Ask Drone Girl: How to become an “expert” in the drone industry

Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about achieving “expert” level in drones. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I am in the process of getting my Part 107 and getting jobs as a drone service provider.  I am trying to build up my drone flying experience and  am curious what you would say is the average number of flight hours you need to considered an experienced UAV pilot? Also how much for an expert? I know I need to build up my experience, I am just curious what would be a hour level I need to build it up to.

“Ask Drone Girl” is beginning to reach a deeper, philosophical level! What really is an “expert?” Is it someone who makes a lot of money at their job? Is it someone who carries a lot of influence? Is it someone who never makes mistakes? It’s all quite subjective.

But you asked for an hour level, which is less subjective. I’ve taught dozens and dozens of people to fly over the years, and — this is not the answer you want to hear — but it varies greatly. Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: How to become an “expert” in the drone industry

Connectivity issues and the concerns no one is talking about around drone delivery

The following piece is a guest post by telecommunications specialist George Smith.

By now it’s pretty clear that Amazon’s master plan to take their delivery services to the skies via drone isn’t going to be easy. There are issues around flying beyond line of site, implementing obstacle sensors to avoid collisions, and getting regulatory approval. But there’s a completely different issue that no one is talking about: connectivity.

Maintaining a strong and stable internet connection

Since delivery drones would fly autonomously rather than have a designated pilot, each drone needs to have the ability to send and receive information to air traffic control instantaneously so they know which parts of the air to avoid. To do that, Amazon’s drones will likely utilize a mixture of Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.

Cellular connectivity will likely be delivered using roaming M2M SIM cards. M2M (machine to machine) means the communication between two or more devices without need for human interaction; in most cases this communication is in the form of data exchanges over a cellular network. These SIM cards allow technologies like drones to monitor networks for the best connection wherever they are in the country.

Battery life of drones

But with M2M SIM cards comes another obstacle: battery power. Although M2M can provide drones with connectivity, they can also be power-thirsty if exchanging large amounts of data. A potential solution? Low-powered wide-area networks, also known as LPWAN. LPWAN is a type of wireless telecommunication network designed to allow long range communications at a low bit rate, meaning they are extremely power efficient.

Although LPWAN services such as SigFox and LoRa are becoming more widely available, they aren’t yet being implemented in technology that flies — but that doesn’t mean they never will.

Managing drone GPS connections

As well as a strong internet connection, delivery drones require GPS signals to pinpoint their location and allow the companies to monitor the locations of their drones. But as drones fly farther away, with ‘beyond the line of sight’ comes greater risk of a dropped GPS signal. Continue reading Connectivity issues and the concerns no one is talking about around drone delivery

Drones are making cargo deliveries in the Amazon rainforest

Drones still have a number of hoops to fly through before drone delivery becomes widespread in the U.S.

But in Peru’s Amazon rainforest, drones are making cargo deliveries  of anti-venom medication to remote villages.

WeRobotics, a group that carries out robotic-related social good projects around the world, is testing drone delivery of 2 pound blood samples and anti-venom medication inside of a refrigerated cold pack between the town of Contamana to the more remote village of Pampa Hermosa about 40 kilometers away. It’s a journey that typically lasts 6 hours via canoe — done via drone in 35 minutes. The Contamana region sees an average of 45 snakebites per month, meaning medication on-hand is imperative.

WeRobotics used an E384 fixed wing drone that costs $2,799– a drone that is hand-launched and able to fly autonomously. It’s not a fancy, expensive drone designed to make delivers. (In fact, they tried making deliveries with a $40,000 drone that not only turned out to be quite cumbersome, but didn’t even work).

For now the WeRobotics drone flights are just tests and are not occurring regularly, but that’s not to say they couldn’t. Field tests for a Zika reduction project are scheduled for late 2017, and WeRobotics is currently working to carry out longer distance test flights.amazon rainforest werobotics drone delivery

While the taco by drone delivery industry hasn’t really taken off, increasingly more drones are being used to deliver medical supplies to countries with poor infrastructure and in rural areas.

Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup Matternet has been running drone deliveries of medical supplies and specimens in countries around the world, including Switzerland, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, since it was founded in 2011. The UPS Foundation announced in May 2016 that it was partnering with drone startup Zipline and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to deliver blood for transfusions by drone throughout Rwanda.

6 online drone communities worth joining

Looking to connect with people in the drone world? It can be tricky to find dronies out in the world, but there are loads of online drone communities for any type of drone pilot. Are you a photographer? How about a policy wonk? Just looking to make some friends? There is an online community for you.

Of course there are plenty of other great news sites, blogs, Twitter accounts and IRL (in real life) drone communities to join. But for now, here are some of my favorite online drone communities (listed in no particular order):

  1. UAV Coach Community forum: This is one of my favorite forums for active discussion on general drone questions. The forums are broken down by industry, type of drone and more. The community forum is run by Drone Pilot Ground School creator Alan Perlman.
  2. NODE – A Drone Pilots Advocacy Group: For people interested in law and policy around drones, the Network of Drone Enthusiasts (NODE) is a fairly new grassroots group dedicated to representing drone pilots across the U.S. and Canada. While the FAA regulates the airspace in the U.S., many cities, counties and states have implemented additional regulations which can be difficult for drone pilots, and sometimes even conflict with FAA rules. The group is intended to give drone organizations a voice to collaborate with local legislators on developing reasonable and effective drone regulations that encourage drone use while protecting public safety. It’s worth noting that this group was launched by drone manufacturer DJI, which means there is likely some bias behind the intent of the group (to make sure you’re able to buy more of their drones, of course!).
  3. Amelia Droneharts: For a fantastic, female-only community of drone pilots around the world, Amelia Droneharts is the place to be. There’s a main webpage, but most of the chatter happens in their private Facebook group. For other awesome female communities, check out Girls Who Drone, a group for women in the San Francisco Bay Area
  4. AirVuz: Videographers should join AirVuz, a community of people looking to watch or upload aerial videos. The site also has donate and hire me buttons, for videographers who fly drones commercially. The community also has a pretty strong drone-racing slant, for people interested in racing or freestyle drones.
  5. SkyPixel: For photographers, SkyPixel is a community centered around aerial photography. Members can upvote each other’s photos, and experts are ranked based on votes. SkyPixel also holds an annual photo contest for its members, and the competition is pretty fierce. SkyPixel is run in partnership with DJI.
  6. Meetup: Meetup is actually how I found my first drone friends! Meetup is a site that organizes people from different cities based on different interests, and there are loads of drone-related meetups. There are drone policy meetups, drone racing meetups, drone building meetups and more! Search meetup for a drone group near the city you live in. While you can chat in the group, you’ll probably end up meeting up with the membersIRL! I didn’t know anyone who flew drones in my area, so I searched my city for the word “drone” and found a super awesome group!

Continue reading 6 online drone communities worth joining

The next thing in drone delivery: IBM patents a relay race of drones

One of the biggest challenges to drone delivery is the fact that most drones are limited in how far they can fly. One of IBM’s latest patents looks to take a stab at ameliorating that with a plan that essentially looks like a relay race for drones.

IBM’s patent enables drones to pass off packages to each other mid-flight. The way it would work is each drone would have extendable arms that can connect mid-flight to transfer a package between the other.  A communication system between the two drones would enable them to know where the other drone was.

It’s feasible that if the system took off, people wouldn’t need drone landing pads on their homes or businesses for delivery drones to drop off goods. Instead, they might be able to send their own drone to retrieve the package from the delivery drone.ibm drone patent

Hypothetically, IBM’s plans could solve existing problems with delivery drones including limited flight range, theft of unattended packages once delivered, and a lack of delivery network optimization. The patent was filed on Jan. 4, 2016. Continue reading The next thing in drone delivery: IBM patents a relay race of drones

DJI’s partnership with Hasselblad leads to an 100-megapixel Frankendrone

The love child between DJI, the world’s largest drone maker and beloved professional photography brand Hasselblad is an 100-megapixel Frankendrone.

DJI announced at the NAB Show in Las Vegas, Nevada this week what is the first 100-megapixel integrated drone imaging platform.

The new product isn’t exactly a new product — it’s a mashup of existing products — the DJI M600 Pro drone, the Ronin-MX gimbal and the Hasselblad H6D-100c camera.

The Hasselblad camera has a massive 53.4 mm x 40.0 mm sensor. The drone is targeted at landscape and fine-art photographers, and surveyors or map-makers requiring robust data platforms.

The drone will be released in the third quarter of 2017, and the price has not yet been announced. But considering the M600 Pro currently retails for around $4,999, the Ronin MX retails for $1,599 and the  Hasselblad H6D-100c costs more than $30,000, this probably won’t be cheap. Continue reading DJI’s partnership with Hasselblad leads to an 100-megapixel Frankendrone

DJI Goggles bring FPV first person view to its Mavic, Phantom and Inspire drones

DJI is on a roll announcing new drone-related products this week around NAB 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  There’s the new advanced controller, the Ronin 2, Crystal Sky, and a new premium customer service plan called DJI Circle.

And on Monday, it announced its own version of FPV goggles, which it calls DJI Goggles. The FPV goggles give pilots a first person view, completely covering their eyes to give them the same viewpoint they might get if they were sitting in the cockpit of the drone. The goggles are designed so that the visor can be flipped up with one motion and pilots can see their drone with their own eyes.dji goggles

Before the arrival of DJI Goggles, users could hypothetically sync up their own third party FPV goggles. But with DJI Goggles, DJI is able to integrate features including allowing users to use their own head movements to control both aircraft yaw and camera tilt. DJI Goggles can also be programmed to control the gimbal exclusively, while the aircraft operator maintains control of the aircraft with the master controller.

DJI Goggles Specs

The DJI Goggles use a beam splitter to display an image in front of each eye, and each screen has HD 1920×1080 resolution. The video is received directly from the drone rather than through the controller, which is supposed to minimize lag. When flying with the Mavic Pro, DJI Goggles offers both 720p at 60 fps and close range 1080p at 30 fps viewing with latency as low as 110ms. Continue reading DJI Goggles bring FPV first person view to its Mavic, Phantom and Inspire drones

DJI Circle offers premium drone customer support — at a premium price

For professional customers with a pretty massive wallet, DJI this week announced its new DJI Circle program, a premium customer support program.

And the price tag to buy into the program? It starts at $4,699 for a 12-month period.

The DJI Circle program will offer members broad coverage over a twelve-month period for up to five DJI products, including the Inspire, M600, Mavic Pro and Phantom drone series, and the Ronin and Osmo series of handheld stabilizers.

That’s not to say the nearly $5,000 for 12-months fee is a bad deal. The program includes a personal DJI concierge who can help manage a battery rental service and repairs; coverage includes accidental damage to DJI products, up to $15,000 annually. The concierge will send along a temporary replacement device to use until the repair is complete.  Continue reading DJI Circle offers premium drone customer support — at a premium price

Drone Girl

Reporting on drones, sometimes with drones