Tag Archives: featured

This ‘airborne pet’ drone flies on a leash

This is an excerpt of an article written by Drone Girl for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

When a two-pound toy drone crashed on the White House grounds in early 2015, the nation went into a frenzy over legal and safety issues surrounding drones.

President Barack Obama called for greater regulation of drones, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer brought up the specter of al Qaeda-manned drones, and the drone-maker itself installed a firmware update that prevents its drones from flying near the White House.

But one company’s potential technological solution seems completely contradictory to the purpose of drones: Putting them on a leash.

_MG_9426Zurich-based robotics company Perspectives Robotics AG plans to announce Tuesday the Fotokite Phi, a $349, consumer-grade “tethered flying camera.”

The drone flies itself on the end of a tether, controlled by simple gestures of the controller.

Perspectives Robotics is known for creating Fotokite Pro, a $10,000 drone that uses a tether to provide an unlimited power supply from the ground. Its users include journalists from the BBC. Now the company is targeting hobbyists looking for a small, portable drone to bring on hikes or to picnics.

“With the broadcast version, you’re looking at high-quality video,” founder Sergei Lupashin said. “With this, you’re looking at affordability and making them accessible.”

_MG_9425The Fotokite Phi is the only consumer drone on the market that doesn’t rely on remote piloting or GPS. Instead, the user points the leash in the direction they want to go and the drone follows.

“It’s a cross between an airborne pet and a steadicam in the sky,” Lupashin said.

At 12 ounces, it’s the lightest GoPro-carrying quadcopter on the market, and it folds into a compact carrying case about the size of a two-liter soda bottle. The leash extends 26 feet, which is about two and a half stories high.

Read the rest of this story on MarketWatch.com.

Yuneec’s Q500 Typhoon might be the best consumer drone out there yet

q500 typhoon

There’s a newcomer on the consumer drone market, and it’s already a contender for gold.

Yuneec’s Typhoon Q500 4K is a newbie to the drone market, but you wouldn’t know based on the maturity of the copter.

The Typhoon (starting at $1,299) does it all — shoots 4K video on a smooth, 3-axis gimbal with video streamed through the RC transmitter to allow for first-person view flying.

The attention to detail on Yuneec’s drone is fantastic; a SteadyGrip hand-held device allows users to take handheld shots with the camera, there’s a “FollowMe” mode, and it comes with two batteries — a clear sign that the drone’s maker has the user in mind rather than trying to skimp on costs.

The drone is mostly ready to fly out of the box — just screw on the propellers, charge the batteries and you’re good to go. It carries beautifully — the flight is smooth and steady, not to mention it just looks elegant in the air.

RC Transmitter

The RC transmitter (what Yuneec calls a ‘Personal Ground Station’) really takes it to the next level by providing first-person view on the transmitter. To start with the bad news, the controller does look complicated — too complicated. There’s something beautiful about the sleek simplicity of DJI’s controllers. But for the good news, the controller is also the reason I loved this copter so much.  Powered by Android, the Personal Ground Station displays the camera’s video feed on a screen, eliminating the need to hook up your tablet or smartphone. The screen on the transmitter also helps guide pilots through changing settings on the camera or the flight mode.

The Video Quality

The camera captures:

  • 4K/30fps ultra high definition video
  • 1080p/120fps slow motion video
  • 12 megapixel photos with No-Distortion Lens

The RC transmitter allows pilots to control video resolution, white balance and light exposure during the flight. The camera offers a 115° field of view, allowing you to control whether the camera points straight ahead or downward. The camera isn’t perfect; I did experience some lens aberration when the camera pointed directly into the sun (see test footage video), but it wasn’t a huge issue. The camera can also record stills simultaneously while shooting video with the click of a button.

Here’s some test footage I put together while taking my drone out to test during a weekend trip to the American River (for review purposes, this video was not color corrected to show how the video quality looks directly from camera to computer):

The colors are not quite right — you can especially tell this in the scene facing downwards with the yellowish rocks on the water. The rocks and people are washed out, while the water appears too dark, a sign of too much contrast. The camera lacks the ability to see details on the ground, but in general, it’s smooth video perfect for consumer purposes.

The verdict?

The Yuneec Q500 Typhoon really is an incredible piece of equipment. Where DJI’s Phantom is the Mini Cooper (it’s cute, easy to fly, small, dare I say, even lovable), the Typhoon is a BMW — sleek, strong, powerful, gorgeous.

I can’t tell if the Yuneec is intended to be a competitor to the DJI Phantom or the Inspire, but it’s certainly a competitor to both in some capacity.

It’s priced nearly the same as the Phantom 3 Professional, and its specs are quite similar. But the Typhoon comes with a bonus of a full Personal Ground Station and two batteries (buying a second battery for the Phantom 3 will cost you $149).

Unlike the Inspire ($3,399), the drone doesn’t allow dual pilot operation, so my shots weren’t as good as they likely could have been had someone else been controlling the camera. It also doesn’t have the Inspires’ HDMI output, so users wouldn’t be able to record the live feed to a video capture device. But like the Inspire, the Typhoon offers a detachable payload, high-quality flight performance and a slick design that doesn’t resemble a toy a la the Phantom.

The Typhoon offers a wealth of features that – for the cost – may make it the best drone on the market yet. The camera could be slightly improved, but the design of the drone and attention to detail far outweigh the slight problems with the camera. I’m shocked by how low the drone costs compared to its competitors, and how far the technology has come in just a few years. I’m eager to see just what a possible Typhoon 2 or other Yuneec-made drone will be capable of doing.

The drone market is desperately in need of competition. DJI makes great copters, but they are Goliath in a market of very few Davids. Yuneec is a huge underdog; their name is largely unheard of against DJI or drones like the yet-to-hit-stores Lily, that survives solely off huge marketing hype. And then there’s this Typhoon, a greatly underrated copter that you can buy now. With a marketing push from Yuneec to become a household name the way the Phantom is, the drone market may finally have two Goliaths.

Related posts:

Parrot Bebop: Here’s a drone with first-person video that costs less than $500

The Parrot Bebop drone flying around the UC Berkeley campus
The Parrot Bebop drone flying around the UC Berkeley campus

All my friends who know The Drone Girl exists: “Hey Sally, I’ve been seeing drones everywhere lately! I want to buy one! Which should I buy?”

Me (Drone Girl): “What’s your budget? Including camera?”

Friend: “Under $500.”

This is the dreaded question. And I get it way too often.

Well, it was a dreaded question, until I took the Parrot Bebop drone for a spin myself. Continue reading Parrot Bebop: Here’s a drone with first-person video that costs less than $500

Sony’s drones will have a different mission

MW-DQ618_sony_d_20150722165551_ZH-1This excerpt comes from an article originally written by Sally French for MarketWatch.com. Read the full story here.

Sony is the latest company to get into drones, but not in the way that you would expect.

The company likely won’t use drones to film its upcoming emoji movie, and they probably won’t go the route of GoPro in introducing a quadcopter drone.

Instead, Sony’s drones will look for data.

Sony Mobile Communications Inc. SNE, -0.25% announced Wednesday it is collaborating with Japanese robotics firm ZMP Inc. to develop and launch autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles for image capture combined with cloud-based data processing. The two companies are jointly founding and owning Aerosense Inc., which will use data from drones for measuring, surveying, observing and inspecting.

That means a farmer may use Aerosense to monitor discoloration in her crops, or an insurance company could use drones to inspect a building.

“Sony Mobile is proactively engaging in new business creation initiatives, with a particular focus on the Internet of Things (IoT) sector,” according to a Sony news release. “This joint venture represents a part of this push into IoT, as Sony strives to provide its customers with additional value by developing and managing total package cloud solutions.”

A Sony spokesman told The Wall Street Journal it would sell services using drones, but not the drones themselves.

“Aerosense devices will be equipped with Sony image sensors, a core product for the company used in Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Samsung Electronic Co.’s Galaxy,” the Journal reported.

For all the fear surrounding drones mounted with guns or skepticism about whether Amazon’s delivery drones would really work, it seems that using drones for data may be the future.

“If drones are going to change our society in the very near future, it won’t be because we got our Kleenex delivered from the air instead of by truck,” New American field analyst Faine Greenwood wrote in an article on Slate. “It will be because they democratized access to information.”

Read the rest of this article on MarketWatch.com.

There’s a new Silicon Valley of drones, and it isn’t in California

This piece was originally written for MarketWatch.com. Read the entire story here.

MW-DO435_dronep_20150618174647_ZH

The “Silicon Valley of drones” is taking shape in a place you probably wouldn’t expect.

With the most open airspace in the country, vast tracts of farmland, infrastructure to test on and the nation’s first unmanned aircraft degree program, it makes sense that North Dakota would be the place for drone technology to spread its wings, and it’s now expanding at an unprecedented rate.

The U.S. has previously been circumspect about allowing companies to commercialize drones; murky rulings from the Federal Aviation Administration and the haphazard enforcement of laws have made it challenging for drone companies to operate in the U.S. — so challenging, in fact, that many operators, including Amazon Prime Air, have expressed an intention to leave the U.S. to work in other countries.
But it’s a different story in North Dakota.

This summer, the nation’s first unmanned airport, the Grand Sky Development Park, opens at the state’s Grand Forks Air Force Base. The project, which has 1.2 million square feet of hangar, office and data space, is being developed by Grand Sky Development Co. A runway will allow for traditional and vertical takeoffs by drones.

The airport is expected to generate about 3,000 jobs by its 2016 completion, including 1,000 permanent jobs on site, 1,000 jobs around the community and 1,000 jobs outside the state, said Tom Swoyer, the project’s developer. Pilots would be able to control drones launching at the site from anywhere in the world.

“It’s going to touch a lot of places,” Swoyer said. “A pilot could be in Southern California and pilot the plane launched from North Dakota.”

It’s an appealing proposition for companies like Northrop Grumman NOC, -0.71% , which has signed on as the site’s anchor tenant but has its aerospace-systems headquarters in Redondo Beach, Calif.

graphics_template_2015
North Dakota committed $5 million to help bring infrastructure to the site as part of its 2015-17 executive budget and another $7.5 million in grants for runway improvements. With the project expected to cost about $25 million in total, the balance will be covered by private investment, said Swoyer.

“This project evolved here in North Dakota with the right combination of political will and an economy that was growing,” Swoyer said. “It’s a state that is investing in the industry. It’s a community willing to raise their hands and say, ‘Let’s try something completely different.’ ”

A community ‘all focused on unmanned aviation’
In 2005, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) considered closing the Air Force base.

“Our performance and safety record in fighter aircraft was unprecedented, but despite that our aircraft were getting old and weren’t going to get replaced,” said Robert Becklund, then commander of the North Dakota Air National Guard.

To avoid a drastic action by BRAC, the base made a bold move — replacing its KC-135 Stratotankers with drones.

“This was a dramatic change going from a single-seat manned fighter aircraft to unmanned aircraft,” Becklund said. “But it was the right thing to do for the nation.”

The base is now the site of the Global Hawk and MQ-1 Predator drone aircraft.

At about the same time, the University of North Dakota established a “center of excellence” for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), offering the nation’s first undergraduate degree program in unmanned aviation. Five students received degrees in 2011, the program’s first graduating class. Today, more than 100 students are enrolled, and the program is one of more than 30 similar degree programs at universities throughout the country.

“We have academia, our military, the Department of Homeland Security and industries in the region all focused on unmanned aviation,” Becklund said.

In 2014, North Dakota was one of six states allowed to develop a test site for commercial drone applications: the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks. The site is part of an FAA program looking toward the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into airspace.

North Dakota’s test site was the first to earn operational designation from the FAA and the first to fly under the agreement. The site covers more than half the state, boasting 45,000 square miles of authorized airspace — the largest such volume of any single state.

Read the rest of the story here.

LiPo battery may have caused RC shop fire

RC pilot Jim Bonnardel has been flying Radio Control aircraft since he was seven-years-old. He’s president of the Silent Electric Flyers of San Diego and owner of Radio Control Specialties.

And on Jan. 16, he watched the shop burn down.

Bonnardel says he suspects it was a LiPo fire,  noting that he was charging a bank of batteries and was on the last one when he stepped away for about 10 minutes.

For years, lithium polymer batteries (LiPos) have gotten a bad rap for being dangerous and unpredictable. Dropping, denting or crushing can shorten the life of the battery and even cause an internal short — a recipe for fire. There are a myriad of guidelines for storing, charging and transporting them.

But for even a highly experienced pilot like Bonnardel, the slightest misstep can cause extreme danger.

So why don’t we just use alkaline batteries — your standard Duracell or Energizer?

“An alkaline battery has much more power than a lithium ion, but it cannot deliver heavy loads,” said Isidor Buchmann, founder and CEO of Cadex Electronics.  “Something like an AA battery is an energy cell, not a power cell. It simply cannot deliver the power needed.”

A drone needs a battery that can handle higher currents. LiPos are power cell batteries, mean they can deliver a lot of energy in a short amount of time. Your standard kitchen clock battery delivers a small amount of power over a long period of time.

“It’s like how a bottle with a bigger mouth can pour out a lot of water more quickly than water with a smaller mouth,” Buchmann said.

John Salt, creator of RC Helicopter Fun, put that amount of energy into perspective.

“Some of my big LiPo packs that I use in some of my largest RC helicopters have as much energy potential stored in them as a couple cups or so of gasoline,” he said. “Get a dozen or so LiPo’s on your work bench and you essentially have a jerry can of gas sitting there from a potential energy standpoint.”

That’s not to say Lithium-ion batteries are not safe.

“Lithium-ion is safe under the right circumstances, but they need to be properly designed and approved,” Buchmann said.

Salt chalks it up to an educational problem.

“LiPo power is just as safe or dangerous as any other high energy fuel source and has to be treated that way,” Salt said.

By that, he recommends storying them in fire safe containers and in safe locations just like fuel.

“Is this “LiPo education” up to the battery manufactures, RC aircraft manufactures, or the individuals flying and using them? I would say all three,” he said.

But there’s one more solution, and DJI, creator of the popular DJI Phantom series of quadcopters, holds the patent to it.

Shortly after the launch of the original Phantom, developers with DJI wanted to ensure that consumers with less experience with soft pack batteries would be able to use them.

“We knew it would be a game changer because it further lowered the barrier for first time pilots interested in quads,” said DJI spokesperson Michael Perry.

Development on the Smart Battery for the Phantom II line of drones began in April 2013.

The Smart Battery’s are also LiPo batteries, with a capacity of 5200 mAh and voltage of 11.1 V. Power management is handled internally, meaning no balance connector is required to charge.

The one major criticism Phantom II users have? The price.

DJI smart batteries cost about $130, in comparison to the $20 LiPo batteries sold on DJI’s site (and often found cheaper on hobby sites).

“We cannot say for now if the price will drop. Part of the reason that the batteries are priced higher than normal LiPos is that all the smart features requires additional hardware (not just the LEDs, but circuitry), software and testing costs,” Perry said. “We feel that the intelligent features that people get out of these batteries corresponds fairly to the price differential with typical batteries.”

And that’s not to say that the DJI Smart Batteries are 100% foolproof.

“Heat is a big enemy of all Lithium battery chemistries, so even a DJI smart pack could be damaged by letting it sit inside a closed vehicle on a hot sunny day for instance,” Salt said. “Chances are it would never start on fire, but there is still some risk there – especially if it’s fully charged.”

Mythbusters reveal drones are used on set

Photo via VideoMaker.com
Photo via VideoMaker.com

Martha Stewart has a drone. Rupert Murdoch has flown a drone. But the newest celebrities to use a drone really aren’t all that surprising.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of Mythbusters revealed that they have been using flying cameras in productions for years.

“Up until (recently), we had used helicopters, but that was a $5,000-15,000 solution,” Savage said.

“We started looking into this camera platform five or six years ago, but it just never worked out,” Hyneman said.

Jump to five years later, and with improvements like telemetry, the Mythbusters rely on drones to propel their show forward.

“It’s a tool for storytelling,” Savage said. “That’s what we do on Mythbusters — we tell stories. It’s not just the master shot that is really cute or really cool. It’s telling the audience where we’re going.”

A custom-built octorotor was used in the last two seasons, where flying shots introduced the beginning of episodes. Other uses of drones were in an episode shot at Pebble Beach.

“It’s an amazing time because of how much hacking is driving innovation,” Savage said.

Savage is referring to hacker movements like DIYdrones and DJI’s app store.

And Hyneman said he believes drones will become ubiquitous eventually.

“All of us remember the time when there weren’t cellphones, he said. “Drones are in that world right now. Things that we would have never thought were possible ten years ago are commonplace now.”