Senate revamps House’s drone bill

DES MOINES — A Senate subcommittee Tuesday passed a revamped version of legislation designed to create parameters for the use of drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles.

The revised version of House File 2289 would make the intrusive use of a drone to violate someone else’s privacy or private property rights would be a criminal offense punishable under the state’s trespassing law, said Sen. Rich Taylor, D-Mount Pleasant.

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DRONES: Quickly Navigating Toward Commercial Application

Not too long ago, when most people heard the word “drones,” they thought of unmanned military aircraft engaged in highly controversial clandestine operations. But when Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon was testing the idea of delivering packages via drones, he made drones with popular commercial application suddenly seem like a viable proposition.

While drones are unlikely to become a part of our daily lives in the immediate future,  they will soon begin taking on much larger roles for businesses and some individual consumers, from delivering groceries to revolutionizing private security, to changing the way farmers manage their crops — perhaps even aerial advertising.

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FAA selected Six Drone Testing Sites

FotokiteOn December 30, 2013, The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected six UAS test site operators that will allow the agency to develop research findings and operational experiences to help ensure the safe integration of UAS into the nation’s airspace as they transition in what they refer to as a system featuring NextGen technologies and procedures. Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia are the states that will host these research sites. On these locations, researchers will develop and test new drone technologies to fly safely the same skies shared by commercial planes.

The agency’s activities must address the needs of a diverse aviation community while ensuring current users both in the air and on the ground remain safe.

The FAA announced the following six applicants had been selected to operate the UAS test sites. These six test applications achieve cross-country geographic and climatic diversity.

  • University of Alaska.  The University of Alaska proposal contained a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones as well as geographic diversity with test site range locations in Hawaii and Oregon. The research plan includes the development of a set of standards for unmanned aircraft categories, state monitoring and navigation.  Alaska also plans to work on safety standards for UAS operations.
  • State of  Nevada. Nevada’s project objectives concentrate on UAS standards and operations as well as operator standards and certification requirements. The applicant’s research will also include a concentrated look at how air traffic control procedures will evolve with the introduction of UAS into the civil environment and how these aircraft will be integrated with NextGen.  Nevada’s selection contributes to geographic and climatic diversity.
  • New York’s Griffiss International Airport.  Griffiss International plans to work on developing test and evaluation as well as verification and validation processes under FAA safety oversight. The applicant also plans to focus its research on sense and avoid capabilities for UAS and its sites will aid in researching the complexities of integrating UAS into the congested, northeast airspace.
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce.  North Dakota plans to develop UAS airworthiness essential data and validate high reliability link technology. This applicant will also conduct human factors research. North Dakota’s application was the only one to offer a test range in the Temperate (continental) climate zone and included a variety of different airspace which will benefit multiple users.
  • Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi.  Texas A&M plans to develop system safety requirements for UAS vehicles and operations with a goal of protocols and procedures for airworthiness testing. The selection of Texas A&M contributes to geographic and climactic diversity.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech).  Virginia Tech plans to conduct UAS failure mode testing and identify and evaluate operational and technical risks areas. This proposal includes test site range locations in both Virginia and New Jersey.

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Revolution: The new MULTIROTOR flight control is here!

service-drone_press_4With the takeover of the brand MULTIROTOR in spring 2013 the redevelopment of the likely most efficient, most flexible and safest flight control began. While the previous three multicopter generations from service-drone still flew with components of Mikrokopter, the intelligent control mode of the fourth generation exceeds everything that has been known so far. The layout is based on the MULTIROTOR board and was newly configured with a variety of additional functionalities, the latest hardware architecture and a completely revised software.

This development which only took about nine months and caused development costs of about EURO 350,000.- will totally replace the previous multicopter control modes from now on. As core of hardware even two 32-bit processors offer about 10 times more computing capacity than before. This enormous computing power enables high-precision coordination of every move of the copter. Likewise accurate is the flight data log on board which allows the most exact data recording 128 times per second. In connection with the most modern hardware architecture, high precision components for position sensing and sensor technology, flight manoeuvres which never have been thought possible are realisable as well as the most precise positioning of drone and camera during the flight.

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Multirotor website

Drone course kicks off aerospace academy at Pasco high school

Unmanned aircraft soon could be zipping around the grounds of Sunlake High School.

The school plans to offer a course on drone technology in January as it launches an Aerospace Career Academy with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The program is expected to offer college-level courses in engineering, pilot training and other areas aimed at preparing teens for careers in the hot aviation and aerospace professions. Eventually, students could graduate with credit for 10 university courses, on track for a degree and employment, along with their high school diplomas.

“The job opportunities out there are almost unbelievable for the students,” said Leo Murphy, the Embry-Riddle associate professor who is helping Pasco County establish the program. “Ninety-five percent of our graduates are in the workforce or pursuing advanced degrees one year after graduating.”

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UNH Using Drones To Tend Apple Orchards

An unmanned aerial vehicle designed by Boston-based Rotary Robotics captures aerial photography images over Woodward Farm at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. (Credit: Rotary Robotics/Twitter)University of New Hampshire researchers are using a remote-controlled helicopter to help apple orchards pinpoint problems and protect their crops against blemishes that render the apples unmarketable.

The low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle is loaded with GPS and infrared technology that can see pests or early infections caused by the apple scab fungus, which causes dark blemishes on the leaves and skin of apples. Instead of a farmer spending a full day scouting an orchard for problems, the helicopter can do daily surveillance in a short amount of time.

Kirk Broders, a UNH plant pathologist, and doctoral student Matt Wallhead are working with Massachusetts-based Rotary Robotics to build the vehicles, which they expect to cost about $2,500.

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MetaVR unveils portable aircraft system for generating geospecific real-time 3D terrain

MetaVRC-terrain-medsize

BROOKLINE, MA, USA November 14, 2013 – MetaVR announces that it has established a low-cost process for collecting imagery of an area of interest with a portable aircraft, and using that imagery in building geospecific 3D terrain with 3 cm per-pixel resolution imagery for real-time simulation. Using this high-resolution imagery together with accurate elevation data to compile terrain with MetaVR’s Terrain Tools for Esri ArcGIS results in a realistic geospecific synthetic environment that can be rendered in MetaVR’s Virtual Reality Scene Generator (VRSG).

The MetaVRC, MetaVR’s remote-controlled aircraft for imagery data collection, is a low profile, lightweight, and portable plane, modified to accommodate autonomous flight. The purpose of the aircraft is to take high-resolution still-frame images that are subsequently orthorectified and used as imagery source data for building 3D terrain. The aircraft is designed to fly at or below 400 feet given the appropriate permissions for airspace usage, at a range up to 20 miles depending on regulations of the area. For a 5 sq km area, approximately 2,500 raw images are taken by the aircraft’s camera at one inch (1″) pixel resolution. The portable aircraft will be on display at I/ITSEC, in MetaVR’s Booth #1249.

The raw aerial images collected by the MetaVRC are subsequently orthorectified. The resulting high-resolution geo-referenced orthomosiacs, together with DTED 1 elevation data of the photographed region become source data inputs to MetaVR Terrain Tools for ArcGIS for compiling 3D terrain in MetaVR’s round-earth terrain format. The terrain can be compiled at 3.125 cm, which in turn can be rendered in VRSG at 60 Hz. With geospecific imagery at this resolution, a physics-based IR profile of the terrain can be created in VRSG version 5.8 with a high degree of realism.

The aerial imagery can also be used to create custom 3D models of any or all of the surrounding area elements, based upon the aerial imagery and supplemented with ground-level photographs. Content can be relevant and specific to various kinds of simulation training, such as military mission exercises, law enforcement, or emergency/disaster response.
Aerial imagery collected by MetaVRC can be ordered directly from MetaVR by specifying the area of interest, such as an airfield. You can order raw collected data, orthorectified imagery, or a dataset of terrain tiles built with the imagery in MetaVR’s round-earth terrain format, delivered with a VRSG or MetaVR Terrain Tools software license. Access to the area of interest for aerial photography must be in accordance with FAA regulations. Customers will be responsible for obtaining the necessary authorization and certified access to operate within the particular area of interest for aerial photography.

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UNH researchers deploy drones for orchard management

Top PhotoA University of New Hampshire plant pathologist and his doctoral student are using a remote-controlled helicopter to help apple farmers in the Northeast battle the persistent scourge of apple scab.

Kirk Broders, assistant professor of plant pathology, and Ph.D. student Matt Wallhead are working to bring precision agriculture to orchard management in the Northeast by developing a low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone. With a camera loaded with GPS and infrared technology, the UAV can “see” pests, nutrient stress or early infections caused by the apple scab fungus.

“You and I can only see a small percentage of the light spectrum,” Broders said. “We see chlorophyll as green, but it can also be seen as red at different wavelengths.”

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Wild skies: how long will drones for hire fly in a legal limbo?

via farm9.staticflickr.com

Today, the FAA published an expected road map for its UAV deployment. By the end of 2014, the agency hopes to have a certification process for existing aircraft largely in place; it should also have published certification guidelines for pilots. After the rules for small unmanned aircraft are codified in 2015, the FAA will continue to work on rules for other craft until 2020.

It was late September, and a 3-pound drone was soaring over Midtown Manhattan. But as it headed around a skyscraper, the pilot apparently misjudged the distance: the craft smashed into the side of the building, falling dozens of stories to the streets below and almost hitting a pedestrian. The month before, a similar camera-equipped unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) tumbled into spectators as it filmed a Virginia bull run. And in July, the crash of an unmanned, retrofitted F-4 fighter temporarily shut down part of Florida’s highway 98. None of the incidents caused lasting damage or injury, but they all highlight a growing question: how will the FAA set the bar for safety when it opens the skies to commercial drones?

The word “drone” evokes the Reapers and Predators used by the military abroad, but back inside the US, it’s more likely to refer to small craft equipped with cameras and imaging sensors or hobbyist quadcopters flown for fun. Chris Anderson of drone company 3D Robotics has estimated that there are already thousands of these unmanned devices in the air, where they can generally fly below 400 feet away from populated areas with no need for a license or permit. But once you want to do more than send up an unmanned plane for your own enjoyment, things get more complicated.

WITH A FEW EXCEPTIONS, ‘DRONES FOR HIRE’ ARE STILL ILLEGAL

Government agencies, fire departments, some universities, and other public institutions can get case-by-case authorization to operate, which is why you see mosquito control groups looking for breeding sites with the Condor Aerial Maveric or police using drones in search-and-rescue missions. Commercial operators, though, need to apply for a limited experimental license in order to fly legally. This summer, the FAA certified two models of small UAV for commercial use, but most “drones for hire” are still illegal, even if their operators are rarely penalized.

The FAA has been working to change that with the small UAS [unmanned aircraft system] rule, which covers any craft under 55 pounds — the “systems” designation is used to connote a complex combination of ground control, aircraft, and data link rather than the “vehicle” in “UAV.” Progress, however, has been slow. Currently, the FAA is expected to release a draft by the end of 2013; the guidelines were originally due in December of 2011, and what exactly they’ll entail isn’t clear. Ray Young, who sits on a federal UAS advisory committee run by industry group RTCA, puts it bluntly: “We don’t know what’s in them.”

“IT’S NOT EVEN ON THE FAA’S RADAR RIGHT NOW.”

Besides straightforward safety issues, the FAA will have to deal with the privacy concerns raised by a cheap, widespread technology that lowers the barrier to launching a high-flying mobile camera. Few people would object to search-and-rescue missions, but things like the “inevitable” surveillance drones outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg has predicted over New York are a different story. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA)has brought a bill that would make the FAA build anti-surveillance protections into its rules, but right now, it’s not clear exactly who is responsible: the FAA has generally stayed out of privacy questions, and other agencies haven’t stepped up to the plate.

Missy Cummings of MIT’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Department predicts that states will end up adopting a patchwork of rules, especially while the question of small UAVs flying over state lines is fairly remote. And although one of the biggest concerns has been police spying, the FAA’s current rulemaking isn’t aimed at reining in public services.

While low-flying security cameras remain a hot issue, Young’s committee is working at the other end of the spectrum: larger UAVs that can fly at the very upper end of usable airspace. Medium or large unmanned aircraft could carry water for firefighters, transport cargo, or sit in the air as flying cellphone towers — and with a real legal framework, Young thinks the US could see a new wave of civilian drones. But that framework won’t be coming anytime soon. Congress only stipulated that the FAA make rules for small UAVs by 2015. Anything larger will be integrated in the years afterwards, and more rules could take until 2020 to release. “There is no mandate for the FAA to integrate medium- to large-sized UAVs,” says Cummings. “It’s not even on the FAA’s radar right now.”

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