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Why You Should Care About Kanye: Drones in the Media

Over the past year personal drones have drawn a ton of media coverage, more and more frequently from TV news and high-profile outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Vice and the Washington Post. I personally come from a liberal arts background, and until I first entered this field in the summer of 2013 hadn’t caught any media coverage of personal drones. Even my friends, many of whom read Wired and certainly consume their fair share of TED talks, were unaware that such an incredible technology had trickled down to where it was accessible and affordable for everyday users. But this year has seen a precipitous rise in mainstream media coverage, in parallel with technical advancements that have driven many more sales. Today I’d be surprised if anyone in my circles hasn’t seen or heard something about drones from one media outlet or another.

Of course, this steep interest curve applies to any new game-changing technology. But the drone discussion has other dimensions to it, addressed later, which I have trouble finding true analogs for in any recent high-tech boom. So with a year or so of major media coverage to reflect upon, I’d like to examine the shape that this coverage has taken: What does it say about public perception of this technology? How and why might the media be shaping that perception? And what is their—and our—responsibility to the public?

Introducing the One-Touch Dronie

Make the ultimate selfie with one simple touch on your tablet. We’ve updated our dronie feature in DroidPlanner to make it easier than ever for you to see your world from above—with you at the center of it.

How it works

To set up the dronie, place the drone 8m away, facing you, and make sure that the path you’re facing has at least 100m of clearance (about a football field). The copter will automatically take off and go back 50m and up 30m from its initial location. Turn on your controller and keep the throttle stick down; this is in case of an emergency. When your copter and camera are ready, connect the 3DR radio to your Android device and open Droidplanner. Hit Connect. Next you’ll see two buttons: Dronie and Arm. Press Dronie to set up the flight path. The map will update with the path plan and a warning to stand back from the drone. Now hit Arm. When you’re ready to go, press Auto. The drone will take off, turn the camera towards you and fly back and up. When it reaches its peak at 50m out and 30m up, it will return to land and disarm. You can modify the dronie as you would any other mission. Go into the Editor after pressing Dronie and you should see a path you can modify. The first waypoint is its take off height. The second point is the ROI (which should where you’re standing). The third waypoint is the peak altitude; you can set this to be as high and as far out as you want. The fourth waypoint is a slow down point when it gets near you on descent.

BioDrones: Good for the Earth and for Exploring Mars

For scientist Lynn Rothschild of the NASA Ames Research Center—who holds a title that’s the stuff of sci-fi dreams: Astrobiologist—biology has the potential to be the engine of the future for technology, industry, space exploration and even drones.

Lynn heads an ambitious collaborative robotics project that comprises undergraduate students from Stanford, Spelman and Brown University, along with guidance from NASA researchers, to develop what you could call biodrones: fully biodegradable UAVs composed entirely of cellular and organic material. The idea for a biodegradable drone came to Lynn when a NASA colleague lost a research drone in Arctic waters; UAV components don’t easily disintegrate and the electronics, batteries and metal pose real threats to a delicate ecosystem. The team entered the biodrone as a project in this year’s International Genetics Engineering Machine competition (iGEM), but it also holds promise for real-world, and real-otherworldly, UAV and space exploration applications.


The Biodrone iGEM prototype

The Biodrone iGEM prototype, put together by Eli Block (Brown University).

Sustainable technology

First, the drones are built entirely of, and by, cells, making these UAVs 100% biodegradable, a sustainable technology. The drones begin to self-destruct 24 hours after use, at which time the cells are cued by an enzyme to do their best Wicked Witch impression and dissolve into a puddle of sugar water.

For further environmental safeguarding, a mind-boggling process of genetic engineering called codon security* ensures that the cells’ DNA won’t be able to cross-pollinate and enter other environments. This is critically important because many of the cells used to make the drones have amped-up genetic material taken from extremophiles—organisms that thrive in the most extreme conditions on the planet—and when the drones disintegrate you wouldn’t want these synthetic characteristics transferred to other environments.

Finally, bioengineered technology would have the abilities to self-replicate, self-repair, pick up other atoms and run off of energy from carbon dioxide and water. And with the safeguards that they’ve built in, Lynn says that crashing a biodrone would be no more detrimental to the environment than dropping your cotton sweater on the ground.

The build

Autopilot circuits could be made of conductive silver nanoparticle ink.

Autopilot circuits could be made of conductive silver nanoparticle ink. Dr. Kosuke Fujishima in the Ames lab, in conjunction with AgIC, printed this circuit.

As for the drone itself, the body is basically a mushroom, fungal mycelia spores seeded in a mold and then wrapped in a bio-plastic skin of pure cellulose produced by bacteria. This skin is waterproofed by wasps. Student developer Ian Hull recognized that the paper wasp chews up wood and spits out waterproof paper, which the wasps then use to line the outside of their nests. A research team isolated the proteins in the wasps responsible for this waterproofing process, and the UAV team assigned these proteins the task of waterproofing the UAV.

Remarkably, the onboard electronics can also be synthesized. Instead of traditional electronic sensors for gathering and analyzing things like atmospheric data—the presence of toxic gases, for instance—the biodrones have a cell layer with biosensing capabilities. These cells change color when they detect the presence of certain gases. Bafflingly, even the circuitry for an autopilot can theoretically be bioengineered, thanks to the proven conductivity of silver nanoparticle ink.

The team still uses 3D-printed plastic for the propellers, however. And though they haven’t yet settled on battery design, options abound there as well: microbial fuel cells; appropriating the energy generation process from electric eels; or using solar cells to create energy in a process similar to photosynthesis. “Imagine,” Lynn says, “an asparagus battery!” She also reminded me that people biosynthesize electricity all the time in our brains—our neurons and nerve impulses work by turning chemical energy into electric energy—intimating that there’s untapped potential there as well.


Photo courtesy Lynn Rothschild.

Made on Mars

So why has UAV biotechnology attracted the attention of NASA? First, synthetic biology offers many advantages over traditional construction. Notably, it makes for a great carry-on item. When it comes to space travel, weight is especially precious. So what if, instead of loading a rocket down with components or pre-assembled pieces of equipment, you’d only need to pocket a few vials of cells? These cells would then be triggered to replicate, when on Mars**, for instance, and you’d have an industrial agriculture—growing and harvesting your own construction crop. This means that one day drones, and other technology, could be a renewable resource. You could also apply synthetic biology to growing food, fuel, and even to “biomining” bricks (another project of Lynn’s). For Mars, it’d be like an agricultural and industrial revolution all at once.

Drones, made on Mars, could then map Mars. Turns out UAV technology is valuable to NASA for the same reasons it’s become so valuable to folks like farmers and surveyors here on Earth. With ground sensing from rovers like Spirit and Opportunity, you get a lot of detailed information but have a terribly limited coverage area; with satellite imagery you can get a lot of coverage but pretty lousy detail. Drones, operating in the space between the two, can do both and do them well.

Inroads and Wormholes

Here’s the kicker: All of this took Lynn’s team of undergrad students one summer to work out. She speaks of her team glowingly and trusts them with making all the inroads of innovation. She gives all credit for the project’s success to their hard work and ingenuity. Actually, it seemed the team’s biggest hang-up didn’t have anything to do with solving daunting engineering problems, but with confronting social conventions—they were afraid that calling their project a “drone” would connote a military connection, which they were desperate to eschew. Consummate empiricists, they went so far as to conduct a survey to assess public opinion about the term.

In conversation with Lynn it’s quite clear that these projects are far from an academic exercise. In fact, the first iGEM student project that Lynn headed, in 2011, resulted in a project called PowerCell that’s now a secondary payload on a German satellite. And as a civil servant working for NASA, a government entity, she can only serve as adjunct faculty at Stanford and Brown—teaching work for which she is not paid. And she doesn’t want to be. She just wants to use her position to “create wormholes” that connect her students to NASA and the global scientific community. “It’s the discovery,” she told me. “That’s the thing.”

X8+: The Power To Do More

We didn’t make the X8+ powerful and durable for technology’s sake. We want you to be able to build on this platform, to use it to solve problems, do real work and realize your aerial ideas. Here are a few options for innovation that the X8+ unlocks—the unknown, however, is all yours.

Mounting different gimbals and cameras for pro aerial photography

We’ve always wanted to see and document our world from above—be it sending cameras up with balloons, kites, or even pigeons—and personal drones have opened the aerial perspective to more people on the planet than ever before. We understand that photographers don’t necessarily want drones—they want the shots. Until the X8+, however, if you wanted to put anything other than a GoPro in the air you’d have to shell out big time for the platform that could handle it. But for professional photographers, a GoPro sometimes just won’t cut it. That’s where the X8+ comes in, the first modular and expandable aerial platform available at a true consumer price point.

X8+ Action_webBecause the distance between the lens on your drone and your subject is very real, serious aerial photography requires better zoom capability than a GoPro, whose 20 mm lens is incredibly wide, especially from the air. The X8+ can carry a GoPro and stabilizing gimbal (either 2 or 3 axis), so you can get great map-like views or capture sweeping scapes. However, it’s tough to really get tight on a subject with a GoPro; for that you’d need to put a bigger camera in the air. The X8+ has the additional payload capacity to hard mount high-resolution mirrorless cameras like the Panasonic LX100, whose 24-75 mm (FFE) lens gives you options for choosing focal length. This means that the X8+’s payload capacity ultimately translates into the ability to fly farther away and still get tight and focused shots. This is also incidentally good for safety: If you wanted to get tight with a GoPro, the props would be so close they’d blow hair around. So, beyond a Creed music video shoot, your options there are sort of limited.

You can actually hard mount a variety of point-and-shoot cameras to the X8+, including the Panasonic LX100, or the Canon S110, SX260 or any other mirrorless cameras of similar size and weight. You just need a GoPro mount kit and a small extra piece that attaches to the mount with a 1/4”-20 adapter—these run between $5-10. Screw the mount tightly into the camera, align the camera on the X8+ so it will face forward in flight, then slap on the adhesive from the GoPro mount kit. Now you’ve got a hard-mounted professional camera capable of capturing incredible stable aerial shots with variable focal lengths.

And because the X8+ is built to be expandable, if you add an on-board optical flow sensor you can get remarkably accurate and stable position-hold capability, much superior to GPS. This means the copter will stay exactly where you tell it to stay so that you can precisely stage and capture the shots you want.

x8_aIf you don’t want to hard mount your camera, the lifting power of the X8+ also unlocks new options for stabilized photo and video capture. The flexibility of the platform allows you to attach longer legs so that you can carry bigger, low-hanging gimbals. You can buy the quad kit legs from our store, and make a few modifications to attach them: hack off the lip of the quad legs so you just have the straight leg left, then drill a set of holes into the original X8+ leg so the extended legs are the length that you need; lastly, file down the lowest standoffs on the original leg so that the replacement leg will slide in—with one edge on the outside, one edge on the inside—and then bolt the two together.

The X8+ supports the Tarot 2D 2-axis brushless gimbal, available from our store, as well as a 3-axis DYS BLG3SN gimbal, the industry standard for advanced stabilization. In addition to stabilizing the tilt and roll axes, the DYS stabilizes on the yaw axis, enabling steady panning shots. Both of these gimbals allow you to control camera angle while flying via the tilt knob on the X8+ controller. In addition to pro level point-and-shoots, the DYS can also support the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, enabling you to get film-quality footage from the air. You can get the DYS from Range Video, FPV Model, or even Amazon, but if you’re not an experienced drone builder, installation can be tedious and difficult; it’s probably best to let someone do that work for you so you can just worry about flying and filming.

Lastly, you can pair the X8+ with our Bright View™ FPV kit and link the monitor with the camera, letting you see exactly what your camera sees as you’re taking photos. After all, that’s what we really want in the end—not the technology, but the shots that it gets us.

Much more than a flying camera

Drones can be much more than flying cameras. With the X8+ we’ve created a modular and expandable platform with significant payload capacity to power aerial ideas of all kinds. We’ve thought through a lot of uses for the X8+: autonomous delivery, professional photography, 3D modeling and many more. But what really excites us about this release, and what’s always excited us about the possibilities of drones in general, is the openness and versatility. We’ve taken care of building a durable and versatile aerial platform, now we want to see what you can do with it.

Because the X8+ can carry 800g comfortably, and up to 1kg if you’ve got some flight time to spare, you have room to build on this ultimate DIY platform. Perhaps it’s best to think of the X8+ as an intelligent tool, a power drill that you can outfit with different bits; you have options to experiment with your aerial projects. We’ve seen innovative users take stunning photographs and video, deliver medicine to remote areas with electromagnets, and survey and protect land, people, property, animals and natural resources.

header2For instance, if you’re interested in experimenting with the delivery or transportation of small goods, you can outfit the X8+ with an electropermanent magnet. Unlike a standard electromagnet—which siphons constant voltage from your battery—an electropermanent magnet only needs a single shot of current to turn it on; it then stays activated until you give it another shot to turn it off. You can even automate the injection of current via the Pixhawk, then link it to a waypoint on your autonomous mission where you’d like to drop off your payload, and voila—a fully automated delivery system. The same principle applies if you want to install an arm that can grab, pull and carry small items.

The X8+ is easily the optimum Pixhawk platform for DIY innovation. It’s powerful so it can do more, and redundant so that when you’re flying, you’re not experimenting with your experiment. For instance, you can stack the Pixhawk with a companion computer like a BeagleBone or Intel Edison and extend your computing even further, unlocking options for navigation sensors like LIDAR and optical flow. Optical flow is especially effective for position hold because it recognizes variation of movement exceedingly well. With an optical flow sensor on the X8+, you can pinpoint and stage precision angles for photos and video, or hold the copter still for industrial inspection or any survey application that requires specific focus over time. And if your copter loses a prop or motor, your high-tech payload won’t drop out of the sky.

But again, these are just a few ideas that we’ve already seen or thought through ourselves. The reason that we say drone technology has nearly limitless potential is because future drone users—all 7 billion of them—have limitless potential. We want to be able to power that potential, to be able power the aerial ideas that you’ll build on our back. The X8+ gives you that power to do more.

The post X8+: The Power To Do More appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

Engadget – Five Questions About the Future of Drones

“Everyone, it seems, is talking about drones these days. Whether it’s for industry, research or performance art, the skies have never been busier. Thanks, in no small part, to the ever-increasing number of consumer-friendly, ready-to-fly quadcopters. Colin Guinn left DJI to join one of the biggest names in commercial drones — 3D Robotics — as SVP of sales and marketing. If anyone knows about the future of our skies, it’s him. I’ll be speaking with Guinn at Expand on Saturday, November 8th, about the future of commercial, personal and hobby drones — with maybe a little onstage flying going on, too. Before that though, read on to get a little primer on the buzzing topic from the man himself.”

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