A flying car, of sorts: Helicopter/ground vehicle hybrid takes flight

The Black Knight Transformer, made by Advanced Tactics, recently made its video debut, demonstrating how a transforming helicopter and ground vehicle hybrid might operate.

Combining the vertical takeoff capabilities of a helicopter with the off-road capabilities of a ground vehicle, the Black Knight is designed to conduct casualty evacuation and cargo resupply missions. In addition to having a ground drivetrain for off-road capabilities, the Black Knight allows for an amphibious hull, cargo pod, or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance pod to be swapped in for modular capabilities. Weighing in at 4,400 pounds, the vehicle is expected to be able to reach a ground driving speed of 70 mph and an air cruising speed of 150 mph.

The aircraft can be controlled remotely or operate autonomously. For the test flight, the aircraft was completely controlled by autopilot with a remote backup pilot providing power commands.

Originally designed for the Army, the concept was proposed to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Transformer (TX) Program, which was seeking a vehicle that could operate on ground and in the air. The program ultimately chose a Lockheed Martin design, and was changed into the current Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) program.

Despite not being selected for the program, the Black Knight has been incorporated into the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s Enhanced MAGTF Operations Aerial Delivery program. According to the video, the concept has also been sponsored by the Air Force Research Lab and the Army Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center.

The design successfully completed its first flight test in March 2014, having already conducted driving tests in December 2013. The technology demonstrated in these tests has cost less than $2 million in government funding.

California Hotel Offers Bottle Service by Drone


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Imagine there was a champagne drone delivery service that flies in bottles of bubbly at just the right time for celebrating life’s biggest moments.

The fantasy can become a reality for deep-pocketed guests at the The Mansion at Casa Madrona’s Alexandrite Suite in Sausalito, Calif.

The bay side hotel, which re-opened earlier this month after renovations, announced that the $10,000 per night suite would include the cutting edge champagne drone delivery service.

A video posted on the hotel’s Instagram account shows the robotic aircraft safely ferrying two bottles of pricey champagne through the air before making a smooth landing on a patio.

 

US Drone Ban Infringes Press Freedom

Washington:  Sixteen major US news organizations came together Tuesday to accuse the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of curtailing freedom of the press by restricting the use of drones.

Unlike other countries, the United States prohibits the use of drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS), for commercial purposes, although the FAA grants rare exceptions for government and law enforcement use.

In a brief to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the news organizations — including The New York Times and The Washington Post — argued that drones are a First Amendment concern.

Through “a series of threats of administrative sanction,” the FAA has “flatly banned” the use of drones for newsgathering purposes, according to the 25-page brief.

“The FAA’s position is untenable as it rests on a fundamental misunderstanding about journalism,” it added. “News gathering is not a ‘business purpose.’ It is a First Amendment right.”

The brief was filed in the context of the dismissal by an NTSB administrative judge in March of a $10,000 civil penalty that the FAA slapped on European drone entrepreneur Raphael Pirker for a promotional video he made in 2011 over the campus of the University of Virginia.

The FAA alleged that Pirker — based in Hong Kong and known among drone enthusiasts worldwide as Trappy — operated his five-pound (2.25 kilogram) Styrofoam flying wing recklessly and without a proper pilot’s license.

The FAA is appealing that decision to the full NTSB board, saying it is concerned it “could impact the safe operation of the national airspace system and the safety of the people and property on the ground.”

Other news organizations that co-signed the brief include the Associated Press news agency, the Gannett, Hearst, McClatchy and Tribune newspaper groups, and Advance Publications, owner of the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines.

Last month Texas EquuSearch, a non-profit search-and-rescue group, filed a lawsuit in Washington against the FAA after it was ordered by the agency to stop using drones to find missing people.

In February, the FAA said it would miss an end-of-2015 deadline set by Congress for fresh regulations enabling civilian drones to safely share the skies with private and commercial aircraft.

It added that when regulations do come, they would come in stages.

Via: http://bit.ly/1qeJBqW

UAVs to Inspect Solar Farms

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Like many new technologies, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) started with military applications and gradually found their way into civilian life. With support from investors such as Google, a new company called Skycatch has developed a UAV that’s used for remote monitoring and inspecting construction sites, mining operations, and farms. Now Skycatch is getting into the solar array inspection business. It will soon begin testing its technology on PV farms built by industry giants SolarCity and First Solar.

 

Infrared Signatures Show Defective Panels

Photovoltaic panels emit a certain amount of heat, and it turns out that defective panels give off more heat than functioning panels. The difference in temperature can be easily detected using an infrared thermal imaging camera, as shown in the image below. A quick flyover by a UAV armed with an IR camera can identify malfunctioning panels quickly and inexpensively, allowing operators to replace the panels and keep the solar farm running at peak efficiency. You won’t see these flying over residential rooftop arrays; it’s only cost-effective for utility-scale solar farms.

Full details here: http://bit.ly/Q6OLVe

Lockheed Develops Three New UAV Technologies

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VINEYARD, Utah, April 29 (UPI) — Lockheed Martin reports that three technologies it acquired and developed for use with unmanned aerial vehicles have achieved operational readiness status.

The Indago vertical take-off and landing quad-rotor UAV, along with a handheld ground control station for it, offers a mobile surveillance, and Lockheed Martin claims that a new commercial avionics suite will maintain the performance capabilities of previous models at a lower price.

“After two years of developing these capabilities, we will now be able to deliver affordable and effective products to both military and commercial customers,” said Kevin Westfall, director of unmanned solutions at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “The Indago VTOL, handheld GCS and advanced commercial avionics suite will provide mobility and high accuracy for a range of missions — now and in the future.”

The Indago, which can be folded up for carrying, is just 32x32x7 inches and weighs five pounds. It can reach a distance of as much as three miles and can fly for 45 minutes when its operator uses the handheld ground control system.

The VTOL features a 360 degree panning capability to aid area surveillance and provide enhanced situational awareness and actionable imagery.

Lockheed said its Kestrel autopilot system, which uses failsafe algorithms to increase safety throughout the mission, is at the heart of the system.

Full details visit: http://bit.ly/1heEUE5

‘Friendly’ drone on dog leash takes off

Drones are becoming more common in our skies, performing a variety of tasks,
from taking photos to monitoring crops and potentially even delivering
broadband.

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But there are strict rules about their usage, which has led some to come up with innovative ways to fly such vehicles more safely.

“I’m using a dog leash for a small dog,” says roboticist Sergei Lupashin as he demonstrates a new kind of consumer-friendly drone at the Ted (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference in Vancouver.

By tethering it, he hopes the Fotokite, as it is called, can avoid some of the issues faced by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are banned without a special licence because of safety and privacy concerns.

“It doesn’t rely on GPS [ Global Positioning System], sophisticated machine vision, radio, it doesn’t even use a compass. Most crashes today happen because of GPS, radio or piloting issues,” says Dr Lupashin.

“Should something happen, the leash gives a robust fail safe – the vehicle reduces thrust and it automatically comes back to the operator,” he adds.

The inspiration for the device came during street protests in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow, when he realised it could be an invaluable tool for reporting protests around the world.

“For journalists it is good to get that perspective, to show the scale of the event without adding to the tension,” says Dr Lupashin.

But he also sees potential for amateur and professional photographers, archaeologists, architects and even as a toy for children.

His prototype device uses a shop-bought quadrocopter with “a basic action camera attached” which, in turn, is connected to a standard dog lead. It can shoot both video and stills.

Flying Pet

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Drones have long been associated with the military, but increasingly they are finding their way into civilian life, for a wide range of uses including delivering medicines in the developing world, for farming and as a low-cost way of getting broadband to remote parts of the world – something both Facebook and Google are actively pursuing.

They are also useful tools for both professional and amateur photographers, providing the opportunity for a bird’s eye view of people and places.

“Aerial photography is a fascinating new application for small, unmanned vehicles but the remote-controlled ones are very complex and can be difficult to use. They are also dangerous,” says Dr Lupashin.

The safety issue took centre stage last month when an Australian triathlete was injured by an aerial drone taking pictures of the race she was competing in.

A drone on a lead is likely to be treated with far less suspicion, says Dr Lupashin.

“People treat you normally – it is like a flying pet. It always has a physical connection to the operator,” he says.

 

For full details visit: http://bbc.in/1f7muKi

The Drones Are Coming: FAA-approved labs test UAVs for use in US skies

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At Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, a helicopter drone hovers menacingly over a robot vehicle. The vehicle tries to evade the drone, turning right and left – surging forward and backward. Like an angry wasp, the drone swoops back and forth, staying directly in front of the robot – exactly one meter away, one meter off the ground.

And it does it all without a human at the controls. In fact, human hands can’t replicate what the drone did with such precision.

It’s all part of a series of complex experiments to determine whether drones can be safely integrated into already-crowded U.S. airspace, and what they might best be used for.

“I believe they’re going to be a big part of our future,” said university President Flavius Killebrew. “Maybe not in the way you see on some of the ads, but in ways that we haven’t even conceived of yet.”

The “ads” Killebrew refers to are “blue-sky” campaigns by Amazon, DHL and Domino’s pizza that envision a world where drones will deliver everything from DVDs to double-cheese stuffed crust. Complicated navigation in urban areas is years away, if even possible, Killebrew says. The more likely first application for drones, he says, will be in rural areas, far from buildings and people.

“Like pipelines,” he told Fox News. “You can fly a pipeline with sensors to determine if there are leaks.”

Texas A&M Corpus Christi is one of six test sites picked by the FAA to work out the details on putting commercial drones in the skies by 2016. One of the other test sites — in North Dakota – just received approval by the FAA to conduct experiments using drones to survey crops.

According to the FAA, there are some 7,000 commercial aircraft in the skies over the U.S. at any given moment. The challenge is how to integrate thousands of drones in the same space.

 

For full details visit: http://fxn.ws/1lJdz07

Drone built by Cal Poly students wins contest


A team of Cal Poly students has created an object that might be confused with a UFO, a science-fiction film prop, or even a bizarre pool toy.

Their invention of aluminum, PVC piping, steel and pool “noodle” foam makes a whiny buzz, hovers in the air, and gently lands in a field of grass on campus.

They call it SkyBarge.

The group of nine engineering majors created its version of an unmanned aerial vehicle — commonly known as a drone.

On April 5, their flying object steered by remote control won a regional American Society of Mechanical Engineers competition.

Cal Poly hosted the contest, which is held annually at various campuses.

The challenge was to design a craft that could simulate a UAV firefighting operation.

The Cal Poly students’ craft negotiated an obstacle course by flying through hoops and dropping a sandbag on target before returning to its starting point within the allotted five minutes. It completed the mission in about 90 seconds.

The team beat out 14 other universities at the competition in the Bonderson Engineering building, where about 100 spectators gathered to watch.

Other universities included San Jose State, Oregon Institute of Technology and University of Idaho.

For full details visit: http://bit.ly/1nEGjsb

TV and Film Industry Pros Say “Yeah Baby, We Dig Drones!”

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I’ve just wrapped-up two days of really cool demos and fascinating discussions at the massive National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention in Las Vegas, and I can report that the use of drones in tv and movie production was not the number one topic of conversation among industry professionals (that spot was occupied by the anticipated big-money transition to ultra-high definition video programming…get ready to buy a new television), but drones certainly weren’t being ignored and their prominence at the show is absolutely on the rise.  The NAB’s huge show draws over 90,000 attendees to Las Vegas from every major studio, network, production company, and technology vendor, and takes over the entire, cavernous Las Vegas convention center.   You already know that enthusiastic amateurs are using drones the world over to capture breathtaking footage of sports, the natural world, public demonstrations, and other subjects, but I went to NAB specifically to get a handle on the current state – and outlook for – the use of drones by the pros who produce tv series, sporting events, box office movies, and more.  After hanging out with people from approximately fifty different drone and camera vendors, production companies, news organizations, engineering firms, wireless communication companies, and others in the drone / television / film production industry, I offer the following observations and insights:

  • The presence and importance of drones at the NAB show is on the rise, with more drone vendors exhibiting this year than in years past, and returning exhibitors occupying larger booths in more prominent locations.  Some vendors had their own booths (chief among them DJI), while most others were sharing booth space with larger partners.  Overall, the presence of drones, and interest in them, was universally reported to be up sharply from year past.
  • Most of the drones on display – other than those shown by DJI – were larger multi-copters and some fixed-wing aircraft, capable of carrying the larger cameras (like the iconic Red Epic and AARI’s Alexa line) used by serious production companies.  Prices ranged from $45,000 for Intuitive Aerial’s Aerigon up to $750,000 for the Flying Cam 3.0.   While these prices sound high, in the context of the cost of other professional grade production equipment, and of total production budgets in general, professional-grade drones costing in the tens of thousands of dollars do not seem mispriced.
  • DJI’s booth was by far the largest of any drone vendor, and was in a prominent location close to the mega-booths of tv industry heavyweights like Canon and Panasonic.  The combination of the booth’s size and location was an unequivocal statement that “Drones have arrived.”  The DJI booth was continuously busy, though much of the traffic consisted of mildly curious onlookers drawn in by the loud buzz of Phantoms flying above the crowd.
  • With much of the drone-related attention focused on DJI, other drone vendors – none of whom had nearly the traffic or buzz of DJI – were quick to comment that DJI’s products, including their higher-end larger multi-copters, are not up to the task of carrying the larger cameras required by professional production companies.  Of course, this was disputed by DJI, with the truth being largely a function of how big a camera you need to use.
  • Absent from the show were two household names in the small UAV market, but perhaps with good reason.  3D Robotics and Parrott, both of whom have high brand awareness and strong sUAV market positions skipped the show, perhaps as a result of the fact that their products are generally not considered professional grade or capable of the heavy lifting required by the tv and film production industry.
  • The drone industry needs to continue to make progress on a number of technical dimensions to fully meet the needs of the tv and film industry.  First and foremost is reliability.  Professional grade HD video cameras from Red, Blackmagic, Canon, and others can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and are not built to take the “hard landings”, much less the crashes that are part of the UAS multi-rotor flying experience today.  Another is the bandwidth of the wireless video downlink, which needs to be exceptionally high to accommodate live, wireless, HD video transmission from the aircraft to the camera operator.  Finally, stability needs to improve to provide the steady shots needed for professional productions.  Of course, improvements in battery power / flight time would also be welcome.  The drone industry is hardly standing still on any of these issues, and there were numerous vendors offering newly developed or cleverly adapted products to address many of these challenges.
  • Significant confusion persists regarding the legality of flying drones in the United States.  Most individuals in the tv and film production industry are aware that there is an ongoing battle between the UAS industry and the FAA, with widely varying interpretations of what is allowed today, and particularly what the word “commercial” means in the context of the FAA’s total (but recently overturned and subsequently appealed) commercial prohibition.

For full insights visit: http://bit.ly/1hTRpKi

Google to acquire drone-maker Titan Aerospace

Google is buying drone maker Titan Aerospace, a company that Facebook was reportedly interested in earlier this year. The video is provided by Buzz60 Newslook.

Google says it has agreed to acquire Titan Aerospace, a 2-year-old start-up maker of high-altitude drones.

The search-engine giant did not say how much it will pay for Titan, whose solar-powered drones will help Google collect aerial images.

Google’s gain comes at the expense of Facebook, who earlier this year was in talks to buy the New Mexico-based company for a reported $60 million. Facebook ended up purchasing Ascenta, a U.K.-based aerospace company that has also been working on solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles, for $20 million.

When Facebook announced its Connectivity Lab initiative last month, it said it added “the world’s top experts on aerospace technology,” including Ascenta employees.

The 20-person Titan team will be paired with Google’s Project Loon, which is building large, high-altitude balloons that send Internet signals to areas of the planet that are currently not online, according to Google.

Titan touts several applications for its drones, including data delivery, crop monitoring and search-and-rescue aid. Its vehicles can stay aloft for up to five years without having to land or refuel, making them an intriguing possibility for beaming out Internet service, according to drone experts.

“Titan Aerospace and Google share a profound optimism about the potential for technology to improve the world, ” Google said in a statement Monday. “It’s still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation.”

The tech collaboration is expected to yield algorithms for wind prediction and flight planning, Google says.


Google’s gambit comes amid a heightened interest among consumers in drones. Last year, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos whetted the public’s appetite with the intention of a drone delivery service that would drop off purchased goods at households. He gave no timetable on when it would be available.

Via: http://usat.ly/1l7mJTK