There’s a new Silicon Valley of drones, and it isn’t in California

This piece was originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

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The “Silicon Valley of drones” is taking shape in a place you probably wouldn’t expect.

With the most open airspace in the country, vast tracts of farmland, infrastructure to test on and the nation’s first unmanned aircraft degree program, it makes sense that North Dakota would be the place for drone technology to spread its wings, and it’s now expanding at an unprecedented rate.

The U.S. has previously been circumspect about allowing companies to commercialize drones; murky rulings from the Federal Aviation Administration and the haphazard enforcement of laws have made it challenging for drone companies to operate in the U.S. — so challenging, in fact, that many operators, including Amazon Prime Air, have expressed an intention to leave the U.S. to work in other countries.
But it’s a different story in North Dakota.

This summer, the nation’s first unmanned airport, the Grand Sky Development Park, opens at the state’s Grand Forks Air Force Base. The project, which has 1.2 million square feet of hangar, office and data space, is being developed by Grand Sky Development Co. A runway will allow for traditional and vertical takeoffs by drones.

The airport is expected to generate about 3,000 jobs by its 2016 completion, including 1,000 permanent jobs on site, 1,000 jobs around the community and 1,000 jobs outside the state, said Tom Swoyer, the project’s developer. Pilots would be able to control drones launching at the site from anywhere in the world.

“It’s going to touch a lot of places,” Swoyer said. “A pilot could be in Southern California and pilot the plane launched from North Dakota.”

It’s an appealing proposition for companies like Northrop Grumman NOC, -0.71% , which has signed on as the site’s anchor tenant but has its aerospace-systems headquarters in Redondo Beach, Calif.

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North Dakota committed $5 million to help bring infrastructure to the site as part of its 2015-17 executive budget and another $7.5 million in grants for runway improvements. With the project expected to cost about $25 million in total, the balance will be covered by private investment, said Swoyer.

“This project evolved here in North Dakota with the right combination of political will and an economy that was growing,” Swoyer said. “It’s a state that is investing in the industry. It’s a community willing to raise their hands and say, ‘Let’s try something completely different.’ ”

A community ‘all focused on unmanned aviation’
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) considered closing the Air Force base.

“Our performance and safety record in fighter aircraft was unprecedented, but despite that our aircraft were getting old and weren’t going to get replaced,” said Robert Becklund, then commander of the North Dakota Air National Guard.

To avoid a drastic action by BRAC, the base made a bold move — replacing its KC-135 Stratotankers with drones.

“This was a dramatic change going from a single-seat manned fighter aircraft to unmanned aircraft,” Becklund said. “But it was the right thing to do for the nation.”

The base is now the site of the Global Hawk and MQ-1 Predator drone aircraft.

At about the same time, the University of North Dakota established a “center of excellence” for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), offering the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in unmanned aviation. Five students received degrees in 2011, the program’s first graduating class. Today, more than 100 students are enrolled, and the program is one of more than 30 similar degree programs at universities throughout the country.

“We have academia, our military, the Department of Homeland Security and industries in the region all focused on unmanned aviation,” Becklund said.

In 2014, North Dakota was one of six states allowed to develop a test site for commercial drone applications: the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks. The site is part of an FAA program looking toward the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into airspace.

North Dakota’s test site was the first to earn operational designation from the FAA and the first to fly under the agreement. The site covers more than half the state, boasting 45,000 square miles of authorized airspace — the largest such volume of any single state.

Read the rest of the story here.

A lineup of drones you can actually afford

This story was originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the whole story here.

The consumer drone market has exploded in the five years since French company Parrot first introduced the $299 AR.Drone. 3D Robotics, maker of the Solo drone, has raised more than $100 million in venture capital to date, while Phantom drone maker DJI is on pace to make about $1 billion in sales this year.

But Parrot has found its niche in the market — by making drones you can actually afford.

Parrot on Tuesday announced new models of drones to their MiniDrones lineup, available in stores this fall.

Parrot’s MiniDrone was announced in June.

Parrot Airborne

Parrot’s Airborne drones are 1.2-pound flying robots that can be controlled via smartphones or tablets. A vertical camera allows users to take selfies. The drone can fly up to 11 miles per hour and can turn 180 degrees in less than a second. Different models allow customers to choose a drone with LED lights that allow it to fly during the day and night ($129), or a “Cargo” drone that allows it to carry figurines ($99). Both models have a nine-minute battery life and recharge in 25 minutes.

Parrot Hydrofoil

The Hydrofoil ($179) is perhaps the most unique in Parrot’s new lineup. It does everything the Airborne drone does, but it also comes with a hydrofoil, allowing it to skim across the water. It is the first water-oriented drone in the consumer market, according to Parrot.

“You’ve never seen a toy like this,” said Parrot Chief Marketing Officer Nicolas Halftermeyer. “It took a lot of time to design and balance, but at the same time it’s maneuverable so it won’t capsize in water.”

Read the rest of the story here.

Meet Isabelle Nyroth: the world’s drone educator

_MG_7038I’ve crossed paths with Isabelle Nyroth a few separate times in the world of drones. Now it’s time to finally share a Q&A!

Nyroth has been integral to the education side of the drone community. She’s Swedish and is currently working for unmanned Experts in Colorado.

Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?
Isabelle Nyroth: It started a very long time ago. I got into drones because of my father mainly. My father took me out to the RC field as a child. I’ve always been around airplanes and RC helicopters. My dad was actually an engineer building and designing drones so as a kid, instead of drawing ponies during free time at school, I was drawing UAVs. I always felt like this is where I want to be. IT’s a revolutionary industry for technology and there’s so much room to grow, so I just decided this is what I’m going to pursue my career in.

DG: So what do you do now with drones?
IN: I do everything with drones! Everything from teaching other people to fly them — we teach courses with Unmanned Experts every month. We also do consultancy where people come to us and ask us, ‘is this possible? Can we do this?’ We also have services where we do missions for them, whether it’s mapping or precision ag. Everything is possible. We have a whole fleet of different copters and we can pretty much do any mission.

DG: So what do you fly?
IN: For training purposes, the Phantom is a great copter to practice on. It’s like the ABC of learning to fly a drone. We also have industrial spec drones like this $125,000 Aeryon SkyRanger.It’s performance is top notch. It never lets us down, and it obviously has a flight time of 50 minutes. There aren’t a lot of copters that can fly for that long. So that’s typically what we use when it’s down to business, when we actually have to get something done and it has to be done right. Whereas, the Phantom is good, but it’s not always the best. Continue reading Meet Isabelle Nyroth: the world’s drone educator

How to find the ideal drone battery

This post was submitted by reader Kevin Skaggs on behalf of Dronefly. Got a post to submit? Contact Drone Girl here.

LiPo batteries   Flickr   Photo SharingIt’s small. It’s lightweight. It’s capable of powering the unmanned flying object for a decent amount of time. Getting ready to purchase your first drone (or upgrade to a new one)? Here are 5 tips for maximizing battery life.

● Choose the biggest battery possible that won’t weigh the drone down.

● Experiment with propeller size–if you aren’t attaching a camera, a smaller propeller is best.

● Charge the battery in the hours before you use the drone. Charging the battery days before causes rechargeable batteries to lose power.

● Avoid flying your drone in excessively windy or rainy conditions, as they cause the drone to work harder and therefore drain the battery.

● Recharge your battery in a cool environment to avoid reducing capacity. Charging it halfway is also recommended to avoid overcharging. Continue reading How to find the ideal drone battery

Why do people insist on using “hot girls” to promote DJI Phantoms?

This video was sent to me by a reader on Twitter.

The video, published in April 2015, is titled “DJI Lapdance event in Thailand.” I will spare you from watching it, but it’s a girl holding a Phantom, wearing tight white booty shorts and shaking her hips. A couple guys wearing DJI shirts in the background are standing behind a DJI-marked table and laughing.

So in case you thought the drone industry wasn’t sexist, you’re wrong — and there’s tons of work to do.

To be clear, this (although it looks like it) was not a DJI sponsored event. It was held by DJI dealers in Thailand.

I reached out to DJI spokesperson Michael Perry for comment.

“We have warned them (the dealers sponsoring this event) not to use our logo outside the bounds of the terms of our partnership and without our express permission,” he said.

DJI is one of the leaders in promoting diversity in the male-dominated tech industry. In February, the company hosted a “Female Pilots Awareness” month, which (full disclosure) I played a role in alongside other members of the Amelia Droneharts.

“You’re absolutely right that we continue to be proud sponsors of Female Pilot Awareness month and supporters of the Droneharts because we fundamentally believe there is tremendous potential for greater inclusiveness in the drone space,” Perry said. “We categorically do not support events, such as the one you linked to, that clearly do not share the same view. ”

To those of you who say the reason women don’t like drones is they simply don’t care about flying robots, that’s wrong. Women don’t like drones because they don’t care to be treated like an object.

So what can you do to help encourage a woman to pick up a drone and fly it themself?  Don’t attend events that objectify women just to sell drones. Call out companies who do this and tell them to stop.

Hot girls shaking their booty with drones may help boost sales for a very small target audience, but it also alienates 50% of possible customers.

It’s bad for business, it’s bad for the industry, and it’s bad for humanity.

Ask Drone Girl: Can I take UAV classes?

Here’s the next installment of Ask Drone Girl. Got a question for her? Send your email here.

Question

Hi there, I’m another lady from California. I recently found your website since I was searching for some drone tips and tricks for photography. I recently got a phantom vision 2 plus as a present. For a year already, I was interested in the whole drone world but haven’t really done anything. Now that I actually have the phantom, I was wondering what kind of general advice you would give to newbies that want to get more into the field? Or advice that you would have given yourself if you could go back in time. I thought it would be cool doing it as a job somehow. I tried searching for UAV classes or whatnot but since I live in California, I didn’t find anything that will get me a certificate for commercial use.

-Sabina

Answer

Hey Sabina!

Welcome to the drone industry, and thanks for the questions! We are lucky to have another lady pilot in California.

As far as general advice for newbies in drones: practice! They aren’t hard to fly once you get the hang of it…but you must get the hang of it.

I’ve seen newbies fly their $1000+ drones into pools. I crashed my first drone (a 1 pound, palm-sized drone) onto a roof; luckily my friend climbed up the wall and rescued it for me. I’ve heard stories of drones stuck in 50 foot tall trees. Long story short: the horror stories are real. But you can avoid them! Start by practicing in a big open field! If your neighborhood has a baseball diamond or large field, go there!

Make sure you feel comfortable flying all directions, turning all angles, flying nose in, nose away, etc. Once you feel confident — bring obstacles into the mix. Try to turn around a tree or between a bridge (with no bystanders present!).

There are some classes out there, so you’ll have to Google to see if your area has one. Though, they often are a full-time commitment and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

If you want to go the more casual route, check out an online drone program, such as through Udemy. It’s a lot cheaper than an in-person class and is suited for someone who is new to drones.

Honestly, I never took any flying lessons, I just practiced and learned from others I met through meetups. Check out MeetUp.com to see if there is a drone meet up in your area! I started seriously flying in Southern California. Some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in drones were through the LA/OC Drone User Group!

As far as getting a certificate for commercial use, that really doesn’t exist yet. You can apply for a Section 333 Exemption, but that’s technically an exemption from the FAA, as opposed to certification.

There are tons of drone companies hiring in all fields — filmmaking, agriculture, software, hardware, search and rescue.

Start flying and see where that takes you! Maybe by the time you feel confident to fly commercially, the FAA will have some type of certification program in place!

We need gender equality in the drone industry

Here’s an excerpt of a Q&A interview I did with The Best Drone Info. Read the entire interview on their site here!

Sally’s website starts her bio with this:  “If you spot a drone in the sky and the pilot on the ground stands tall at 4’10”, is wearing a sundress and has a cup of coffee nearby, then you’ve probably found Drone Girl.”, so we begin here with our interview questions.

Q. Are you really 4’10” or is that only if you are standing on your tip-toes? 

That’s not entirely true; if you include the drone, I can be as tall as 1,000 feet!

Q. At InterDrone you will be speaking about Women and Drones (aka gender equality)  which is a very important. In your opinion, are enough women getting involved in this industry?

I’m not sure if “are enough women getting involved” is the right question. I don’t think it has to be a quota. It doesn’t matter to me if 1,000,000 women in the world are involved with drones or if just 1 woman is. If it only happens that 1 woman in the world cares about drones, then that’s enough for me.

What really matters is are 100% of those women getting treated with respect. For the most part, the industry has been really open and accepting of women. However, there is a small percentage that is not. Look at marketing campaigns, “booth babes”, the executive leadership at drone companies (which for the majority of drone companies is 80-100% male), and even just the word unmanned (which is male-centric in itself). Those factors all contribute to pushing women out of the drone industry, when maybe they would have otherwise been a part of it.

I’ve seen drone companies market sales on their sites with language like “this drone is now 20% off, which will surely make your wife happy.” While on the surface I don’t really find this offensive, it implies that men buy and fly drones, and women don’t. That’s not true! But until the rest of the industry stops perceiving women as some sort of anomaly, then there’s still work to do.

The only quota I’m working to reach is gaining respect for 100% of the women in this industry.

Q. Sally, how do we create gender equality and advance the field for women?

Read that answer, plus much more of the Q&A here!

Drone companies invest in yet more drone companies

This is an excerpt from a piece originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

Chinese-drone manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co. isn’t just the world’s largest maker of consumer drones — they’ve become a drone investor too.

Privately held DJI and venture-capital firm Accel Partners on Wednesday launched SkyFund, a $10 million investment vehicle geared toward drone start-ups.

The fund is intended to invest in companies that create industry-specific software applications for drones, such as those involving mapping, imaging, agriculture and inspection.

“SkyFund was created to develop new and amplify existing technology from around the world by championing developers and sparking a sense of curiosity about unmanned vehicles and services,” said Eric Cheng, general manager for San Francisco and director of aerial imaging at DJI.

“Hundreds of developers already use DJI’s platform, and SkyFund enables us to fund developers and businesses that imagine new opportunities,” Cheng said.

But they’re not the only big-time drone company that wants to invest in other drone companies.

Airware, Silicon Valley’s most heavily venture-capital-backed drone start-up launched a similar investment fund Wednesday, the Commercial Drone Fund, which will make investments of between $250,000 and $1 million each over the next two to three years. Airware has raised $40.4 million in five funding rounds, according to CrunchBase.

The Commercial Drone Fund is investing in technologies such as sensor hardware, which would improve the precision and speed of commercial drones, and software applications that could make operating drones safer or provide more innovative uses for drones.

Read the rest of this story here.