December 21, 2014

In Wineries vs. Weather, Drones to the Rescue?

46306_shutterstock_129868538.jpg Welcome to wineries versus weather: the global warming edition, where flying drones in the Russian River Valley (California) are just the beginning of a worldwide response to shifting patterns in grape growing and harvesting for our sipping pleasure. ZY reports.

quotemarksright.jpgTheir mission? To one day collect aerial images that will help determine the vines’ vigor, ripeness, flavor and harvest dates, which due to rising soil temperatures have inched up in Sonoma County over the past few years.

Winemakers have plenty on the line — a nearly $292 billion industry — as experts warn that rising temperatures and declining rainfall could threaten renowned regions such as Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley in France as well as Tuscany in Italy. Many other areas are also feeling the heat. By 2050, some 60 percent of the vineyards sprinkled across California could become unsuitable for wine production, while 68 percent of those in Mediterranean Europe and up to 73 percent in Australia could be in trouble, warns a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal.

To cool their concerns, winemakers are enlisting the help of everything from a special sunscreen for grapes and pre-heat-wave microsprays to sensors that can be controlled remotely for smarter farming. Some have even established “test vineyards” to analyze the effects of warmer, drier climates, while others are turning to labs that are working on genetically modified grapes that will (they hope) withstand hotter temperatures and protect future pours of Pinot.quotesmarksleft.jpg

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December 15, 2014

The Dawn of the Flying Smartphone

An interesting read by Zoltan Istvan, futurist, journalist and author of the novel The Transhumanist Wager. In this column for Motherboard , he ruminates on the future beyond natural human ability.

quotemarksright.jpgOver the next decade, we'll see the rise of lightweight drones that fit in your pocket. In all practicality, they will be flying smartphones. I call them that because some manufactures believe drones might actually replace smartphones as the key communication device in the world. And those manufacturers plan to outfit drones with far more than camera capabilities.quotesmarksleft.jpg

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emily | 10:23 PM | News | permalink

December 11, 2014

Police to deploy drones to patrol Delhi streets post Uber rape

291855-unsafe-city-500.jpg In a first of its kind project in the country, mini drones fitted with night vision cameras will be used to patrol the streets of the national capital by the Delhi Police in order to make the city safer for women. DNAIndia reports.

quotemarksright.jpgAs the rape of a 27-year-old finance company executive by an Uber cab driver brought the spotlight back on women security in the city, the force has decided to patrol dark stretches and crime prone areas with the help of drones which will be fitted with night vision thermal imaging cameras.

The project will be launched in north district area by next month.

"With this project, North Delhi will become the first district with complete camera surveillance in Delhi. This would be achieved with the combined range of with CCTVs and drones. The only areas which will be kept out of it will be the LG House, Delhi Assembly and Metcalfe House," said a senior police official.

Every drone will fly at a height of approximately 200 metres and will cover a hexagonal grid area of three to four kilometers. Technologically it will be ensured that the area covered by two drones does not overlap.

"We can further enhance its capabilities by linking each drone to a Quick Response Teams (QRT). The video can be streamed to the QRT vehicle which will monitor it in real time and respond quickly if it sees something wrong," he said.quotesmarksleft.jpg

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emily | 6:18 PM | Surveillance Drones | permalink

FAA Approves More Commercial Drone for: aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig inspection

Yesterday, the FAA granted five regulatory exemptions for unmanned aircraft systems also known as drones, to operate in the national airspace. The four companies that received exemptions want to fly drones to perform aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections. [via Forbes]

quotemarksright.jpgThe commercial entities that received exemptions today are Trimble Navigation Limited, VDOS Global, LLC, Clayco, Inc. and Woolpert, Inc. (two exemptions).

The exemptions are granted pursuant to Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

The FAA earlier granted exemptions to seven film and video production companies.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read more.

December 10, 2014

DroneScan: the startup using flying ‘copters to manage your stock

image011.png About three years ago, Jasper Pons visited a manager of a large warehouse and discovered that a huge amount of man hours – as well as heavy machinery such as forklifts – were required just to take inventory of stock which changed daily. And so he had an idea: what if drones were used to scan inventory in warehouses? This was how DroneScan was born, a start-up offering a robotic scanning device as a solution to the time-consuming task of warehouse stocktaking.

Read interview in How We Made It In Africa and related article in VentureBurn:

quotemarksright.jpgWhen it comes to repetitive barcode scanning operations out of reach of a human, drones can be 100 times faster and 100 times more energy efficient than using a reach truck to lift a 0.8kg barcode scanner held by an 80kg human in a 100kg man-cage up to each item to scan it. An 800g drone can lift an 80g barcode scanner to do the same thing. A drone operator can count as much stock in a warehouse in two days as a team of 80 people with handheld scanners and reach trucks can count in 3 days.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read more.

emily | 10:08 PM | Inventory Drones | permalink

Inventory Drones Are Where It’s At

g_fk12_2014_iml_flying-inventory-assistant.jpg A German company is working on an inventory management system that will fly around warehouses and confirm whether items are in stock. [via TechCrunch]

quotemarksright.jpgThe Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics has created a sort of mobile antenna that can move through a warehouse and ping RFID tags (or read barcodes) on inventory items. Called InventAIRy, the project allows managers to get an autonomous review of their inventory in a few minutes by a drone or series of drones.

In this project, the IML researchers are moving toward the goal of engineering autonomous flying robots that are capable of independently navigating and conducting inventory. These flying assistants should be able to localize objects both in the warehouses as well as the exterior area, and be able to track through barcodes and RFID tags. The advantage: These robots act independent of ground-based obstructions. Furthermore, they can move in any direction and see into hard-to-reach places, such as tall storage shelves.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read full article.

emily | 10:01 PM | Inventory Drones | permalink

TGI Fridays Mistletoe Drone slashes woman's nose

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 21.03.28.pngI hate to say I told you so. But I really did.

At the Sheepshead Bay TGI Fridays last Thursday evening, a drone outfitted with mistletoe accidently slammed into a photographer’s face.

quotemarksright.jpgAccording to Fortune via The Brooklyn Daily, the incident began when a drone operator attempted to land the drone on a reporter’s hand. The reporter flinched, sending the drone careening into the face of Georgine Benvenuto, a photographer who was there to take photos for the Brooklyn Daily. The mistletoe then apparently became caught in Benvenuto’s hair, causing further damage to her nose and chin as the drone’s blades continued to spin.quotesmarksleft.jpg

[via New York Magazine]

emily | 8:57 PM | News | permalink

Geo Fencing, to prevent the growing number of drone/plane incidents ending in tragedy

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 19.18.10.png Thousands will receive drones as Christmas presents this year but, as a recent near-miss with an airliner shows, the authorities face a battle to stop them being used irresponsibly. The BBC reports.

quotemarksright.jpgRemote controlled aircraft used to be a niche hobby. It took time to build them and skill to operate them. Today drones are cheap, quick to get in the air and you can operate them on a smartphone or tablet. Today the thrill is not so much operating a model aircraft as having a flying camera.

Across the world, rules are being drawn up or refined to deal with the potential dangers. But they are already being flouted.

An unidentified drone came close to hitting an Airbus A320 as it landed at London's Heathrow during the summer.

Incidents across the world are growing in frequency and political campaigners are using them to make a statement. In October a Euro 2016 qualifier in Belgrade was stopped after a drone trailing an Albanian flag was flown over the stadium. And in France, nuclear power stations were buzzed by drones in a number of mysterious incidents.

In the US, the Federal Aviation Authority places limits on drone activity. In July two men in New York were arrested after allegedly almost flying their drone into a police helicopter.

So what can be done to prevent the growing number of incidents eventually ending in tragedy?

The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) is campaigning for drones to be programmed not to enter certain airspace - known as geo-fencing. The Phantom series of drones, sold by manufacturer DJI, already includes geo-fencing. The GPS of the drone is programmed with the co-ordinates of thousands of airports around the world. It cannot enter these areas. If it tries to it will be forced to land. And within a 2km radius of a major airport its height will be capped at just 10m.

Critics, like Dave Phipps of the British Model Flying Association, point out that people can buy a drone online from a manufacturer that doesn't use geo-fencing technology. "If you're buying it from the Far East it's virtually impossible to enforce." And other people could simply build their own drones. "You could even buy it in component form and assemble it yourself."

Commercial operators undergo days of training. But hobbyists can take it out of the box and fly it like a toy. People may need more education on what the rules state, Phipps says. Once they are aware, most users will use them in a responsible way. But stronger punishments may be necessary to send a message to "the idiot contingent", he says.quotesmarksleft.jpg

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emily | 7:13 PM | News | permalink

What Happens When Your Drone Escapes

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 18.59.46.png As consumer drones take off, the burgeoning industry is struggling to overcome a problem known as “flyaways,” when devices go rogue and fly off from their users. The WSJ reports.

quotemarksright.jpgDrone makers say their devices can zoom off or drift away with the wind for a variety of reasons, including software glitches, bad Global Positioning System data and lost connections to controllers. Many incidents end with the devices barreling into buildings, trees or bodies of water.

There aren’t statistics on the number of flyaways yet, but examples abound, many of them recorded by the drones’ cameras and posted online.

... On an online forum for drone users, a poll of 774 people who said they owned DJI Phantoms showed that nearly a third had experienced a flyaway, including 122 users who never saw their devices again. DJI said its internal figures suggest the percentage of users reporting flyaways is decreasing as it improves its software and fail-safe functions.

Preventing flyways requires fixing drones’ core technology. Satellite-based GPS and onboard compasses, used to help orient and stabilize the devices, can set drones adrift if tall buildings, cellphone towers or even solar flares interfere with their accuracy, drone makers say.

Electromagnetic interference, which many electrical systems emit, can also potentially disrupt the compass and the link between a drone and its controller.

Drone makers say fail-safe functions prevent most potential flyaways. The most common is a “return to home” feature that returns the device to its takeoff spot if it loses its connection or has a low battery. But users say that solution doesn’t always work.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read full article.

emily | 6:48 PM | | permalink

December 8, 2014

The Drone Terrorism Case That Wasn't

Fears related to drone safety, in particular concerns about so-called “near misses” with manned aircraft, have gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. More detailed analysis, however, has shown those fears to have been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless, they have resulted in one senator’s call for an expansion of the FAA’s drone ban to include not just commercial drones but all private drones. [via Forbes]

quotemarksright.jpgSimilarly, there was big news recently for anyone interested in drones and national security. National and international headlines informed readers that a Moroccan man had been sentenced for plotting to carry out a terrorist attack inside the United States using a “drone.” Score one for defending “the Homeland” from terrorists, and drones, and most insidious of all, “drone terrorism.”

There’s just one problem, as in the case of drone “near misses,” this case of supposed “drone terrorism” has been greatly exaggerated. In fact, neither the charges nor the sentence in this case were related to terrorism or drones. The man in question, El Mehdi Semlali Fathi, is going to jail for perjury, not terrorism. The blatant and rampant misreporting of this story is but one more example of fear-induced technopanic and threat inflation related to domestic “drones.”quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read more.

emily | 4:25 PM | News | permalink

November 26, 2014

GoPro will start selling drones next year

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 18.43.09.pngGoPro Inc. is developing its own line of consumer drones to expand from its core business of making wearable video cameras popular with surfers and other sports enthusiasts, according to people familiar with its plans. [via The WSJ]

quotemarksright.jpgThe company plans to start selling multi-rotor helicopters equipped with high-definition cameras late next year, aiming for a price tag between $500 and $1,000, according to these people.

San Mateo, Calif.-based GoPro is already a supporting player in the drone market, providing many of the roughly 3 oz. cameras that consumer drones carry. ... Drone makers could stop supporting GoPro devices if they are competing head-to-head with the camera maker.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read full article.

emily | 6:39 PM | News | permalink

November 24, 2014

Drones to help fight off train thieves

34c7a1e3-58ff-4761-ad6a-5373105c1704.jpg In order to combat the theft of coal, Polish rail freight operator PKP Cargo has employed the services of high-tech drones. [via News from Poland]

quotemarksright.jpgThe quadcopter machines will be able to hover over hundreds of train carriages full of coal and coke both enroute and when docked in stations. Thieves pose a significant problem to the agency, PKP Cargo has said.

Theft of raw materials during transport is a hurdle which we have faced for a number of years, and the losses incurred amount to millions [of zloty] each year,” said Maciej Borecki, director of Security and Audit PKP Cargo. “In order to limit the scale of these crimes, this year we have decided to intensify preventive measures and make use of modern technology.”quotesmarksleft.jpg

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emily | 12:56 PM | Surveillance Drones | permalink

Drone Flights Face FAA Hit

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.53.39.png

Highly anticipated federal rules on commercial drones are expected to require operators to have a license and limit flights to daylight hours, below 400 feet and within sight of the person at the controls, according to people familiar with the rule-making process. The Wall Street Journal reports.

quotemarksright.jpgThe drone industry has awaited commercial rules for about six years, hoping the rules would pave the way for widespread drone use in industries such as farming, filmmaking and construction. Current FAA policy allows recreational drone flights in the U.S. but essentially bars drones from commercial use.

While the FAA wants to open the skies to unmanned commercial flights, the expected rules are more restrictive than drone supporters sought and wouldn’t address privacy concerns over the use of drones, people familiar with the matter said.

The agency also plans to group all drones weighing less than 55 pounds under one set of rules. That would dash hopes for looser rules on the smallest drones, such as the 2.8-pound Phantom line of camera-equipped, four-rotor helicopters made by China’s SZ DJI Technology Co. Similar-sized devices are seen as the most commercially viable drones and have surged in popularity in the last two years.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read more.

November 22, 2014

Drone helps save window cleaner stuck on high-rise scaffolding

1564910.jpg A frightened window cleaner, whose motorized scaffolding malfunctioned near the 10th floor of a high-rise building in Abu Dhabi, was rescued by a drone on Tuesday, Dubai’s Kaleej Times reports via the NY Post.

quotemarksright.jpg Local authorities brought the high-tech drone — capable of midair communication — to aid in rescuing the worker.

The remote-controlled drone first relayed a brief message to the worker to calm his nerves, letting him know that everything was going to be OK.

Then the hovering hero detected the technical malfunction in the scaffold and “utilized audiovisual monitoring” to quickly teach the stuck worker how to fix the problem himself, according to the Kaleej Times.

The cleaner repaired the scaffolding in midair and got free without getting injured.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read full article.

emily | 8:21 AM | News, Rescue Drones | permalink

November 21, 2014

Self-destructing bio-drones could be the next Mars explorers

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 13.31.11.png A group of students from Brown and Stanford University are collaborating with researchers from Nasa's Ames Research Centre on a biodegradable drone that "self-destructs" and "dissolves" upon impact, which they hope one day to send to Mars. [via Wired]

quotemarksright.jpgProject leader and astrobiologist, Lynn Rothschild told that she had the idea of inventing a biodegradable drone when she noticed that the UAVs used by her scientific colleagues got lost-in-action. "Sometimes the UAVs sent out to observe coral reefs are lost and littering is a problem. You don't want to be responsible for littering the very ecosystem you're trying to protect. What if you lose the UAV in the ocean and it could just dissolve away," she asks.

... To construct the bio-drone, the team collaborated with material science company Ecovative, who specialise in the production of non-wasteful technology. The biodegradability of the drone stems from its fungal mycelium composition.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read full article.

emily | 1:27 PM | Technology | permalink

November 20, 2014

TGI Fridays plans on mistletoe drone in restaurants. Crazy.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 08.41.19.png.

Last year a mistletoe-wielding drone hovered above couples in San Francisco’s Union Square, this year TGI Fridays has announced a mistletoe drone in a bid to boost festive bookings.

This crazy marketing scheme will never happen or be closed down as soon as it does. There is nothing more dangerous that a drone flying indoors. Earlier this year, a story on how teachers in Belgium were using drones to monitor students during exams turned out to be a hoax.

emily | 8:38 AM | News | permalink

In latest 'Chicago Fire' episode, a drone brings down helicopter

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 08.25.39.png

In Tuesday night's episode of Chicago Fire (Season 3, Episode 8), a drone belonging to teenage boys gets caught in a helicopter rotor and brings it down, creating a disaster zone with multiple victims (and two very sorry kids).

A cautionary tale. CBS reports that pilots have spotted drones twice this week near JFK.

November 18, 2014

FAA Can Make All Drone Flights Illegal, Federal Court Rule

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 08.12.04.png Some very bad news for drone pilots this morning: An appeals board has ruled that the FAA has wide latitude to make all drone flights illegal in the United States. motherboard reports.

quotemarksright.jpg The decision, by the National Transportation Safety Board, determined that the FAA's existing "aircraft" regulations can apply to model aircraft, drones, and remote controlled aircraft, which is perhaps the most restrictive possible outcome for drone pilots in a legal saga that has dragged on for more than a year.

The case, which motherboard covered extensively, concerns Raphael "Trappy" Pirker, a Swiss pilot who was fined $10,000 by the FAA for a "reckless flight" at the University of Virginia in 2011. There was nothing overly interesting about Pirker's flight, other than the fact that he was paid for his work,something that the FAA has been trying to say is illegal for quite some time now. Pirker originally won his court case, in which a federal judge ruled that model aircraft aren't technically "aircraft" subject to the FAA's existing regulations.

The appeals board disagreed, saying that the federal "definitions on their face do not exclude even a 'model aircraft' from the meaning of 'aircraft.'"

"Furthermore, the definitions draw no distinction between whether a device is manned or unmanned," the board wrote. " An aircraft is 'any' 'device' that is 'used for flight.' We acknowledge the definitions are as broad as they are clear, but they are clear nonetheless."

The decision is close to what the FAA originally pushed for, ​which is so broad that perhaps frisbees and baseballs could be considered "aircraft.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read more.

Topless sunbather photographed by estate agent drone


An Australian real estate agent used pictures taken by a drone to market a property without realising they included revealing images of a neighbour. [via The BBC]

quotemarksright.jpgMandy Lingard, who was sunbathing in her back garden wearing just a thong, said she realised only when she saw an advertising board near her home. The company, Eview Real Estate, has now removed the offending images.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read more. Image|JaydeVincent

Unmanned drones 'being used to harass people', UK police say

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 09.17.50.png

Unmanned drones are "undoubtedly" being used to harass people, police say. [via The BBC]

quotemarksright.jpgA House of Lords committee was told the devices were also being flown in protected airspace and that officers found it difficult to identify the people responsible.

The warning came from Ch Insp Nick Aldworth, of the Metropolitan Police, who is part of a nationwide group tasked with looking at the issue. Civilian use of the aircraft, which can be legally flown, is increasing.

The Lords Internal Market, Infrastructure and Employment Committee has been holding an inquiry into their use by civilians.

The concerns are really around the fact that we are seeing this technology being used for criminal conduct.

Ch Insp Aldworth said: "We have undoubtedly seen it flown in controlled airspace, we have undoubtedly seen it used to harass people, and we have seen it flown in contravention of the air navigation orders, so I think that concern arises by the fact that there is clearly a means of offending that we do not seem to be able necessarily to address quickly.quotesmarksleft.jpg

Read full article.