identifying areas where NGOs could set up camp
  • identify how badly houses had been damaged
  • gather information about road clearance operations to identify which should be prioritized for
  • clearance
  • search and rescue

This story continues here.

Disney may use drones in theme park entertainment

The following piece was originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the full story here.

Drones may be going to Disneyland.

Though they may sound like they could exist only in Tomorrowland, Disney is working on ways to use drones in its entertainment productions.disneyland drone patent

Disney applied for three UAV-related patents, indicating that drones could hold marionette or projection screens for nighttime entertainment.

“The inventors recognized that presently there are no mechanisms for creating very large aerial displays such as a display that is reusable/repeatable, dynamic, and interactive,” the patent states.

To address that need, Disney’s R&D department is working to create a multi-drone aerial display system and a ground control station that could choreograph repeatable movements.

The three applications are:

With the drones, larger-than-life puppets could be mounted with rods to fly through the air above Disneyland.

jack skellington drone patent drawing

“This is a significant improvement over prior flying characters, which typically were provided in the form of parade or other blimps/balloons filled with hot air or other gases and that had little and/or awkward articulation of any movable parts,” according to the patent.

The patent indicates that drones could even potentially replace fireworks, which can be dangerous and inconsistent. Instead, the patent calls for an aerial display system based on the floating pixel, or “flixel.” Each drone would carry a lighting assembly that could display images or colors, making use of the sky as a screen.

Read the rest of the story on MarketWatch.com.

DJI S900’s ultra light weight is nothing to make light of

This story was originally written for Air-Vid.com. Read the entire story here.

Aerial photographer Shane Latham can tell you that. He’s the Founder of Octofilms, he’s one of 10 DJI-sponsored pilots (and the only one in the U.S.), and he’s the only pilot in the U.S. to own a DJI S900.

Latham  already has a DJI S800 EVO, S1000 and has now added the S900 to his toolkit.

“The S900 the size of the S800 but with collapsible arms,” Latham is quick to point out.

The 3.3 kg hexacopter has foldable arms and is one of the lightest and easily to transport of the expert-level drones.

“The s900 is the new generation,” said DJI’s Marketing Manager Willis Chung.

Much of the weight reduction is in the arms and landing gear, made of carbon fiber.

“You can tell the weight loss right when you pick it up,” Latham said.

Latham’s favorite aspect of the S900? The removable top.

“It’s genius,” Latham said. “The top has a star pattern plate where you remove just 5-6 without having to take apart the frame.”

The S900 features an upper center board that can be removed, making an easy way to setup the power distribution system.

“Now you can easily remove the top, get down there, make any changes you need to do then put the top back on and you’re ready to go,” Latham said. “You can see and organize all your wires.”

Some other highlights of the S900:

  • Sparkproof plug to prevent short circuits
  • 18 minute flight time
  • 8.2 kg takeoff weight
  • Zenmuse gimbal compatible

“It’s like they listened to a lot of things users were asking for,” Latham said. Continue reading DJI S900’s ultra light weight is nothing to make light of

Ask Drone Girl: What’s a good first drone for video?

This is the first question in a new series called Ask Drone Girl. Got a question for Drone Girl? Email it to me!

*This question has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Question:

Hi Sally,

I feel overwhelmed.  I am just beginning to learn about Aerial Photography/Videography with drones. I want to make sure I buy the right one that will suit my needs. (Quick back story- I am going to buy my first mini-quad (hudsan x4) on Friday, so that I can start learning to fly.  And in a couple of weeks, I want to buy my first Quadcopter.  I participate in an organization that will have a retreat in August.  They always do a group photo and promotional videos and what better way to do it this year than with shots from the air.  For now I want a drone that will grow with me.  Any advice?
Sincerely,
Lois
Answer:

 

Thanks for the email! It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, because there are so many drones out there! A lot of what I can recommend depends on what your goals are with your drone.
First, I would start by looking at the Drone Configurator. This will help narrow down products within your price range, ability and intended use. Secondly, I think it’s great that you want to practice on a mini-quad. It’s much better when that flies into a big tree and gets stuck rather than a quad in the $1000 range!

Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: What’s a good first drone for video?

The four kinds of drone geeks

This post was originally written by me for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire, original version of the story there.

I was one credit away from graduating college when I first learned what a drone was. It’s not just something for the military, and it’s not something far off in the future.

It’s actually something you can buy for a few hundred dollars at Brookstone or B&H Photo, and it’s something that college campuses are turning into curriculum.

To graduate, I audited a course for one credit on drone journalism. That’s a course where they teach how newsrooms will one day all have drones to take pictures or gather news information from the air.

Media often portrays this new wave of drones as a mechanism of tracking endangered rhinos or shooting Hollywood films. But when I moved from rural Missouri to San Francisco, I found that drones weren’t actually that uncommon. For a growing number of people, they’re a way of life.

They fly over outdoor concerts. Two friends texted me that they saw a drone flying over this year’s commencement ceremony at UC Berkeley. I’ve spotted one outside my apartment complex. Drones are becoming more ubiquitous and easy to spot; the key is finding the operator behind it.

So who is flying them? Like most areas of tech, the drone industry is overwhelmingly male. And many people have different reasons for using a drone. If there was a Breakfast Club sequel solely for drones, this would be the cast.

The tinkerer. He’s an avid participator on a forum for RC enthusiasts. He built his drone himself in a garage using some PVC pipes and an Arduino. He probably belongs to a model RC club and flies it above the high school track on weekends to test out his latest build.

That guy with too much money. He wants a Tesla. He camped out in front of the Apple Store for an iPhone. Now he flies a drone. He’s the guy who foregoes the camera-with-a-timer-on-a-tripod trick to take family photos. His Christmas card picture was taken with a drone. After he finishes his sand volleyball tournament, he goes to take some pictures of the beach, using a drone of course.

The entrepreneur. He has a million ideas for a new startup that involves a drone. Beer delivery? Dry cleaning delivery? Taco delivery? His investment cost was no more than the $1000 price tag on a drone. Perhaps one day his business will be worth as much as Snapchat.

This story continues on MarketWatch.com. Read it here.