Category Archives: Flight Diaries

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

17 reasons why drones will change your life

17. PIZZA.  Delivery of pizza. Literally flying right into your hands. Like, Domino’s is testing pizza delivery with a drone.

16. Baywatch, turned robot. Replace your lifeguard with a drone. That’s right — GPS-enabled drones can help someone drowning by dropping floatation devices.

15. More wine, better wine. Viticulturists could fly drones over vineyards and spot differences in rows, allowing them to know where to irrigate, inspect or harvest. That’s not something anyone can whine about.

14.  Keeping the doctors away, with more apples everyday! That’s because researchers are using multispectral aerial images of orchards to hone in on colors and temperatures to locate a fungus, known as the apple scab. This is putting more apples into your hands.

13. Or, bringing doctors to you! Matternet is using drones to ferry medical supplies to hard-to-reach regions of the earth. One of their missions flew medical supplies into a camp housing survivors of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Continue reading 17 reasons why drones will change your life

Flight diaries: learning lots Drone Girl

Photo of me toting around two 3D Robotics Y6 copters, by my coworker and resident drone expert Brandon Basso.

Hello Dronies!

It’s been a while since my last Flight Diary. It’s also been crazy busy as Drone Girl. I haven’t been flying as much as I’d like to, but it’s ok, because I’ve been learning more than I think I ever wanted to!

When I started Drone Girl (in June) I was living in Southern California and had just purchased a DJI Phantom, where I experimented with flying and making video mashups of my flights. In just 4 months, I’ve moved to Northern California, been able to do consulting to help others learn how to use drones, gotten to attend intelligent discussions on drones such as the Stanford Berkeley Robotics Symposium or the Commonwealth Club’s Eyes in the Sky: Drones in Law Enforcement event, learned the basics of mechanics and built my own drone, and so much more.

The best part is the incredible people I’ve met.  I’ve met 12-year-old kids who are already using Arduino to make their own projects. I’ve met farmers interested in ways to revolutionize the way they irrigate, spray pesticides or harvest their crops because of drones. I’ve met and worked with an entire newsroom who sees the value that drones could bring to their reporting.

All because I started a blog out of curiosity for a controversial new technology.

So what’s next for Drone Girl?

The sky’s the limit as they say. I want to encourage kids to pursue the educational intersection of science and math with art and creativity. I hope to continue to spread awareness through media of the positive ways we can use technology. And of course, I want to continue to learn more about drones! Happy flying!

History of drones: Navy drones in the 50s and 60s

The following piece is a family history on military drone use. Note that Drone Girl is not an advocate for military drone use, but rather is interested in exploring and researching both their modern day and historical military uses. The ‘drones’ generally referred to on Drone Girl are currently not fully autonomous. The definition of drone is quite broad, and consumer drones operate much differently than a military drone.

The cool thing about being a drone girl is that so many people want to share their stories — my family included.

Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson

Did you know that in the military, drones (defined as pilotless aircraft) aren’t the ones destroying targets, but were the ones being fired at for development?

I didn’t until I just learned that my great uncle, Tom Anderson, was a Navy Pilot from 1958 to the early 1960s in the Target Department at the Naval Air Missile Center in Point Mugu, Ca., just south of Oxnard. His role was providing drones as targets for the development of various missiles, mostly air to air missiles.

Military use of drones is a recent topic in the news, and a lot of people (myself included) certainly fear the concept of a little drone flying over an location in the world and dropping a bomb. But few people (again, myself included) know of how drones have been used for decades.

“With my background in drones, over the years I’ve tended to follow the news with interest,” he said. “The technology improvements have been amazing, opening the doors for many uses. If their practical use approaches the theoretical then significant regulation will be needed in the interest of safety.” Continue reading History of drones: Navy drones in the 50s and 60s

Drones don’t just make pretty photos

Today’s blog post comes from a question I got via Twitter from @Elise12192, a science and health journalism student.

twitterquestionShe asks, “Are drones only for the professional photog or are they becoming accessible to hobbyists? (Price, skills required, etc.)”

Well Elise, that’s a great question! There are tons of drones with all different purposes, ranging from children’s toy, to a vehicle that can mount a GoPro, to a drone that can hold a heavy dSLR. Then there are drones that don’t even carry cameras but rather GPS trackers, infrared cameras, or contraptions that can collect particles in the air. A simple search today on for drone comes up with 10,976 results, meaning there are already tons of drones, accessories and parts on the market.

The cheapest drone I’ve seen with a camera on it is the Badboy Quadcopter for $74, though don’t expect that to be great quality. That’s something accessible to low-level hobbyists who just want a cool photo.

On the other hand, it’s not just professional photographers doing great things with drones, though the incredible work by my favorite drone photographers like Wild Pilots, Team BlackSheep and Drone Dudes are hard to ignore.

Drones have been used for years by non photographers!

Continue reading Drones don’t just make pretty photos

Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers

Do: Take drone selfies!!

As more and more people find out I’m a Drone Girl, more photographer people want to get into drones for aerial photography purposes themselves! Drone World is uncharted territory so there is no right way to do something, but here is some Drone Girl advice for where to start.

Don’t invest in a lot initially. You will crash. You might lose it in a tree (true story for a later date). You will lose control of it. Your propellers will break.

Do invest in a cheap drone to get the flying basics down. Piloting these things require intense hand-eye coordination. ‘Yaw left! Roll right!’ What does that stuff even mean? Well you can practice how to control it, and learn all that fancy terminology, on a drone you won’t feel bad breaking, because trust me, you will. How about this lil guy that looks like a UFO, from the Amazon toy section.
And for the record, I still don’t know what yaw left means.

Don’t cheap out when you’re buying the real deal. You can buy cheaper drones that look similar at places like Brookstone, but just know you get what you pay for, and the quality or ability to upgrade camera capabilities probably won’t be a thing.

Do buy a good quality drone. As cliché as it is, you really do get what you pay for when it comes to drones. I’m someone who wants a drone that works out of the box, so I’d recommend something like the 3D Robotics Iris or the DJI Phantom.

Do buy a GoPro. I’m obsessed with them. You can chuck them off buildings and send them underwater, and they’re foolproof. They shoot HD quality video and can connect to your SmartPhone. Fancy! Continue reading Do’s and Don’ts of first-time drone piloting for photographers

Drone, UAV, or creepy robot bird: What do we call these things?

Photo of me flying at Balboa Island by my flying buddies over at
Photo of me flying at Balboa Island by my flying buddies over at

I’ve been a drone girl for the past few months now, and the one debate hotter than banning/regulating drones is what to call them.
Many people refer to them as drones. And many other people stop me mid-sentence, as soon as the word drone is used.

It’s no secret: drones have a negative connotation, largely because of military implications. However, the drones on this blog, and that are being discussed for FAA regulation, are far from that. These drones are $700 flying, hovering aircrafts where cameras can be attached to gather images from a different viewpoint. They deliver wedding cakes and save rhinos by spotting poachers.

So should we refer to them as the same name as a totally different piece of equipment that has been used for war? Continue reading Drone, UAV, or creepy robot bird: What do we call these things?

#DroneLyfe: Pros and Cons

One of my best friends admits she is slightly repulsed by drones. Supportive, right? But we both agree that drones are compelling, and can be used for both good and bad.

If I had a dollar for every time someone suggested how I could use my drone to spy on or sneak into people’s homes, I would be able to buy a completely new drones. But those are actually awful suggestions, and I’m the first to say that would be horrible if people did that.

With any new technology, there are pros and cons.

*this list does not include attack/military drones, but rather refers to drones on the average consumer market.

Pros Cons
Opportunities for use are endless! Set up a Google news alert with the word drone, and every day you’ll probably get a new story about some scientist or businessperson using drones for a new creative use. Whether it’s spotting pollution in a river or delivering pizza, people are constantly thinking of ways to use drones. Opportunities for use are endless. Would it be incredibly easy to fly over private land and trespass without even hopping over barbed wire and fighting off guard dogs? Yes. You could really easily enter someone’s private property and spy or gather information. But that’s illegal, and all around not cool.
Cheap alternative to helicopters: rather than pay the fuel cost, the pilot fees, etc., a drone can do a similar job for a fraction of the cost. Researchers trying to spot animals or TV stations showing traffic often rely on helicopters, and this could reduce that need Drone pilots don’t have certifications like helicopter pilots (yet): But should they? This is a great debate, and for hobby use, I don’t think a certification is necessary at this point. But if drones are going to be as common as helicopters, there needs to be some degree of regulation so they don’t hit each other, and so only qualified pilots are flying over dense areas like freeways.
Can squeeze into tight spaces: A helicopter can’t fly through forests or into tight alleys. Imagine a car chase. Instead of sending police officers at dangerous speeds through populated areas, a drone could do the same, or at least track the suspect in dense areas like alleys or forests. Definitely creep factor here. It would be easy to hover in a forest or alley, but again,  that’s creepy, so just don’t do it.
Loud and large: This is a good thing, because it makes drones so that you can’t really spy on people. People see a drone and think something along the lines of it being a UFO, and that’s good, because then it helps people be aware of their surroundings. Loud and large: The loud buzz can certainly be annoying, and they can get heavy and cumbersome to transport, but definitely the related pro outweighs the cons here.
New technology: now is the time to research and engineer this product. The more consumers buy them, the more money and suggestions engineers will have to improve them. The technology has faults and is far from perfect – a mix of both equipment and human error. They crash. Maybe a propeller pops off, or the software just crashes. No technology is ever perfect, but it should be pretty close to that before we send these up in the air on a mainstream level.