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:


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.

25 ways to use that drone you got for the holidays

Drones are featured in a lot of top gifts for Christmas lists. Chances are that if you are interested in cool gadgets, you probably already found one under the Christmas tree. But now that you have a drone, what can you actually do with it?

Nick from Drones Den has written a list of 25 things you can do right now with your brand new drone from home, whether it is a small Hubsan or one of those huge DJI Inspire 1 quadcopters. His website offers drones for sale and reviews of the popular drone models.

*Some of the ideas listed below are novel, whilst others have been done before. However, current FAA regulations still mean that commercial use of drones is limited.

1. Film HD Videos: New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney and London were filmed partly with drones this year, and this gave viewers an entirely new perspective which couldn’t be achieved before. Perhaps the next video going viral on YouTube could be shot by your beloved drone.


2. Take a dronie (drone selfie): As the entire family’s home for the holidays, what better time to get everyone together and take a selfie using your drone; way better than the selfie stick!

3. Race your friends: Racing drones in the Alps may not be accessible to everyone, but there’s nothing stopping you from racing your family or friends in your own backyard if you have more than one drone available.

4. Film your own stunts: Drone companies Hexo+ and AirDog are competing for the auto-follow drone market. Both companies were born on Kickstarter and have developed drones that will follow the user by honing in on their phone (Hexo+) or a special wristband (AirDog). Pair this with a GoPro and you have your own non-judging aerial camera man.


5. Become a news freelancer: Channel 5 has been using drones in their news coverage. You could always join in and be the first on the scene (without interfering with the emergency services of course) for exclusive photos and videos. Think Nightcrawler + Drones.


6. Take photos on holiday: Although it’s likely to make TSA raise some eyebrows, you can now buy special cases that protect your drone and allow you to take it with you on holiday. Imagine coming back with some amazing aerial photos from your Hawaiian holiday. It’s bound to make your friends jealous.

7. Time-lapse cinematography: Park your drone virtually anywhere and let your GoPro do the work. Then simply fly it off a few hours later and retrieve the footage (make sure you keep an eye on the battery level!).

8. Conduct Interviews: As long as you install a 2-way speaker system, you could communicate with anyone where the drone is. This could be used as a novel way to conduct interviews on the street.

9. Monitor your land and property: You really don’t need an expensive and specialised drone to monitor your property or your land. All you need is a drone that can fly for 25+ minutes with FPV streaming video such as any DJI Phantom drone, and you’re all set.

10. Watch your son’s baseball game: Too busy to attend? You can surprise them by being there ‘virtually’. Fly your drone to the field, park it and stream back to your iPad and watch live from the comfort of your own home. Continue reading 25 ways to use that drone you got for the holidays

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

Mythbusters reveal drones are used on set

Photo via VideoMaker.com
Photo via VideoMaker.com

Martha Stewart has a drone. Rupert Murdoch has flown a drone. But the newest celebrities to use a drone really aren’t all that surprising.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of Mythbusters revealed that they have been using flying cameras in productions for years.

“Up until (recently), we had used helicopters, but that was a $5,000-15,000 solution,” Savage said.

“We started looking into this camera platform five or six years ago, but it just never worked out,” Hyneman said.

Jump to five years later, and with improvements like telemetry, the Mythbusters rely on drones to propel their show forward.

“It’s a tool for storytelling,” Savage said. “That’s what we do on Mythbusters — we tell stories. It’s not just the master shot that is really cute or really cool. It’s telling the audience where we’re going.”

A custom-built octorotor was used in the last two seasons, where flying shots introduced the beginning of episodes. Other uses of drones were in an episode shot at Pebble Beach.

“It’s an amazing time because of how much hacking is driving innovation,” Savage said.

Savage is referring to hacker movements like DIYdrones and DJI’s app store.

And Hyneman said he believes drones will become ubiquitous eventually.

“All of us remember the time when there weren’t cellphones, he said. “Drones are in that world right now. Things that we would have never thought were possible ten years ago are commonplace now.”


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America already lost the drone race to a Japanese farm in the 1980s

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

Photo/Sally French
Photo/Sally French

Whenever someone approaches me as I’m flying a drone, the first thing they ask is, “so, are you trying to spy on someone?”

Every time.

And every time, my answer is no. Unlike your surprisingly stealthy iPhone camera, drones are too large to not see. They’re also too loud to not hear. Have you heard one? They sound like a pack of bees.

“New innovation is often feared, because innovation challenges the status quo,” said Lisa Ellman, who formerly led the Justice Department’s working group on domestic use of drones and who is counsel at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP.

2014 is the year America was struck by ‘Drone Fever’: we have a rapidly growing group of creative engineers, artists, scientists and businesspeople who want to use drones to make their work smarter and more efficient. Then we have a vocal group of people who protest drones over privacy concerns. And we have policy makers, who are trying, and failing, to sort it all out.

The responsibility of responding to privacy concerns has, by default, fallen on the Federal Aviation Administration, the group tasked with issuing regulations as to how commercial drones could operate in the U.S.

But the already bureaucratic FAA doesn’t have the expertise to solve privacy concerns, and has historically only been involved in the safety side of aviation.

”The FAA has no jurisdiction or inclination to worry about privacy,” Ellman said.

Because of so much outcry over privacy, the FAA has implemented legislation that has been flawed and outdated. Commercial use of drones is completely banned, unless you file for a Section 333 petition with the Federal Aviation Administration, which usually takes a neither speedy, nor efficient, 120-days to process from the time you file to when it’s approved.

Translation: the government makes it really hard to legally make money off flying your drone.

That’s a problem for people like me and the thousands of other Americans who own a drone (or will get one for Christmas this year) and want to use it to take pictures, or for real estate agents who want to show off large parcels of land, or for farmers who want to survey their crops. Japan has been using drones for crop-dusting since 1987.

For a country that places so much value on innovation, why does the U.S. allow policy that clearly impedes it?

Drones certainly bring privacy issues. One real estate agent used pictures taken by a drone to market a property without realizing they included images of a neighbor sunbathing, topless, in her backyard.

And celebrities worry that paparazzi will use drones to sneak photographs.

“Drone Pap wtf,” Miley Cyrus once posted on her Instagram.

Drone Pap wtf

A video posted by Miley Cyrus (@mileycyrus) on Jul 7, 2014 at 8:17pm PDT

But those privacy concerns apply just as much to someone with a telephoto lens, satellite views such as Google Earth, or a camera on a helicopter.

“There’s enough framework that already exists in government, enough of a framework to legally protect yourself,” said Gretchen West, former executive vice president of drone lobby group AUVSI. “‘Peeping Tom’ laws exist already.

Instead of solving the safety concerns that come with drones, such as addressing technical failures or sorting out flight patterns when multiple drones are flying in the same region, the FAA is wrapped in a box of trying to fix all the world’s drone worries.

In doing that, the FAA keeps messing up.

In the latest ruling in the Huerta v. Pirker case, the National Transportation Safety Board reversed a judge’s ruling against the FAA that drone operator Raphael Pirker shouldn’t have to pay a fine for reckless flying.

It seems to be an issue of word choice. Ellman says there is an unclear differentiation between what’s “prohibited” vs what’s “unregulated.”

The FAA has wanted to require drone operators to have a pilot’s license, a time-consuming and expensive process.

“There is a general community concern that requiring a pilot’s license to fly a drone is a bit excessive,” said Helen Greiner, chief executive of CyPhy Works Inc. and co-founder of iRobot. “Requiring a pilot’s license for drone operators does not make sense. Flying a plane is not like flying a drone.”

She said that drone operators would benefit from the ground-school classes that teaches about airspace.

“But we can now program this knowledge into the drones…which is better than depending on a pilot to look it up for each flight.”

She also said that the FAA’s requirement that drones operate only during the day is also a bit short-sighted.


Drone Girl

Reporting on drones, sometimes with drones