Scientist uses drones to count whales

Wayne Perryman, leader at the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, holds a hexacopter. Photo courtesy of Wayne Perryman.
Wayne Perryman, leader at the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, holds a hexacopter. Photo courtesy of Wayne Perryman.

Wayne Perryman has spent the past decade developing aerial photographic techniques to count marine mammals. About four years ago, Perryman pick up a new technology – a drone — to better execute his work.

These days, it’s not just video he’s gathering, but whale snot.

“We’re going to build a hexacopter, attach a vacuum to it and fly it over a whale,” he said. “In the breath of a whale are little bits of cells and hormones, and we can look at that composition of air to see what it’s eating, if it’s male or female, or if it’s pregnant.”

With the vacuum bottle, Perryman will be able to remotely send a signal to open up the cover of the bottle when the whale blows up air and close it up again to collect the snot.

I got the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Perryman on his project – a different sort of whale watching. Enjoy!

Drone Girl: How does unmanned aircraft technology benefit your work?
Wayne Perryman: You just can’t get manned aircraft everywhere in the world, and planes are just too expensive. These are really just flying cameras, and they’re amazingly stable.

DG: Why are you using this aircraft to count animals?
WP: You photograph them from the air because humans are lousy at estimating them in groups. From our photos, you can measure their size and shape to get a feeling of their condition. Continue reading Scientist uses drones to count whales

Drone, UAV, or creepy robot bird: What do we call these things?

Photo of me flying at Balboa Island by my flying buddies over at www.wildpilots.com.
Photo of me flying at Balboa Island by my flying buddies over at www.wildpilots.com.

I’ve been a drone girl for the past few months now, and the one debate hotter than banning/regulating drones is what to call them.
Many people refer to them as drones. And many other people stop me mid-sentence, as soon as the word drone is used.

It’s no secret: drones have a negative connotation, largely because of military implications. However, the drones on this blog, and that are being discussed for FAA regulation, are far from that. These drones are $700 flying, hovering aircrafts where cameras can be attached to gather images from a different viewpoint. They deliver wedding cakes and save rhinos by spotting poachers.

So should we refer to them as the same name as a totally different piece of equipment that has been used for war? Continue reading Drone, UAV, or creepy robot bird: What do we call these things?

#DroneLyfe: Pros and Cons

One of my best friends admits she is slightly repulsed by drones. Supportive, right? But we both agree that drones are compelling, and can be used for both good and bad.

If I had a dollar for every time someone suggested how I could use my drone to spy on or sneak into people’s homes, I would be able to buy a completely new drones. But those are actually awful suggestions, and I’m the first to say that would be horrible if people did that.

With any new technology, there are pros and cons.

*this list does not include attack/military drones, but rather refers to drones on the average consumer market.

Pros Cons
Opportunities for use are endless! Set up a Google news alert with the word drone, and every day you’ll probably get a new story about some scientist or businessperson using drones for a new creative use. Whether it’s spotting pollution in a river or delivering pizza, people are constantly thinking of ways to use drones. Opportunities for use are endless. Would it be incredibly easy to fly over private land and trespass without even hopping over barbed wire and fighting off guard dogs? Yes. You could really easily enter someone’s private property and spy or gather information. But that’s illegal, and all around not cool.
Cheap alternative to helicopters: rather than pay the fuel cost, the pilot fees, etc., a drone can do a similar job for a fraction of the cost. Researchers trying to spot animals or TV stations showing traffic often rely on helicopters, and this could reduce that need Drone pilots don’t have certifications like helicopter pilots (yet): But should they? This is a great debate, and for hobby use, I don’t think a certification is necessary at this point. But if drones are going to be as common as helicopters, there needs to be some degree of regulation so they don’t hit each other, and so only qualified pilots are flying over dense areas like freeways.
Can squeeze into tight spaces: A helicopter can’t fly through forests or into tight alleys. Imagine a car chase. Instead of sending police officers at dangerous speeds through populated areas, a drone could do the same, or at least track the suspect in dense areas like alleys or forests. Definitely creep factor here. It would be easy to hover in a forest or alley, but again,  that’s creepy, so just don’t do it.
Loud and large: This is a good thing, because it makes drones so that you can’t really spy on people. People see a drone and think something along the lines of it being a UFO, and that’s good, because then it helps people be aware of their surroundings. Loud and large: The loud buzz can certainly be annoying, and they can get heavy and cumbersome to transport, but definitely the related pro outweighs the cons here.
New technology: now is the time to research and engineer this product. The more consumers buy them, the more money and suggestions engineers will have to improve them. The technology has faults and is far from perfect – a mix of both equipment and human error. They crash. Maybe a propeller pops off, or the software just crashes. No technology is ever perfect, but it should be pretty close to that before we send these up in the air on a mainstream level. 

Drone flight over Balboa Island

If there’s always money in the banana stand, then I want to fly over it with a drone. That’s why I went to Balboa Island early in the morning, when no one was out, to explore the island via my DJI Phantom. Check out what I saw, from my drone’s bird’s-eye view!

Huge thanks to my friends over at Wild Pilots for being my copilots on this shoot, as well as DJ/Producer Greg Krish for the awesome soundtrack.

Balboa Island Ferry

I promise, the next installment of Drone Girl Video is coming soon! But for now, here’s one final teaser photo preview. Yesterday, I had you guess where it is, but I’ll let you in on a secret, it’s Balboa Island! The sign in the bottom left corner of this photo gives it away. Frozen bananas, anyone?New Image

Meetup with other SoCal dronies!

Screen shot 2013-08-03 at 7.41.27 PMToday I met the fine folks of the LA/OC Drone User Group!

Let me tell you, this is a brilliant, passionate group of people. They fly drones for different reasons; some like to build, and others like to gather unique video. If you are in the area and interested in drones, this is the place to be! I came for fly day, where I met tons of people who have built their own stuff from scratch, used kits, and really know all about gear.

And then there’s people like me (ok, really just me) who have no idea about gear and just want to learn. Everyone is groovy and helpful, and I learned a ton! We flew around a big dirt field, and my Phantom held up against all the other spiffy gear these guys have. Drone people are great!

Drone Girl

Reporting on drones, sometimes with drones