VIDEO: Drones Take Farming’s Future Skyward

TECHNOLOGIES that have the potential to revolutionise farming practices were showcased at the National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture’s Smart Farms tour yesterday.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, equipped with cameras that relay the data back to a computer were demonstrated as the University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Cheryl McCarthy, who explained the practical applications for primary producers.

“The sensor equipment that can be carried on these UAVs can let a producer know where there has been damage in a crop by wild animals or other factors, which otherwise wouldn’t be visible at a ground level,” she said.

The demonstrated fixed-wing UAV weighs 2.2kg and has a flying time of 20 minutes and, while they represent the future of agriculture, V-Tol Aerospace pilot Andrew Reiker said the use of the drones was highly regulated.

“If they are going to be used for some sort of commercial gain, the flier would need a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System certificate to fly it,” he said.

“They are limited to day visual flying only, and cannot go above 400 feet.”

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.


‘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

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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.


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


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.


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


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.

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UAVs are Next Wave in Agriculture


Brian Leone’s father and grandfather watched agriculture move from the 19th century to the 20th century. They saw technology move from tractors that had the power of a few horses to machines that communicate with satellites.

That technology changed how far and how fast farmers could move across their fields and how much corn, soybeans and wheat they could grow.

Now, their son and grandson has his eyes on the skies to see the next revolution in agriculture.

“Our mission is to make more bushels per acre, to go from a 200- to 250-per-bushel an acre average. This kind of technology is going to make that happen,” said Leone, who farms near Peru and is the fourth-generation of Leones in the farming and agriculture business.

Leone knows that his generation and following generations will be pioneers of new and very different technology in agriculture.

“Our ancestors watched agriculture go from one-row planters to two-row planters to now 36-row planters. We’re not going to watch that happen. That part of the growth in ag is mainly done,” he said.

The next wave of technology includes a small airborne vehicle, compact enough to fit in a suitcase and run on battery power, but powerful enough to change how farmers view — and care for — their farms and fields.

The use of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles in agriculture has caught on around the world and is gaining widespread interest in the U.S. and the Midwest.

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Commercial drone industry looking to fly locally


ENCINITAS — Four propellers whirred, buzzing like the sound of a small swarm of bees.

Encinitas resident Treggon Owens watched his UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), lift off into the air. Soon, the UAV rose 100 feet above Owens, who stood behind the future location of Bull Taco, a stone’s throw north of Encinitas Boulevard and Coast Highway 101.

Although he held a remote in his hands, Owens didn’t have to touch a thing. The UAV — better known as a small drone — followed a preprogrammed route south along the railroad tracks.

Owens watched the UAV’s progress from a monitor attached to a tripod.

“You can imagine this machine delivering a burrito in the not-too-distant future,” Owens said.

For some, the word “drone” conjures up images of missile strikes and war. But to Owens and other early adopters, the growing UAV industry has cutting-edge commercial applications.

“There’s so much potential, whether food delivery or agriculture or surveying the surf,” Owens said.

UAVs don’t just hold promise. They’re already taking off, despite an uncertain regulatory environment.

Owens and other builders just launched Aerial Mob, a company that specializes in UAV parts and aerial cinematography.

During the Surfing Madonna 5/10K last year, Aerial Mob’s camera-equipped UAV zoomed along the coast, shooting striking footage of runners moving across the beach.

Their UAV again took to the skies to capture a unique angle of the Pacific View school site as part of a campaign to stop the property from being auctioned off.

“I’m one garage inventor out of thousands — it’s becoming huge,” Owens said.

Given the number of inventors here, he believes the county could become a hub for UAV manufacturing.

To really open the floodgates, officials across the region will need to adopt small-business tax breaks and establish additional manufacturing space in places like Encinitas where it’s scarce — no easy task, he acknowledged.

On that note, Owens recently met with county Supervisor Dave Roberts to talk about encouraging commercial UAVs.

“What excites me is the potential for small-business growth,” Roberts said, noting he’s looking into ways to bolster the industry.

To get the public’s support, the industry would have to be sensitive to privacy concerns, Roberts said.

Some local groups like Back Country Voices protested when San Diego was being considered for one of six test sites across the nation to develop drones. The organization argued a site would turn the county into a surveillance society.

Ultimately, San Diego was passed up as a site. Commercial and defense companies that produce drones viewed the decision as a lost opportunity to boost the industry.

Full details here:

Drones to deliver drugstore items in the Mission?


For one brief shining moment, commercial drones are now legal in U.S. skies, thanks to a court decision this month that slapped down the Federal Aviation Administration’s attempt to ground them.

A San Francisco company has leaped on the opportunity, gearing up to offer drone delivery of drugstore items in the Mission.

QuiQui, pronounced Quicky, said on its website that it’s been working on its idea for two years, and was taken by surprise when the FAA lost its lawsuit. Its drones will fly below 500 feet, for a $1/delivery fee and will operate 24 hours a day — with orders arriving in less than 15 minutes, it said.

CEO and founder Joshua Ziering said that he’s a life-long aviation nut. “I am crazy about airplanes, crazy about helicopters; then in the past five years, drones came out and I’m crazy about drones,” he said.

Does he have his own drones? “I have a fleet of model aircraft; I’m embarrassed to disclose the number, probably 20 or 30.”

Ziering, 28, said the boot-strapped company has a team of four, some of whom have day jobs. It hopes to launch the service by July — unless the FAA steps in to shut it down. It’s seeking investors. QuiQui plans to have three or four drones that it will spend a few thousand dollars each to develop.

The drones won’t alight on your doorstep. Instead, they will stay at least 20 feet in the air to avoid bumping into people or “anything nefarious” happening — like damage to a drone or theft of a drone or its contents. When a drone arrives at a delivery site, “your phone will buzz, saying your delivery is here,” Ziering said. “You go outside and swipe to tell it to drop your order. It will drop it and then fly away. I kind of want it to beep like Roadrunner and then fly.”

QuiQui is launching with drugstore deliveries because that’s “the most economically viable option with the most consumer pain,” the website said. “Nobody likes going when they’re sick because  they don’t feel well, and nobody likes going when they’re well because there are a lot of sick people there.”

Also medicine and sundries are lightweight. “If a toothbrush falls from 20 feet it won’t hurt anyone,” he said.

One big issue to resolve, Ziering said: “How do you deal with regulated substances? We don’t want someone flying around oxycontin.” QuiQui says it is working with pharmacies to offer the service. Ziering declined to name any names.

The Mission’s lack of tall buildings and relative flatness made its aerial mapping easier — and also most of its founders live there, it wrote.

The folks who hate the Google buses are unlikely to be receptive to miniature flying robots cruising their neighborhood, it acknowledged. “We know that gentrification is a hot topic in The Mission and we want to be sensitive to that. … We’ve worked extra hard to make sure our drones are quiet and respectful of the neighborhood. For example, we avoid schools and parks on our flight paths.”


Commercial drones fly in other countries, U.S. businesses can just watch as FAA still shows red light


Governments in many countries do not have strict regulations to fly commercial drones but in the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is still signaling a red light for drones.

The FAA published operating standards for recreational use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in 1981. The FAA standards recommend that drones should fly under 400 feet and should avoid airports. In 2007, the FAA also published rules which stipulate that the guidelines applied only to “modelers” and did not apply to civil aircrafts that are used for businesses.

Since 2007, the FAA suggests that using a UAV for commercial purposes will require a permit. The FAA also says that anyone who wants to fly a manned or an un-manned aircraft in the U.S. airspace should have approval from the agency.

According to a Consumer Eagle report, Chance Roth, the CEO of AirDroids says that some drones are large enough, which can be a hazard and may result in an accident.

“When discussing drones, you’ve got to put them into two primary categories,” said Roth. “The first is personal use devices or those around five pounds. The other category is commercial use or devices that are heavier than five pounds. The former has been around for many, many years without any regulation at all. The latter are the ones I believe the public is more worried about, since when they come down it’s not usually with just a thud.”

Accidents relating to drones are rare, but they do occur. A New York teenager was killed by a remote-controlled helicopter in 2013. In a separate accident in 2010, UAV collided with a two-passenger plane, which resulted in an emergency landing in Colorado.

Some countries such as Japan have been using drones for various purposes like spraying crops. Using drones for spraying crops is cheaper than using a plane. Apart from the economic factor the drones are also said to be more effective in spraying fertilizers when compared to other aircrafts.

The use of smaller drones in some countries is not restricted provided that the operators of those UAV’s follow safety rules.

Reports suggest that the FAA is working on new rules for smaller UAVs, which are less than 55 pounds, in 2014. The agency is also expected to lay down full regulations for UAV’s by September 2015.