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Drones for Public Safety, and the DronePilot Program

DSC_8564John Buell has been an officer with the Austin Police Department for seventeen years. He speaks at a lawman’s clip and has an impassive build, which makes it seem like he’s been set in stone, but John is actively propelling one of the most forward-thinking initiatives in public safety, the central Texas DronePilot program.

John’s been flying drones for a decade. He started in a military-affiliated WMD response team, where he saw that instead of suiting someone up to carry atmospheric sensors into a hot zone, you could send a drone and get the same information, and more of it. John immediately recognized the potential this technology held for public servants—police officers; firefighters; EMTs; search and rescue teams—but when the Austin Police Department began looking into incorporating drone technology, the public bridled at the idea and the APD put the program on hold. In response John founded DronePilot, a public program to promote the understanding and safe and legal use of drone systems, and today, thanks in part to John’s efforts, the Austin Fire Department is in the process of obtaining one of the FAA’s elusive Certificates of Authorization. Through DronePilot, John now trains off-duty public servants in and around Austin as hobbyists, promoting the safe, effective and legal use of UAV technology. In addition, the DronePilot program educates the public about relevant legal and privacy issues, as well as holds live demonstrations and advocates for the use of drone technology in public safety.

“Drones are invaluable for law enforcement in that they provide you with real-time situational awareness,” John explains. “They can see around corners and over hills, they can watch your back, they can gather data and give you real-time aerial video. It’s like each individual has their own manned helicopter. That’s huge. That saves lives.”

Real-life scenarios abound: Drones can help stop police ambushes, scout fires and other dangerous scenarios, quickly and comprehensively search accident and crime scenes, even pick up heat signatures. It’s a hallmark of our data-driven era: Get the right information, and you’ll make the right decisions.

But it’s another hallmark of our era that John says his biggest obstacle in running the DronePilot program isn’t mastering this new and complex technology, or even training new pilots in it, but in overcoming public mistrust, especially when such a technology is in the hands of a government entity like law enforcement. He says that educating and reassuring a fearful public actually takes up most of his time.

“If I could have one thing in the world,” he says, “I’d ask for the trust of the public.”

John points out what many others have: this is a controversial technology that we’re just now beginning to demilitarize; any technology can be used for good or ill (“You can hit someone with a hammer, or you can build something with it”); the benefits that drones could provide for this very same public are numerous and potentially lifesaving. But he also points out that we trust police officers to carry guns on their hips. “You trust us to wear a badge and a gun, so trust us that we’re going to use a piece of technology to help us do our job, and ultimately to help our colleagues and the people we serve.”

John believes that once the proper regulations are in place the public will come around to seeing drones as a viable technology that they can trust. But he also believes drone manufacturers have a role to play here, too; to promote safe operations and produce safe systems, but also to show data. “A really great thing about 3DR that no one else has is DroneShare,” he says. “You can research all my flights, pull up all my flight data. If something goes wrong we can immediately see what it was, and where it happened and why. That’s great for advancing the technology, and it’s great for the people who benefit in the end, too.”

John gets patently animated when he talks about the people he serves and the colleagues in arms he’s bound to protect. These days he wakes up thinking about DronePilot, and is certain that UAV technology will forever change his profession. “This is our Velcro,” he says, referring to the advent of Velcro straps that are now indispensable to firefighters. “This is big. It’s the lives of the folks I work with, the lives of the people who protect us, and ultimately it’s the lives of the people we protect.”

It’s clear that although the public may not trust John just yet, he certainly trusts them. Everything in his world, it seems, comes back to information: “If people get the right information, they’ll make the right decisions.”

The post Drones for Public Safety, and the DronePilot Program appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

Fortune – Get Ready for ‘Drone Nation’

“3DR makes off-the-shelf drones that are designed to be customized by the user—unmanned aircraft that sit somewhere between the consumer and hobbyist spaces. The underpinning technology could be—and will be—leveraged into commercial-drone tools in the future, Anderson says. “We’re seeing the convergence of the consumer and commercial markets,” he says. “And consumers are leading this market in terms of technology and in terms of adoption.”

Akash Goel, #NotABugSplat, and Using Drones for Good

Dr. Akash Goel is an activist, writer and humanitarian who attracted global attention earlier this year as a collaborator on the #NotABugSplat art installation in Pakistan. You’ve likely seen it: a giant monochrome poster, large enough to be visible to satellites, of an anonymous Pakistani girl who lost her parents in a drone attack, spread out on a lush green field somewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. An aerial photo of the installation quickly went viral.

Earlier this year I heard Akash interviewed on a CBC radio show, and what he had to say about drones surprised me. It might surprise you, too.

First you should know a little about Akash. He’s not really an “anti” type of guy. He’s a medical doctor who, while working for the Clinton Foundation, led the launch of India’s national Second Line ARV drug program, which currently provides lifesaving medication to thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS. He’s been honored several times over for helping people, for being a constructive force in the world. It’s not so surprising, then, that although the #NABS installation appears to be an obviously anti-drone, or even anti-American political statement, Akash doesn’t share that view. He was kind enough to take time for a brief interview about that.

Akash-GoelDid the #NotABugSplat project achieve what you expected?

The project well exceeded our expectations in terms of reach. In rough numbers we’ve reached nearly 200 million media impressions globally. This is a far cry from when we simply leaked the photograph of the art installation to the Express Tribune in Pakistan.

But in terms of effect, I would say that the project has met expectations. Our goal all along was to speak to the hearts and minds of people all over the world and to bring a sensitivity and an awareness to the civilian casualties at stake.

You’ve said that in your opinion, the installation isn’t necessarily “anti-drone” or “anti-US policy.”

Yes. From the outset we were very self-conscious about focusing on promoting peace rather than being anti-something. As a very proud American, I’m also acutely aware of [our military] urgency and needs. Through art, we’re simply trying to bring an awareness to the civilian causalities and encourage a broader discussion about the most optimal use of drones.

Speaking of those optimal uses, you’ve described drone technology as “frictionless,” a delivery and data-gathering technology that can operate without the logistical restrictions or costs of infrastructure. Can you elaborate on that?

There are still over 6 million children globally who don’t reach their 5th birthday because of largely preventable reasons. In “last-mile communities” in low-income countries there are distribution bottlenecks for essential goods such as vitamins, oral rehydration salts, antibiotics, zinc, and vaccines. Typically overcoming these distribution bottlenecks requires very high fixed-cost investments in infrastructure. For instance, according to the World Bank, 1 billion people in low-income countries lack access to an all-weather road. The beauty of drones is that the atmosphere is their infrastructure. Drones offer a new realm of possibilities for those previously without access to essential goods.

Concrete test cases for how this could play out abound. Earlier this summer, for instance, tens of thousands of Yazidi Christians were isolated by ISIS on Sinjar mountain in Northern Iraq. It was estimated that as many as 40,000 people were completely stranded without food and water. In this situation, UAV technology would have been ideally suited to air drops of humanitarian supplies to the Yazidis.

How would you redirect the conversation about drones?

Drones are perhaps one of the most remarkable technologies of this generation. We should redirect the conversation towards promoting the use of drones that serve humanity. We should encourage venture and equity investments in companies that are pioneering the humanitarian use of drone technology. Humanitarian use, i.e., drones that are used to serve social needs of communities, should take priority for approval once the U.S. airspace becomes further regulated. The best way to depoliticize this technology would be to fully realize its true potential in agriculture, art, disaster response and humanitarian delivery. Currently these uses happen to be pioneered in the private sector, but I think it can and will spread to other institutions as well.

Men’s Journal – A Personal Drone That Catches the Shot No GoPro Can

“Over the past year, Berkeley-based 3D Robotics released software that lets you draw an automated flight plan for a drone by using a tablet’s virtual map. And now, the company has released the IRIS+, the first drone that can follow you around automatically.”

Read More: http://www.mensjournal.com/gear/electronics/a-personal-drone-that-catches-the-shot-no-gopro-can-20141010

The post Men’s Journal – A Personal Drone That Catches the Shot No GoPro Can appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

SkyWard Announces First Commercial Drone Network Demonstration

SkyWard, a leading software platform for the aerial robotics ecosystem, today announced the Urban SkyWays Project, the first end-to-end demonstration of a commercial drone network operated with full regulatory and insurance compliance. Urban SkyWays will deliver packages and manage crisis response with regulatory and insurance compliance.

SkyWard has partnered with NASA to incorporate technology and research from their UAS Traffic Management System into the Urban Skyways Project. The first demonstrations will take place in Las Vegas, Vancouver, London and Portland, Oregon. Each city will showcase drone deliveries, emergency-response capabilities and network coordination.

Urban SkyWays is a partnership between top aerial robotics manufacturers, including 3D Robotics, as well as commercial operators and airspace management agencies. The group is a member of both DroneCode and the Small UAV Coalition, and it will demonstrate urban commercial package delivery and emergency response by drones.

“The airspace is a great place to build a new highway,” said SkyWard CEO Jonathan Evans. “Bringing together global partners solidifies the magnitude of this project, and is the first step in enabling the Aerial Robotics Network and realizing its potential.”

In addition to 3DR, Urban SkyWays partners include Drone Deploy, NASA and Pix4D, among others. The project will showcase what’s possible with aerial robotics and demonstrate the standard of professional aviation safety needed to develop commercial systems that the public can trust.

The project will operate with full insurance compliance with official insurance partner Transport Risk Management Inc. Insurance for all US flights will be underwritten by Global Aerospace, a leading global provider of aviation insurance which is backed by Berkshire Hathaway and Munich Re, among others.

All flights are compliant with the jurisdictional regulations of all demonstration sites, and will operate under the appropriate authorization, including: Certificate of Authorization (COA) issued by the Federal Aviation Administration; Special Flight Operation Certificate from Transport Canada; or Permission to operate small unmanned aircraft from the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority.

Here’s an introductory video about the SkyWard project:

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