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Top 5 by dronologista @Robohub

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

On 30th of May, a comment appeared on the About page of this blog. Hallie Siegel, the Managing Editor from Robohub, an excellent online communication platform for, well, robotics mostly, proposed to me to cross-post articles. After a brief Skype interview, I agreed (of course!) to share my blog posts, and to join an impressive group of contributors that included UAV heavyweights such as Chris Anderson and prof. dr. Raffaello D’Andrea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waUY6hlG-3k

Two months fast forward, and there are ten articles by dronologista at Robohub. Some of them are more some less successful, but all of them were interesting enough to grab attention of Robohub visitors. Here are the top 5 that were generating quite a lot of traffic:

  1. Drone Startups: Fotokite – This article is a part of ongoing series of Drone Startups posts. It is about a startup that designed what is basically a powered kite, not a quite a drone, ideally suited to dodge FAA scrutiny. The article was submitted to Slashdot harnessing traffic from it, and was even reposted on DIYDrones. Great success!
  2. Quadrotor allegedly seen spying on French teams closed practice at World Cup – Published during the World Cup craze, it attracted a lot of people. French coach Didier Deschamps was calling for investigation after a quadcopter was spotted spying over his team’s closed training session. It was not revealed whose drone it was, but since we know now that it was Germany that beat the French team in quarterfinals, it seems that Germans used high-tech solution to get to semifinals. No drones spied on Brazil team though, so I am out of theories why they lost 7-1.
  3. Rescue drone that finds survivors using their cellphones’ WiFi signals – Post about a UAV that was designed by team of students from EFPL. It includes the interview with Jonathan Cheseaux, the man behind the project.
  4. The thriving drone community of South Africa – While most of the stories found around the internet is focused on drones in US, this post covered a country that is not often featured online in connection to drones. Yet, a thriving community exists, and is very productive and creative.
  5. HorseFly unmanned aerial parcel delivery system – This post described something that could be Amazon’s wet dream. A combined transport system that uses both a van and a UAV to deliver the parcel, utilizing both vehicles advantages.

Those were 5 of mine most popular articles at Robohub after two months of collaboration, which I hope, will continue to flourish. I wonder if I will be able to completely redefine this list in six months time. Just a personal challenge for dronologista 🙂

What is your favorite blog post by dronologista?

Human Side(s) of UAVs – easyJet To Introduce Drones

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

No, easyJet is not launching drones on its routes. At least not anytime soon. The catch is that famous British low-coster together with Bristol Robotics Labaratory (BRL) is developing and testing a drone which is supposed to inspect the aircraft, inch by inch into the smallest details, searching for distortions and irregularities on the fuselage. Beside BRL, easyJet is cooperating with companies such as Coptercraft and Measurement Solutions in order to get as precise and reliable tool as possible.

easyJet drone

easyJet drone

As the majority of us could conclude one of the main reasons to introduce drones in line maintenance of the grounded aircraft is cost cutting, the economy of scope. Also according to the Gizmag following reasons behind the decision are more or less obvious: reduction of ground time, facilitating line maintenance, increasing efficiency and precision of inspection processes etc. However as the easyJet representatives stated, the UAV is not going to completely exclude technicians and engineers from maintenance and inspections (at least for beginning), because the stake is simply to high and the reliability of the drone is questionable at this stage.

According to the easyJet’s head of engineering department Ian Davies: “Drone technology could be used extremely effectively to help us perform aircraft checks. Checks that would usually take more than a day could be performed in a couple of hours and potentially with greater accuracy.”

The idea is that drone (equipped with combo of different sensors) shuttles around the grounded plane multiple time scanning and rescaning the body of aircraft for possible damages or distortions. More details in the following video:

Aviation is one of the most heavily regulated industries and absolute priority and the top principle adopted by airlines and international airline organizations is that safety as a must. There are no alternatives nor workarounds. This is the main reason behind easyJet drone engagement initiative: providing safe service at decreased cost, using latest technology.

The whole project started from the scratch and many details would have to be worked out by participants. Hours and hours of testings are surely ahead of the easyJet’s engineering department. But we frankly hope that the airline will make its way through all the harsh challenges it might face and that in the near future its 220 strong fleet could expect even more efficient and precise inspection support. Observing this from the human life perspective and having in mind significance of aforementioned, one does not have to mention tremendous break-through we are witnessing.

We would be pleased to keep you updated in the future on this particularly interesting story which will have a profound effect on safety inspections, not only of aircraft, but also other safety critical equipment.

Rescue drone that finds survivors using their cellphones

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Search and rescue operations are seeing more drones in use with every unfortunate event. The speed and ease with which UAVs can be launched is especially important when applying them as an emergency response tool. Dronologista already had a couple of posts that illustrate effectiveness and efficiency of drones in immediate post-disaster environment. The system that will be presented in this post can become a welcomed tool in rescue workers toolbox.

Jonathan Cheseaux, a masters student from Switzerland has developed a system to help drones home in on the location of people trapped underneath rubble. Dronologista had an opportunity to discuss the project with Jonathan via email, and here is what he says:

Dronologista: How did you come up with the idea?

Jonathan: The main goal of the project was to provide Wifi connection to people on the ground (in disaster areas, where there is no more connectivity), using swarms of flying robots. By analyzing the data collected by the wifi antenna embedded in the plane we thought about using this information to localize people and move the plane around so that the connection is better.

Dronologista:  Have you been working on it alone or it was a team effort?

Jonathan:  Team effort. I was working with two people, Stefano Rosati, a postdoc, and Karol Kruzelecki a graduate student. They helped me a lot to fulfill the project’s goals.

Dronologista:  How does this system work?

Jonathan:  The UAV sniff wifi packets periodically broadcast by smartphone (if wifi is switched on). The smartphone broadcast so-called “Probe request” to discover which wifis are in-range. We extract the signal power of these packets (RSSI) and use the GPS position of the plane to localize the users.

Jonathan Cheseaux and his team with Sensefly eBee used for the project

Jonathan Cheseaux and his team with Sensefly eBee used for the project

Dronologista:  Has it been tested, and if yes, how?

Jonathan: We flew the UAV around EPFL‘s campus and tried (and succeeded) to find the position of a smartphone randomly placed somewhere on a building with a satisfying precision.

Dronologista: What are potential problems?

Jonathan: If the WiFi of the smartphone is not switched on, we cannot localize the user. Also the signal can get scrambled by a lot of factors such as buildings reflecting the signal, weather conditions, plane’s orientation, etc. In the case of an earthquake for example, if the victim is buried under several meters of concrete the WiFi signal will not be detectable. Also Apple announced that they will randomize the MAC address while sending probe requests in iOS 8, this will make the localization quite impossible because now we rely on the fact that a MAC address is unique for a user, and thus fully determine which person we are localizing.

Dronologista: Were you contacted by any organization yet?

Jonathan: I’ve been invited to the UAV Show 2014 (London), they want me to give a small speech about my project during the conference. I’ve also been contacted by several companies that want to commercialize search and rescue drones.

Dronologista: What are future steps for this system?

Jonathan: Enhance precision by conducting more real life testing, maybe use GSM data aswell (IMSI catcher), but due to legal concern it could be difficult to implement. But the real improvement will be to use avalanche transceivers to find avalanche victims. I really want to work on that after my internship.

Dronologista: What are other projects you are working on, that you want to share?

Jonathan: During my bachelor studies, I’ve implemented a virtual reality project using Kinect and some physics engine. The goal was to project the user in a virtual environment and allow him to interact with them (shoot a virtual ball, smash a wall) but also draw interactive shapes with the only use of hand gestures (drawn shapes we bound to the physics engine so that it also falls/bounces etc. Last semester, I lead a project on Bitcoin trading. We’ve implemented sentiment analysis on tweets talking about bitcoin to probe the market’s mood and used time-series analysis to work directly on the bitcoin stock market. That was a really cool project. I’m going to start my master thesis soon, in which I will develop a smart search engine that will automatically classify documents, display augmented information, context, etc. I’m not sure yet what the project will be exactly, but it is definitely about machine learning stuff.

Dronologista wishes Jonathan and his team a lot of success with their projects, and expects to hear more good news about their endeavors soon. And so should you.

For further reading check EPFL news and SkyNews articles

Drones against illegal fishing

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Illegal fishing represents a major global problem. When you realize that the losses caused by this activity are worth US$23 billion per year, that one out of three bluefin tunas are caught illegally and that around 20% of all fish hauled around the world are caught illegally, you are beginning to grasp the scale of this issue. Proportions of the environmental impact, on the other hand, are even more dire, for the fact that even the legal fishing industry that complies with the maritime wildlife protection standards has the capacity to damage this fragile ecosystem. Illegal fishing can completely destroy it.

Efforts are being made on the global scale to tackle this problem, but the challenge persists because patrolling large stretches of coastline takes time and requires substantial number of people, boats and aircraft. Now, almost whenever a manned aircraft is required to perform a task, there is a potential to use unmanned aircraft, and at an increased rate, a UAV has been proved a viable substitution. It seems that there is a pattern emerging 🙂

Back to the topic, one of the countries hardest hit by illegal fishing is Belize, a small coastal country in Central America. It was so rampant, that in the March this year, the European Union suspended all seafood imports from Belize (as well as from Cambodia and Guinea, for the same reason).

Help comes from the ConservationDrones.org, a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing knowledge, building and using UAV for conservation-related applications with conservation workers and researchers worldwide, especially those in developing countries. The Belize Fisheries Department officials are being trained to use drones to monitor fishing areas, following the test phase that started in July 2013.

Fixed wing drones that are being used can fly for over an hour, have a range of 50km and are capable of capturing high-definition photos and videos. They will be used to patrol difficult to reach areas, such as coastal mangrove forests, at a fraction of the cost of a conventional, manned aircraft. Once the illegal activity is located, authorities can dispatch a vessel and perform a seagoing search, much more efficiently.

It will be interesting to see effects of this new tactics used against “pirate” fishers, and how soon will Belize start to reap the benefits of it (e.g. lifting of EU seafood import ban).

Last but not the least, drones provided by ConservationDrones.org should provide a much-needed, low-cost solution for the protection of one of the world’s most famous coral reefs, Glover’s Reef.

For further reading, check interesting articles on Gizmag, National Geographic and New York Times.

Video courtesy of ConservationDrones.org

Amazon asks FAA for permission to test delivery drones

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

In April this year, Amazon.com issued a shareholder letter that stated: “The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles…″. Three months fast forward, first half of July, the company is on its 9th generation of drones, that can fly up to 50 mph (~80 km/h) and carry up to 5 pounds (~2kg) of payload, which is enough for 86% of the sold products.

Rapid development of the Amazon drones was facilitated by intense indoor testing, including test flights in their research lab in Seattle. Among features tested are agility, flight duration and redundancy. Most importantly, the company claims to have developed sense-and-avoid hardware and software that will allow its drones to automatically avoid collisions.

In order to progress further with development, outdoor testing, in more realistic conditions is necessary. That is why Amazon.com asked to be exempted from the lengthy and complex approval process, citing innovation as a driving factor, since the Congress gave the FAA power to grant innovators “expedited operational authorization”.

If the exemption is granted, that would allow the company to test Prime Air drones in its own backyard, “with additional safeguards that go far beyond those that of FAA”. One of the safeguards is the Geo-fencing, a technology that defines geographical boundaries within which drone flight can be confined and beyond which the drone gets automatically deactivated. That technology is already available and used on many commercial drones, DJI Phantom being one of the first, which was already posted at dronologista earlier this year. Exemption would also allow Amazon.com to test drones outside of six testing sites where FAA allows unmanned aerial vehicles to be used, in order to assess their safety, communication, air traffic control etc.

If exemption is not granted, however, it is quite obvious what will happen: the company will simply move its drone operations abroad. Canada is already very hospitable to commercial drone operators.

Full text of the Amazon Petition for Exemption can be found here.

Very detailed articles about the topic can be found at Forbes and Cnet.

Videos courtesy of Amazon and DJI Innovations

 

 

Human Side(s) of UAVs – Mission Tacloban

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Whilst using the benefits of googlism phenomena, I found a remarkable piece of information which is perfectly suitable for today’s topic. It addresses the importance of quick and coordinated action after natural disasters strike (earthquakes, tsunamy, typhoons etc.), and the role UAVs in such circumstances.

The city of Tacloban, Phillipines, most probably would have never been mentioned in world’s news if it wasn’t unlucky to be in the epicenter of the typhoon Haiyan last November. Consequences were apocalyptic: destroyed houses, bridges, infrastructure and thousands of casualties and number of displaced that was measured in hundreds of thousands. Every communication channel was disrupted and those who were lucky enough to survive were facing even bigger challenges now: to be located and provided with immediate aid.

Biggest problems of aid organization, were: access to the affected areas and setting the priority lists. This is where today’s hero came up making this story less dramatic: danish product Huginn X1. This drone, specifically developed for emergency management activities, was able to hover in strong winds, rain and dust and still provide valuable imagery to the relief workers. According to manufacturer specification Huginn X1 uses advanced technologies including GPS, live video streaming and FLIR thermal camera.

 

Huginn X1

Huginn X1

According to Andrew Schroeder from Direct Relief, Huginn X1 was useful in scouting the surrounding terrain in order to find out most suitable and convenient supply routes. On the other side personnel of UNDAC stated that they can not even imagine very first response action without UAS.

Huginn X1 in action

Huginn X1 in action

However several critical points could be listed when it comes to the events like this:

  1. Immediate assessment – The first few hours after disasters are the most crucial moments for disaster response. But poor assessment of the affected areas can significantly reduce the effectiveness of these operations and even endanger aid workers. Drones can be deployed for immediate assessment of disaster situations, providing detailed information to first-responders like local governments and humanitarian groups. Information is key to disaster response and mobilization.
  2. Strategic planning – Following the initial assessment phase, the information gathered will prove helpful in crafting an effective strategic plan in responding to disasters. Scores of international aid groups and partner governments have continually extended their help to the country given the scale of devastation Haiyan brought — including the information gathered by the drones in the plans will make relief and response operations more effective.
  3. S&R operations – The Huginn X1 drone is equipped with high-definition video and is capable of providing a live feed for the controller, making assessment and response real-time. The device can also produce thermal images, essential for finding people alive during the search and rescue operations. According to officials: “The first 72 hours of search and rescue after the disaster is very important. That’s the only time that you have a big chance to find people, living ones, and save them“
  4. Protecting aid workers – Given serious problems with transport, drones enabled mapping, without actually sending people out, which allowed for regular information loops on damage, needs estimation and movement of teams out the affected areas. In the early movements, there were a number of concerns over possible security situations which might put aid workers at risk. The drones helped essentially maintain watch over ongoing aid operations, which improved visibility into possible security situations.

Anyhow, the fact that a drone has been dispatched in order to facilitate aid distribution after catastrophic event that Philippines faced, should make even the biggest UAV skeptic reassess his or her standpoint.

Proudly South African Drones

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Couple of years ago, while I was living in Cape Town, I met a group of people so much into drones and aerial filming, that they managed to initiate me into the world of UAV. I didn’t even realize that (I was always slow-witted), but it turned out that South African soil is a very fertile ground for starting and growing of a UAV enthusiasm and business. Therefore, I will dedicate this post to the thriving drone community of the Republic of South Africa.

Let’s start with the legislation: there is none. SACAA, the South African Civil Aviation Authority created confusion some two months ago, when it firstly declared a ban on the use of drones for aerial filming, and then issued this statement. It basically says that SACAA doesn’t ban something that is illegal already (i.e. using drones for aerial filming). Only problem is that it is not illegal, since there is no legislation covering the issue. On the other hand, Cape Town Film Commission has been n discussion with the SACAA, the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry as well as the Deputy Mayor of Cape Town and has requested that the SACAA implement their model aircraft policy for use of the drones.

If approved, the policy will require adopting the below guidelines, which are similar to those used in Europe and Australia:

– Flying only under 120m
– No flying within 4.2 nautical miles of an airport
– Flying only in line of sight of the operator (500m)
– No auto pilot flying or night flying
– No flying over public property and roads without permission

Meanwhile, filmmakers are still flocking to Cape Town, taking advantage of breath-taking scenery and skilled local aerial filming production crews. One of them is Skylab Productions. This prolific company founded in 2012. produced aerial shots for National Geographic, and gave its contribution to Cape Town version of (in)famous Pharell Williams “Happy” video.

And if somewhere are guys that are using drones for filming, there would be someone catering for their needs and providing them with equipment. SteadiDrone is a proudly South African UAV manufacturer, founded in 2012. in a beautiful town of Knysna. Their flagship product is the QU4D, RTF quadcopter that uses the APM 2.5 autopilot from 3D Robotics and is able to carry a GoPro camera on board.

There are others, however, that are manufacturing a UAV with significantly less creative purpose. The Skunk Riot Control Drone is made by Desert Wolf, a South African company, and it has already been sold to mining companies, notorious for their problematic treatment of mine workers and frequent riots.

Luckily, there are more jesting endeavors. SA Beer Lift challenge, although tiny compared to the one organized by HobbyKing, still managed to produce some respectable results and some funny fails. I couldn’t find any information if it will happen this year as well, but it would be awesome. Where else could you find such cool drone fail videos?

Despite all the challenges that are present in today’s South African society, community that has been growing around Unmanned Aerial Vehicles seems very dynamic and healthy. Dronologista hopes that it will remain so in the future, and will be happy to bring the news to the world about individuals and companies that are using or producing proudly South African drones.