Behind-the-scenes: flying drones over a volcano eruption

Happy Saturday!

In case you missed it, here’s a throwback to last month’s debut episode of their series “DJI Feats.” DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging, Eric Cheng, takes you behind-the-scenes of an Icelandic expedition to the Bardarbunga volcanic eruption.

The video shows how quadcopters can capture images of exploding magma caldera too dangerous to be approached by manned aircraft. Where else can a drone take you?

A waterfall flight with a not-so-happy-ending

Remember earlier this week when I showed you the video of the slack liners? How I asked about how terrifying flying over water can be, as you risk losing your drone?

Whelp, I got a brave reader submission willing to share his video. The intro is beautifully shot, both in terms of ground and drone footage. Let’s just say, the ending is not-so-happy. *Spoiler alert: it ends up in the Nile.

The pilot, Petr Jan Juračka, built the drone, a 3DR ArduCopter Quad C Frame, and took it to Arru Falls in Uganda.

“After our escapade at the falls, we visited the second-largest waterfall in Africa, Murchison Falls,” he wrote. “One of the rotors on our drone unexpectedly shut down at 150s altitude, and we are sorry to say the quadcopter now rests at the bottom of the Nile among the skeletons of hippos and crocodiles.”

Sorry to hear about the rotor malfunction. You’re probably not alone though (the other voters will tell you that).

Thanks Petr Jan Juračka for the submission!


Journalist explains using drones to hold factory farms accountable

Oivind Hovland/Wired
Oivind Hovland/Wired

When I first got interested in drones, it was through journalism.  Journalists keep governments, corporations and people accountable through public records, connecting facts, talking to people and gathering stories and images. With a drone, you can easily gather aerial images — which is why this man’s account of using drones to hold factory farms accountable is so crucial. The following is an excerpt from Will Potter’s story in Wired:

The agriculture industry is waging an international campaign to create a media blackout. In response to a series of investigations by animal-welfare groups that has resulted in criminal prosecutions and consumer outrage, the industry is promoting new “ag-gag” laws that make it illegal to photograph factory farms and slaughterhouses. About half a dozen US states currently have these laws, and now this censorship model is being adopted internationally.

So how should journalists respond to investigative methods and sources being criminalised? Just as the best response to governments banning books is to encourage reading them, the best response to banning photographs is to encourage more photography. It’s time for journalists to send in the drones.

As a reporter, I always want to see what’s hidden. When government documents are redacted, it naturally makes them more intriguing. And when factory farms introduce new laws to prohibit media exposure, it makes me want to see what it is that they are hiding.

That’s why, for my next investigation, I will be using aerial drone photography to investigate factory farms, particularly in states where these “ag-gag” laws are being debated. I’m not the only one who is curious: my Kickstarter to finance the project was funded by nearly 500 supporters in just five days, and the response was so overwhelming that the project has been expanded.

“Drones are cheap, simple and potential game changers for newsrooms,” the Columbia Journalism Review recently noted in a cover story. In the hands of journalists, drones are already being used to document mass protests, wildlife, oil spills, war-torn landscapes and natural disasters.

Read more here.

Intel Capital is latest investment group to fund drones

Intel Capital announced today its participation in PrecisionHawk’s $10 million series B funding round.

PrecisionHawk, a startup that operates UAVs for data gathering, processing and analysis, is the latest startup to receive major funding from an investment group. Since the funding round was announced, PrecisionHawk has launched a tool called DataMapper that automatically interprets data from a UAV. They have also announced plans to release a new model of its fixed-wing UAV, Lancaster Mark IV, in early 2015.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 2.41.37 PMAmong PrecisionHawk’s problems they aim to solve include:

  • Better monitoring crops and predicting yield to help feed a growing population
  • Overseeing operations across hundreds of oil rigs so we catch oil spills in square feet instead of square miles
  • Assessing property damage to immediately issue insurance claim checks after a disaster.

“Drones hold the promise of revolutionizing many industries, some new and some very old, like farming,” said Intel’s Jerry Bautista in a news release. “We are pleased to be working with PrecisionHawk, whose unique approach of combining versatile remote-sensing devices with powerful data analytics fits well with Intel’s strengths in hardware and software for the Internet of Things.”


Drone captures slack lining

You thought flying your drone over water was nerve-wracking?

You know, how you risk a mistake that could send your fancy equipment to a past-the-point-of-no-return state of never being able to be repaired? Well, try something 100x scarier. These daredevils slack-lined over the cliffs in Hong Kong. Now, that scary stunt has been captured by a drone.

Watch the video from DJI, shot on a S800 EVO and Sony 5N.

Ask Drone Girl: What flight simulator software should I use?

Got a question for Drone Girl? Email it to me!

Question: I was wondering if you can recommend or point me in the right direction of a flight simulator software and joystick that I may use on my computer as a stepping stone into the drone world.

Answer: That’s a great question, and to be honest – I’ve never used a flight simulator software! In my eyes, drones are an awesome tool because they have a multitude of entry points based on your pre-existing skill level. If you don’t have any drone experience, you can pick up a toy drone to practice on. If you have RC experience, pick up a Phantom. The graduate to a more expensive, bigger drone that suits your needs.

However, I won’t leave you hanging. Thus, I reached out to Arland Whitfield, President and Founder of The SkyWorks Project. (Check it out!)

Here’s what he told me:

You can actually use the real remote to control a flight sim on your computer. I highly recommend getting AeroSim and purchasing a Spektrum DX8. That way you can use the actual remote you are going to use to fly the real drone. The AeroSim software comes with a cord that will allow you to plug your DX8 directly into your computer! It really doesn’t get better than that. The software allows you to fly the DJI Flamewheel as well as bigger drones such as the Cinestar.

So there you go – and thanks for the additional advice, Arland! Happy flying!

UAV group links drone pilots with humanitarian groups

screen-shot-2014-06-24-at-2-23-08-pm-300x225-1This story was originally written for Read the entire story here.

Patrick Meier started off in the drone community with a story familiar to many. He was interested in photography as a hobby.

He bought the original DJI Phantom just to play around with. But he also happened to be working with the UN in Manila, Philippines in 2013, when Typhoon Yolanda struck. “I was there, and I kept coming across UAV project after UAV project,” he said. “There were a dozen projects.”

The issue? None of the projects were communicating with each other or sharing imagery.“Eventually I starting trying to put them in touch with each other,” Meier said.

That’s when he launched the Humanitarian UAV Network,,

A global network of civilian/hobbyist UAV pilots who safely and responsibly fly UAVs to support peaceful, humanitarian efforts.

Meier, whose extensive resume in humanitarian efforts includes cofounder of Crisis Mappers Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Stanford University and Co-Director of the Crisis Mapping Program at Harvard University, found that often drone pilots want to help in a disaster situation. But problems arise when they aren’t trained in appropriate humanitarian response techniques.

“We should not expect UAV groups to be experts in humanitarian response,” he said. “Meanwhile we (humanitarian groups) are the last adopters of every technology on the planet.” Merging the two groups could be the perfect pair, Meier realized. Pilots who have joined the network can post their location, equipment and work they are capable of doing, while a group needing a volunteer drone pilot can easily find someone to do the job.

While in the Philippines, Meier was able to connect a number of projects that extend throughout the life cycle of disaster response, including:

  • identifying areas where NGOs could set up camp
  • identify how badly houses had been damaged
  • gather information about road clearance operations to identify which should be prioritized for
  • clearance
  • search and rescue

This story continues here.

Disney may use drones in theme park entertainment

The following piece was originally written for Read the full story here.

Drones may be going to Disneyland.

Though they may sound like they could exist only in Tomorrowland, Disney is working on ways to use drones in its entertainment productions.disneyland drone patent

Disney applied for three UAV-related patents, indicating that drones could hold marionette or projection screens for nighttime entertainment.

“The inventors recognized that presently there are no mechanisms for creating very large aerial displays such as a display that is reusable/repeatable, dynamic, and interactive,” the patent states.

To address that need, Disney’s R&D department is working to create a multi-drone aerial display system and a ground control station that could choreograph repeatable movements.

The three applications are:

With the drones, larger-than-life puppets could be mounted with rods to fly through the air above Disneyland.

jack skellington drone patent drawing

“This is a significant improvement over prior flying characters, which typically were provided in the form of parade or other blimps/balloons filled with hot air or other gases and that had little and/or awkward articulation of any movable parts,” according to the patent.

The patent indicates that drones could even potentially replace fireworks, which can be dangerous and inconsistent. Instead, the patent calls for an aerial display system based on the floating pixel, or “flixel.” Each drone would carry a lighting assembly that could display images or colors, making use of the sky as a screen.

Read the rest of the story on