Tag Archives: featured

No, you cannot fly your drone at the Golden Gate Bridge

During my annual Memorial Day San Francisco Bay cycle with my family, I noticed something a little different as I was getting onto the Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito.

A sign mounted on a pole in the Marin County parking lot for the Golden Gate Bridge says “Unmanned Aircraft/ Drones: Launching, landing or operating unmanned or remote controlled aircraft/drones is prohibited near the Golden Gate Bridge. Please report all activity to Golden Gate Bridge Dispatch (415) 923-2230.”

What struck me as odd here was just how vague this was. What is “near” the Golden Gate Bridge? Can I fly over it or under it, just not through it? Do I need to stay 5 miles away? Can I fly past it and get a panning shot of the bridge, but not fly over it? Where is the citation number enforcing this? This all seems incredibly vague, especially for someone who might not know that they can check for no fly zones through apps like Kittyhawk or Hover. What’s legal here?

So, I contacted my buddy Jonathan Rupprecht, a lawyer focusing on drones and author of the book “Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them“, to get some answers. Continue reading No, you cannot fly your drone at the Golden Gate Bridge

Here’s how DJI’s Snotbot drone works to research whales

Courtesy DJI

The concept of a “Snotbot” has been one of my favorite uses of a drone to date ever since I learned how NOAA’s Wayne Perryman was using drones to collect whale snot back in August of 2013.

For years now, researchers have been mounting collection devices on drones and flying them over whales as they blow fluid in the air, allowing scientists to collect better samples at less risk and lower cost without the whale even noticing.

DJI today released a video featuring Dr. Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance, who explains how it all works. Continue reading Here’s how DJI’s Snotbot drone works to research whales

Yuneec’s Typhoon H review: this drone has reached full beast mode

6 rotors. Collision prevention. Foldable arms. Retractable landing gear. 360-degree range of motion camera. The Yuneec Typhoon H has gone full beast mode.

It looks like a Tornado, but it’s priced like a Typhoon Q500. Meet, the Yuneec Typhoon H.

The $1,299 Yuneec Typhoon H is unlike any other drone in its price range that I have reviewed. It has the qualities you would expect for a professional level drone, but at a consumer price tag.

First things first: wipe the words quadcopter from your vocabulary if you’re referring to this. It’s a hexacopter (6 rotors), meaning it is able to continue flying with 5 rotors in case one fails. It also has quick-release propellers, which are easier to mount and dismount than the Q500 before it. The foldable arms also make it much easier to travel with.

But the gem of this copter is its collision prevention.The Typhoon H comes with two sonar sensors on the front, just above the camera, meaning it can sense and avoid objects in front of it.

Like its predecessor, the Q500, the drone has a 3-axis anti-vibration CGO3+ gimbal camera that produces 4K, ultra-stable high definition video and 12 megapixel images. What’s cool about this drone is it can be rotated through 360-degree range of motion. Which leads to the next new feature about the drone — retractable landing gear. The touch of one button on the controller and the landing gear can retract, ensuring that the legs never get in the frame of your shot.

The 360-degree range of motion camera is really important to me because — I’ll admit it — I’m TERRIBLE at flying nose-in. But sometimes, you need to photograph something behind you! This feature is perfect because it allows you to fly with ease while getting the shots you need — from any direction.

The Yuneec Typhoon H has a ton of flight modes. I’ve only flown the Typhoon H one day so far, so I’ll be honest — I didn’t even get to demo the other flight modes. Here they are in a nutshell (and I can’t wait for my next Flyday to continue trying them out myself!):

  • Journey Mode: Rises up to 150 feet high and then takes an aerial selfie.
  • Orbit Me Mode: Flies a circular path around you, keeping the camera trained on you the whole time.
  • Point of Interest Mode: Orbits a selected subject autonomously.
  • Curve Cable Cam: Flies between pre-set coordinates enabling the user to independently control the camera position.
  • Team Mode: Allows the pilot operate the drone separately by binding it to the Wizard, allowing the filmmaker to control the camera at the same time by binding it to the ST16 Ground Station.
  • Auto Take Off: Takes off with the tap of a button ground station.

All those features means the Typhoon H has a beast of a ground station too. One of the features I have always loved about Yuneec’s products vs. competitors is that it doesn’t require the drone to be linked to a smartphone. I can see the drone’s camera view directly from the 7-inch screen on the controller, and not mess around with my iPhone battery dying (which happens often). Everything you need to operate the drone comes in the box. The controller looks pretty complex, but it also means the user has options to use the modes described above as well as program fully autonomous flight and adjust camera settings.

Yuneec’s controller also has buttons like “H” which stands for home — as in flipping the switch will bring the drone right back to where it took off, and turtle/rabbit buttons to control the speed of the drone. Both are really handy when flying with beginners. I was flying in Golden Gate Park and got into a conversation with a passerby. He wanted to fly it, so I discretely flipped the switch to the turtle mode for safety.

The Typhoon H also comes with a free Wizard, a remote-like device that allows you to pilot with one hand. Yuneec says the Wizard, which retails on its own for $199,  will only come with the Typhoon H for a limited time. Check out my Wizard review here (it’s a nifty little gadget).

I loved the Typhoon Q500 4K when I reviewed it in August. At the time, it cost $1,299 (the same price that the Typhoon H costs now). The Q500 4K is now down to $899.99.

If your budget, is under $1,000, I still love the Q500 4K and would highly recommend it for someone looking for professional footage.

But if you can afford the upgrade, it’s worth it for the retractable landing gear, extra autonomy and safety features in this drone. While in a perfect world the drone would have sensors on ALL sides, the two sonar sensors on the front of the drone are a huge leap in the direction of drones being able to make decisions for safe, autonomous flight. And they work! I tried flying the Typhoon H directly at my flying buddy (of course, DON’T try this at home) and the ground station won’t let the drone go any further, no matter how much throttle you give it. Filmmakers may also prefer upgrading to this over the Q500 for the retractable landing gear, which previously was only available with Yuneec’s $3,499 Tornado drone. That allows the camera to get a 360-degree shot and ensure the legs never appear in your footage!

Of course, someone with more money to invest and who is looking for ultra-high quality footage would likely still want to opt for the Tornado. The Tornado’s CGO4 gimbal camera incorporates a Panasonic GH4 micro four thirds camera sensor with a 3x optical zoom lens, housed on the 3-axis gimbal system. But, a hybrid Tornado and Typhoon H could end up being the ultimate super-safe, super-smart, high-quality camera in the air. I can’t wait to see if/when that comes out.

typhoon h batteryThe battery flight time of the Typhoon H is 25 minutes. A second battery costs $109. I wish I timed it, but flying at full speed and a higher altitude meant slightly less time than 25 minutes. Also, the battery takes a long time to charge. I’m a pretty fast writer, but I wrote this review faster than how long it took to charge the next battery. (I would estimate about two hours to charge). I wish I had two batteries for this review!

The failsafe is useful. I actually tested this (yep!), and the controller can sense there is a rotor down and will prompt you to land — giving you a stern (ie. bold, red font) alert that not all 6 propellers are there. This is really a necessity for people looking to fly over crowds. I felt significantly more confident flying over trees or people in Golden Gate Park with this drone because I knew even if one prop went down, my drone wouldn’t come crashing through the air and get caught in a tree.

My complaint about this drone as a consumer ready copter is it is really large. I’m a tiny person, so I think smaller is better! I’ll write a DJI Phantom ($1,399) vs. Yuneec Typhoon face-off later, but I’ll give you a preview and say that the Phantom is much smaller. While size shouldn’t matter to professionals on a film shoot, a regular consumer might not want to pack this on a trip abroad or even tote along to a picnic.

The dimensions of the box it ships in are 21.2 x 17 x 12.5 inches. For comparison,  American Airlines’ carry-on luggage dimension limit is 22 x 14 x 9 and  Alaska Airlines’ is 24 x 17 x 10. (Of course, check with your airline and airport before traveling with a drone and its accompanying LiPo batteries). I use the same box the Phantom 4 came in as my carrying case. It’s perfect! However, while the Typhoon case is great for storage, it has a flimsy lid and no handle. Thus, it’s not ideal if you need to walk a long distance with it (walking from my apartment in downtown San Francisco, then down to the MUNI (our subway) and out to Golden Gate Park with this foam case wasn’t really the most comfortable experience.) I’m guessing Typhoon H users will end up buying a separate drone case.

This Yuneec Typhoon H is incredibly low-priced for an incredibly powerful piece of equipment. You’ll definitely want to spring for a case (Yuneec’s Typhoon H backpack retails for $149) and an extra battery ($109), which means realistically you’ll end up spending $1,557. Still, that’s a steal for a product that offers not only stable, high-quality video but also the security of failsafes and collision avoidance technology.

From the Wizard to all the flight modes to the 360-degree camera view, there is so much I want to try with this drone. Yuneec has been known to release perfect products, and they’ve done it again. It’s easy, it’s safe, it’s fun. Yuneec has also been known to price its products lower than its main competitor, DJI. (The similar Phantom 4 is $100 more than the Typhoon). You won’t find anything on the market that does this much for this low of a price. The competition better watch out — and look up. A drone of this quality and at this low of a price means the Typhoon H will be dominating the airspace.yuneec typhoon h folded

Things people say in the drone industry that they don’t realize are sexist

It’s no secret that the majority of people buying, flying and working in drones are male. So what’s keeping women out? It’s generally nothing overtly sexist. I’ve never heard a man say “women can’t fly.”

But a lot of the things people say are subtly sexist, which can discourage women from feeling included, getting promoted or wanting to participate. Many of these things come down to unconscious biases — instances where people automatically assume men fly yet assume women don’t. And while some things people say could be well-intentioned, the unconscious biases behind them perpetuate stereotypes.

I asked some of my female friends to tell me their stories of things men have said to them that the man likely didn’t realize was sexist.

I am printing these because I want people to realize that men and women aren’t often viewed equally in the eyes of the drone world. While it is hard to shake our pre-existing biases, I hope people will share this post so that we can at least be cognizant of our biases, and not say these things in the future. And next time, ask yourself, “Would you say or do these things to a man?”

Here are some selections, printed anonymously to protect privacy:

“Wow you’re beautiful AND smart! That’s rare!”

“Where’s your husband, and what company is he with?”

“You’re really smart. You seem to know what you’re talking about. How did you get that way?”

“You’re smarter than you look.”

To a woman wearing a branded, drone-manufacturer shirt standing at a booth: “Wait, so do you actually fly these?”

“How do you know so much about this?”

To a woman answering questions at a company’s booth during a conference: “Isn’t your job just to stand here and look pretty?”

“Let’s get to the bottom line. What do I have to do to get you to come out and give me private lesson on how to fly one of these?”

“Do you even have estrogen in your body?” Continue reading Things people say in the drone industry that they don’t realize are sexist

UPS is becoming a player in drone delivery. First stop: Rwanda

This is an excerpt of a piece written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire thing here.

United Parcel Service Inc. has for decades been the company that delivers packages to your doorstep with its signature brown trucks, but the company has quietly begun expanding into drone delivery.

The UPS Foundation announced Monday it has entered into a partnership with drone startup Zipline and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to deliver blood for transfusions by drone throughout Rwanda. UPS offered an $800,000 grant to kick off the deliveries._mg_0718_1024

While major corporations like Amazon.com and Domino’s Pizza  have theorized about drones delivering shoes and pizza to your doorstep, UPS has quietly been experimenting in the drone industry—and taking the humanitarian approach. UPS last April participated in a study with the American Red Cross on making deliveries to disaster areas. UPS’s Director of Autonomous Systems Jerome Ferguson, whose purview includes everything from delivery messaging to robotic technologies, has expressed a particular interest in drones.

Drone delivery of blood has the potential to be a life-saving technology, particularly in Rwanda, where roads often wash out and it can be impossible to quickly get medical supplies to more rural areas. A drone can carry just over 3 pounds of weight over a distance of 75 miles round-trip.

Read the rest of this story here._mg_0675_1024

Drone races are coming to NYC

You’ve seen drone races in stadiums and parking garages, but drones are about to race into the Big Apple.
The world’s first drone race to be set against the New York City skyline is happening on July 30 and 31. Dubbed The Liberty Cup, it will host 100 pilots who are competing for prizes.

drone race liberty cup fpv

Drone racing is a new sport in which pilots fly their drones at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour using first-person view (FPV) technology, enabling pilots and the audience to experience the flight of the drone firsthand, in real time, from the birdlike point of view of the drone. The two-day event, sponsored by the creators of the New York City Drone Film Festival, will also include demos on building drones and flight simulation

“Drone racing has similarities with other extreme sports but is a unique experience that almost defies categorization,” said race director Randy Scott Slavin, executive director of Yeah Drones and founder of the NYC Drone Film Festival. “Cars are bound by gravity so the tracks are two-dimensional. Drones don’t have that restriction, so The Liberty Cup will be less like NASCAR and more like a freewheeling rollercoaster ride in the sky.”

The races will be held at The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ.

The perfect drone for $100

Most common question I get: “I want to buy a drone that comes with a camera. What do you recommend?”

Me: “What’s your budget?”

Them: “$100.”

^^ That was me, until I tried out udiR/C’s Discovery WiFi U818A HD+ FPV Upgrade drone, from USA Toyz. For just $127.87 you get the drone controller, camera, live video and all the other accessories you need.

In other words, udiR/C’s Discovery drone is a great deal for anyone looking to capture some basic aerial video.

First off, I was impressed with the packaging. It’s all quite compact and well organized. I immediately realized that besides AA batteries for the controller, there was nothing else I would need to provide myself.

udiR/C’s Drone was built with attention to detail, providing me with the following:

  • The drone itself
  • A 2.4Ghz Controller
  • 2 sets of 350mAh LiPo Batteries
  • A battery charger (it charges through USB)
  • A portable power bank to charge on the road
  • A Micro SD Card and reader
  • A spare set of propellers
  • Spare pieces like a screwdriver for the controller

Continue reading The perfect drone for $100

Ex-Twitter engineer wants to shake up drone industry (and raised $25 million to prove it)

Drone startups are flying high among investors, drawing $450 million in 74 deals with venture capitalists in 2015 and $111 million the year prior. One of those companies is just now making itself known to the public after two years of developing a consumer-focused drone in “stealth mode.”

Chinese drone-maker Zero Zero Robotics announced Tuesday its Hover Camera drone and $25 million in funding from investors including IDG, GSR Ventures, ZhenFund and ZUIG.

The drone-maker spent the past year secretly developing Hover Camera, a drone carrying a 4K video camera that can track and follow people, can be folded up to the size of a book and that can hover as soon as you let it go from your hands.MW-EL098_Pushin_20160425141307_NS

But the key to this drone’s design is the safety. The carbon fiber enclosure design protects the propellers, a design move that could have prevented injuries caused by the sharp blades of whirring propellers, like the one Enrique Iglesias experienced last year after attempting to grab a drone onstage.

“I want it to be portable, I want it to be safe, I want it to be user friendly,” said Zero Zero Robotics CEO M.Q. Wang, a former Twitter software engineer. “Our goal is to build personal robotics for anyone.”

It’s something that realistically could compete with the more inexpensive drones from the two established market players, Phantom maker DJI and Yuneec. DJI so far has received at least $105 million in two rounds of venture funding, and Yuneec in August received $60 million in funding from Intel Capital.  Continue reading Ex-Twitter engineer wants to shake up drone industry (and raised $25 million to prove it)