Flying robots for the masses: How Bezos’ Amazon Drone could be what Steve Jobs was to personal computers

jeffbezosIt’s unrealistic to assume that once 2015 hits, Amazon Drones will take off through the skies, single-handedly bringing a stop to brown UPS trucks.

But when they do take off, it won’t just be Amazon’s drones doing home delivery. Soon enough, Walmart will have a fleet of drones. Target too. Domino’s kinda sorta already has one. Even UPS quickly followed Amazon’s big reveal, reminding the world that they too are working on delivery drones.

Amazon will undoubtedly deliver packages via drones, and I’m sure it’ll happen in our lifetime. But will they corner the market in drone deliveries? Doubt it.

Where Amazon can in fact corner the market is in drone manufacturing. If this all plans out, I predict Amazon will move from enterprise (drone delivery) to manufacturing Amazon-brand drones that consumers can use themselves.

How will Amazon succeed at manufacturing consumer-level drones? Amazon has the brand recognition and economy of scale to undercut current drone makers if they wanted to be a part of the consumer-drone manufacturing market. Look at Kindle. Or purely the fact that with just a short clip on 60 Minutes, they convinced the world of the possible reality of flying packages. Continue reading Flying robots for the masses: How Bezos’ Amazon Drone could be what Steve Jobs was to personal computers

How hacker drones could turn your personal drone into its personal zombie

It seems as though spying or crashing is no longer what dronies should be cautious of.

Hacker Samy Kamkar released hardware and software specifications that hobbyists can use to turn their drone into a drone that seeks out other drones in flight, hacks them and turns them into an army of unmanned vehicles, all under control of the hacker.

Shooting Amazon drones down with a shotgun to steal your packages? So last year.

Taking control of the Amazon drone to get it to bring the package to your house and not the intended recipient? That’s this year. Like, right now.

“Using a Parrot AR.Drone 2, a Raspberry Pi, a USB battery, an Alfa AWUS036H wireless transmitter, aircrack-ng, node-ar-drone, node.js, and my SkyJack software, I developed a drone that flies around, seeks the wireless signal of any other drone in the area, forcefully disconnects the wireless connection of the true owner of the target drone, then authenticates with the target drone pretending to be its owner, then feeds commands to it and all other possessed zombie drones at my will,” Kamkar wrote on his site.

It’s a system he calls Skyjack. Cute name. Not so cute idea (if used for evil). Continue reading How hacker drones could turn your personal drone into its personal zombie

Amazon Prime Air is lots of hoopla, just hold up

Image courtesy of Amazon

Amazon announced their latest R&D project, Amazon Prime Air, to much hoopla yesterday. It’s a delivery system likened to the TacoCopter or Australian company Zookal, which will deliver textbooks with drones.

Drones are always a subject quick to gather cheap and easy media attention. Anytime there is a drone crash or some wacky new use for drones, they are nearly always guaranteed to land some sort of media attention. So it’s no surprise that Amazon Prime Air, or the #AmazonDrone on the Interwebz, is what’s keeping water coolers and Facebook news feeds abuzz these days. Now I can buy literally anything (sold on Amazon and weighing under 5 pounds) and have it delivered in 30 minutes?

Should we greet this news with excitement? Fear? Or simply chalk it up to an epic Cyber Monday PR stunt?

“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” Amazon’s new Prime Air page states. That’s an accurate assumption, Amazon. Drones have already proven more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost effective for a myriad of enterprise operations.

“We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015,” the text states. “We will be ready at that time.”

Hold up, slow down. This is what seems to be causing much hullabaloo. The fear of drones buzzing through the skies is certainly worth having, but it’s not completely rational given the limitations of the technology.

Drones can’t legally be used for commercial purposes until the FAA says so. That won’t be until at least 2015, according to the FAA’s Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems Roadmap. Emphasis on the “at least.” Continue reading Amazon Prime Air is lots of hoopla, just hold up

Amazon news roundup by the numbers, in the media

Amazon drones could be flying through the sky delivering your purchases in fewer than 30 minutes. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says they will — in the next few years.

“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company said. Drones are not quite ‘normal’ yet, but they aren’t completely out of the realm of possibilities. Drones are already being used to gather aerial images of farmland to help farmers increase efficiency, to spot poachers in Africa or to deliver medicine to hard-to-reach places in the world, things companies like Airware and Matternet already do.

“I know this looks like science fiction, it’s not,” said Bezos.

The drone delivery is contingent upon FAA regulation of UAVs, which is still yet to be determined, but is expected to happen in 2015.

“This is early, this is still years away,” Bezos said.

  • Amazon currently has 96 massive warehouses, or “fulfillment centers”
  • 86% of Amazon’s packages are less than 5 pounds
  • More than 300 packages are ordered a second on Amazon during Cyber Monday

Tons of media outlets are out there reporting on Amazon’s huge announcement — delivering packages via drone. Here’s a roundup of some stories out there:

17 reasons why drones will change your life

17. PIZZA.  Delivery of pizza. Literally flying right into your hands. Like, Domino’s is testing pizza delivery with a drone.

16. Baywatch, turned robot. Replace your lifeguard with a drone. That’s right — GPS-enabled drones can help someone drowning by dropping floatation devices.

15. More wine, better wine. Viticulturists could fly drones over vineyards and spot differences in rows, allowing them to know where to irrigate, inspect or harvest. That’s not something anyone can whine about.

14.  Keeping the doctors away, with more apples everyday! That’s because researchers are using multispectral aerial images of orchards to hone in on colors and temperatures to locate a fungus, known as the apple scab. This is putting more apples into your hands.

13. Or, bringing doctors to you! Matternet is using drones to ferry medical supplies to hard-to-reach regions of the earth. One of their missions flew medical supplies into a camp housing survivors of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.

Continue reading 17 reasons why drones will change your life

Meet aerial photographer (and pilot!) Davis Hunt

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Photo courtesy of Davis Hunt

Drone Girl likes to periodically profile awesome drone users. Meet Davis Hunt! He’s a pilot, but he also flies drones! He’s also the owner of ViewPoint Aviation in Boston, Massachusetts.

Drone Girl: What’s your background, and how did you get into drones?

Davis Hunt: I’ve been an aviation enthusiast since I was a kid. I got my Private Pilot certificate when I was 17, Instrument rating at 19, Commercial rating at 20, and put myself through undergrad working as a CFI. I love flying and the aviation community. My professional background is in commercial aviation. Given the cost structure of flying, with fuel prices north of $5 a gallon, I wanted to explore platforms that would allow for more competitive, affordable structure and really get creative with it. . I had seen several videos posted using UAV’s, specifically a professional-grade octo-copter. I was captivated by the idea, but wasn’t crazy about investing $15,000 – $20,000. Finally, I heard about the DJI Phantom. I was so impressed by the build quality and technology, I bought two. Currently, they don’t have names yet, but I think everything that flies should be named. Have to work on that….

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Photo courtesy of Davis Hunt

DG: You’re a pilot; does that change the way you approach flying drones? Or is flying a drone different than piloting a plane?

DH: My drone flying practices are definitely heavily influenced by flying aircraft. Aviation is filled with many sayings and wisdom; one of those being “flying isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s just unforgiving”. While flying a drone doesn’t have the same immediate safety risks, it does have other risks. It’s imperative to establish safe operating principles and procedures. Extreme caution must be exercised, especially when operating near crowds. At the end of the day, safe habits and safe operation will better allow for the incorporation of drones into useful roles, while not filling the headlines with stories of accidents or incidents that make the public fearful.

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Photo courtesy of Davis Hunt

DG: What is the most interesting thing you’ve photographed with a drone?

DH: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do some flying at the Quabbin Reservoir, about an hour west of Boston.  In 1938, due to the water supply demands of Boston, a decision was made to form the reservoir. Four towns, which are under the lake were “disincorporated”, all the residents forced to move, and the towns were flooded and since have been underwater since.

DG: You fly a DJI Phantom. How did you choose that copter? Why do you like it, and/or is there something you would change about it?

DH: By far and away, most features and technology for the money. In terms of improving, make the firmware for Mac users! I would imagine a large percentage of DJI’s customers are Mac users. It’s annoying to have to use a parallel to update the firmware. As far as the Phantom itself, payload and battery life are the valuable commodities. Both are completely usable as is, but hey, if it’s a wish list….

DG: What are your thoughts on integrating UAVs into the national airspace system?

DH: It’s not often technology puts government in a position where there is truly a policy vacuum. Without getting too deeply into the merits of the FAA’s Roadmap, I’ll make a few points.

  1. The FAA currently defines “small UAV’s” as 55 lbs or less and recognizes that 95% of all UAV’s will fit into this category. For this system to not place an unfair burden on operators of smaller UAV’s, like the Phantom, this category MUST be sub-divided to reflect risk, range, type of operation, and capabilities of the UAV.
  2. The heart and soul of NAS Roadmap NextGen is ADS-B deployment (at least for operator side), which is “Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) is a cooperative surveillance technology for tracking aircraft“. It’s entirely unrealistic to require operators of small UAV’s, going so far as to further define that as less than 10 lbs, to have expensive ADS-B transponders. Such systems are prohibitively expensive and also costly to maintain. Additionally, there would be a reduction in payload, plus the additional battery power that would be required.
  3. There needs to be a separate category for operators who don’t exceed 500ft and don’t operate outside of line-of-sight and furthermore, over-the-horizon. Realizing this would affect some FPV operators, maybe specify a range if outside of LOS.
  4. While I’m not opposed to the idea of the test sites, the wrong thing is being tested. As with anything in life, a device is only as safe as the person operating it. There should be a practical demonstration test for operators, baseline operating specifications, and practical test standards, similar to with airmen certification process. The practice of flying ANYTHING over people’s heads is a serious business. While I don’t want to see operators have an unobtainable or cost prohibitive barrier to entry, I think there must be some serious-minded commitment to safety. Flying a drone can be incredibly enjoyable. I want to see people be able to enjoy flying drones on both a private and commercial level, I just want to see both done responsibly. Translating that into a policies will be a challenge.

DG: What’s in your future?

DH: I plan to continue to operate the Phantom’s, and eventually, larger platforms for both personal and transitioning to commercial basis as regulations become further defined. This is a very exciting time to be involved with drones and UAV’s. . From a commercial basis, UAV’s have shown tremendous demand from the residential and commercial real estate markets, from golf courses and resorts, sporting events and special events, agriculture, and I’m sure other things we haven’t even thought of yet.

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Scientist uses drones to count whales

Drone Girl

Reporting on drones, sometimes with drones