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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:

Food Fight: In Syria, Drones with a New Mission

This past March, Mark Jacobsen, a PhD candidate in Political Science at Stanford, spent a week in Turkey conducting field research among Syrian refugees and activists. At that time the sieges by the Syrian government were at their worst, and the refugees Mark spoke with told tragic stories and vented their frustration with the U.S. for not airdropping food and other supplies to the besieged areas. Mark, an active-duty C-17 pilot in the U.S. Air Force, explained why the U.S. can’t do airdrops in Syria: Manned cargo planes are vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire, so you can’t conduct airdrops without also launching a major combat operation to take down those air defense systems.

Syrians wait in line for a rare food delivery in Yarmouk, a besieged suburb of Damascus.

Normally the discussion would end there. That night, though, moved and troubled by the stories he’d heard and the people he’d met, Mark couldn’t sleep. The more thought he gave the issue, the more absurd it seemed that in the 21st century we still don’t have a way to deliver critical humanitarian aid through contested airspace so it gets to those who need it most. Mark wouldn’t let the problem go, and a few months later he launched the Syrian Airlift Project.

The project

The Syrian Airlift Project (SAP) seeks to end the use of mass starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of warfare. The group and its partners are exploring creative ways to deliver humanitarian aid in conflict zones that are inaccessible to traditional aid organizations. They’ve focused their initial efforts on Syria, where according to a 2014 report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, an estimated 240,000 people have been besieged and deprived of both food and medicine, and seven million more are considered difficult to access because of violent and chaotic conditions on the ground.

Mark, however, believes that fleets of small, inexpensive and easy-to-use drones can cheaply and safely deliver critical humanitarian aid—via a large amount of small packets—where larger aircraft cannot. “Imagine an army of ants stealing a picnic lunch, bite by bite,” Mark says. Or perhaps more constructively, an army of people contributing to a massive encyclopedia, byte by byte.

The project aims to use swarming principles and simple airdrop mechanisms to unload bundles of food or medicine outfitted with parachutes at pre-programmed GPS coordinates. The drones are small and quiet and will fly at night so that hostile actors won’t be able to track them; if they do, the drones wouldn’t even be worth shooting down one at a time. Because there are hundreds of them and they’re so small and cheap, no one aircraft is all that important, and it’s Mark’s bet that almost all will complete their mission.

The technology

sap1

A Syria Airlift Project prototype, the Ansley Peace Drone.

The whole premise of the Syria Airlift Project is that effective drones can be built cheaply and in large numbers. Made of a simple airframe built from Dollar Tree foam board, packing tape, and hot glue, each aircraft (all-in, with servos, motors, props, autopilot and batteries) costs less than $500. Mark chose to use 3D Robotics APM 2.6 autopilots because they’re inexpensive and widely available, and also because the open-source software can be customized for specific purposes. The SAP’s autopilot modifications include a self-destruct mechanism to prevent the technology from falling into the hands of hostile actors, as well as special navigation instructions in the event of GPS loss or jamming.

The SAP also needed a low-cost way to coordinate simultaneous flights of dozens or even hundreds of these drones, so they created Swarmify, a custom mission planning tool. Mark says that if you give Swarmify one original flight plan, the software can create any number of slightly different flight plans that are randomized by altitude, route and timing. This allows them to quickly create and upload nearly identical and simultaneous flight plans for a whole swarm of drones, while also ensuring safe and collision-free flight.

When a mission comes up, a core team of experts will initiate mission planning and deploy select mobile field crews in Turkey to launch and recover the drones. In flight, the drones will maintain relatively low altitudes as they cross the border into Syria, where they’ll drop their cargo by parachute at the designated coordinates before returning to Turkey. These missions will be coordinated with both the Turkish government and with an extensive network of both Syrians and international aid organizations.

The people

The simplicity of the aircraft offers other advantages, too. Because the drones are built from common materials like foam board and hot glue, refugees need no special skills to take part in assembly, and once trained by visiting instructors, a four-man team can build ten a day. To that end, the Syria Airlift Project also partners with People Demand Change (PDC), a U.S. nonprofit based in Turkey that seeks to empower local populations, who will oversee the employment of Syrian refugees in assembling these airframes.

A build day hosted by the Syria Airlift Project. A group of ordinary students learned to build aircraft components.

A build day hosted by the Syria Airlift Project. A group of ordinary students learned to build aircraft components.

In this way, Mark hopes his project will also empower Syrian refugee communities, providing meaningful work to those who otherwise have limited means to contribute to their own cause. Aircraft construction will take place in schools and refugee camps in Turkey, where children will have the opportunity to decorate the airframes. The drones will then deliver parcels of food and medicine labeled not only with national and corporate sponsors, but also with symbols and language communicating a shared positive vision of Syria’s future.

The path

Obviously, the challenges the project faces aren’t exactly minimal, among them assessing and minimizing risk of of military retaliation or escalation, preventing unwanted technology transfer, and complying with U.S. and Turkish law to secure a sound legal basis for entering Syria. But the project is still in an early phase. Until now their work has primarily been exploratory, but this weekend Mark will publicly unveil the Syria Airlift Project at a pitch contest hosted by the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum (DEF), a private organization that exists to encourage innovative thinking in the Department of Defense. In the coming months the SAP plans to incorporate as a nonprofit organization, publicize their efforts and begin fundraising.

The infamous “Granola Gay” prototype.

The infamous “Granola Gay” prototype.

You could conservatively call Mark’s vision ambitious. At one point he tried to build a drone made entirely of granola, flying food that could be eaten upon crashing. His got his wife to cook up a prototype, but they never got the Granola Wing off the ground.

“What we’re proposing is insane, I know,” says Mark. “It likely can’t be done. But I keep reminding myself that perhaps it can, and if so, it might save thousands of lives and have a real impact on the Syrian civil war, creating a positive foundation for cooperation on which a shattered society can begin to build.”

If you’d like to help, you can contact the SAP at info@syriaairlift.org

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