March 26, 2015
In classical mythology, Aquila is the eagle carrying Jupiter’s thunderbolts skyward. At Facebook, it is the code name for a high-flying drone, indicative of the social networking company’s lofty ambitions. [via The New York Times]
The V-shaped unmanned vehicle, which has about the wingspan of a Boeing 767 but weighs less than a small car, is the centerpiece of Facebook’s plans to connect with the five billion or so people it has yet to reach.
Taking to the skies to beam Internet access down from solar-powered drones may seem like a stretch for a tech company that sells ads to make money. The business model at Facebook, which has 1.4 billion users, has more in common with NBC than Boeing.
But in a high-stakes competition for domination of the Internet, in which Google wields high-altitude balloons and high-speed fiber networks and Amazon has experimental delivery drones and colossal data centers, Facebook is under pressure to show that it, too, can pursue projects that are more speculative than product.
Read full article.
March 25, 2015
The e-commerce giant says the permit it was just granted is for an aerial vehicle that is already obsolete. C/net reports.
Less than a week after Amazon was granted a special permit to test its Prime Air delivery drones, Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy, said that while the company was grateful the agency approved its testing permit, its prototype had already become obsolete during the months-long application process. As a result, the e-commerce giant applied again Friday for a permit to test an updated aircraft.
Read full article.
March 20, 2015
Amazon's ambitions to use drones to deliver packages may get off the ground yet. C/net reports.
The FAA on Thursday issued an "experimental airworthiness certificate" to Amazon, allowing the Internet retail giant to conduct research, development and crew training for its Prime Air delivery drones. The certificate allows the unmanned aerial vehicles to be remotely controlled by licensed pilots at altitudes lower than 400 feet during daylight hours, the agency said in a statement.
... The FAA certificate also requires Amazon to provide the agency with monthly data about its testing activity, including the number of flights conducted and the hours logged by pilots per flight. The company will also be required to document any hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers' instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links.
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March 18, 2015
There's something that connects Star Wars fans to drones and we can see why. For lovers of airborne action who also love sci-fi, these rugged flying machines are just the thing.
TheNextWeb has rounded up the latest builds from drone enthusiasts.
March 7, 2015
Thousands of drones flown without government approval by real estate companies, movie studios and other businesses are getting coverage by insurers writing their own safety rules to fill a void left by regulators. Blooomberg reports.
One insurance broker in Colorado has already written policies on 2,600 drones, and a San Francisco-based company said it has assembled an Uber-like list of 1,000 trained operators businesses can hire to do the flying for them.
Commercial drones are photographing sporting events, monitoring construction sites and performing other aerial chores even though the Federal Aviation Administration is as many as two years away from issuing final regulations to govern their use. The FAA, which won a legal ruling in November that said it could apply existing aviation laws to drones in the meantime, says none are supposed to fly without a formal waiver -- only 39 have been issued -- until then.
In a Feb. 15 proposal to allow unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms) to fly for hire, the FAA projected there would be 7,550 of them within five years of enactment. In reality, there are already more than that in the air now, according to insurers, aviation lobbyists and academics.
“We’ve been insuring them for going on four years,” said Terry Miller, owner and president of Transport Risk Management Inc., which had to invent safety requirements for its drone clients. Purchasing insurance for commercial drones, which isn’t prohibited under FAA rules, doesn’t make flying them legitimate, the agency said.
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March 5, 2015
A drone owners register has been called for by House of Lords. The recommendation was made by the House of Lords EU Committee, which has been looking into what rules are needed to safeguard the use of unmanned aircraft. The BBC reports.
It suggests the database would initially include businesses and other professional users, and then later expand to encompass consumers.
However, one expert questioned how useful such a register would be.
The committee's report warned that over-regulation risked stifling the drone industry, estimating that it could be responsible for creating as many as 150,000 jobs across Europe by 2050.
Even so, it suggested that creating the database would help the authorities manage and keep track of drone traffic.
Read full article.
March 2, 2015
Africa is growing economically and needs better transport links. So what's the answer? Could it be cargo drones - or "flying donkeys" as one Kenyan farmer put it? The BBC reports.
Afrotech, a technology innovation project set up by the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland, certainly thinks so.
Director Jonathan Ledgard, a former foreign correspondent in Africa, thinks they will enable the continent to leapfrog traditional infrastructure development and grow faster economically.
Next year, through its spin-off company Red/Blue, Afrotech will begin testing cargo drones capable of carrying small packages across distances of up to 80km (50 miles).
The first route will be a "red line" flying units of blood to remote health clinics.
February 26, 2015
UPDATE Al Jazeera Trio in Paris Were Filming Report on Mystery Drones [WSJ]
Three Al Jazeera journalists who were detained by French police for flying a drone in a city park were freed Thursday morning, said a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor’s office. They were actually filming a report on the mystery drones inside the Bois de Boulogne on the western edge of Paris when they were detained on Wednesday. [WSJ]
Three Al-Jazeera journalists arrested for the alleged illegal flying of a drone in Paris [BBC]
Drones were spotted over city landmarks for a second night running on Tuesday.
A spokesman for prosecutors said there was "no relationship for the moment" between the arrests and mysterious drone flights over the city at night.
Al-Jazeera said the journalists had been "filming a report on the city's recent mystery drones".
A judicial source told AFP news agency of the three people arrested: "The first was piloting the drone, the second was filming and the third was watching."
Flying drones over Paris without a licence is banned by law. In October, a 24-year-old Israeli tourist was fined €400 (£293) and spent a night in jail after flying a drone over the city's historic Hotel Dieu hospital and a police station.
February 25, 2015
Technology that allows a drone to be piloted from the ground using only a person's brainwaves has been demonstrated in Portugal. The BBC.
The company behind the development, Tekever, said the technology could in the short term be used to enable people with restricted movement to control aircraft.
Longer term the firm said piloting of larger jets, such as cargo planes, could be controlled in this way without the need for a crew on board.
February 24, 2015
Five drones were reportedly seen flying over sensitive and well-known areas of Paris overnight -- sightings that authorities are investigating, the city prosecutor's office said Tuesday. CNN reports.
The unmanned aerial vehicles were spotted over the Eiffel Tower, the Bastille, Place de la Concorde, Les Invalides and the U.S. Embassy, according to Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre, a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutor's office. The drones were seen between midnight and 6 a.m.
The French aviation police are searching for the operators of the drones.
February 18, 2015
3D Robotics recently introduced a free open-source Tower flight control app for drone copters and planes. The app makes it easy to fly a drone but also gives user the chance to build or alter features for their 3D Robotics drone. [via Forbes]
Tower can be used with any Android smartphone or tablet from novice pilots to more experienced drone flyers.
The Tower app lets users create flights for their drone by drawing the f light path directly on their tablet by dropping waypoints. A waypoint is a set of coordinates that identifies a point in physical space. The Tower app has more than ten different types of waypoints to let users design a flight for a specific purpose.
Read full article.
February 16, 2015
The draft rules state that pilots must remain within eyesight of their unmanned crafts, although it said it would consider factoring in a second line of sight in some cases.
Pilots must also be FAA certified to operate drones.
Amazon said it remained "committed" to its plans for delivery via drone.
The draft rules will be open to public consultation and are unlikely to come into force for a couple of years.
The Small UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Coalition, of which Amazon is a member, said it "applauded" the proposed rules, launched yesterday by the FAA, but mentioned several caveats, including relaxing the rule about line of sight.
"First Person View technology is available now, and is critical to unleashing the power of automation in this space," the group said in a statement.
"Until small UAVs are able to go beyond the line of sight, we are not maximising the technology as other companies already do.
Read full article.
February 13, 2015
It seems if you want media coverage, have a drone deliver your product. The latest marketing stunt is by Flower retailer Funnyhowflowersdothat.co.uk who unleashed it's Cupidrone on unsuspecting lovebirds in Verona, just in time for Valentine's Day. FastCompany reports.
The drone, a sort of modern-day cupid, swooped in on enamoured duos as they ambled the city’s streets. With a target in sight, the drone—dubbed the Cupidrone (and not to be confused with a similarly named piece of winged tech that delivers a slightly less romantic 80,000 volts of electricity)—would release a single red rose to stoke the flames of love.
The romantic, if slightly ominous, experience was a stunt to promote Funnyhowflowersdothat.co.uk, one of the Flower Council of Holland’s consumer brands, in advance of Valentine’s Day, and was devised by Amsterdam agency Kingsday.
February 11, 2015
NoFlyZone.org lets you establish a no-fly zone over your property and a number of drone hardware and software firms have already promised to honor your request. Among the partners in this effort are EHANG (the company behind the Ghost drone), Horizon Hobby, DroneDeploy, YUNEEC, HEXO+, PixiePath and RCFlyMaps. [via TechCrunch]
As you have probably noticed, most of those are relatively unknown brands (or, as in the case of HEXO+, haven’t launched yet). DJI and 3D Robotics aren’t on the list, for example, and just DJI alone probably accounts for the vast majority of drone sales in the United States. NoFlyZone tells me the company has reached out to DJI and 3D Robotics, but has not yet confirmed participation. DJI is no stranger to no-fly zones — though sometimes a bit overeager about them — so I wouldn’t be surprised if the company decided to participate in this project, too.
Read full article.
February 9, 2015
In Singapore food is a national obsession. But finding enough people to bring the food to diners is increasingly becoming a problem. One company thinks it has come up with a solution - flying robot waiters. The BBC reports.
Infinium Robotics' drones, due to be introduced at a local restaurant-bar chain by the end of this year, can carry up to 2kg of food and drink - that's about two pints of beer, a pizza, and two glasses of wine.
The unpiloted robots whizz above the heads of diners on paths charted by a computer programme, and navigate using infra-red sensors placed around the restaurant.
Keen on slowing down immigration and increasing efficiency, the government has put curbs on the cheap foreign labour on which the restaurant industry has long depended.
But young Singaporeans tend to shun service jobs due to their lower wages and perceived lower social status.
A number of well-known restaurants and food stalls have shut down in recent months citing the manpower shortage and high rentals, causing some handwringing over the future of Singapore's food culture.
Restaurateurs have been experimenting with ways to address the shortage, from robots that can wok-fry rice and noodles to iPad menus and bullet train delivery systems. None, however, has so far gone to the extent of having robots fly around serving food to diners.
Read full article.
February 8, 2015
The ‘Drones for Good’ Awards, the global competition launched by the United Arab Emirates, offering US$1 million for the best innovative civilian application of drone technology, received more than 800 local and international entries from 57 countries, highlighting the exciting opportunities offered by drones to meet public needs.
The International Winner announced on Saturday, February 7:
Swiss EPFL Start-up FLYABILITY
Flyability, the world's first collision resistant drone for search and rescue is a small, lightweight drone which has the unique capability of being able to collide on obstacles without losing its stability and of being safe to fly in contact with humans.
Spain led the submissions with 62 entries, followed by the United States, (47), India (34), Saudi Arabia (18), Colombia and Poland (15), and the United Kingdom (11).
Proposals from the semi-finalists included:
-- use of drones to detect drowning people and tow to safety (Poland);
-- replant deforested areas (UK);
-- provide better landmine detection (Spain);
-- offer aerial support to Coast Guard rescues (New Zealand);
-- map and track disaster zones to aid response (Saudi Arabia);
-- allow access to confined spaces and safely fly close to humans/rescue missions (Switzerland).
-- plant seeds and collect plant samples (Sudan);
-- eliminate fog in environmentally friendly way (UAE);
-- town planning, especially in slums, through mapping, surveying and physical planning (Kenya);
-- quicker transfer of transplant organs from donor centres (Spain);
-- better surveillance of parklands to combat poachers, control wildlife and reduce fire risks (Spain);
-- transportation of food, medicine, water, solar power, lighting and temporary shelters to stranded communities (Australia).
February 6, 2015
Drones have become an important tool to bird-watchers, allowing researchers to monitor wild bird speciies without disturbing them and their natural habitat. Or help them study birds nesting on cliffs and other places that are beyond human reach. LiveScience reports.
Both researchers and members of the public are keen to approach birds with drones," David Grémillet, an ecologist at France's National Center for Scientific Research in Montpellier told Live Science. "But we're worried about the impact drones might have on birds. We've seen videos on the Internet where people clearly got too close to birds."
In the first study of the potential effects of these drones on birds, Grémillet and his colleagues flew small, camera-equipped, four-rotor "quadricopter" drones on more than 200 flights. The drones were each about 2.2 lbs. (1 kilogram) in weight and 13.7 inches (35 centimeters) wide, and came in three colors — white, black and blue. They were relatively quiet, making only about 60 decibels of noise at a distance of 6 feet (2 meters), which is about as loud as a normal conversation.
After getting permits from the French government to fly the drones to study wildlife, the researchers analyzed the effects of drones on mallards that live in a zoo in France but are free to fly in and out of the premises. The scientists also studied wild flamingos and common greenshanks living in a lagoon in France.
"Flamingos and greenshanks are really sensitive to disturbances," Grémillet said. "They are shy and very easily scared off."
The drones were launched at a minimum distance of 165 feet (50 m) from the zoo birds and 330 feet (100 m) from the wild birds. The drones approached the birds at speeds of up to nearly 18 mph (29 km/h). While a trained and licensed pilot steered the drones, scientists watched the birds with binoculars and used laser rangefinders to determine how far the drones were from the birds.
Surprisingly, the researchers found that on 80 percent of the flights, the drones could approach within 13 feet (4 m) of these birds without visibly affecting the animals' behavior. Drone speed and color did not affect the birds' behavior.
"It was a really big surprise to us that we could approach birds so closely without visibly disturbing them," Grémillet said. "It was really interesting that the approach speed didn't have an impact."
Drones are "so foreign to birds that there's no reaction in most cases," Grémillet said. The findings are similar to a recent study that examined the effects of robots on penguins.
... "There's great potential here," Grémillet said. "Colleagues study seabirds in Norway known as kittiwakes, which breed on huge cliffs that are very inaccessible. If you have a drone, you could fly safely along the cliffs to count their numbers and observe their behaviors. Also, imagine studying birds breeding in huge wetlands. Right now, you have to put on waders and slowly wade into these scattered habitats, and you'd disturb the birds as you approach them. Drones could fly over and study them without disturbing them."
The scientists detailed their findings online Feb. 3 in the journal Biology Letters: "Approaching birds with drones: first experiments and ethical guidelines".
Shoe and sandal maker Crocs Japan has announced it will open a temporary store in Tokyo in March where drones will fly to the shelves and carry the requested items directly to customers. The Wall Street Journal reports.
We believe this is the first store in the world to make use of drones this way,” a spokeswoman said, adding that they are in the final stages of calibrating the drones.
Customers at the “flying shoe shop” can use an iPad to place orders, according to Crocs, and a drone will then take off and pick up a pair, delivering it to the spot where the customer is standing. The company hasn’t decided whether to use magnets or hooks to carry the products.
The drones were designed from scratch for the duty, and can carry up to about 600 grams, the company said. About 80 shoes can be displayed on a special stand which is about 5 meters high and 10 meters wide, they said.
The so-called Aerial Store with Drones will be open March 5-8 at Tokyo Midtown mall in Akasaka.
Read full article.
February 5, 2015
More on making a mountain out of a molehill as the Secret Service are considering charging the White House drone pilot. But more interestingly, how it happened. By The New York Times.
Shawn Usman, an accomplished scientist and dedicated public servant, has worked at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which uses satellites to gather information for the Defense Department. The drone that accidentally landed on the White House grounds was his.
In an interview with Secret Service agents, Mr. Usman said that around 3 a.m. on Jan. 26, he had been playing with the drone — a 2-foot-by-2-foot quadcopter called the DJI Phantom — in the living room of his apartment a little less than a mile from the White House.
Mr. Usman, who said that he had been drinking earlier that night, told the agents he had opened a window and flown the drone outside. He then flew the drone, which belonged to a friend, back into the apartment through the window and back out again. After guiding the drone about 100 feet outside the window, Mr. Usman said that he lost control of it. The drone hovered for several minutes before shooting up several hundred feet in the air and disappearing.
Mr. Usman called the friend who owned the drone. They realized that there was nothing they could do, and Mr. Usman went to bed without knowing where the drone had landed.
When Mr. Usman woke up, he saw the news reports that a drone had been found at the White House. He spoke with one of his bosses, who told him to call the Secret Service.
Read full article.
February 4, 2015
Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos is not the only one with a drone-delivery dream. According to Forbes, Alibaba’s billionaire founder Jack Ma is also testing drone-delivery services, as the company races to overcome logistics barriers in the country.
The initial scope of Alibaba’s experiment is small. The company’s online Taobao bazaar is inviting 450 shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to try parcel deliveries by unmanned drones today, according to a Feb. 4 post on Taobao’s verified microblog account. The drones will only deliver during the three-day trial carried out with Shanghai-based YTO Express.
“This is a one-off campaign where ginger tea packets ordered on Taobao can be delivered to designated cities or regions within an hour,” Alibaba said in an e-mailed note. “We’re unsure about future possibilities yet, but this is our first drone delivery service campaign.”
The drones can each carry a maximum weight of 1 kilogram and fly a maximum distance of 10 kilometers, according to Xue Ren, a YTO spokesperson. Ren said the express-delivery firm is just testing the market and has no immediate plan to expand the service.