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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


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

3DR In the Atlantic – Dudes With Drones

“No one knows exactly how many personal drones are buzzing through our skies, but Chris Anderson, the longtime editor of Wired magazine who now heads a drone manufacturer called 3D Robotics, estimates that at least 500,000 have been sold in the United States alone.”

Read More:


The post 3DR In the Atlantic – Dudes With Drones appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

3DR Announces Launch of the Dronecode Foundation

From the beginning 3DR has been committed to open source development. This is the 21st century lesson in innovation: moving fast means moving together. To that end, we’ve proudly supported a vibrant global community of brilliant and selfless developers who over the past seven years have been responsible for some amazing achievements in aerial robotics, not the least of which is the APM/Pixhawk platform that’s since been adopted by over 100,000 users. Because of this exponential explosion in platform adoption and community membership, it’s now time to organize our community and give our flight code a proper home.

aero_cu_0That’s why we’re proud to announce today the official launch of the Dronecode Foundation, an open source, collaborative project that brings together existing and future open source drone projects under a nonprofit structure governed by the Linux Foundation. The result will be a common, shared open source platform for UAVs that will be home for both the code and the community.

The Dronecode Foundation will encourage the development of open source consumer and commercial UAV software by building and supporting a community of developers and providing them the resources and tools to help them innovate. The ultimate goal is to maximize adoption of the project’s code for the benefit of users by developing cheaper, better and more reliable UAV software.

“Dronecode will allow companies to participate in UAV development in a more formal way,” wrote 3DR CEO Chris Anderson in a welcome piece on the Dronecode blog. “These companies can then contribute back to the community in everything from code to people power to financial resources. This is why I’m particularly delighted to welcome our company launch partners, including such giants as Intel, Qualcomm, Box and Baidu in addition to UAV leaders such as Yuneec, Walkera and of course, 3D Robotics.”


intel_logoDronecode is lucky to stand on the shoulders of 20+ years of open source development, thanks in large part to the Linux Foundation. Linux brings the necessary experience to bear on the project so that it has a clear structure, transparent processes and criteria for memberships ranging from free developers to corporate. It also offers a clear path for corporate participation and platform adoption while protecting open source ideals, and the experience and reputation of the Linux Foundation ensures that those values will be embraced and preserved as the industry around them grows. And in the interest of preserving the open code, the Dronecode Foundation can now even extend specific closed source licenses or, if need be, hold copyright.

“There is no better organization to lead this than the Linux Foundation,” Chris continued. “Not just because of the extraordinary success of Linux itself, but also because of all the other collaborative projects that it helps run, allowing each to reach the next level of participation, performance and innovation. I can’t wait to see what this community creates next.”

Learn more about Dronecode here.

The post 3DR Announces Launch of the Dronecode Foundation appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

How Drones Will Help Us Grow Better Food and Wine, and More of It

There’s a pervasive myth of the American farmer: technologically conservative, isolated and set in his ways (always a him), and probably older and kind of grumpy and heavily flannelled, too. However, as Robert Blair, a wheat farmer in Idaho who’s pioneering the use of drones in agriculture, once told me, “People think we’re just standing around out there in our bib overalls holding a pitchfork. They really have no idea that agriculture is one of the most technologically advanced industries in the world.”

He’s right. Historically, even, because advancements in agricultural technology are what gave rise to civilization in the first place. And today, we’re going to have to call on the agriculture industry again to make more of those huge technological leaps in order to sustain that civilization.


Global crop usage, scaled, from food (green) to fuel (purple).

The experts say we’re going to have to double global food production by 2050. The reason is not that the population itself will double—though by 2050 we’ll have around two billion more mouths to feed—the reason is also what those two billion mouths will be feeding on. With economies surging in big developing countries like China, India and Brazil, people who formerly couldn’t afford much meat have developed a taste for it, and the animals that will provide all that meat have to be fed somehow. To give you an idea of how this breaks down, around 10% of the corn we grow in the U.S. today ends up in people’s bellies, while 40% ends up in the bellies of other animals.

Given the scale of this challenge, the obvious question is how. One approach is to take the “grow more” route. It’s worked in the past. However, the “more” approach, more pasture clearing and more land converted to farmland, has also had an enormous impact on the environment, as agriculture contributes significantly to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. And in a vicious circle, climate change in turn negatively impacts agriculture by diminishing crop yields.

Another route is the “grow more by growing better” route, or, in terms of the buzzword we’ve all seen in even Walmart grocery stores by now, the sustainable route. And this is where drones come in.


A 3DR Aero-M captures aerial data over a Sonoma County vineyard.

Drones will contribute to a more sustainable world. They can collect the aerial data that farmers need to better understand and predict crop yield, assess crop health and weed cover, and perhaps most importantly when it comes to environmental sustainability, monitor and target water and fertilizer distribution and application. These farming techniques are popularly called precision agriculture, which can save farmers money and time, as well as help them enhance their crop quality, yields, and profits on those yields, and optimize the usage and output of farmland.

For instance, 3DR Mapping Platforms can automatically capture aerial images to create maps that help farmers scout their crops and monitor soil quality, crop stress and vigor. Crop consultants and agronomists can use those same images to identify and assess crop health, irrigation and yield patterns, and even predict crop yield in advance. They can accordingly target their distribution of fertilizer and water, which not only have a huge environmental impact but are also the two biggest cost inputs for farming. (Ironically, nitrogen fertilizer, which we use heavily to increase crop yield, also causes prairie grasslands to become a virtual monoculture of an otherwise extremely rare invasive agricultural weed.) If farmers want, our one cm/pixel resolution can even allow them to see clearly and accurately right down to each individual grape. And perhaps most obviously, they won’t need to spend so much time scouting their crops on foot, and can appropriate that time instead to production. Further, because drones are fully automated, farmers and agronomists can save flight paths in the mission planning software and fly identical missions at different times of year, or even from one year to the next, allowing them to overlay and compare data and development across time.


An NDVI image showing crop health in a vineyard.

The possibilities extend beyond what we can see. For instance, near-infrared (NIR) imagery is of particular interest to farmers. A healthy leaf reflects a lot of NIR, actually more NIR than visible green light. A stressed leaf reflects less NIR, and dead leaves less still. You can put a camera on a drone that gathers NIR aerial data, and then use those images to make a specific type of map (NDVI) that can give a highly detailed understanding of crop health that would be impossible to accrue with the human eye. Also, NIR data allow farmers to precisely quantify weed coverage, which is tough to accurately gauge with visible-range information. Drones can be outfitted with many different types of these cameras and sensors, and can also capture data in the IR and hyperspectral ranges.

Now to you and me, this might sound highly technical, and perhaps confusing and ultimately unimpressive. To the right person, however, this information is invaluable; it leads to concrete and critical action, and it gets better results. All we really need to know is that these data will help us grow better food and wine, and more of it.


Areas with the potential to increase crop yields.

But, to me at least, what’s even more interesting when it comes to the global food production problem is where most of the growth is going to take place. Crop yields are soon going to more or less max out in the developed world, with most of the potential for increasing yields in the developing world—Central America, Africa, and Eastern Europe especially. But farmers in those places can’t generally afford the types of agricultural drone systems we see on the market today, which routinely sell for $25,000 to $50,000. This is a perfect example of why 3DR has from the beginning been committed to innovation through price. Our all-in-one Mapping Platforms, each a package that includes a high-resolution camera and professional image processing software, will clock in at just above $5,000. We do this because we have a responsibility to put this technology in the hands of the most people who are the most capable of effecting change and who need it the most. Honest and revolutionary pricing is one way we can do that.

The way we see our role in this, our technology alone won’t double global food production or decrease our environmental footprint. We won’t change the world by ourselves, but through our platforms, we’ll empower the people who do.

The post How Drones Will Help Us Grow Better Food and Wine, and More of It appeared first on 3drobotics.com.

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