All posts by Sally French

Drone Girl’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide

dji_phantomThis is the last weekend for Christmas shopping, so why not hit-the-ground running with some of the most epic last-minute Christmas gifts you’ve given in your life – drones!

This guide is broken down into copters best for beginners, photographers and tech geeks. Think I missed something? Leave a comment below!

For the beginner:

TOP PICK: WL Toys V959 Quadcopter RC 4 Channel V989

  • Price: $67.55
  • This is Drone Girl’s top pick for an entry-level copter. Why? It’s reliable and includes an onboard camera. Obviously the video quality is not great, but it will be something you can post on Facebook, because who doesn’t want a quick aerial video of building a snowman or Christmas day sledding?
  • Pro: Good price, easy to use out of the box, good for learning how to fly and shoots video
  • Con: 8-10 minutes of flight time, low video quality

nano-qx-bnf-micro-quadcopter-with-safe-technology-blh7680-3965-pBlade Nano QX Micro Quadcopter RTF

  • Price: $89.99
  • This is a teeny-tiny remote-controlled gift that is a cross between cereal box toy and Amazon drone. It has an impressive technology system that can hover and zip around, but it’s about 2 inches tall.
  • Pro: Fun! Low-risk. Durable, good intro to drone technology and flying techniques
  • Con: My short-attention span would get bored with this real fast. It flies, and it flies, and that’s about it.

Syma X1 4 Channel 2.4G RC Quad Copter

  • $43.00
  • This is the cheapest gift on the Drone Girl gift guide. It can’t do much except fly around. But it is a cool party trick! Fly it around your backyard, and if you’re daring, maybe even your house!
  • Pro: Cheaper than the Blade Nano! Fun! Low-risk. Durable, good intro to drone technology and flying techniques
  • Con: Technology is not quite as sophisticated as the Blade Nano. Again, my short-attention span would get bored with this real fast. It flies, and it flies, and that’s about it.

For the techie:

Parrot-AR.Drone-2.0TOP PICK: Parrot AR Drone 2.0 Power Edition

  • Price: $369.99
  • This drone comes complete with a built-in video camera and can be controlled on Android or iOS devices via a WiFi connection. This drone can fly around and take pictures. You can also hack it (if you have the skillz) to make it do much more than that. Remember the guy who was able to forcefully disconnect other Parrot drones from their wifi signal and take control, turning them into zombie drones?
  • Pros: incredible updates allow for 36 minutes of flying time
  • Great for your favorite computer hacker; this software is (relatively) easily customizable
  • Cons: Hardware isn’t very customizable. Has a built-in camera, so you’re stuck with that and don’t have much in the way of upgrading

*Money-saving tip: Buy last year’s model, though it doesn’t quite have the same power capacity.

TBS Discovery Pro Starter Set

  • Price: $2,265,95
  • This is an all-in-one package for a serious dronie who wants the satisfaction of building it themselves. This guy will run you about $2,000 more than I have, but TBS is top-of-the-line. This kit requires you to build it yourself, which could be a struggle for some, or for others considered way fun. Team Black Sheep are some of the leaders in the drone world, and now you too can be just like them!
  • Included in this kit is FPV capabilities, so you can see what the drone camera sees, a gimbal, batteries, and really all you need to do some professional flying.
  • Pros: Fancy. Really well made. Comes with all the parts you need in one kit.
  • Con: Expen$ive!

For the photographer:
dji-phantom-vision2TOP PICK: DJI Phantom 2 Vision

  • Price: $1,119.00
  • This is the Holy Grail of UAV technology, the king of the drones. But royalty isn’t cheap. This is the priciest drone on the Drone Girl Photography Gift Guide, but if you get what you pay for, then you’ve just gotten the best.
    It’s ready to fly right out of the box, allowing you to gather clean and clear video within a couple hours of flight practice.
    If you can spring it, buy this one!
  • Pros: Comes with an on-board camera (1080p HD video), Live-stream video to free Vision app for iOS or Android, Camera tilt compensates for single-axis motion = buttery smooth video
  • 25 minutes of flight time
  • Cons: It co$t$ a lot of money!

*However, this drone comes with so many new and great features like live streaming of video, 25 minutes of flight time, camera included and a gimbal. Had you bought the original Phantom and wanted to add on these things later yourself, that would cost you more money. So look on the bright side, this is a savings!

DJI Phantom (Original Model)

  • Price: $479.00
  • This is last year’s model of the DJI Phantom 2 Vision (described above). This is the perfect pick if you’re looking to cut costs but want a great product. This is very similar to the Phantom 2 Vision but with fewer features. The camera won’t be as smooth unless you add on your own gimbal (which is quite an ordeal) and you can’t live-stream what your camera sees, but it’s still a great option.
  • Pros: Ready-to-fly out of the box, reliable product, easy to use, reasonable price for what you get
  • Cons: Video isn’t quite professional quality, but is sure close (unless you add your own gimbal)*Note: this doesn’t come with a camera, but you can add on your own GoPro.

Blade 350 QX RTF

  • Price: $469.99
  • This medium quality quadcopter offers you the ability to shoot aerial images and video via a GoPro camera. With multiple modes, the copter is easy to fly, allowing beginner pilots to learn on Smart Mode or allowing advanced pilots to flip and roll in Agility Mode.
  • *Note: this doesn’t come with a camera, but you can add on your own GoPro.
  • Pros: Lots of different modes catering to beginning and advanced pilots, ability to mount a GoPro
  • Cons: Not the most reliably built, with some cheap parts that don’t sustain damage quite as well as its competitors

And in case you were wondering, no, you can’t have your drone delivered by Amazon Drone. Not this year, at least.

So the bottom line is, with all these choices, what would Drone Girl do?

Here's me with my original DJI Phantom. I recommend this as a Top Pick because it's easy-to-use out of the box, reliable and on sale now! Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.
Here’s me with my original DJI Phantom. I recommend this as a Top Pick because it’s easy-to-use out of the box, reliable and on sale now! Photo courtesy of Stuart Palley.

Start by getting a cheap toy copter to master the controls. Flying a drone entails two sticks, which is analogous to the whole rub your stomach while pat your head deal. Not impossible, but takes practice.

You will crash into a tree. You might get it stuck on top of a building. And hopefully you don’t fly it into a pool.

That’s why you should master the controls on a cheap drone, like the Syma X1 RC Quadcopter UFO, which will cost you $43.
Then move onto a better drone with professional shooting capabilities. My pick? The DJI Phantom 2 Vision.

Yes, it’s the priciest. But if you are interested in having smooth, professional grade video, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision offers an all-in-one package to do that. Whether you’re looking to get professional quality video with minimal effort, want a quick, convenient way to live-stream what the drone sees, or have a reliably built copter, this is your pick. This is a great copter for photographers, scientists, researchers, or anyone with a hefty sum of spare change who wants to experience something new.

Happy flying, AND Happy Holidays!

Related posts:
Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers
4 accessories you need for your drone
Meet my drone(s)

Calling all drone operators who have received cease and desist letters

documenttrackerAre you a drone operator who has received a cease and desist letter? Please get in contact with us, because we want to talk to you!

It is currently illegal to operate a drone for commercial purposes – that is until 2015, a date Congress declared for FAA to allow commercial drone use.

Until then, the FAA has delivered letters to select commercial drone pilots requiring they cease operations. It’s unclear which of the many commercial drone pilots out there have received letters. Some have been told to stop flying and have been to subject to fines for noncompliance. But the majority of commercial drone pilots continue to operate drones with no contact from the FAA. Those pilots include contractors for real estate agents who want fancy ways to demonstrate their properties, filmmakers and more.

Why is this?

We need your help to track down who all the letters have gone to. We’ve put in FOIA requests, to no avail. So our hope is you will send yours directly to us!

Check out our new page that documents all the groups we know of that have received cease and desist letters.

Al Jazeera explores drone journalism, featuring Drone Girl herself

ajAl Jazeera’s Listening Post feature this week takes a look at drones and how they are becoming tools of the journalistic trade.

“More and more news stories, particularly those on television, now include video shot by drones,” the latest update on Al Jazeera’s Listening Post page states. “Listening Post’s Will Yong reports on the potential – and some of the pitfalls – of the media’s unmanned eyes in the skies.”

You can listen to me, Sally (aka Drone Girl), talk drone journalism alongside our friend Matthew Schroyer, founder of on the latest Listening Post episode here.

In other drone journalism news, the BBC has an entire news story taught by drone. Their bird’s eye view of a protest rally in Thailand is told via drone, including a stand-up.

Happy flying!

Flying robots for the masses: How Bezos’ Amazon Drone could be what Steve Jobs was to personal computers

jeffbezosIt’s unrealistic to assume that once 2015 hits, Amazon Drones will take off through the skies, single-handedly bringing a stop to brown UPS trucks.

But when they do take off, it won’t just be Amazon’s drones doing home delivery. Soon enough, Walmart will have a fleet of drones. Target too. Domino’s kinda sorta already has one. Even UPS quickly followed Amazon’s big reveal, reminding the world that they too are working on delivery drones.

Amazon will undoubtedly deliver packages via drones, and I’m sure it’ll happen in our lifetime. But will they corner the market in drone deliveries? Doubt it.

Where Amazon can in fact corner the market is in drone manufacturing. If this all plans out, I predict Amazon will move from enterprise (drone delivery) to manufacturing Amazon-brand drones that consumers can use themselves.

How will Amazon succeed at manufacturing consumer-level drones? Amazon has the brand recognition and economy of scale to undercut current drone makers if they wanted to be a part of the consumer-drone manufacturing market. Look at Kindle. Or purely the fact that with just a short clip on 60 Minutes, they convinced the world of the possible reality of flying packages. Continue reading Flying robots for the masses: How Bezos’ Amazon Drone could be what Steve Jobs was to personal computers

How hacker drones could turn your personal drone into its personal zombie

It seems as though spying or crashing is no longer what dronies should be cautious of.

Hacker Samy Kamkar released hardware and software specifications that hobbyists can use to turn their drone into a drone that seeks out other drones in flight, hacks them and turns them into an army of unmanned vehicles, all under control of the hacker.

Shooting Amazon drones down with a shotgun to steal your packages? So last year.

Taking control of the Amazon drone to get it to bring the package to your house and not the intended recipient? That’s this year. Like, right now.

“Using a Parrot AR.Drone 2, a Raspberry Pi, a USB battery, an Alfa AWUS036H wireless transmitter, aircrack-ng, node-ar-drone, node.js, and my SkyJack software, I developed a drone that flies around, seeks the wireless signal of any other drone in the area, forcefully disconnects the wireless connection of the true owner of the target drone, then authenticates with the target drone pretending to be its owner, then feeds commands to it and all other possessed zombie drones at my will,” Kamkar wrote on his site.

It’s a system he calls Skyjack. Cute name. Not so cute idea (if used for evil). Continue reading How hacker drones could turn your personal drone into its personal zombie

Amazon Prime Air is lots of hoopla, just hold up

Image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon announced their latest R&D project, Amazon Prime Air, to much hoopla yesterday. It’s a delivery system likened to the TacoCopter or Australian company Zookal, which will deliver textbooks with drones.

Drones are always a subject quick to gather cheap and easy media attention. Anytime there is a drone crash or some wacky new use for drones, they are nearly always guaranteed to land some sort of media attention. So it’s no surprise that Amazon Prime Air, or the #AmazonDrone on the Interwebz, is what’s keeping water coolers and Facebook news feeds abuzz these days. Now I can buy literally anything (sold on Amazon and weighing under 5 pounds) and have it delivered in 30 minutes?

Should we greet this news with excitement? Fear? Or simply chalk it up to an epic Cyber Monday PR stunt?

“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” Amazon’s new Prime Air page states. That’s an accurate assumption, Amazon. Drones have already proven more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost effective for a myriad of enterprise operations.

“We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015,” the text states. “We will be ready at that time.”

Hold up, slow down. This is what seems to be causing much hullabaloo. The fear of drones buzzing through the skies is certainly worth having, but it’s not completely rational given the limitations of the technology.

Drones can’t legally be used for commercial purposes until the FAA says so. That won’t be until at least 2015, according to the FAA’s Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap. Emphasis on the “at least.” Continue reading Amazon Prime Air is lots of hoopla, just hold up