Behold, the rise of the drone film festival

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

It seems like just about everyone in San Francisco has had a drone for a few years now, including this guy who proposed to his future-fiancee in Alamo Square.

And now, San Francisco is getting its first-ever drone film festival.

The Flying Robot international Film Festival is accepting submissions through Sept. 15 of short films less than five-minutes long, where aerial footage is central to the narrative.

“I had the idea for a drone film festival after witnessing the rise of so much epic aerial filmmaking over the past few years,” the festival’s creator, Eddie Codel, wrote on his website.

“Now that consumer camera drones are readily available and fairly inexpensive, we’re seeing a huge uptick in aerial cinema on YouTube and Vimeo. I want to highlight the best stuff out there and really encourage filmmakers to take it to the next level.”

Categories include “Cinematic,” “Aerial Sports,” “Drones for Good,” and “Student Film.” The winning films will be screened on Nov. 19 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Read the rest of this story here.

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.

Meet The Drone Girl at InterDrone

Less than a month from now, you’ll find me in Vegas!

I’m psyched to be a part of the guest speaker list at InterDrone at the Rio Las  Vegas from Sept. 9-11.

Here’s my schedule:

“Dronalism” is More Than Pretty Photos
Thursday, September 10
9:15 am – 10:15 am

Women in Drones Luncheon (Panelist)
Thursday, September 10
12:30 pm – 1:45 pm

Panel: Dronalism: Charting the Course for Newsgathering with Drones
Friday, September 11
10:00 am – 11:00 am

Is there anything you’d like to learn about from me at Interdrone? Particularly for my Dronalism (aka drones-for-journalism class)? Leave a comment below!

Get more information about InterDrone here.

 

GoPro drone effort boosted by data, but leader DJI says it’s tougher than it looks

This excerpt comes from an article originally written by Sally French for MarketWatch.com. Read the full story here.MW-DQ085_gopro__20150714183022_ZH

GoPro Inc. is set to launch a quadcopter drone in the first half of 2016, and FAA data shows the action-camera company could be a behemoth that challenges current drone makers for market dominance.

GoPro’s drone is entering the consumer-level drone market to some competition, primarily from Chinese drone maker Dajiang Innovation Technology along with smaller competitors including 3D Robotics, Inc. and Parrot SA.

Currently, 42.9% of U.S. drones that have been granted a Section 333 Exemption by the Federal Aviation Administration — allowing drone pilots to operate commercially — are manufactured by DJI. AeroVironment comes in second place with a 9.1% share of the total registered drones, trailed by 3D Robotics and PrecisionHawk, according to a Drone Analyst report. Goldman Sachs analysts also say DJI is the leading manufacturer of drones being used for commercial purposes, with an estimated 70% market share in 2014.

In other words, there’s really only one major consumer-based drone company that GoPro needs to compete with in a growing market for unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. Goldman Sachs estimates the drone market is worth $1.4 billion in 2015, but forecasts it to more than triple by 2017, based on the assumption that GoPro may produce wider appeal for consumer drones.

Drone Analyst

“Privately operated UAVs are a big opportunity,” GoPro spokesman Jeff Brown said. “We believe the recent spike in adoption is attributable to the jaw-dropping video content generated by consumers.”

But DJI says creating a drone, is a more difficult task than making a camera.

“Generally, creating a new drone is much harder than creating a new phone or camera,” DJI spokesman Michael Perry said. “The levels of quality control and testing involved are significantly harder for teams with smaller R&D teams.”

Read the rest of this story here.

DJI releases Phantom 3 Standard

large_P3C_01DJI’s drones just keep getting cheaper.

DJI this week released its most inexpensive drone yet.

Designed specifically for first-time pilots, the DJI Phantom 3 Standard is much like the Phantom 3 Advanced and Professional, but with newbies in mind.

Unlike the Advanced and Professional with an unlimited maximum altitude that can fly as far as 6,500 feet safely, the Standard limits the altitude to 400 feet and can along fly as far as a half mile. The camera also shoots 2.7K video vs the Professional’s 4K video.

But the price tag is a lot easier on your wallet, selling for $799.

“Based on the remarkable success of the DJI Phantom 3 Professional and Phantom 3 Advanced, we wanted to create a new drone that addresses people who are curious about aerial imaging, but not quite ready to commit to a more professional system,” said Frank Wang, DJI’s CEO and Founder. “The Phantom 3 Standard makes it easy to get into the air to take great photos and videos.”

Some specs for the Standard:

  • 2.7k HD video at 30 frames per second using a 94 degree distortion-free lens
  • Shoots still images at 12 megapixels in both DNG Raw and JPG formats.
  • Using a standard WiFi connection, allows pilots to see what their camera sees in near real time in HD, capture photos, start / stop record for video and adjust camera settings all from the DJI Go app.
  • Follow Me – The drone intelligently follows the user based on their orientation.
  • Waypoint Navigation – Allows users to set a multi-point route that the Phantom 3 flies automatically while leaving camera control (pan and tilt) to the user. 
  • Point of Interest – Lets users define an object that the Phantom will fly around in a circle with the object framed in the center

Here’s DJI’s promo video.

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.