Showing posts with label UAS. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UAS. Show all posts

Monday, January 13, 2014

A discussion on deploying drones for international development

Last month, Deutsche Post DHL transported six kilograms of medicine from a pharmacy in Bonn, across the Rhine River, to its headquarters.

This wouldn't have made international news, except that DHL accomplished this with an unmanned aircraft system - commonly known as a drone.

This came less than a week after Amazon's Jeff Bezos claimed his company would deliver products to customers' doorsteps via drone in three or four years. Regulations  and technological hurdles would make Bezos' plan all but impossible in the US near-term, but DHL proved that with proper planning and logistics, you could deliver small parcels with small drones today.

On January 22, The International Research and Exchange Board, or IREX, will be hosting a "deep dive" discussion on how this same technology could benefit international development.

Monday, November 25, 2013

There's been a big uptick in drone research over the last decade

Recently, I was tasked with producing some basic citations on unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly called drones, for a new grant proposal. As you could imagine, it was not hard to find a cornucopia of papers reflecting the many novel uses for the technology.

What might surprise some, though, was the sheer increase in drone research, how popular these papers are in the academic world, what that research trying to accomplish, and who was funding it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

UAVs Pros Cons in Toronto: safety and dialogue are keys to legitimacy

Ian Hannah of displayed his professional hexcopter at the UAVs Pros Cons Symposium in Toronto.
One of the biggest drone-related stories to make the rounds is about a little Colorado town that is attempting to institute a $100 reward for anyone who shoots down an unmanned aircraft. I'll not post a link to this story, or name the actual town, since it appears this is little more than a stunt to attract media attention to the town.

The townspeople may or may not be "real" about their proposed law, given the likelihood of people being injured by gunfire or falling drones, but fear of unmanned aircraft systems (dronephobia?) is real. This fear is rooted in a disconnect between popular media, and the actual uses and potential for the technology.

UAVs Pros-Cons was an effort bring expert knowledge to the public, while at the same time providing a discussion of many of the legitimate concerns over drones and their uses.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Seven more reasons why journalists should learn to fly unmanned aircraft

Felix Gillette at Bloomberg Businessweek has come up with a list of seven reasons why journalists, and not just "cubs reporters," should be learning to use unmanned aircraft systems -- usually called "drones" in the media.

Here's seven more reasons why journalists should consider UAS.

1) They give all news outlets and journalists the freedom to cover important events from the sky.

Traffic snarls? Done. Spot news? Got it. Weather reports? Sure thing. Aerial view of Nasa’s latest space telescope at South By Southwest? Absolutely.

These are all events that could be covered before by large, expensive news helicopters. Of course, only stations in the largest of markets could afford such a luxury. But thanks to inexpensive, small unmanned aircraft, that is no longer the case.

Ted Pretty, a meteorologist for a Fox station in Las Vegas, was one of our first members at While his station couldn't buy a helicopter, it did have the wherewithal and foresight to send him to an online UAV school. He's now experimenting with a multirotor system, and uploaded some of the results on YouTube.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A map of all the drone laws in the United States.

The ACLU recently published on its technology blog a list of 28 states that are pursuing regulations for unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS. They're more commonly referred to as "drones," and in fact many of the proposed laws use that exact word.

I dug further to find out what lawmakers are actually proposing. You may click on individual states in the above map to learn more about specific legislation.

Out of the 28 states, 14 are proposing limitations only to law enforcement. In most cases, proposed legislation would make it illegal for law enforcement to use an unmanned aircraft without a warrant.

Some also call for evidence obtained from a "drone" to be destroyed after a specified period. A few ban any government entities from using the technology altogether.

Friday, November 9, 2012

We need more drones because we’re having more big disasters.

The images of an inundated New York City certainly were eye-catching. But it isn’t until you start parsing the data that you start to really understand how bad things got for the East Coast.

Some of the most startling stats: winds pegged at 90 miles an hour when Sandy made landfall as a tropical storm. It left 185 dead between Jamaica and its terminus in the US. It was the second costliest hurricane in recorded history after Katrina, with $52.4 billion in damages. Five thousand commercial airline flights cancelled. Across 26 states, up to 80 million were affected. Eight and a half million people without power after the storm.

Even 11 days after the storm, with freezing winter temperatures closing in, 428,000 in New York and New Jersey remain without power.

Aon Benfield, an insurance broker that specializes in catastrophe management, crunched the numbers and found something just as remarkable about hurricane/tropical storm Sandy. Well, perhaps not so much about the storm itself, but how it fits into recent weather events and climate change in general.

“Devastating Hurricane Sandy was the eleventh billion-dollar weather-related disaster in the U.S. so far this year, and the most expensive,” wrote’s Jeff Masters, of Aon Benfield’s latest report. “This puts 2012 in second place for most U.S. billion-dollar weather disasters behind 2011, when NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) counted fourteen such disasters.”

Meanwhile, climate scientists noted that not only did global warming make such a historic slew of storms possible, it also made the sea level rise, thus increasing the damage to coastal areas.

“Sandy threw the ocean at the land, and because of global warming, there were about eight inches more ocean to throw,” wrote Chris Mooney on The Climate Desk. “As the water level increases, the level of damage tends to rise much more steeply than the mere level of water itself.”

When Thailand was flooded in 2011, the government contracted a drone to scout out where flooding had occurred, which helped make decisions about where and when to release flood gates. The contractor flew more than 60 flights over a period of 45 days, and claimed that the data obtained from those flights helped prevent the city of Bangkok from suffering more during that catastrophe.

That same year, back in the states, freelance journalist and storm chaser Aaron Brodie took sweeping shots of the Jersey Shore with his own multicopter before and after Hurricane Irene. He uploaded this footage on YouTube, but amended his post after Sandy:

“Irene was child's play in comparison to Superstorm Sandy. In fact, there was no real damage from Irene,” Brodie wrote.

The public wasn’t able to obtain coverage from drones for Sandy. Some news sites did, however, post before and after photos of New York and New Jersey. These post-sandy aerial photos were obtained by the National Geodetic Survey, with the help of NOAA’s King Air and Twin Otter remote-sensing aircraft. The photos were set side-by-side with historic satellite imagery, allowing users to drag these images to do their own comparisons.

Because of the prohibitive cost of aerial photomapping, these images were gathered by government agencies. But, if FAA regulations allowed it, the job could have easily been done with a $1,000 aerial drone. That puts it within reach of even independent and backpack journalists. Or concerned members of the community.

If the climate models hold true, there’s going to be more “superstorms” like Sandy every year. There will be more billion-dollar disasters, more lives lost, more power outages, and the public will need more information about how those disasters are affecting their communities.

Drones are especially capable of giving quick data on the scope, or extent, of large-scale disasters. Now is the time for journalists to learn and perfect tools like the drone to give the public that information.

Photo at the top of the post is of post-Sandy flooding in Haiti, via the Flikr photostream of United Nations Stabilization Mission In Haiti.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Drone Development In Progress: Aerial Photos and Videos

Despite JournoDrone 2 still being in the shop after its maiden flight, drone development is continuing onward and upward. Above is an aerial photo taken from my latest drone project, which has caused that previous drone to collect dust in the basement.

However, this new drone is superior in at least a couple of ways. One, it's much more stable in flight, thanks to its 68.5" wingspan. Its size also means it can loft a larger payload. The photo above was taken using an 11Mpx GoPro Hero 2, which is small, but has a not insignifcant weight penalty.

JournoDrone 2 was a plastic shell that I wrapped in carbon-fiber and epoxy, which could take a crash on the nose without much harm. This newest drone is made of balsa wood, but it's such a docile aircraft that the need for crash resistance is minimal. All that balsa, some 5 or so pounds of it, is also pretty good at flexing and absorbing a hard landing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Drones are monitoring sea mammals, keeping tabs on oil spills, helping governments prevent floods.

Every year, AUVSI, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International,hosts the biggest conference and trade show for drones in the country (but don't call them drones there; the term is UAS, for Unmanned Aerial Systems, please).

The industry group's last convention was in Las Vegas, and wrapped up earlier this month. A colleague who was there sent me the exhibition catalog. As is the custom nowadays, you could have read all that info online. But the printed version was still worth reading, and served as a snapshot of the "state of the drone."

I've taken four of what I thought were the most interesting talks, and pasted their descriptions here. The list includes researchers and developers using drones to monitor oil spills and the health of marine mammals. In one discussion, a Thai UAV company claims their technology helped the government make decisions that averted a major flood from inundating Bangkok.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Drone Journalism: News that Flies

The idea of using homebrew drones for independent journalism is picking up steam globally.

I just got a digital copy of a story from Aug-Sept issue of seLecT, the Brazilian art & design magazine, which features a story about that same topic. In it, writer and art professor Nina Gazire interviews the Occucopter developer Tim Pool, Nebraska Drone Journalism Lab professor Matt Waite, and myself.

As one would expect, the story is in Portuguese, so here it is translated (via Google):


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Big FAA announcement means quicker access to drones for law enforcement, "streamlined" authorization

Law enforcement agencies will be able to get drones off the ground more quickly, and also will be able to use larger drones, the Federal Aviation Administration announced yesterday.

A news release from the FAA yesterday said that those agencies will be able to enter into a two-step path to authorization, and thus speeding up the process for law enforcement to deploy drones.

"Initially, law enforcement organizations will receive a COA (Certificate of Authorization) for training and performance evaluation," the FAA said. "When the organization has shown proficiency in flying its UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), it will receive an operational COA."

A COA provides the agency with the authorization to fly drones in the national airspace. Currently it's the only way that a government agency can legally fly a drone, which the FAA calls a UAS, and the application process isn't open to commercial industry or private individuals.

The announcement doesn't specify what the requirements are for a law enforcement agency to show proficiency, and doesn't detail the differences between the two types of authorizations. But it does indicate that the FAA is following up on its federal obligation to expedite drone authorizatio

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Partnerships unlock the real potential of drones, especially in drone journalism.

Yesterday, Salon ran a piece on the proliferation of drones at research universities. As Jefferson Morley wrote, universities are at the are at the forefront of developing the unmanned aerial systems that will be monitoring crops, assessing damage, and doing a number of other tasks at home.

That may not come as much of a surprise to anyone who's been following drones in the past couple of weeks. Recently, Electronic Frontier Foundation published the list of public institutions and government agencies who had current or expired authorization to fly drones.

Some applicants were obscure. Herrington, Kansas -- a town of 2,526 souls -- applied for authorization to fly drones. But 25 of the 62 agencies were institutes of higher learning, and many were surprised at how few agencies had applied for authorization.

However, there's a buried lede in this story: universities aren't just developing drones, they're developing these drones in partnerships with other entities. This isn't happening in an ivory-tower vacuum.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Project JournoDrone: A fixed-wing drone system for journalism


JournoDrone One

Developers at are launching a project to build a low-cost aerial photo platform for journalists, using a combination of off-the-shelf radio-control components and open source electronics. Their goal is to develop a small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) for journalists that is powerful, durable, transportable, affordable, upgradeable and supported by a community of experts.

Now one month into the project, development on “JournoDrone One,” or JD-1, is approximately 20 percent complete. is working to secure funding to complete the project by the summer of 2012. The knowledge gained from making and using the drone for aerial photography will allow to bring a similar system to journalists worldwide.

Leading the project is Matthew Schroyer, the founder of, who holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Illinois. Mr. Schroyer has a background in engineering, experience with small, radio-control devices, and experience in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for data journalism purposes.

“We hope this is the first of many drones that will develop,” he said. “It’s a practical exercise of existing off-the-shelf drone technology, and our first step into a frontier that could greatly expand public knowledge.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Law Could Have Enormous Impact on Drone Journalism

 The Federal Aviation Administration must make way for drones, according to a bill that passed through Congress yesterday.

Now headed to President Obama to become law, the bill requires the FAA to decide on regulations that would permit drones (the official nomenclature is UAS – Unmanned Aerial System) to operate in the same airspace as commercial jets and police helicopters. The order was included in the Reauthorization Act that extended FAA’s funding for another four years, at a cost of $64 billion.

The bill does not make the regulations for the FAA, but instead orders the FAA to make regulations within certain bounds. But it does state that the FAA should create a “a safe, non-exclusionary airspace designation for cooperative manned and unmanned flight operations.”