Book review: art photography reaches new heights in visual tour of Baltimore

DroneArtBaltimore_smallDrones and art.

It’s an unlikely combination in a world where mainstream media is saturated with stories of how drones kill and spy on people.

But Baltimore couple Terry and Belinda Kilby have taken their unlikely combination of talents — software engineering and teaching visual arts in public school — to bring new meaning to the mainstream idea of a drone.

Drone Art: Baltimore” is the title of the first book by the couple, which together goes by the name Elevated Element. And, it’s the first ever compilation of photos in a published book generated completely by a drone.

Screen Shot 2013-10-27 at 5.28.21 PMThe book is a visual tour of Baltimore, with photos ranging from famous landmarks like the Concord Point Light to the Mr Boh sign in Brewers Hill — aerial perspectives of landmarks any tourist would see on a trip to Baltimore. Continue reading Book review: art photography reaches new heights in visual tour of Baltimore

Flight diaries: learning lots Drone Girl

Photo of me toting around two 3D Robotics Y6 copters, by my coworker and resident drone expert Brandon Basso.

Hello Dronies!

It’s been a while since my last Flight Diary. It’s also been crazy busy as Drone Girl. I haven’t been flying as much as I’d like to, but it’s ok, because I’ve been learning more than I think I ever wanted to!

When I started Drone Girl (in June) I was living in Southern California and had just purchased a DJI Phantom, where I experimented with flying and making video mashups of my flights. In just 4 months, I’ve moved to Northern California, been able to do consulting to help others learn how to use drones, gotten to attend intelligent discussions on drones such as the Stanford Berkeley Robotics Symposium or the Commonwealth Club’s Eyes in the Sky: Drones in Law Enforcement event, learned the basics of mechanics and built my own drone, and so much more.

The best part is the incredible people I’ve met.  I’ve met 12-year-old kids who are already using Arduino to make their own projects. I’ve met farmers interested in ways to revolutionize the way they irrigate, spray pesticides or harvest their crops because of drones. I’ve met and worked with an entire newsroom who sees the value that drones could bring to their reporting.

All because I started a blog out of curiosity for a controversial new technology.

So what’s next for Drone Girl?

The sky’s the limit as they say. I want to encourage kids to pursue the educational intersection of science and math with art and creativity. I hope to continue to spread awareness through media of the positive ways we can use technology. And of course, I want to continue to learn more about drones! Happy flying!

History of drones: Navy drones in the 50s and 60s

The following piece is a family history on military drone use. Note that Drone Girl is not an advocate for military drone use, but rather is interested in exploring and researching both their modern day and historical military uses. The ‘drones’ generally referred to on Drone Girl are currently not fully autonomous. The definition of drone is quite broad, and consumer drones operate much differently than a military drone.

The cool thing about being a drone girl is that so many people want to share their stories — my family included.

Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson
Photo of Grumman F6F Hellcat Airworthy Warbird courtesy of Tom Anderson

Did you know that in the military, drones (defined as pilotless aircraft) aren’t the ones destroying targets, but were the ones being fired at for development?

I didn’t until I just learned that my great uncle, Tom Anderson, was a Navy Pilot from 1958 to the early 1960s in the Target Department at the Naval Air Missile Center in Point Mugu, Ca., just south of Oxnard. His role was providing drones as targets for the development of various missiles, mostly air to air missiles.

Military use of drones is a recent topic in the news, and a lot of people (myself included) certainly fear the concept of a little drone flying over an location in the world and dropping a bomb. But few people (again, myself included) know of how drones have been used for decades.

“With my background in drones, over the years I’ve tended to follow the news with interest,” he said. “The technology improvements have been amazing, opening the doors for many uses. If their practical use approaches the theoretical then significant regulation will be needed in the interest of safety.” Continue reading History of drones: Navy drones in the 50s and 60s

From kites to drones: a 365 photo-a-day, aerial photo challenge

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

Kevin Lajoie‘s has been using a kite and 30-foot carbon fiber fishing pole to do aerial photography since 2008.

But his latest tool has no strings attached. Lajoie changed up his aerial photography technique after he received a quadcopter in March.

Lajoie is now in the midst of a year-long, photo-a-day challenge, which Lajoie is in the midst of right now. (Check out the photos lining this post, which have all been taken by Lajoie).

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

So far, he captured photos via a kite throughout the winter in Guernsey, documenting their second coolest on recording, including two separate snowfalls, a blizzard, and the airport getting shut down for three days.

When the snow ended, so his drone piloting began. Lajoie received a DJI Phantom drone in March, allowing him to get to places he would have to wait for specific winds with kites.

Here are some of Lajoie’s tips for flying and aerial photography:

  • Coastal locations are my usual preference simply because they are the most interesting.
  • Don’t fly near airports.
  • Be careful flying around areas with more human traffic around.
  • Avoid flying near people by using the summer months to get out early and use the longer days to your advantage.

Lajoie is currently in the Channel Islands, where he has photographed in Jersey, Alderney and Herm. He said he hopes to photograph the last main Channel Island of Sark before the year ends.

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie
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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

Lajoie’s aeiral photography by the numbers (so far):

  • Logged 104 KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) sessions
  • Logged 25 PAP (Pole Aerial Photography) sessions
  • Photographed at 314 with the Phantom
  • Flown approximately 400 times
  • 18,000 shutter actuations logged this year on his Nikon D5000
  • Took 11,000 pictures in 8 hours during one trip to Alderney in May and 7 flights with the Phantom, yielding 3000 images
  • Also uses GoPros and a Canon S100 Powershot

What’s next for Lajoie? He’ll be taking a ferry to France for an international Kite Aerial Photography Conference, where the CVCF (cerf-volant club de france) will be hosting a meet up to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the first recognized kite aerial photograph taken by Artur Batut.

Find Lajoie’s photos on Flickr here.

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Own your drone (and paint it too)


I’ve seen a lot of drones, but very few personally painted drones!

I just put together this 3DR Y6 drone for a project at work, but once it was successfully put together according to the manual, I took it home for a fun project that is nowhere on the manual – painting!

Own your drone, and distinguish it from all the other drones when you’re out at meetups, or just happen to work in an offer where there are copters everywhere.


This first drone I painted was space inspired, fitting with the whole flying theme, right?

It was painted using nothing but nail polish!

See the picture below to see what it used to look like. Hopefully I don’t get trolled too hard for this, but that’s what you get when you go out on  a limb and own your drone.

Drone, pre-paint job

Plus I put it together myself, so I can do whatever I want with it, right?

4 accessories you need for your drone

1. Spare batteries! Most consumer drones have battery lives of about 15 minutes. That’s nothing! Easy fix: MORE BATTERIES.


2. Spare propellers! If you crash, they’ll get beat up. Even if they don’t explicitly break, your propellers will wear down. Over time, this will lead to an imbalance in your copter, whichcan result in shaky video or rolling shutter. Fix the problem with nice, even propellers.62

3. An FPV kit. This stands for “First Person View.” You basically put on special goggles which are connected to a camera on the drone, and you can stream what the drone sees. It’s amazing!


4. A brushless gimbal. Want stable video? Use a gimbal, which is basically a mechanism that keeps your camera level. A good quality gimbal will eliminate shaky video. Choose a sturdy gimbal with the ability to balance.


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Drones + Wine: how UAVs can help farmers harvest grapes

552675_536733593074328_1470466379_n-300x199Below is an excerpt from a story I originally wrote for 3D Robotics and which was picked up on sUAS news. I also directed and produced the accompanying video. Note: this project was completely unaffiliated with Drone Girl; I’m simply reposting it here on the blog.

Kenwood, Ca. — Something’s up at Kunde Family Vineyards.

Developers at 3D Robotics went to Kunde Family Vineyards, a family-owned vineyard, to test a project that could revolutionize agriculture by providing farmers with on-demand aerial images of their land.

Those images give farmers a bird’s-eye view, allowing them to see vine stress and color variation. Those variations can help indicate when to it’s best to harvest the grapes.


3D Robotics used both autonomous, fixed-wing planes and multi-rotors with a point-and-shoot camera mounted inside.

“They allowed me to select the section of the vineyard to sample these grapes,” DRNK Wines Winemaker Ryan Kunde said. “If I didn’t have that imagery — I know of some general variation from top to bottom, but I didn’t know about that crescent down at the bottom of the vineyard.”

That crescent is probably home to deeper soil and more water, Kunde said. Those differences mean Kunde can harvest his grapes earlier than he anticipated. Click here to read the rest of the story.