Category Archives: News

Amazon news roundup by the numbers, in the media

Amazon drones could be flying through the sky delivering your purchases in fewer than 30 minutes. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says they will — in the next few years.

“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company said. Drones are not quite ‘normal’ yet, but they aren’t completely out of the realm of possibilities. Drones are already being used to gather aerial images of farmland to help farmers increase efficiency, to spot poachers in Africa or to deliver medicine to hard-to-reach places in the world, things companies like Airware and Matternet already do.

“I know this looks like science fiction, it’s not,” said Bezos.

The drone delivery is contingent upon FAA regulation of UAVs, which is still yet to be determined, but is expected to happen in 2015.

“This is early, this is still years away,” Bezos said.

  • Amazon currently has 96 massive warehouses, or “fulfillment centers”
  • 86% of Amazon’s packages are less than 5 pounds
  • More than 300 packages are ordered a second on Amazon during Cyber Monday

Tons of media outlets are out there reporting on Amazon’s huge announcement — delivering packages via drone. Here’s a roundup of some stories out there:

Meet aerial photographer (and pilot!) Davis Hunt

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Photo courtesy of Davis Hunt

Drone Girl likes to periodically profile awesome drone users. Meet Davis Hunt! He’s a pilot, but he also flies drones! He’s also the owner of ViewPoint Aviation in Boston, Massachusetts.

Drone Girl: What’s your background, and how did you get into drones?

Davis Hunt: I’ve been an aviation enthusiast since I was a kid. I got my Private Pilot certificate when I was 17, Instrument rating at 19, Commercial rating at 20, and put myself through undergrad working as a CFI. I love flying and the aviation community. My professional background is in commercial aviation. Given the cost structure of flying, with fuel prices north of $5 a gallon, I wanted to explore platforms that would allow for more competitive, affordable structure and really get creative with it. . I had seen several videos posted using UAV’s, specifically a professional-grade octo-copter. I was captivated by the idea, but wasn’t crazy about investing $15,000 – $20,000. Finally, I heard about the DJI Phantom. I was so impressed by the build quality and technology, I bought two. Currently, they don’t have names yet, but I think everything that flies should be named. Have to work on that….

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Photo courtesy of Davis Hunt

DG: You’re a pilot; does that change the way you approach flying drones? Or is flying a drone different than piloting a plane?

DH: My drone flying practices are definitely heavily influenced by flying aircraft. Aviation is filled with many sayings and wisdom; one of those being “flying isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s just unforgiving”. While flying a drone doesn’t have the same immediate safety risks, it does have other risks. It’s imperative to establish safe operating principles and procedures. Extreme caution must be exercised, especially when operating near crowds. At the end of the day, safe habits and safe operation will better allow for the incorporation of drones into useful roles, while not filling the headlines with stories of accidents or incidents that make the public fearful.

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Photo courtesy of Davis Hunt

DG: What is the most interesting thing you’ve photographed with a drone?

DH: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do some flying at the Quabbin Reservoir, about an hour west of Boston.  In 1938, due to the water supply demands of Boston, a decision was made to form the reservoir. Four towns, which are under the lake were “disincorporated”, all the residents forced to move, and the towns were flooded and since have been underwater since.

DG: You fly a DJI Phantom. How did you choose that copter? Why do you like it, and/or is there something you would change about it?

DH: By far and away, most features and technology for the money. In terms of improving, make the firmware for Mac users! I would imagine a large percentage of DJI’s customers are Mac users. It’s annoying to have to use a parallel to update the firmware. As far as the Phantom itself, payload and battery life are the valuable commodities. Both are completely usable as is, but hey, if it’s a wish list….

DG: What are your thoughts on integrating UAVs into the national airspace system?

DH: It’s not often technology puts government in a position where there is truly a policy vacuum. Without getting too deeply into the merits of the FAA’s Roadmap, I’ll make a few points.

  1. The FAA currently defines “small UAV’s” as 55 lbs or less and recognizes that 95% of all UAV’s will fit into this category. For this system to not place an unfair burden on operators of smaller UAV’s, like the Phantom, this category MUST be sub-divided to reflect risk, range, type of operation, and capabilities of the UAV.
  2. The heart and soul of NAS Roadmap NextGen is ADS-B deployment (at least for operator side), which is “Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) is a cooperative surveillance technology for tracking aircraft“. It’s entirely unrealistic to require operators of small UAV’s, going so far as to further define that as less than 10 lbs, to have expensive ADS-B transponders. Such systems are prohibitively expensive and also costly to maintain. Additionally, there would be a reduction in payload, plus the additional battery power that would be required.
  3. There needs to be a separate category for operators who don’t exceed 500ft and don’t operate outside of line-of-sight and furthermore, over-the-horizon. Realizing this would affect some FPV operators, maybe specify a range if outside of LOS.
  4. While I’m not opposed to the idea of the test sites, the wrong thing is being tested. As with anything in life, a device is only as safe as the person operating it. There should be a practical demonstration test for operators, baseline operating specifications, and practical test standards, similar to with airmen certification process. The practice of flying ANYTHING over people’s heads is a serious business. While I don’t want to see operators have an unobtainable or cost prohibitive barrier to entry, I think there must be some serious-minded commitment to safety. Flying a drone can be incredibly enjoyable. I want to see people be able to enjoy flying drones on both a private and commercial level, I just want to see both done responsibly. Translating that into a policies will be a challenge.

DG: What’s in your future?

DH: I plan to continue to operate the Phantom’s, and eventually, larger platforms for both personal and transitioning to commercial basis as regulations become further defined. This is a very exciting time to be involved with drones and UAV’s. . From a commercial basis, UAV’s have shown tremendous demand from the residential and commercial real estate markets, from golf courses and resorts, sporting events and special events, agriculture, and I’m sure other things we haven’t even thought of yet.

Related posts:
From kites to drones: a 365 photo-a-day, aerial photo challenge
CNN producer, first national network drone journalist speaks on legality of drone use
Scientist uses drones to count whales

6 Dronies to follow on Twitter

There are tons of great Dronies out there, and you should get to know them! Here are 7 Dronies you should follow on Twitter.

397eb70fa97a86c7aa9cf18a7e951433Missy Cummings: Nobody understands drone technology like Missy Cummings. As one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy and now a professor at MIT, she’s an expert on drone use. She always has constructive viewpoints on drones in the military as well as mediums such as farming. She’s thought out safety and surveillance implications. Also she’s an awesome female role model. Am I a fangirl? Of course! @Missy_Cummings

@Elevated Element: This is the account to follow if you want to see art made by drones (granted they are all pictures of Baltimore). The tweets behind it are a husband and wife duo who photograph their city. Beyond that, they also have smart commentary on law, ethics, STEM education and more. @ElevatedElement

8be6a7efcfd8d0985caa11877b381137Kike Calvo: He’s a brilliant photojournalist, and he’s swiftly becoming an expert on drones. I’m very obsessed with this interview he did with Missy Cummings for National Geographic, and it turns out he is working on a whole series on drones! Can’t wait for more! @Kikecalvo

Drone Conference: This seems to be the mega-super drone conference to date. It just happens, and boy am I bummed I missed it. Luckily, their thorough Twitter account made me feel like I’m there! This account includes a range of dialogue from policy to engineering to activism. @DroneConference

a65052b421b440629787f4ccaa0cb327Matt Waite: He’s a professor at the University of Nebraska and the founder of the Drone Journalism Lab. He’s probably among the first to even consider drone use in journalism. Never mind that he’s a University of Nebraska professor and therefore a Cornhusker (I’m a proud Mizzou Tiger from a rival, and obivously better j-school, kidding, but really). He’s brilliant and paving the way for drone journalism, and I’d sure like to take a journalism class from this brilliant professor.  @mattwaite

Drones4Good: Whenever I’m looking for a new, creative use for a drone, I look here! Drones have definitely been used for bad things, but this account highlights the positive things drones do. Saving salmon? Check. Tracking poachers? Check. Mapping the Matterhorn? Now that’s just crazy awesome. Good thing we have this Twitter account to track it all. @Drones4Good

Oh, and if you don’t follow me, you should definitely consider it. Or don’t even stop to consider it. Just do it! Right here: @thedronegirl.

3D Robotics Drone helps farmers with precision agriculture

Below is an excerpt from a story I originally wrote for 3D Robotics. I also directed and produced the accompanying video. Note: this project was completely unaffiliated with Drone Girl; I’m simply reposting it here on the blog.

Vigneron Paul Sloan spends a lot of time walking up and down his vineyards.

He walks every vineyard that he farms once week — all 14 of them. He sometimes walks them 2-3 times a week depending on how critical decisions are. Those are issues like irrigation leaks, color variation, or pests like nematodes.

Sloan, a winemaker and viticulturist at Small Vines Wines, still intends to walk through his vineyards, but he now aims to walk with more intention.

By using a drone manufactured by 3D Robotics, Sloan can use aerial images captured by a camera mounted to the drone which pinpoint areas in his vineyard that need more attention.

“If you flew before you walked, you could use that image to take you to specific places that could be of concern,” he said. “This might be able to help us show where the hot spots are, where the critical areas are.”

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Those critical areas are places where water pressure isn’t high enough or irrigation lines are broken. Sloan can spot where those issues are with aerial images based on color difference, growth patterns or size.

“More yellowish leaves versus bright green leaves would give you bigger variation,” Sloan said. “Less vigorous would tend to be more yellow in color — you could tell it has less nitrogen.”

From looking at the images, Sloan could physically walk those targeted areas to decide what the issue is.

“It’s not going to prevent you from being in your vineyard,” he said. “It’s just going to give you a more targeted reason for being in your vineyard.”

Related posts:

From kites to drones: a 365 photo-a-day, aerial photo challenge

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

Kevin Lajoie‘s has been using a kite and 30-foot carbon fiber fishing pole to do aerial photography since 2008.

But his latest tool has no strings attached. Lajoie changed up his aerial photography technique after he received a quadcopter in March.

Lajoie is now in the midst of a year-long, photo-a-day challenge, which Lajoie is in the midst of right now. (Check out the photos lining this post, which have all been taken by Lajoie).

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

So far, he captured photos via a kite throughout the winter in Guernsey, documenting their second coolest on recording, including two separate snowfalls, a blizzard, and the airport getting shut down for three days.

When the snow ended, so his drone piloting began. Lajoie received a DJI Phantom drone in March, allowing him to get to places he would have to wait for specific winds with kites.

Here are some of Lajoie’s tips for flying and aerial photography:

  • Coastal locations are my usual preference simply because they are the most interesting.
  • Don’t fly near airports.
  • Be careful flying around areas with more human traffic around.
  • Avoid flying near people by using the summer months to get out early and use the longer days to your advantage.

Lajoie is currently in the Channel Islands, where he has photographed in Jersey, Alderney and Herm. He said he hopes to photograph the last main Channel Island of Sark before the year ends.

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie
Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 6.24.44 PM
Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

Lajoie’s aeiral photography by the numbers (so far):

  • Logged 104 KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) sessions
  • Logged 25 PAP (Pole Aerial Photography) sessions
  • Photographed at 314 with the Phantom
  • Flown approximately 400 times
  • 18,000 shutter actuations logged this year on his Nikon D5000
  • Took 11,000 pictures in 8 hours during one trip to Alderney in May and 7 flights with the Phantom, yielding 3000 images
  • Also uses GoPros and a Canon S100 Powershot

What’s next for Lajoie? He’ll be taking a ferry to France for an international Kite Aerial Photography Conference, where the CVCF (cerf-volant club de france) will be hosting a meet up to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the first recognized kite aerial photograph taken by Artur Batut.

Find Lajoie’s photos on Flickr here.

Related posts:

Drones + Wine: how UAVs can help farmers harvest grapes

552675_536733593074328_1470466379_n-300x199Below is an excerpt from a story I originally wrote for 3D Robotics and which was picked up on sUAS news. I also directed and produced the accompanying video. Note: this project was completely unaffiliated with Drone Girl; I’m simply reposting it here on the blog.

Kenwood, Ca. — Something’s up at Kunde Family Vineyards.

Developers at 3D Robotics went to Kunde Family Vineyards, a family-owned vineyard, to test a project that could revolutionize agriculture by providing farmers with on-demand aerial images of their land.

Those images give farmers a bird’s-eye view, allowing them to see vine stress and color variation. Those variations can help indicate when to it’s best to harvest the grapes.

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3D Robotics used both autonomous, fixed-wing planes and multi-rotors with a point-and-shoot camera mounted inside.

“They allowed me to select the section of the vineyard to sample these grapes,” DRNK Wines Winemaker Ryan Kunde said. “If I didn’t have that imagery — I know of some general variation from top to bottom, but I didn’t know about that crescent down at the bottom of the vineyard.”

That crescent is probably home to deeper soil and more water, Kunde said. Those differences mean Kunde can harvest his grapes earlier than he anticipated. Click here to read the rest of the story.

My story: why I believe drones can assist with journalism

Photo of Sally French, aka "Drone Girl" by Stuart Palley
Photo of Sally French, aka “Drone Girl” by Stuart Palley

The post below is an excerpt of a piece I freelanced for Investigative Reporters and Editors on Drone Journalism. You can read the piece in its entirety for free online here.

When I told my parents I was using my graduation money to buy a drone, they thought I was crazy.

“Why don’t you buy some camera gear instead?” they told me.

After all, graduating in May with a photojournalism degree means I’d no longer have access to the fancy Missouri j-school equipment locker I’d been spoiled by for the past few years.

But what my parents didn’t understand is that a drone is the ultimate in camera gear.

Imagine airing video about weather patterns impacting geese migration. The live-shot could actually take the viewer flying among the birds. Or how about reporting on a prairie fire? An overhead shot could reveal the path of the fire.

I’ve already done both of those myself through theMissouri School of Journalism’s drone journalism program. I was a member of the program in its first year. The laws and regulations are unclear, and none of us were very technical when it came to maintenance, so most of a time we didn’t know what we were doing. But that’s a good thing. The cool thing about pioneering something like a drone research program in a university setting is we could learn about this stunning new technology, yet we didn’t have the pressure of deadlines or financial limitations that a traditional media outlet would have.

And we thought what we were doing was legal, since we weren’t making a profit from it. Turns out, the FAA thought otherwise, as it recently sent a letter requiring the program to cease outdoor flight. I’m sure the FAA has the best intentions – after all, a drone recently fell into a crowd at a bull run, and another drone hit a groom during a wedding photography session. There certainly is a need for regulation.

But drones are here to stay, and people will continue flying — regulated or not.

Read the rest of this post over at the Investigative Reporters and Editors blog.