Category Archives: News

LiPo battery may have caused RC shop fire

RC pilot Jim Bonnardel has been flying Radio Control aircraft since he was seven-years-old. He’s president of the Silent Electric Flyers of San Diego and owner of Radio Control Specialties.

And on Jan. 16, he watched the shop burn down.

Bonnardel says he suspects it was a LiPo fire,  noting that he was charging a bank of batteries and was on the last one when he stepped away for about 10 minutes.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have gotten a bad rap for being dangerous and unpredictable. Dropping, denting or crushing can shorten the life of the battery and even cause an internal short — a recipe for fire. There are a myriad of guidelines for storing, charging and transporting them.

But for even a highly experienced pilot like Bonnardel, the slightest misstep can cause extreme danger.

So why don’t we just use alkaline batteries — your standard Duracell or Energizer?

“An alkaline battery has much more power than a lithium ion, but it cannot deliver heavy loads,” said Isidor Buchmann, founder and CEO of Cadex Electronics.  “Something like an AA battery is an energy cell, not a power cell. It simply cannot deliver the power needed.”

A drone needs a battery that can handle higher currents. LiPos are power cell batteries, mean they can deliver a lot of energy in a short amount of time. Your standard kitchen clock battery delivers a small amount of power over a long period of time.

“It’s like how a bottle with a bigger mouth can pour out a lot of water more quickly than water with a smaller mouth,” Buchmann said.

John Salt, creator of RC Helicopter Fun, put that amount of energy into perspective.

“Some of my big LiPo packs that I use in some of my largest RC helicopters have as much energy potential stored in them as a couple cups or so of gasoline,” he said. “Get a dozen or so LiPo’s on your work bench and you essentially have a jerry can of gas sitting there from a potential energy standpoint.”

That’s not to say Lithium-ion batteries are not safe.

“Lithium-ion is safe under the right circumstances, but they need to be properly designed and approved,” Buchmann said.

Salt chalks it up to an educational problem.

“LiPo power is just as safe or dangerous as any other high energy fuel source and has to be treated that way,” Salt said.

By that, he recommends storying them in fire safe containers and in safe locations just like fuel.

“Is this “LiPo education” up to the battery manufactures, RC aircraft manufactures, or the individuals flying and using them? I would say all three,” he said.

But there’s one more solution, and DJI, creator of the popular DJI Phantom series of quadcopters, holds the patent to it.

Shortly after the launch of the original Phantom, developers with DJI wanted to ensure that consumers with less experience with soft pack batteries would be able to use them.

“We knew it would be a game changer because it further lowered the barrier for first time pilots interested in quads,” said DJI spokesperson Michael Perry.

Development on the Smart Battery for the Phantom II line of drones began in April 2013.

The Smart Battery’s are also LiPo batteries, with a capacity of 5200 mAh and voltage of 11.1 V. Power management is handled internally, meaning no balance connector is required to charge.

The one major criticism Phantom II users have? The price.

DJI smart batteries cost about $130, in comparison to the $20 LiPo batteries sold on DJI’s site (and often found cheaper on hobby sites).

“We cannot say for now if the price will drop. Part of the reason that the batteries are priced higher than normal LiPos is that all the smart features requires additional hardware (not just the LEDs, but circuitry), software and testing costs,” Perry said. “We feel that the intelligent features that people get out of these batteries corresponds fairly to the price differential with typical batteries.”

And that’s not to say that the DJI Smart Batteries are 100% foolproof.

“Heat is a big enemy of all Lithium battery chemistries, so even a DJI smart pack could be damaged by letting it sit inside a closed vehicle on a hot sunny day for instance,” Salt said. “Chances are it would never start on fire, but there is still some risk there – especially if it’s fully charged.”

Company that makes ‘White House drone’ doesn’t want you flying in D.C. at all

The following piece is an excerpt of a story I wrote for MarketWatch. Read the full story here.

The company that manufactures the drone that crashed on the South Lawn on Monday doesn’t want you to fly drones anywhere close to the White House.

DJI announced plans today to release a mandatory firmware update for its Phantom 2 line of drones that would prevent them from flying within a 15.5-mile radius of downtown Washington, D.C.

“The updated firmware (V3.10) will be released in coming days and adds a No-Fly Zone centered on downtown Washington, D.C. and extends for a 25-kilometer (15.5-mile) radius in all directions,” a news release from DJI stated. “Phantom pilots in this area will not be able to take off from or fly into this airspace.”

DJI’s update helps drone users comply with an FAA notice, which restricts unmanned flight around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

The news comes in the wake of reports that a government employee in D.C. was flying a DJI Phantom at 3 a.m. on Monday and lost control of it, causing the drone tofly onto White House property and crash.

“Some people may not realize how close they are to an airport or other sensitive locations,” said Brendan Schulman, head of commercial drone law at the law firm Kramer Levin. “This [update from DJI] is useful in preventing newcomers from flying in places that would be objectionable.”

But a lot of drone users question whether DJI’s move is necessary.

“Most people are flying at schools and parks, and they aren’t flying any type of large-size aircraft,” said Dale Jones, founder of RCFlyMaps, an iPhone app that uses real time data to tell drone users where they can and can’t fly. “Does that FAA ban relate to tiny little hobby aircraft? I’m not sure.”

The no-drone zone includes the University of Maryland Campus, Virginia’s Lake Barcroft and Little Falls Park in Bethesda, Maryland.

Read the rest of this story on MarketWatch.com.

6 drones you need to see at CES

Below is an excerpt for a piece I wrote for MarketWatch.com. Read the full story here.MW-DC764_ces_dr_20150107101550_MG

The drones are coming in droves so large, that the Consumer Electronics Association devoted an entire area of the CES conference to the flying robots.

The global market for consumer drones is expected to approach $130 million in revenue in 2015, increasing by 55% from 2014, according to CEA research.

“Drones and unmanned systems are being used to assist in a variety of applications, from aerial coverage for sports and real estate, to assistance in search and rescue and disaster relief missions,” said Karen Chupka, a vice president at CEA.

Here’s a guide to some of the most innovative and important drones you need to know:

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Hubsan X4 Pro with Parachute

What happens when your drone collides with something and crashes? Instead of a 5 pound piece of metal falling from the sky, the Hubsan X4 Pro offers a solution — a parachute. The parachute can be removed or assembled freely and used multiple times.

In addition, the drone comes equipped with a 1080p high definition camera, 3 axis gimbal rotation and automatic return to home technology.

The release date and cost of the Hubsan X4 Pro has yet to be announced.

6 drones you need to see at CES   MarketWatch

Wearable drones

Two of 2015’s top tech trends are drones and wearables, so why not combine them into one? Intel released a small drone that can be worn on the wrist as a slap bracelet until it is launched into the air. Called “Nixie,” the drone is powered by Intel’s Edison kit. The drone can be used not only as a high-tech fashion statement, but for taking pictures.

Read the rest of this story here.

New charging pad for Parrot drones changes the way you charge your batteries

unnamedAnnual tech-fest Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is underway this weekend in Las Vegas, expected to bring in 160,000 people, 3,500 exhibitors and tons of drones.

But beyond your traditional drones that you can expect to see this year, we’ll also see the next step — accessories that can make your flying more efficient.

Enter Skysense’s portable charging pad.

Skysense released a smart battery module specifically designed for the Parrot Bebop Drone that makes charging batteries as easy and landing on the charging station.

“After its demo with the MYO gesture­control armband last year, Parrot confirms once again its openness and interest in collaborating with startups on its most innovative products,” according to a news release.

Photo courtesy Skysense
Photo courtesy Skysense

Here’s how it works: Your drone flies miles away from you. The battery has probably lasted 20 minutes — 30 minutes on a good day. Your drone autonomously lands — but not just anywhere — on a portable landing pad no more than the size of a bath mat, which you’ve set up ahead of time. Wires connected to the drone touch the pad, and through direct contact, the batteries on the drone immediately start charging. Once charged, the drone takes off and resumes the mission you’ve programmed for it.

“This solves two problems,”Andrea Puiatti, CEO of Skysense said in a previous interview with The Drone Girl. “The first, it enables you to manage the operation remotely. Second, you can have a drone that takes off at any time without human intervention to change the battery, thus enabling fully autonomous missions.”

Puiatti said the charging is just as efficient as if you were to plug the battery charger in the socket wall. Continue reading New charging pad for Parrot drones changes the way you charge your batteries

The story behind DJI’s Inspire

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

The new Inspire 1 started shipping this week. We went behind-the-scenes with Eric Cheng to find out more about the meaning behind the copter.

Where did DJI’s drone name “Inspire 1” come from?

‘“The process of naming is fluid,” says Eric Cheng, Director of Aerial Imaging at DJI. “It’s collaborative.”

He tells me this after a DJI press event to announce the Inspire 1. As staff members break down the remaining chairs, photo booths and even drone cages, at an event venue on Treasure Island, just off the coast of San Francisco, Cheng sticks around, talking to everyone present.

Cheng joined DJI last year, but was already well known among dronies. Maybe it was his background at Lytro, where he served as Director of Photography. Or perhaps it was his myriad of award-winning underwater photos Maybe it was his leadership within the drone community already, as he came into the mainstream eye with video of surfers shot from a drone (watch below).

Aerial footage of surfers at Steamer Lane, Santa Cruz (DJI Phantom) from Eric Cheng on Vimeo.

But back to the naming of the new drone. That’s what you clicked on.

“All the futuristic sci-fi names are already taken, like the Predator,” Cheng says.

It’s not like you want to name a product that is under the scrutiny of millions of Americans the Predator though, right?

“Triumph was the internal code name,” he says.

“I sort of like that,” I told him. It’s like the feeling when you successfully make that first, heart-pounding flight. It’s when you realize you’ve gotten some stellar footage. Continue reading The story behind DJI’s Inspire

Mythbusters reveal drones are used on set

Photo via VideoMaker.com
Photo via VideoMaker.com

Martha Stewart has a drone. Rupert Murdoch has flown a drone. But the newest celebrities to use a drone really aren’t all that surprising.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of Mythbusters revealed that they have been using flying cameras in productions for years.

“Up until (recently), we had used helicopters, but that was a $5,000-15,000 solution,” Savage said.

“We started looking into this camera platform five or six years ago, but it just never worked out,” Hyneman said.

Jump to five years later, and with improvements like telemetry, the Mythbusters rely on drones to propel their show forward.

“It’s a tool for storytelling,” Savage said. “That’s what we do on Mythbusters — we tell stories. It’s not just the master shot that is really cute or really cool. It’s telling the audience where we’re going.”

A custom-built octorotor was used in the last two seasons, where flying shots introduced the beginning of episodes. Other uses of drones were in an episode shot at Pebble Beach.

“It’s an amazing time because of how much hacking is driving innovation,” Savage said.

Savage is referring to hacker movements like DIYdrones and DJI’s app store.

And Hyneman said he believes drones will become ubiquitous eventually.

“All of us remember the time when there weren’t cellphones, he said. “Drones are in that world right now. Things that we would have never thought were possible ten years ago are commonplace now.”

Inaugural LA Drone Expo celebrates the technology’s use for good

LOS ANGELES – Their backgrounds in the drone field ranged from marine conservation to robotics research and development to film and TV production, but the speakers and panelists at the LA Drone Expo overwhelming used their spotlight to discuss the possibilities the new technology can bring to the world.

Of course, that was not without a short disruption by protesters.

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Photo: Tim Worden

Drones, or unmanned aerial systems, are emerging as the next decade’s multibillion dollar industry with applications in anything from making family vacation videos to helping business run more efficiently, experts said at the convention.

“What I’ve seen is that this has now became a product for everyone,” economist Tom Marchesello said in the expo’s opening keynote address.

Presented by the Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle Systems Association, the expo, believed to be the largest of its kind in the world, was staged to unite the fledgling drone community, which has so far been largely spread across small groups of filmmakers, hobbyists and researchers with little organization to banner under.

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Photo: Tim Worden

Vendors and speakers comprised of a wide range of pioneers in the field, from DJI and 3D Robotics to Drone Dudes and law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, which works with aerial production companies seeking to get an exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration’s drone regulations, which essentially bars commercial drone use and has been a high point of contention in the industry. Continue reading Inaugural LA Drone Expo celebrates the technology’s use for good

Enter your footage in the NYC Drone Film Festival

Think your drone footage is better than this? Then enter it in the New York City Drone Film Festival, accepting submissions now through December 28, 2014. The sites website states:

New York City Drone Film Festival is the world’s first event exclusively dedicated to celebrating the art of drone cinematography.  The festival provides a platform for aerial filmmakers to showcase their work, emphasizing innovative flight technique, aesthetic beauty, and even epic crashes.  Director, landscape photographer, and aerial cinematographer Randy Scott Slavin founded the festival in 2014 with a desire to change the perceptions of drones. “I’m tired of drones being synonymous with questionable legality and FAA regulation. I want to celebrate the art of aerial cinematography.”

Entries must be under 5 minutes in length and will be judged based on categories including technical difficulty and innovation.

For more information and to enter, visit NYC Drone Film Festival.