All posts by Sally French

Here’s the iPhone on a Drone that won over Mark Cuban and the rest of ‘Shark Tank’

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

How to win a huge investment on the TV show “Shark Tank”?

Try pitching Mark Cuban a “PhoneDrone,” a flying robot that operates via your smartphone. It worked for xCraft’s Charles Manning and JD Claridge, creators of the X PlusOne drone and the PhoneDrone.

The two pitched their drone startup on season seven of ABC’s DIS, -2.22% “Shark Tank,” seeking $500,000 for 20% equity in their company, which would have valued it at $2.5 million. They walked away with $1.5 million for 25% equity in a unanimous investment involving every single “Shark Tank” judge in the episode: Mark Cuban, Daymond John, Kevin O’Leary, Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec — a rare feat on the show. The “Shark Tank” investment values the company at $6 million.

SHARK TANK - "Episode 705" - In one of the most exciting moments of "Shark Tank" history, the ante is upped when the Sharks start to bid OVER the asking price for one product and the million dollar offers start to fly. But will greed burst the bubble before a deal is set? Another pitch prompts a brutal brush-off from an irate Shark. Two parents from Salem, Massachusetts pitch their novel idea for managing Trick-or-Treaters' excess candy with a children's book and gifts; two men from Pacific Palisades, California tout their premium beef jerky made from filet mignon which has the Sharks swooning over the taste and the price point; a woman from Sand City, California pitches a full-length mirror designed to build self-esteem, and two men from Sandpoint, Idaho claim they have redefined drones with inventions that fly up to 60 mph and as high as 10,000 feet. In addition, in a follow-up on the NYC-based Bantam Bagels, the company in which Lori Grenier invested last season, we see how their unique stuffed bagels fare when given a national stage, on "Shark Tank," FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 (9:00-10:01 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Beth Dubber) JD CLARIDGE, CHARLES MANNING (XCRAFT)
(ABC/Beth Dubber)

XCraft creates both the X PlusOne, a hybrid, professional-grade drone that both hovers and can fly at speeds greater than 60 miles an hour, and the PhoneDrone, a device that gives your smartphone wings, allowing it to stream video through Periscope or download it straight to the phone.

Though XCraft founder JD Claridge says he sees long-term growth in the commercial drone market, it was the consumer-targeted PhoneDrone that really won over the sharks. Claridge talked with MarketWatch about his business and what it’s like to land a deal on “Shark Tank.”

MarketWatch: Why do you think your company won on “Shark Tank”?

Claridge: Drones are hot. A lot of investors are interested in them now.

Our strategy was to show we’re more than just a product. We’re a powerful team in the founding members. I’m the nerd on the aerospace side, the inventor. I brought on Charles Manning as the business development guy — he’s the business smarts, but his background is in software. We wanted to make sure the sharks understood that.

SHARK TANK - "Episode 705" - In one of the most exciting moments of "Shark Tank" history, the ante is upped when the Sharks start to bid OVER the asking price for one product and the million dollar offers start to fly. But will greed burst the bubble before a deal is set? Another pitch prompts a brutal brush-off from an irate Shark. Two parents from Salem, Massachusetts pitch their novel idea for managing Trick-or-Treaters' excess candy with a children's book and gifts; two men from Pacific Palisades, California tout their premium beef jerky made from filet mignon which has the Sharks swooning over the taste and the price point; a woman from Sand City, California pitches a full-length mirror designed to build self-esteem, and two men from Sandpoint, Idaho claim they have redefined drones with inventions that fly up to 60 mph and as high as 10,000 feet. In addition, in a follow-up on the NYC-based Bantam Bagels, the company in which Lori Grenier invested last season, we see how their unique stuffed bagels fare when given a national stage, on "Shark Tank," FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 (9:00-10:01 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Beth Dubber) MARK CUBAN, DAYMOND JOHN
(ABC/Beth Dubber)

MarketWatch: Were you gunning for a particular shark?

Claridge: My partner and I had targeted Cuban. He was our first pick if we had a choice, just because of his connections with a lot of other companies in the tech space. Ironically he was one of the last ones to join in.

Read the rest of this story here.

Review: The incredible Yuneec Tornado drone with GH4 integration for $3,499

If Yuneec’s Typhoon drone is the BMW of drones (as I once called it), then its Tornado drone is the Hummer.

But that’s not to say it feels or flies like one – it just looks like how a droneified version of one would look. It’s huge, it’s powerful, and it houses one of the best cameras out there – the Panasonic micro four thirds camera sensor on a stabilized 3-axis gimbal.

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The first time I flew a drone for an audience in 2013, I was terrified. What if I didn’t get the GPS lock right but needed to return to home? What if it went haywire during takeoff and land and skidded across the ground?

That was the state of drones just 2 years ago. Less than steady or reliable, and if you weren’t 100% confident on a Phantom 1, you shouldn’t be flying an S1000. (For the record, I still haven’t flown an S1000).

So let’s just say I was terrified when I was asked to fly Yuneec’s new 11-pound Tornado drone ($3,499 on B&H photo) during a fly day at Gloria Ferrer Winery in Sonoma, Calif. to demo some of their new gear—including the Tornado.

But I had no reason to be. The Tornado flies just as simply as the Typhoon, Yuneec’s competitor to DJI’s Phantom. If anything, it’s even more stable since it’s so large. The design is impressive. It can hold three rechargeable batteries, giving users about 40 minutes of flight time.

What really makes the Tornado a standout drone is the integration with the CGO4 gimbal camera (sold separately). The CGO4 gimbal camera incorporates a Panasonic GH4 micro four thirds camera sensor with a 3x optical zoom lens, housed on the 3-axis gimbal system.

Above is footage I took from the Tornado and CGO4 camera at the winery, not color corrected or edited in any manner to show true footage out of the box. I did notice the camera has a tiny bit of a rolling shutter effect when pointed directly into the sun, as seen in the shot pointing at the winery building.

Other things I love about the Tornado:

  • Smart design: Arms fold in so it’s easier to pack (relatively – it’s still huge)
  • Lightweight: It’s a carbon fiber frame so although it looks huge, it’s not unreasonable for a tiny person like me to carry
  • Ease of use in mind: even though it’s targeted for professionals, it still has all the safety features that Yuneec is eager to promote in its hobby drone, the Typhoon. The tornado includes return to home, auto landing, and five rotors for safety
  • Integration with Panasonic GH4 camera: of course! The footage looks amazing!

yuneec tornado drone

Yuneec’s products, like a fine sports car, are consistently sleek in design. More importantly, it’s stable. It stands true to Yuneec’s mantra of “easy to fly and safe to fly.” And that’s what’s so powerful about this drone. Someone flying a drone should be able to focus on the environment around them and the photos they’re taking – not the vehicle itself.

My expedition to Sonoma to demo the Tornado was with about a dozen people who had never flown a drone before, and each one of them was able to take off, fly and land the drone with no prior experience other than the Typhoon just minutes earlier. The Tornado is not for hobbyists (unless you are a hobbyist who has about $8,000 total to spare on the camera, drone and lenses). But for a filmmaker or anyone else needing mega high-quality video for professional purposes in a ready to fly product, this copter is a no brainer.

Related posts:

Drone photographer and expert Eric Cheng to release new book on drones

echeng-dronebook-chapter5-1

Eric Cheng, DJI’s former Director of Aerial Imaging, is now releasing a guidebook geared toward beginner consumer drone owners.

Titled “Aerial Photography and Videography Using Drones” the book is marketed as a “timely educational resource, written to help beginner-and-intermediate drone pilots learn how to capture pictures and videos from the air safely and proficiently,” according to a news release.

Cheng also formerly served as Director of Photography at Lytro and is on the advisory board of the U.S. Association of Unmanned Aerial Videographers (UAVUS).

Most of the guidebook is geared toward DJI Phantom 3 quadcopters and drones that carry the GoPro HERO series.

aerial+photography+book+cover“Eric is perhaps the most dedicated envelope-pusher I’ve ever met when it comes to equipment and technology,” said Adam Savage, co-host of the Discovery Chanel show, Mythbusters. “You couldn’t ask for a better field guide to this new frontier.”

The book arrives on shelves Oct. 29, 2015.

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.