Can drones appeal to the masses?

The latest generation of camera-equipped drones offers the chance to take the kinds of photos once only available to helicopter pilots. The BBC’s Kim Gittleson asks if the drones of the future will be panorama picture takers, not predators.

On a recent windy autumn day in New York City, I tagged along with Colin Guinn, the chief innovation officer at DJI, to Washington Square Park in lower Manhattan.

DJI, explained Mr Guinn, is a firm that develops and engineers small unmanned aerial vehicles that are meant to carry cameras. Drones, basically, that carry cameras instead of guns.

Stopping just in front of the park’s iconic arch, he placed a black suitcase on a bench and pulled out what appeared to be a very elaborate toy helicopter.

White and about the size of a large textbook, I was informed this was actually the Phantom 2 Vision – DJI’s latest drone.

It has four detachable propellers to help keep the camera, which hangs from its middle, stable when it’s up in the air.

After giving me some basic instructions on how to use the remote control – two joysticks with a smartphone acting as a real-time viewer – off I went.

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NEW: Bradenton company designs unmanned aerial vehicle

It hovers easily even in a stiff cross wind, can be equipped with a variety of cameras including thermal imaging, has a 1,500-foot ceiling and can navigate via global positioning satellites.

All the while its pilot remains firmly on the ground.

About the only thing it cannot do, which a regular helicopter can, is carry passengers — unless they weigh less than 1,200 grams.

Aegis Tactical is developing a prototype Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV, specifically designed for law enforcement, firefighters and other public safety officials. The Bradenton company is a rare provider of the devices — which are coming into vogue for law enforcement across the country as well as generating concerns about privacy from a host of camps — based in Southwest Florida.

Best known to the American public through the unmanned, weaponized aircraft that the U.S. military has been using for years against Al-Qaeda and other insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, UAVs comes in all shapes and sizes.

The Aegis UAV can do 80 percent of what a real helicopter can do for less than what a department would pay for two hours of traditional flight time, the Bradenton company says.

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USAF pursues small UAV training course

In a low-profile effort to reduce unmanned aircraft training costs, US Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) has established a formal training unit for air force and special operations personnel learning to fly small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).More than 130 students a year are taught by the Small Unmanned Aircraft System Joint Formal Training Unit (JFTU), which is part of Detachment 1 at the 371st Special Operations Combat Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field in Florida.

Small UAVs are a growing area of interest for the US Air Force (USAF), which has historically focused on larger unmanned systems, including the MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper, and RQ-4 Global Hawk. USAF officials are in the process of putting together a new road map for small UAVs, which are generally viewed as easier to transport, cheaper, and less vulnerable to air defence systems.

AFSOC’s JFTU comprises a detachment commander and five civilian small UAV training specialists who provide initial qualification training to military members who will be flying small UAVs.

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Drone flies in to watch NZ farm’s flock

NZfarmdroneAn award-winning Southland farming family are looking to the sky for inspiration to reduce costs on their hill country sheep, beef and cropping farm.

And Neil and Philippa Gardyne, with the technical expertise of their 13-year-old son Mark, have good cause for optimism.

With funding support from Beef+Lamb NZ, the Gardynes are adapting a drone to fly sorties over their sheep flocks on 466ha of flat, rolling to steep hill country in the Otama Valley north-west of Gore.

“We’re looking at using them as a farm tool,” Mr Gardyne explains.

“We’re still opening 120 gates a day at lambing time, so we decided to think a little bit outside the square on how we could simplify that.”

The Gardynes have rolled four-wheelers on their hill country in recent years so safety is a big factor in their search for a safer alternative.

Mark was just 11 when he started researching the Internet for information on drones.

“We spent 14 months researching them, which was difficult because there wasn’t a lot of information out there about their use in agriculture,” his father said.

With nothing available in New Zealand at the time, the Gardynes invested $4000 in a Chinese-made Hexocopter with six rotary blades, sourced from the United States.

For their money they got a high-spec machine powered by rechargeable lithium batteries and carrying two cameras. It weighs 1.8kg, carries a payload of 2kg and has all the technology for fully autonomous flight.

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Notorious anti-immigration Arizona sheriff wants fleet of drones

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Reuters / Laura Segall)Yet another law enforcement agency is looking to acquire a fleet of surveillance drones, but don’t act too surprised. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial lawman from Maricopa County, Arizona, is interesting in adding drones to his arsenal.

Arpaio, 81, has made headlines before over his vehement stance against immigration and his thoughts about United States President Barack Obama. Now he’s in the news again, and this time because he wants to bring unmanned aerial vehicles to Maricopa County to protect its almost 4-million residents.

I want two of these drones, unmanned and of course unarmed,” Arpaio told local network ABC15.

The US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation already have drones on the ready that can be deployed during emergency situations, and dozens of small law enforcement agencies and organizations as of late have applied for permits to control unmanned aerial vehicles in a limited airspace. Now Arpaio wants Maricopa County to be on the list of locales cleared for drone use in certain situations, and he’s hoping an eye-in-the-sky surveillance tool will help stop crime and catch criminals.

Arpaio told the ABC affiliate that he was hoping to conduct “Surveillance regarding crime scenes and drugs [and] catching dope peddlers,” and explained, “sometimes it’s difficult to get to these areas but if you have this great equipment to take pictures it would help.”

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Global UAV market expected to reach $11.6 billion annually in ten years

According to a study from the Teal Group (Fairfax, VA), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) continue as the most dynamic growth sector of the world aerospace industry this decade despite near-term U.S. budget cutbacks. An analyst from the company summarized the study results during AUVSI‘s Unmanned Systems 2013 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The study estimates that worldwide UAV spending will more than double over the next decade from the current $5.2 billion annually to $11.6 billion, totaling just over $89 billion in the next ten years. It predicts that the US will account for 65% of the worldwide RDT&E spending on UAV technology over the next decade, and 51% of the procurement.

“The UAV market is evolving, it is becoming an increasingly international market as it grows,” said Philip Finnegan, Teal Group’s director of corporate analysis and an author of the study. “UAVs have proved their value in Iraq and Afghanistan and are being sought by a growing number of militaries worldwide.”

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Drones and the Future of Movies

The technology behind our unmanned spyplanes and bombers will soon help even microbudget filmmakers capture awesome overhead shots. It could also make movies a lot creepier.

If you’re a filmmaker on a credit-card budget, you probably can’t afford a helicopter to take those aerial shots of cityscapes and landscapes that big-budget filmmakers use to create a sense of panoramic grandeur. But you can afford the next best thing: a flying drone camera. That’s right: the same technology that allows the U.S. to spy remotely and to drop bombs from unmanned aircraft also allows you to capture killer bird’s-eye-view shots for your movie.

Drone cinematography is still in its primitive stage. For one thing, the UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) don’t have much range (about a mile) and only have enough battery life for 10 to 15 minutes of flight. Plus, the built-in cameras only have 720p resolution, or medium high-definition. (That’s about the quality you might get on a good smartphone.) But the latest drones also come with a camera mount so that they can hoist full HD (1080p) GoPro sports cameras. There’s still the little snag that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not yet permit private businesses to operate drones in the United States. (Non-commercial filmmakers may use them, but only below 400 feet and in sparsely populated areas.) But the agency will begin issuing drone licenses to businesses by 2015, and Hollywood could be the first set of private users.

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Army asks Norwegian company to design Black Hornet pocket UAV helicopter for foot soldiers

U.S. Army researchers are asking a Norwegian company to develop a pocket-sized helicopter drone to provide a personal reconnaissanceunmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for infantrymen and Special Forces warfighters.

Officials of the Army Contracting Command in Natick, Mass., are awarding a $2.5 million contract to Prox Dynamics AS of Nesbru, Norway, to develop the Black Hornet Personal Reconnaissance System (PRS) — a one-pound force-protection micro UAV for soldiers and small infantry units.

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Hot startup: Airpix builds unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial use

Hot startup: Airpix builds unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial useA project that began on a lark on a college campus has turned into a commercial venture for a team of three 22-year-old engineers. Intrigued by the idea of a small flying machine that could buzz around snapping photos, Aniket Tatipamula began tooling around in his college lab in an attempt to build a prototype.

“But his drones wouldn’t fly for the first two years,” says Rajesh Mane, a junior who would often work in the same laboratory at the Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute in Mumbai.

It was only after they finished college and started corporate jobs that Tatipamula realised that the quadcopters he was experimenting with, also colloquially referred to as drone cameras, had immense commercial potential.

The team pooled in around Rs 2 lakh to develop one which unfortunately crashed very quickly. Undeterred they turned to senior college-mates for help and pooled in a further Rs 6 lakh to begin afresh.

“The subsequent copters built by us were much better, and withstood commercial demands,” says Mane who dropped out of college and joined Tatipamula, and another friend Neeraj Waghchaure, who quit their jobs, to launch Airpix in March this year. They now have three quadcopters ready and two more in the inventory.

Typically they import the motors and a few other parts but have designed their own chassis and control systems. “We can now build a finished quadcopter within a week,” says Mane, the chief operating officer of Airpix.

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No ‘drones’ for Alpine

DroneAlpine may be out of the running in a competition for a federal unmanned aerial vehicle test site.

The Texas Municipal League announced last week it has adopted a resolution supporting the Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi application to the Federal Aviation Administration to be named one of six sites still in the running but the only one in Texas. There has been some controversy over the issue in Alpine with opponents citing both privacy and safety concerns. Some were worried that, even if the only UAVs here would be test vehicles without “spying” software on board, they still were concerned over the potential of a spying on the back yard picnic. Others worried that the unmanned aircraft could interfere with local air traffi c at Casparis Municipal Airport. “With the backing of Governor Rick Perry, we are the only site in Texas being considered,” said Dr. Luis Cifuentes, vice president of research, commercialization and outreach. “The resolution from the TML demonstrates the financial impact the FAA designation will have on every community in the state.” Corpus Christi Mayor Nelda Martinez, who also is TML presidentelect, said the TML endorsement should makefederal offi cials take notice. “

The strong show of support from Texas cities should be a tremendous boost to the state’s application,” Martinez said. “Texas has unmatched airspace, a strong business climate, cutting- edge research partnerships and broad public support from state and local governments, higher education institutions and the private sector.” The University’s Lone Star Unmanned Aircraft Systems Initiative and its 6,000 square miles of available airspace is in competition with 24 other locations around the country for the federal designation.

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Fined Drone Pilot Tests U.S. Industry Seen Reaching $89 Billion

Drone Conference

Raphael Pirker’s model-airplane-sized drone darted around buildings, zoomed over a hospital heliport and buzzed passersby to shoot a promotional video. Those were tame moves by his standards.

The implications of that 2011 flight at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville have been less routine. It resulted in a $10,000 fine issued June 27, the first U.S. enforcement action against a drone pilot, and thrust Pirker into a debate over regulating unmanned aircraft as planes andhelicopters costing less than $1,000 enter the market.

“They really occupy a new space and it’s very difficult to figure out how to regulate them,” Peter Asaro, an assistant professor at the New School in New York who has written about drones and the ethics of using robots in war, said in an interview.

Drone spending is expected to reach more than $89 billion in the next 10 years with annual expenditures more than doubling from $5.2 billion to $11.6 billion, as the aircraft take on more civilian tasks, according to Fairfax, Virginia-based consulting company the Teal Group Corp. Boeing Co.’s Insitu andAeroVironment Inc. are among companies making these new aircraft.

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The Art of Flying Your Very Own Drone

Drones have gained a reputation for hunting terrorists and spying on both foreigners and Americans alike. So it’s easy to overlook the fact that these hovering, loitering aircraft have quite a following in the hobbyist world as well. To the people who build and fly them recreationally, modern unmanned aerial vehicles (the terms drone and UAV are pretty much interchangeable) are just a technological advancement of the radio-controlled planes and helicopters that amateurs have been flying for years. The Federal Aviation Administration is still struggling to work out the rules for operating UAVs commercially, but for private use, the agency’s regulations are remarkably lenient (“Drone Skies,” September)—no license is required, and so long as you keep your drone below 400 feet and don’t do anything dangerous over densely populated areas, you’re free to fly around as you please.

The ABCs of UAVs

Like many hobbyist toys, drones have a sliding scale of sophistication and cost. The more you spend, the more a drone can do, and the more a drone can do, the harder it is to learn to fly reliably. Drones come in two flavors: fixed-wing aircraft that operate like airplanes, and multicopters that take off vertically and can hover like helicopters. You can build a drone yourself with kit parts from online merchants such as HobbyKing, 3D Robotics, DJI, or Team BlackSheep, or you can do as I did, and pay a little extra to have one of these manufacturers build it for you. There are also several open-source movements designing flight-control and autonomous-flight software for UAVs, including OpenPilot, APM:Copter, and APM:Plane—although not all software works on all hardware.

Large RC planes and helicopters are typically powered by combustion engines and can be difficult and (as the death of an RC hobbiest in Brooklyn, N.Y., this August demonstrates) sometimes dangerous to fly. But a new breed of small and accessible aircraft uses digitally controlled electric motors and high-discharge, rechargeable, lithium-polymer batteries. These are not your average cellphone batteries. Li-Po batteries are powerful and highly volatile, have specialized connectors, must be charged carefully, and have a vocabulary all their own (see “Anatomy of a Battery”). Most importantly, many hobbyist drone aircraft don’t come with a battery—which can throw your weekend plans in the ice bath when you excitedly open the box of your first drone, only to find you’ve got another online order to place before the fun times begin.

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