DJI’s latest move to limit flying over sensitive areas

This is an excerpt of a piece originally written for Read the entire story here.

The world’s largest drone maker, DJI, is rolling out a software update to its drones designed to limit flying over sensitive areas like prisons and airports.

The drone company currently uses geofencing, a software feature that acts as a virtual barrier, to completely prevent its drones from flying over “no-fly-zones,” which are mostly airports and Washington, D.C.

The update, which will come with new DJI drones later this year or as a software update to existing drones, expands the list of restricted flight locations to include prisons and power plants. There have been many reported incidents of drones dropping drugs over prison yards.

But some users may need access to fly over restricted locations, such as drone flight instructors who train their students at airports, or firefighters using a drone to see over a burning building.

So DJI is also allowing certain users to unlock the geofence.

A new system will provide temporary access to restricted flight zones to drone operators with verified DJI accounts registered with a credit card, debit card or mobile phone number.

Read the rest of this story here.

The drone laser dance party that is actually pioneering some incredibly important technology

Watching PRENAV’s drones in action resembles something of a laser dance party.

At least, if your first intro to them is their award-winning video “Hello World.” Out of 153 total submissions to the Flying Robot International Film Festival, the San Francisco Bay Area-based startup PRENAV’s video on their work took home the top prize in the festival’s “LOL WTF” category.

But the video means a lot more than just, “WTF.” It’s a literal and creative representation of how precise autonomous drone flight can be. Continue reading The drone laser dance party that is actually pioneering some incredibly important technology

Dance, nature and humanitarian work: tech and art collide in drone film festival

In San Francisco, a once beacon of art — and now beacon of technology — the two fields have come together at the Flying Robot International Film Festival.

Thursday night’s film festival at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco’s Mission district showcased the best of the best videos. 153 videos were submitted to the festival, and 20 were selected for the final showcase.

These aren’t the thousands of 5 minute videos of someone’s backyard that you’ve seen too many of on YouTube. The entries screened at the festival were the best out there in both production and creativity.

The winner of the Cinematic Category, “Running Into the Air” is a scenic tour of Switzerland, but it’s set apart by a clever opening scene of what looks like someone running to take off for a flight over the country.   And the audience laughed hysterically at Bart Jansen’s cat copter, the video that made waves across the Internet after Bart Jansen turned his dead cat Orville into a taxidermy drone. That was, until the ostrich-copter came out, and the audience erupted.

The film festival showcased technological advancements too. Bay Area drone startup PRENAV showed precision technology in a video of laser party drones that spell out “Hello World.” Continue reading Dance, nature and humanitarian work: tech and art collide in drone film festival

First look at Parrot’s Bebop 2

Parrot today announced an update to its Bebop drone, the Bebop 2.

The $549 drone offers improvements to its predecessor, such as an improved 25-minute flight time over the original Bebop’s 15-minute flights.

Read more: my review of the original Parrot Bebop

The flight controllers also are faster and more precise, more stable in the wind, and come with better sensing and GPS.

“We try to make it as useful as a cellphone,” said Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux, who also is known as cofounder of the iconic red-soled designer shoe company, Christian Louboutin. “We try to put all the ideas you would find on a smartphone today, and we put that into a drone.”


The drone itself is controlled by a smartphone (or tablet). Though, like the original Bebop, Parrot’s Bebop 2 does offer a Skycontroller (thoughts on that here).

With the expansion of the Bebop lineup, Parrot is positioning itself in a market of people looking for products cheaper than a DJI Phantom, but better quality than a toy. Five years ago, Parrot was the first to introduce a “real, ready-to-fly” drone to the consumer market with its $299 AR.Drone.


It’s strength lies in its friendliness. The Bebop, which weighs in at about 1.1 pounds (half the weight of a Phantom) has charming rounded edges and almost soft propellers that likely would not cut Enrique Iglesias’ fingers should he try to grab it.

“We try to make it as non dangerous as possible,” Seydoux said. “It’s more safe than the competition because the drone’s safety (should it hit something) is linked to the weight.”

The drone has no gimbal and instead stabilizes video using its optical flow sensor technology.

The drone is expected to ship in time for Christmas.

“Air traffic control for drones” company Skyward brings top FAA drone guy on board

Jim Williams
Jim Williams

Portland-based Skyward, which is working to create an “air traffic control for drones” type platform, named Jim Williams, former manager of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office to its advisory board.

Williams, who retired from his post at the FAA in June of this year, was well-liked among the greater drone community, which has otherwise expressed frustration as the FAA continues to miss deadlines around regulating drones.

“There can be no doubt that Jim has moved the dialogue forward during his time at the UASIO and has shown he is willing to listen,” according to a post on SUAS news.

And it’s likely to mean good things for Skyward, which is trying to position itself as the platform for drone pilots to track airspace data needed for business, insurance or regulatory requirements, with eyes set on big name clients such as Google, Amazon and NASA.

Williams may be that hurdle in propelling Skyward to the forefront of discussion around drone traffic control.

“Jim’s experience across aviation agencies brings a new depth to our advisory board,” said Jonathan Evans, Skyward CEO, in a prepared statement. “His insight into the way the infrastructure of aviation works today and how drone integration will work moving forward is fundamental to providing the best information management solutions to our customers.”

Williams has an extensive background in both manned and unmanned aircraft, having led the engineering team in the FAA’s NextGen Organization before joining the UAS Integration Office in 2012. He also worked in the Atlanta Aircraft Certification Office, at Lockheed-Georgia Company and at NASA.

Yuneec catches whale snot for science using drone rebranded as “snot bot”

Wayne Perryman, leader at the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, holds a hexacopter. Photo courtesy of Wayne Perryman.
Wayne Perryman, leader at the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, holds a hexacopter. Photo courtesy of Wayne Perryman.

To date, my favorite story about a use case for drones is hands down Wayne Perryman, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who built a contraption for drones that allowed it to capture data from when a whale blows out what is essentially snot. And that snot contains valuable information for researchers, including little bits of cells and hormones to see what it’s eating, if it’s male or female, or if it’s pregnant.

It’s noninvasive, and it’s hands down incredible. (Read my Q&A with Perryman here).

Today, major drone manufacturer Yuneec International announced a similar partnership with Ocean Alliance, which will use Yuneec’s drones to collect data from whales. To do the research, scientists attach a petri dish to drones flown into the cloud of spray exhaled by whales when they surface. The drones, which they call “snot bots” can gather data that tell scientists about the health and fitness of the whale, as well as allow scientists to retrieve the data without the whale even noticing.MW-DZ410_whales_20151116151102_NS
Current methods of collecting the data from whales involves firing a biopsy dart from a crossbow, which causes stress to the whales.

“Snot bots are designed to remove the potential harm caused to whales during the research process,” said Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance. “This is a lottery win for us as a company, the animals we study, and ultimately, humanity.”

I wrote about 5 other wild uses for drones over at Check them out.

Eric Cheng’s new book on drones is the definitive ‘Drone 101’ textbook

eric cheng aerial photography book cover
Courtesy Peachpit Press

What was my intro to the world of two-pound flying robots? A college class — all about drones.

The class was taught in the journalism department at the Missouri School of Journalism. And as most classes in most journalism departments go, there never really is a textbook. The mantra my alma mater’s journalism department constantly proclaims and proudly splashes upon all its brochures is “The Missouri Method,” or in plainspeak, it means “learning by doing.” I generally adhere to that doctrine of teaching journalism — that is until we start teaching drones.

Like the influx of people now getting a hold of drones with no prior RC knowledge, I learned the hard way — after my drones crashed into trees and hillsides. After a propeller popped off and it fell from the sky and plummeted into the field. After a longtime drone expert yelled at me for nonchalantly tossing a LiPo battery to the ground; I had no idea they were so volatile.

Drones may be uncharted territory, but it’s territory that needs badly to be charted

To the applause of many students, this class relieved us of having to fork over $200 on a textbook we might crack open just once. It instead was a series of trial and error and wondering what would happen in the next week of a nonexistent syllabus.

And by all means, the class was wonderful, an exciting chance to try and fail. But in reading Eric Cheng’s new book “Aerial Photography and Videography Using Drones,”  ($18.77) I can only help but think this is exactly what I needed three years ago.

Cheng’s book perfectly outlines everything a beginner to drones needs to know, from safety to a basic overview of how the equipment works, to tips for better photography. I can only imagine how much less clueless I would have felt three years ago had Cheng’s book been in my library back then.

It is the first primer to cleanly and clearly chart the territory of drones for beginners.

If there is only one thing you read in this book, it’s chapter one, which discusses the basics of drone technology — including balancing propellers, sensors, and batteries. It’s much needed for someone looking to quickly get up to speed on the technical know-how of drones but wants to cut through the noise and misinformation online.

Courtesy Peachpit Press

The book also capitalizes on Cheng’s immense background in photography (he formerly served as Lytro’s Director of Photography, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging and is founder of underwater photography site Wetpixel.

The last chapter looks at some of the work of Cheng — as well as the work of other guest photographers including DJI’s Romeo Durscher — from shots flying over sharks to showing contrast of water color in oceans to looking at shapes in the ground from an aerial perspective. It’s inspiring — proof that aerial photography from an easily accessible copter like the Phantom isn’t just a fad for people with too much money to buy and photograph their property. It’s something capable of producing a growing genre of art. It’s an inspiring way to leave the reader: ‘you now know how this works, now do something fantastic with it!’

Snorkelers converge on two whale sharks at the aggregation off of Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Courtesy Peachpit Press

There are a growing number of books geared toward beginners in drones, but without a doubt, Cheng’s is the first I would recommend. It tells me everything a beginner needs to know to fly legally, safely and not look like a completely novice with no idea what they’re talking about. Yet it is short enough to hold my attention by giving me what I need to know without drowning me in technical jargon.

Buy it on for $18.77.

It’s a must-read for anyone who owns a Phantom or other consumer-level drone — if only it could have been a must-read when I was a journalism student studying drones.