The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment, predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses. Once the Federal Aviation Administration establishes guidelines for commercial use, the drone industry said it expects more than 100,000 jobs to be created and nearly half a billion in tax revenue to be generated collectively by 2025, much of it from agriculture. Iowa, the country's largest corn and second-biggest soybean grower, could see 1,200 more jobs and an economic impact topping $950 million in the next decade.
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Brent Johnson, a corn and soybean farmer in Calhoun County in central Iowa, purchased a drone in 2013 for $30,000 that is already paying dividends on his 900-acre farm. He's used the aircraft, which covers about 80 acres an hour, to study how yields on his property are affected by changes in topography. And last growing season he identified some areas where his corn stands were not strong enough, information he's going to consider in future plantings when he decides whether to replant or avoid the acreage all together. This year he's going to scout early for any problems and use the data he collects to help determine when to sell his crops.
"I'm always looking for an advantage, looking for how I can do things better," said Johnson, who also owns a precision agriculture company.
A Hungarian team has created the first drones that can fly as a coordinated flock. The researchers watched as the ten autonomous robots took to the air in a field outside Budapest, zipping through the open sky, flying in formation or even following a leader, all without any central control.
“This is remarkable work,” says Iain Couzin, who studies collective animal behaviour at Princeton University in New Jersey. “It is the first outdoor demonstration of how biologically inspired rules can be used to create resilient yet dynamic flocks. [It suggests] we will be able to achieve large, coordinated robot flocks much sooner than many would have anticipated.”
A drone journalist is suing a local police department in a case that may provide a stepping stone to broader legislation dealing with who has the right to fly drones and take video from the sky.
Pedro Rivera filed a suit against two officers of the Hartford, Conn., police department on Feb. 18 after they convinced his part-time employer, a local TV station, to suspend him for a week that began on Feb. 3. The suspension followed a department investigation into whether Rivera illegally used his drone to film the scene of a fatal accident.
When it comes to the potential for agriculture, Kansas State University precision agriculture specialist Dr. Kevin Price thinks the growth in the next few years “is gonna blow your socks off.”
“About 80% of the money that will be spent on the unmanned aircraft systems will be spent in the area of agriculture. There are ten times more applications in agriculture then there is in any of the other application areas,” said Dr. Price. “They’re predicting it’s going to be close to a 100 billion dollar industry by the year 2025.”
He said agriculture applications for drones in development include data collection on crop health and yields, nitrogen and chemical applications, spot treating of insects and disease, and much more. Data collection of field images by cameras mounted on drones within an inch of accuracy.
Quadcopter drones are built specifically for an easy takeoff and stable flight, but landing can be a tricky task. They generally need to land on flat ground or risk toppling over.
Bhargav Gajjar, a roboticist based out of MIT and Vishwa Robotics, has built a drone to solve that problem. According to New Scientist, which published a video of a working prototype Monday, Gajjar used a high-speed camera to capture how dozens of types of birds land. He then built a drone with robotic legs that emulate the American kestrel’s.
Sometime in the near future, you might take a bike ride with a couple of drones–one flying in front, one in back–to protect you from nearby cars. As you ride around tight corners, the “Cyclodrone” will shine a beacon of light to warn drivers that you’re there, hosting a tiny camera to record any accidents.
The design is one of several concepts from a team at frog design that wanted to rework the current evil image of the drone. “Drones are taking a beating in the press, being characterized as spies and assassins,” says Cormac Eubanks, who developed the Cyclodrone. “At frog, we are more fascinated by the design potential at the leading edge of technology. We believe now is the time to explore how drones could be a force for good.”
Very early adopters have had the option to buy a drone kit — with a lot of assembly required. But in a current Kickstarter campaign, the Southern California company AirDroidshopes to appeal to a broader audience with a ready-to-operate book-sized drone, aptly named Pocket Drone, that sells for a manageable $495.
Billed as a high-tech camera mount that allows users to video their hikes and bike rides, get higher angles in their shots and appear in their own family pictures, the drone weighs just one pound and folds down to fit easily in a backpack. Loaded with a half-pound camera, it can fly for up to 20 minutes at a time. (A low-battery alarm warns the user that it’s time to land.)
Prepare for "swarms" of unmanned drones able to choose their own targets
Drones will eventually be equipped with stronger chemical weapons and able to make their own decisions, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Defense.
In a 25-year roadmap for unmanned vehicles, the DoD revealed it hopes to increase drone capabilities in order to save money and better protect the nation’s skies. Currently, drones require extensive manpower on the ground in order to fly and follow precise commands.
But in order to cut down on the expense of pilots, the DoD plans to build autonomous drones able to deviate from given missions to pursue a better target, by following a certain set of “laws” delineated by algorithms and advanced sensors.
Looking more closely at the report, "This automation does not mean operators are not monitoring the control of the system".
” DoD carefully considers how systems that automatically perform tasks with limited direct human involvement are designed to ensure they function within their intended parameters."
“In the past year, it’s become more about privacy than safety,” says Brendan Schulman, special counsel at the law firm Kramer, Levin, Naftalis & Frankel, who is defending a client against the FAA in its first civilian drone case. People just don’t want snoopy robots spying on them.
Commentator Charles Krauthammer summed up that sentiment on Fox News in 2012 when he said, “I would predict—I’m not encouraging—but I predict the first guy who uses a Second Amendment weapon to bring a drone down that’s been hovering over his house is going to be a folk hero in this country.” Don’t dismiss such fiery talk as the ravings of a pundit bent on making news. Indeed, there have already been some domestic drone downings: An animal-rights group attempting to document the cruelty of “pigeon shoots” has had a camera-equipped multicopter blown out of the air more than once.
Ryan Calo, a professor of law at the University of Washington, in Seattle, calls robotic aircraft a “privacy catalyst” because people have responded to them more strongly than to other kinds of surveillance technology. “You can visualize it, unlike what the [National Security Agency] is doing,” says Calo. “You get this visceral reaction to drones. Drones are part of a larger disconnect between how quickly surveillance technology evolves and how slowly privacy law does.”
Ha! This is so true. No doubt, a drone will be shot down.
In a world of delicate, experimental nano-drones, the Black Hornet is the first operational system deployed. A hand-launched observation drone, it can resist gusting winds, fly for 25 minutes, and travel nearly a mile from its operator. The autopilot can follow GPS coordinates to conduct a preplanned patrol or simply hover and stare. All in a drone that weighs less than 0.6 ounces.
The DelFly Explorer is the first flapping wing Micro Air Vehicle that is able to fly with complete autonomy in unknown environments. Weighing just 20 grams, it is equipped with a 4-gram onboard stereo vision system.
The DelFly Explorer can perform an autonomous take-off, keep its height, and avoid obstacles for as long as its battery lasts (~9 minutes). All sensing and processing is performed on board, so no human or offboard computer is in the loop.
Two can play the drone delivery game, mein Amazon. Germany’s Deutsche Post DHL, the world’s largest delivery company, has used a drone to deliver a package less than two weeks after Amazon promised to do the same.
The drone, a yellow unmanned quadcopter called the Paketkopter, ferried the package across the Rhine River, from Bonn to Deutsche Post DHL headquarters on the other side of the river, according to German news site The Local .
The Paketkopter, carrying a package of medicine, flew at an altitude of 50 meters (164 feet) for two minutes. “This being Germany, there are also regulations to consider – Monday’s test flight required a special permit, while the legalities of using drones remain unclear,” said The Local article.
The Wall Street Journal noted that German regulations forbid drones from taking off or landing in residential areas, which would make a Deutsche Post drone delivery service rather inconvenient.
A design studio has unveiled a flying drone, the CUPID drone, that shoots taser darts that deliver 80,000 volts of paralyzing electricity.
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On the company's site there are currently no details about when or if the device will ever be offered commercially, but in the video we can see that the CUPID is a hexacopter equipped with a laser sight used to target the remote-controlled taser darts
Aerial views filmed by a drone-mounted camera shows anti-government protesters in central Kiev on Wednesday morning. Russia has threatened to use its influence in Ukraine to bring the violence to an end, while the US has raised the likelihood on an imposition of sanctions in a possible bid to incentivise joining the EU
The United Arab Emirates says it plans to use unmanned aerial drones to deliver official documents and packages to its citizens as part of efforts to upgrade government services.
“The UAE will try to deliver its government services through drones. This is the first project of its kind in the world,” Mohammed al-Gergawi, a minister of cabinet affairs, said on Monday as he displayed a prototype developed for the government.
The UAE drone programme faces similar obstacles, plus temperatures which often exceed 40 degrees Centigrade (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in summer and heavy sandstorms which occasionally sweep across the desert country. “Within a year from now we will understand the capabilities of the system and what sort of services, and how far we can deliver. Eventually a new product will be launched across all the country,” Gergawi said.
The idea seemed ingenious: Delivering 12-packs of beer to the cold, windswept surfaces of popular ice fishing lakes — using a drone
Lakemaid Beer president Jack Supple brewed up a plan this winter to quench the beer thirst of ice fishers on central Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs, with retailers taking orders using GPS coordinates.
The nation’s stewards of the air are still studying how to safely bring drones into modern life, and until then, their commercial use isn’t permitted, they explained.
Supple said he understands their point. He’d scoffed — at first — when he saw reports of Amazon.com floating the idea of drone deliveries, thinking it was three sheets to the wind.
“That looked like it couldn’t possibly work. I can’t imagine them flying your shoes down the street here, in downtown Minneapolis, with all of the skyscrapers and people and trains and lamp posts,” Supple said.
Drone makers are encouraging the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to allow unmanned aircraft to fly over rural areas before a broader integration with commercial airplanes is completed.
The Arlington, Va.-based Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) said the FAA should let non-military drones fly on a "limited basis" because tests of their impact on other airplanes is taking too long to complete.
"The FAA has been working on this NPRM since 2009," AUVSI President Michael Toscano wrote in a letter to FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. "Most recently, the FAA this month indicated that the small [Unmanned Aerial System] rule is now expected to be published in November 2014 – almost four years late."
"Whether it is helping farmers improve crop yields, assisting first responders with search and rescue missions or advancing scientific research, UAS are capable of saving time, saving money and most importantly, saving lives," Toscano wrote. "The industry, meanwhile, is poised to boost local economies and create jobs. AUVSI’s economic impact study found that, in the first decade following integration, the UAS industry will create more than 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact. However, each day that integration is delayed will lead to $27 million in lost economic impact.
To catch an unlikely creature, you need an unlikely drone: quiet enough to escape notice, sturdy enough to carry NASA-grade cameras and long-range enough to sweep vast swaths of potential Sasqautch stomping ground. “The disadvantage of helicopters is obviously they’re noisy,” says Meldrum. “A fixed-wing aircraft has the disadvantage of not being able to hover.”
They would spend months at a time scanning undisclosed locations with high Bigfoot potential, hoping not only for irrefutable video, but to make contact. “You know, putting out a transmitter in a banana that can be passed through the gut and while it’s internal serve as a tracking device,” says principal investigator Jeff Meldrum. “Those kinds of things.”
The FAA disagreed. FAA spokesperson Les Dorr told news media that “if you’re using it for commercial purposes, including journalism, that’s not allowed.”
VentureBeat asked another FAA representative, Alison Duquette, if noncommercial journalism, such as public television or an amateur blogger, would also be banned. She replied that “public TV would be included” in the ban, and she added that “most people would consider a blog as journalism,” so apparently it’s not the money-making part that’s offensive to the agency.
This ambiguity is not unexpected, since the FAA is rushing to catch up with this Wild West of technology, ready for pioneers but with no clear boundaries. On the way toward governance, the FAA has to zip around many possible safety, privacy and noise issues that could result from even a limited number of drones let loose into American airspace.
The 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 we transition to a system featuring NextGen technologies and procedures.
On December 30, 2013, the FAA announced the following six applicants had been selected to operate the UAS test sites:
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.
While the prospect of weaponised UN drones remains remote, more worrying – and perhaps less evident – is the idea that this deployment might augur an era of increasingly intrusive surveillance by UN bodies in the name of humanitarian good. In a June briefing to the UN Security Council, MONUSCO’s Force Commander enthusiastically promoted the use of drones in the eastern DRC and also notably endorsed a more expansive scope for surveillance by the UN, stating,
[There is] the potential to make much greater use of surveillance technology to bolster monitoring capacity, as in the context of cross-border activity. We have borders with many countries and more than 50 armed groups operating close to those borders, which they may cross, leading to broader disturbances. High-resolution imagery could be of significant use as material evidence. In a similar vein, the selective employment of signals intelligence could enable peacekeepers to stay one step ahead of those posing a threat to peace, which would undoubtedly help to mitigate the risks both to the population and to United Nations troops and personnel.”
...there are more legitimate concerns about a possible drone system in operation. Columnist and RC helicopter enthusiast Joshua Ziering highlights the fact that that when you take into account headwinds, the range could drop significantly. The supposedly failsafe eight engine design could still be taken down entirely by electrical shorts. And the fully computerized system, which relies on surface elevation databases, may not have access to a reliable database of power lines and trees.
There are still plenty of hurdles to clear, however. When multiple companies start adding drone systems, how will they coordinate? What about avoiding birds? Or people who try to steal a drone as it lands, to use as a Christmas present for the kids? Most importantly, how is a large scale drone system going to work after it leaves Bezos’s idealized suburban neighborhood and comes to dense urban areas? To avoid smashing into skyscrapers, drones will probably have to be routed over avenues, cutting their range. For deliveries to office buildings, will they land on the roof or at the front door, where they could very easily get pulverized by foot traffic? And for anyone living above the first floor in apartment complexes, the sound of buzzing drones passing by at two in the morning is likely to become really annoying, really fast.
All of these issues remain unsettled, and will potentially be addressed in the US by FAA regulations to be released in 2015.