No more drones? DJI is bringing ‘drone-like’ video to the ground

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

The company that has made its name putting cameras in the air is bringing them back to the ground.

DJI, the world’s largest drone manufacturer, announced today at the London Film Festival a new product called Osmo, which isn’t intended for drones at all. It’s a tiny, hand-held device (what’s known as a “three-axis gimbal” in videography) that integrates with cameras made by DJI and allows for video shot by people on the ground to have the smooth, gliding look of footage shot by an airborne drone. An Osmo costs $649, and also comes with a 4K, 12-megapixel camera.

Here’s how a video would look shot with an Osmo-equipped DJI camera:

“We’re moving into a completely new product sphere,” said Adam Najberg, DJI’s Global Director of Communications.

Najberg says the Osmo isn’t intended to directly compete with GoPro GPRO, -2.51% though there are similar use cases. Like a GoPro, its accessory options include a tripod, bike mount and extension arm — for filming action sports or taking video selfies. But, unlike a GoPro camera, the Osmo doesn’t stream video live, it’s not waterproof, and it doesn’t have GoPro’s durability.MW-DW009_osmo_2_20151007211743_ZH

Read the rest of this story here.

Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

The next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Eileen Shibley, the founder of Monarch Inc.

Monarch just launched a project to aerially survey and 3D map the 19th-century mining town of Bodie, California, and original California Gold Rush town that was the vibrant gem of the Wild West and now is kept in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ Monarch used high precision UAVs to help preserve data about the historic town, using the company’s custom-built drone and 3D-printed gimbal.

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Courtesy Monarch Inc.

Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?

Eileen Shibley: 5 or 7 years before I retired from defense, I was selected to run the unmanned systems division at the navy’s premiere manufacturing site for drone integration in defense. We worked with every size drone – from teeny ones to the Predator. That’s when I became aware that I had devoted my career to defense, but when I retired I truly wanted to make a difference. I thought, I know what these things are capable of.  I know these things can make a huge difference win the way we do things.

DG: And then?

ES: I led the California delegation to try to get California named as (one of the six drone) test sites. I was barely retired and I was asked to lead this delegation. I thought I should give something back since I’ve gotten so much from this community. When we weren’t selected, I figured, what am I going to do now?

DG: So now you’re mapping the old western town of Bodie.

ES: Bodie Stegosaurus Park — it was one of those thriving places in the 1880s. It became a huge thriving metropolis in no time at all. But now it’s old, it’s decaying. The state has made it a state park and they’re trying to preserve it. They put a request in to the FAA that Monarch be allowed to take our drone to Bodie and map it for them.

Courtesy Monarch Inc.
Courtesy Monarch Inc.

DG: So how did they find you? Continue reading Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

Drones vs. driverless cars: A tale of two robotics policies

The following is an excerpt of a piece originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

When a 2-pound drone crashed on the White House lawn in January, the nation was thrown into drone hysteria.

That drone was a $1,000 model made by Chinese technology company DJI, but a basic camera-equipped drone can be had for $40—a fact not lost on those who pontificated about the crash. “It’s pretty worrisome if you’re in the Secret Service, you’re in law enforcement, a drone comes in and you don’t know if this is some 14-year-old kid who got a drone or if this is some al Qaeda sympathizer wanting to send a message,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said at the time.

The White House drone belonged not to a 14-year-old or terrorist, but to an off-duty government employee who reported the mishap to the Secret Service. The incident nevertheless illuminates the confusion that exists about drone laws—and how little the government has done to clarify it.

Some say the government should leave well enough alone, allowing drone-makers and operators to innovate. Others think a coming boom in consumer robotics technology — whether drones, driverless cars, or other devices yet to come—needs a comprehensive government response and, perhaps, even a “NASA for robots.”

“People thought they knew how [aviation] was regulated,” said MIT professor David Mindell, whose upcoming book “Our Robots, Ourselves” explores robots ranging from drones to Mars rovers. “Drones have thrown a monkey wrench into that.”

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The drone industry takes flight

President Obama, who wasn’t home during the White House crash, acknowledged issues with drone regulation after the incident: “I’ve actually asked the Federal Aviation Administration and a number of agencies to examine how we are managing this new technology, because the drone that landed in the White House, you buy in RadioShack,” he said.

Drone purchases have taken off at places ranging from Amazon to the Apple Store. 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson estimated in 2014 that half a million drones have been sold in the U.S. alone.

But while hobby use of drones is legal (with a few exceptions, such as flying in restricted airspace), the FAA has banned commercial drones. That means any 14-year-old can fly a drone, but any business cannot.

Businesses wanting to fly drones—from a local farmer to Amazon AMZN, +0.32%   or Google GOOG, -0.32%  —must apply to the FAA for a “certificate of exemption, ” a process businesses call needlessly complex. (One requirement is that the operator be a licensed airplane pilot.)

Congress asked the FAA to come up with rules governing commercial drone use in 2012, setting a Sept. 30, 2015, deadline. But the FAA will likely miss that mark: DOT Inspector General Calvin Scovel III said in 2014 that the FAA is “significantly behind schedule.” In an email, an FAA spokeswoman declined to say whether it would meet the deadline.

“We are working to finish our part of the rule-making by the end of this calendar year,” the spokeswoman wrote. “The FAA is committed to the safe integration of drones. Our first priority is the safety of people on airplanes and on the ground first while allowing safe, expanded use of drones.”

The FAA’s position is that “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow with the Technology Policy Program at George Mason University. But that, he says, is hampering innovation in the field.

“The entire mission of the FAA is to be highly precautionary and protective of airspace because they’re afraid of an accident,” said Thierer. “But there might be technologies not able to be tested that can solve those accidents.”MW-DU427_google_20150916172923_ZH

Driverless cars have followed a different path

Between White House drone crashes, misunderstandings of the practical purposes of drones, and fears that drones will spy on people, flying robots suffer from an image problem. But driving robots have been mostly welcomed or, at least, accepted as inevitable—both by the public and the agencies that regulate the cars—even though they’re not consumer-ready.

Departments of Motor Vehicles in several states and Washington, D.C., have laws that regulate operational permits for companies. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has essentially given the all-clear: Any car that has met NHTSA vehicle safety regulations and made it to market is still legal after being made driverless.

In the absence of federal laws, companies wanting to operate driverless cars in states where DMVs haven’t established rules just go ahead and do it. Google, for instance, runs driverless car tests in Texas, which doesn’t have regulations directed at them.

Read the rest of this story here.

Skysense charges drones with “portable landing pads” through Qualcomm investment

MW-DU755_skysen_20150921172945_ZHThis is an excerpt of a post originally written for MarketWatch.com.  Read the rest of this post here.

Murky FAA regulations could be limiting commercial adoption of drones, but the real challenge may be limited battery life.

That’s why Qualcomm Inc.’s QCOM, -0.97% investment in Skysense Inc. — a company building a charging infrastructure for drones — is a big deal.

To better understand how batteries can cap the use of drones, one has to get a sense of how the devices are used. Most drones have a flight time of about 15-25 minutes, which means typical enterprise usage like mapping a large field or inspecting a spread-out area — think a pipeline or oil rig — is impractical.

To combat that, Skysense created a “Droneport,” a hangar that allows drones to charge and wirelessly transfer data back to the operator. The Droneport is solar-powered and can be placed anywhere, such as in various locations around a field, to recharge any equipped drone through wires that make direct contact with the hangar.

With that technology, an operator could deploy a drone on a regular pre-programmed flight, and never touch it again. The drone would be programmed to land at the charging station and send back the data before its next flight.

Read the rest of this post here.

Drone Girl Profiles: Meet Natalie Welch, the female star of “Rotor DR1”

Here’s a “Drone Girl” with a different type of story. She stars in “Rotor DR1,” a film that portrays drones in a way that could really change the perspective on drones as a regular part of society. While she doesn’t fly drones herself, her acting has brought new life and new perspective to the industry.

Courtesy of Natalie Welch, Rotor DR1
Courtesy of Natalie Welch, Rotor DR1

17-year-old Natalie Welch is the leading female actress in “Rotor DR1,” the post-apocalyptic film following the lives of two teenagers who struggle to survive in a world mostly wiped out after a viral outbreak, but who survive, in part, because of a drone that leads them to an answer that could save the world.

Welch plays the role of Maya, a charismatic teenager who lost her parents to the virus. She plays a role of an aggressive, independent and even selfish young woman, while also serving as a strong, steady character throughout the film.

How did you get involved in the production of “Rotor DR1”?

Natalie: The process was a little different than most audition processes. My agent sent me a notification about the audition. As the team got more into it, they were debating on a few different directions to go with my character. They wanted to let the audience build the character I ended up playing, so they narrowed the search down to two girls.

Courtesy of Natalie Welch
Courtesy of Natalie Welch

Yeah, I had heard the big focus on this film was making it “community-collaborated.” Thousands of online community members developed the online series and weighed in on everything from wardrobe to storyline. (Read more on that here.)

Natalie: We both went down and filmed the same scene with Christian (the character’s lead, who plays Kitch). They had the community decide which one of us would play this character. My audition tape was broadcast to the world. It’s definitely different.

Before you got involved with “Rotor DR1,” what was your impression of drones? Continue reading Drone Girl Profiles: Meet Natalie Welch, the female star of “Rotor DR1”

Commercial UAV Expo coming to Las Vegas

37770_uav_300x250 (1)You may still be recovering from InterDrone (I still am!), but there’s yet another drone conference coming to Vegas, less than a month away.

The Commercial UAV Expo will feature more than 100 drone-related companies, 130 booths and more than 50 expert speakers.

The lineup is incredible — featuring experts including Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens, “Drone Analyst” Colin Snow and Pepperdine University Associate Professor of Law and Public Policy Greg McNeal.

The Drone Girl will be there. You can join me! Register here.

Thermal camera maker Flir is latest major company to bet on drones

MW-DU706_vue_dr_20150921110356_ZHThis is an excerpt of a story originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

Inspecting solar panels, fighting fires and helping farmers manage crops: these are all jobs that thermal imaging camera producer Flir Systems Inc. envisions could be done by drones — with the help of its new, professional-grade camera.

Oregon-based Flir is set to launch the new camera, called the Vue Pro, in November 2015. Like previous Flir cameras, the Vue Pro measures and records data, but it also allows users to see footage in real-time. And it’s made specifically to fit in the GoPro mount that many drones come equipped with, from the basic $499 DJI Phantom II all the way up to the $100,000+ Aeryon Scout. The Vue Pro will cost $1,999 and ships in November.

Drone operators have been using Flir products for some time, coming up with their own manual mounts: as far back as 2010, a U.S. Coast Guard used a Flir thermal imaging camera on one of its drones and discovered that a fishing boat was actually smuggling drugs.
But in the last 18 months, Flir recognized a shift as more drones targeted at a “prosumer” market and costing upward of $1,000 hit the marketplace.

“Drones have gotten into the hands of a lot more people,” said Flir VP Jeffrey Frank.

Frank says the $1,999 Vue Pro will allow many drone operators, including firefighters who want aerial images to seek out hot spots in burning buildings, or farmers looking to get aerial views of their crops to check for dehydration, to get by with just a basic drone, instead of a $25,000 enterprise drone.

“At the end of the day, the nature of the drone itself really needs to be good enough to get the job done,” he said. “Often something as simple as a DJI Phantom is perfectly adequate.”

Read the rest of this story here.