Category Archives: News

Can’t hire enough waiters at your restaurant? Hire a drone

The following piece is an excerpt from an article I wrote for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

MW-DF395_infini_20150211185454_ZH-1Singapore restaurant chain Timbre Group has made some new additions to its waitstaff, and unlike their colleagues, the fresh hires can fly and don’t earn wages.

Infinium Robotics’ drones are due to be introduced at the restaurant chain by the end of the year, carrying up to 4.4 pounds of food and drink each, according to the BBC. The airborne, unpiloted robots will deliver food within the restaurant by swooping over the heads of diners on paths charted by a computer program, using infra-red sensors placed around the restaurant.

Infinium says the drones will be able to free up staff members to focus more on interacting with customers or other tasks that require higher-level thinking. It’s especially important in Singapore, where the country’s food-and-beverage industry lacks nearly 7,000 people.

“The food-and-beverage (F&B) sector is plagued by a severe shortage of workers,” according to a report from Singapore’s Ministory of Trade and Industry. “Many seemed to attribute this to the low profile of the industry, long and irregular working hours, as well as the negative connotation associated with an F&B service staff.”

It’s a similar situation in the U.S., where the 2012 average annual salary for waiters and waitresses was $18,590, according to the American Job Center. And it’s not easy for the U.S. restaurants to find waiters either: Nearly 43% of open jobs in the food-service industry remain unfilled for longer than three months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Could U.S. establishments benefit from drone waiters?

“Robots can shift tasks away from humans, and we can do the higher cognitive functions,” said Jonathan Rupprecht, a commercial pilot and practicing lawyer. “Robots can’t do art, can’t mix drinks. They can’t put garnishments on food. You can spend more money on the chef, then free him up with robots that can work long hours.”

The price for the Infinium Robotics drone is not publicly available, but Rupprecht says high-tech drones such as ones used for detection by bomb squads can cost more than $100,000. The DJI Spreading Wings S1000 costs about $3,600.

“But you’re not going to have to pay income taxes or health insurance to robots,” Rupprecht said. “It takes a lot of problems off the table from a business standpoint.”

Singapore has been working to find technological solutions to solve its labor shortage. A Singapore tax credit launched in 2010, the Productivity and Innovation Credit Scheme, allows businesses to get a 400% tax deduction of up to $400,000 for qualifying expenditures.

Read the rest of this article on MarketWatch.com.

Hover mobile app tells you where you can and can’t fly drones

hover app
Photo/Hover

Dan Held more or less fits the mold of your Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

He always want to fly model planes as a kid, but they were just too expensive. He speaks with a barely noticeable Texas “y’all.” He moved to San Francisco, where his full-time job is with a bitcoin startup. That’s on-top of a bursting resume of other startups and mobile apps that he created in his free-time.

His San Francisco apartment is filled with two DJI Phantoms, some cheap toy drones and homemade FPV racing drones. The FPV drones belong to his roommate, Kevin Johnson, a software developer. Held says his roommate is the reason his latest startup, Hover, exists.

“Kevin bought a Phantom II Vision+,” Held said. “We take it out usually on weekends to Golden Gate Park and do loops around the racing field.”

But they noticed things missing when they flew: a timer to know how long you had been flying. Weather data. News. Knowledge of whether or not you can legally fly in that area.

“We really liked drones, but there wasn’t an app filling our needs,” Held said.

Like most business deals in the Silicon Valley startup world begin, the two roommates, Held and Johnson, merged their skill sets. Johnson is the engineer, and Held is the marketing, design and “idea” guy.

Together, they created Hover, an app for iOS and recently released for Android. Continue reading Hover mobile app tells you where you can and can’t fly drones

Shop burns down after suspected Lipo fire

xQK1NWibx6qEl-2lxBEt0ZM451t6W3jfJzUcjGu5dl8Weeks after a fire broke and swiftly wiped out a 30+ year old San Diego RC Business, owner Jim Bonnardel is still moving forward.

An expert in the RC industry for years, Bonnardel was charging Lipo batteries for his drones to use at an event.

“All of my freshly charged batteries were in a neat little row,” he said. “I was charging them in a ceramic pot that I had been using for years.”

That’s when he went inside his house briefly to get a cup of hot chocolate. As he headed back out, he heard his son yell “Dad, the shop is on fire!”

The fire department was on the scene at about 10:45 p.m. By that time, it had already spread like wildfire.

“When they arrived, on scene, the first thing I let them know was what was up there — batteries and cables,” he said.

The fire department has not determined an official cause, but Bonnardel suspects it was a LiPo fire.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have been known to be 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.

“A battery with little charge will smoke a bit,” Bonnardel said. “A fully charged battery will burst into flames.”

But Bonnardel, having been an RC pilot for 30 years, is among the safest and most cautious of Lipo owners.

“I never expected this to happen,” he said. “I considered myself safe in all my practices.”
He says he suspects he must have charged a battery that already had a full charge. He also said he doesn’t believe it was brand-specific.

“I’m hanging in there,” he said. “It makes you sad when you have to dig through ruble.”

But he is optimistic, using this as an opportunity to educate other drone and RC operators.

“My goal here is I’m just as motivated to get other people to not be complacent and not let their guard down either,” he said.

And Bonnardel is not a novice in the education field. He does non-profit community outreach events involving technology and drones. He participates in SWARM. He holds contests. He works to get young people interested in STEM.

“We’re seeing a huge influx in the demographic of young people getting involved,” he said.

In fact, that’s the very reason he managed to salvage many of his drones. Continue reading Shop burns down after suspected Lipo fire

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