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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.”

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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.

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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.

An Interview with “The Drone Lawyer,” Brendan Schulman

Commercial-drones-053M-573x450Brendan Schulman, “the drone lawyer,” is Special Counsel in the Litigation Department at the law firm Kramer-Levin, where he heads the firm’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems practice. He successfully defended Raphael “Trappy” Pirker in the first-ever federal case involving the operation of a commercial drone in the United States. He has two decades of hands-on experience with unmanned aircraft technology, and has been quoted in hundreds of news media outlets on the topic of Unmanned Aircraft Systems and is frequently invited to speak on the topic. He counts 3D Robotics among his many clients. A few days ago I spoke with Brendan at length about the current state of drone laws in the U.S. The FAA just announced it will issue exemptions for filmmakers to begin using drones for cinematography on set. Can you explain what these exemptions mean?

Earlier this year the FAA said that it would start to consider exemption requests for limited commercial use of drones. The first set of applicants were cinematographers, some of whom will now be granted exemptions. However, an FAA exemption alone doesn’t give a filmmaker the right to fly, but rather the ability to apply for permission to fly. Each job still needs to get approved for specific sets, locations, etc.

A bunch of burdensome regulations also apply: The FAA requires a flight crew of three people; one of the crew must be an FAA licensed pilot; and the 400 ft. flight ceiling is measured from the ground up, meaning you couldn’t fly a foot above a 400-foot rooftop, if you wanted to film that from above. Essentially these filmmaking operations are being treated as if they’re full, manned aircraft operations.


Ultralight aircraft.

But they’re replacing those manned operations.

Exactly. I think what the filmmakers are doing is actually using the drone more like a camera crane or boom, not flying very high very often. Obviously a drone doesn’t pose nearly the same hazard as a full-size helicopter, but the FAA treats it that way. And these regulations make it more burdensome to take aerial cinematography than to get into an ultralight vehicle and fly yourself in an actual airplane. No licensing required there.

For me, the real worry about these stiff filmmaking regulations is that the FAA is courting a very real risk to innovation. Making it this burdensome will outweigh and possibly torpedo possible future benefits. But it really doesn’t surprise me that this is their starting point. We’ve seen for a long time that the FAA has a very conservative approach to any new technology, and this reflects that philosophy.

For instance, the FAA has been working on integrating Next-Gen Air Traffic Control systems for over a decade now; they’re way behind and way over budget. The agency is simply not historically good at adapting to new technology, and for good reason in the context of passenger travel. But personal drones are simply not in the same category as an airplane. We need a new paradigm for this new technology, because new technology simply doesn’t exist in current frameworks; I mean, look at Über, Airbnb, digital music, smartphones, the list is endless. So the question here is, if drones aren’t engaged in transportation, why are we in the same framework as transportation?

Sure. But there are legitimate concerns about safety, such flying over crowds and populated areas, near airports. What risks are there?



I think very little, actually: There’s no one on board, the products are decreasing in weight and size, the technology is improving, the safety mechanisms becoming more advanced. Obviously pilots should exercise caution when flying drones in more complex environments, such as near crowds. But we should also acknowledge that if there’s an injury it would surely be minor, not anything near what might be inflicted by a manned copter or airplane.

We can support this claim, in fact, because we’ve accumulated decades of knowledge and experience with injuries related to model aircraft. And not only are injuries highly unusual, they result in only bumps and scrapes. There have been only two reported deaths in connection with model aircraft activity, and very few serious injuries, most of which involved people stunt flying too close to themselves with large and aggressive copters. Drones have a slower rotor speed, smaller propellers, and on-board safety mechanisms like Return to Launch. Serious safety concerns are comparatively minimal. It doesn’t make sense that the FAA should devote its resources to bumps on the head.

Obviously there’s a desire to prevent collision with a passenger airplane. We’re all interested in preventing that possibility. But right now we’re talking about flying in isolated areas, like on farms, and on movie sets—there are no planes flying through there. We should build on the decades of experience of safe use of model airplanes by hobbyists in terms of avoiding manned air traffic.

Why do the regulations concern you enough that you’ve taken up these cases?

Well, we would reduce the number of companies who can innovate, we’d lose a lot of opportunity to do good, and we’d increase the burden of getting involved. I mean, I can’t believe that Congress or the country wants robotics companies that are testing small components to have to go get regulatory approval. Something like that makes perfect sense for a multimillion-dollar passenger aircraft, to have everything planned in advance, but for small-frame, personal technology, the framework doesn’t make sense. We need to enable this technology. It can do all of us a whole lot of good.

The FAA is rumored to be considering issuing exemptions for drone applications in agriculture. Can you speak to that?


3DR drone doing work in precision agriculture.

Agriculture is one of the biggest applications for the technology. It’s obvious that taking an aerial view would help farmers better see and learn what’s going on on their land. Not only is the practice economical, but it’s environmentally friendly. And most of those fields are in remote locations, so concerns are minimal.

The FAA has expressed concern about drones interfering with crop-dusters, when crop-dusting itself is actually one of the most dangerous jobs in the country—top three or five, I think—crashing into power lines and antennae and such because they fly so low. So that’s another thing that doesn’t make sense: Holding back promising technology because of an aviation operation that is historically unsafe. The FAA would have said no to crop-dusters today: Planes that fly 50 feet above a field and then back through a pesticide cloud?

But twenty years ago in Japan, Yamaha crop-dusting drones were developed and implemented at the insistence of the Japanese government. Now that’s an example of the kind government leadership that we need here in order to take on these issues and logically integrate the technology.

Any updates on the FAA’s case against Trappy?

Trappy’s case is still pending on appeal. In the interim I’m representing a number of commercial drone companies as well as the Academy of Model Aeronautics in lawsuits against the FAA concerning their June interpretation, which purports to impose new restrictions on both recreational and model aircraft. There’s concern about what the FAA is imposing on model aircraft, statements that seem to preclude commercial activity that wasn’t precluded before. And that pending litigation matter could further impact the development of drone regulations.

There is the interesting case of Texas EquuSearch, a search and rescue organization based in Texas that was able to obtain emergency approval from the FAA to use a drone in a rescue operation. However, the drone they were using came from a government agency—the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which is part of the Department of Commerce—who were using a government-approved MLB Superbat drone to do wildfire studies. The agency’s research was concluded and their drone was sitting around, and Texas EquuSearch had the opportunity to use it. I was glad to see the FAA and EquuSearch cooperating, and was happy to have that result, to see this technology embraced and applied for a good purpose. But it wasn’t a blanket approval for the team, just a one-time use for three days. The stars aligned nicely because a government agency happened to have a drone and wasn’t using it. So does this reflect a long-term approval for search and rescue technology? It’s not clear how often that situation would come up; it seems pretty unique.

I’d like to reiterate that the real question here is where the value of this technology is going to end up. Will it get realized by the end users who are making and building and innovating, or will it get caught up in a heavy-handed regulatory scheme where a lot of the efficiency will be lost in getting approval and licenses? That’s a real question for the country about what the approach should be in the long run. We seem to be heading down a road to regulations that will look a lot like full-blown aviation regulations. The question for everyone is whether that’s what we need to achieve the appropriate level of safety and fully realize the potential social and economic good that the arrival of this technology heralds.

Follow Brendan Schulman on Twitter, @dronelaws.

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3DR Drones, Making Maps and Wine in Sonoma County


For the past year or so 3DR has been working closely with Ryan Kunde of DRNK Wines, of one California’s storied Sonoma County wineries. Ryan uses our drones to create aerial maps and overviews of his vineyards, field references which help him make more informed decisions about grape selection and blends, and better see and understand vine stress and vigor. A few weeks ago 3DR made one of our regular visits to the Kunde Family Vineyard to create some maps with Ryan as he gears up for this year’s harvest, and will have a video of this use case forthcoming. Writer Jolene Patterson was there with us, too, and wrote an excellent overview of Ryan’s project with 3DR and the future of drones in viticulture.

In the coming weeks, this blog will cover agriculture and mapping applications in detail. To lead us in, here’s an abridged version of Jolene’s informative and insightful article about 3DR at Kunde Vineyards. Viticultural Drones—Just Another Tractor? Nature’s signs are ever present in the Kunde Family Vineyard as Sonoma County’s harvest approaches with copious amounts of ripening grapes, yellowing leaves, and hungry birds. But the morning air whispers a subtle mechanical sound as a 3D Robotics‘ autonomous multicoper lands among the vines.

Drone news is often military related, but drones can be used for everything from agriculture to delivering pizza.  The 2014 Precision Aerial Ag Show drew 1,000 midwest farmers, and Japan has been extensively using drones in agriculture for 15 years. 3D Robotics wants farmers to use drones the way they would any piece of farming equipment and is creating products to meet those agricultural needs.

Ryan Kunde, 5th-generGrapes Smallation viticulturist and winemaker from DRNK Wines, is surveying the grapes to be harvested in the Kunde Family Vineyards near the old winery ruins in the Sonoma Valley AVA. Kunde Family Vineyards is a remarkably diverse 1,850 acre farm, with less than 40% of its land devoted to vineyards and topography that varies from 1400-foot mountain tops to rolling hills to a valley floor. The vineyard acreage is home to around 20 varietals grown in a volcanic band of “Red Hill” soil.  Ryan is very familiar with this large vineyard; he grew up here among these sustainably-grown vines talking easily about the the land, the lakes and grapes in a knowledgeable but unpretentious manner. But today he wants a bird’s eye view of these vineyards to help him assess areas of vigor and stress, because he needs to determine harvest timing and row locations.

This time of the year, growers and winemakers alike are walking the vineyards sampling the fruit and making tDrone 1 Whiteheir most important decision of the year – when to harvest. But is that really the only question? More and more I am hearing that separating the grapes from different areas of the vineyard so that more complex and interesting wines can be blended at bottling is almost as important as harvest timing. How do you evalutate all of the important or possibly important grape variations within a large vineyard like Kunde Family Vineyards? For Ryan the answer is viticultural drones. Drone photographic images can be accumulated long-term to assess vineyard patterns and perform maintenance. Additionally, they can be used for on-demand aerial images as he is doing today.

Imaging 2Images are created from autonomous, fixed-wing planes and multicopters with a point-and-shoot camera mounted inside. 3D Robotoics software then stitched the images together to generate the 3D model of the vineyard. Color variations in the 3D photographic model of vineyard help select sampling areas for possible seaparation during harvest.  Then it was back to the manual process and out into the vineyard to pick grapes to test for harvest readiness, using additional tools of the harvest (refractometer).

SamplingDrones are obviously not a replacement for a knowledgeable vineyard manager or winemaker, but another farming tool.  Drones can be a cost-effective solution in difficult terrains, newly acquired vineyards, or large properties to assess areas for manual evaluation or maintenance.  This evaluation can include watering or fertilizations requirements, pest control, general vineyard vigor, or harvest readiness. Ryan can send vineyard workers with guided GPS to specific areas of the vineyard to work and make informed decision about grapes to be separated during harvest so that he has the ability to make better decisions and better wine once the grapes are back in the winery.

Imagery is not uncommon to agriculture, but hiring planes or using satellite technology is more expensive and subject to weather and timing.  Planes often need to be hired weeks in advance and satellite images are difficult when clouds interfere.

Drones technology is moving to meet this agricultural need with two trends drivening drone expansion (and reducing pricing) one is open source technology and second is the development of the Maker Movement for do-it-yourself (DIY) techies. Ryan’s interest in technology began with a childhood interest in radio-controlled cars. Today, he owns autonomous fixed-wing planes and is beta-testing multicopters, both equipped with GPS location systems and point-and-shoot camera technology.

The most important factor in any harvest is still the man or woman guiding the process, our wonderfully talented growers and winemakers, but using every available tool to make the best decision can give you an edge. Ryan is producing some incredible wines with a complexity that I love. So perhaps it isn’t just another tractor, but a new innovative tool to allow a talented winemaker to improve his winemaking starting in the vineyard!

Read Jolene’s article in full here.

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