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3 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Drone Flight

8334969506_c799262fa6_zThe drones are coming. If you don't already know someone who owns one, you soon will. Drones are an extremely accessible technology that can be as practical as they are fun.

But, with few exceptions, they are more tool than toy. As such, they should be treated with respect and pilots should exercise caution when flying. Crashing a drone is much easier than flying one.

A certain Dronelife employee, who shall remain nameless (it wasn't me), learned this lesson the hard way when he took his DJI Phantom Vision 2+ out for its maiden voyage.

So you don't make the same mistakes he and so many other first time flyers made, we asked a bunch of experts for some wisdom to impart on the drone virgins of the world. Here is what they said:

Have an intimate knowledge of your system. "One of the most important things for a beginning droner to learn is the value of understanding the physical limitations of your gear.

Of all the things that threaten a successful flight and constrain drone work, the biggest one at the moment is battery life. It’s limited. It can change depending on how it’s charged, how the drone is used and in what conditions it’s flown. Not building in a safety cushion on your projected flight time will end up with disappointing results, damaged craft, and depleted funds!

Learn your battery’s current capabilities and factor in a 20% cushion for your own good.” - Terry Holland, professional aerial photographer, Operations Advisory Group Inc.

Along with understanding the physical capabilities and limitations of your drone, it is also crucial to learn its technological capabilities and limitations, especially when you are trying to capture images or record data.

"Let the UAV do what it does best. One things I have seen first hand is that a lot of UAV users are afraid of the automated intelligence and so they want to be hands on. The more human input there is in the process the less accurate the data is going to be." - PrecisoinHawk Senior Operations Engineer, Brandon Eickhoff. "It is most important to make sure your UAV marks its home point (with GPS) before flying far away.  This will save a lot of people money and frustration." - Taylor Chien, CEO of Dronefly.com. Respect Thy Neighbor. "I wish I had been completely aware of every single regulation out there and how exactly it could affect me, the public, full-sized aircraft flying in the area, and how it all related to local laws. I had an idea of all of the regs but have to admit I was a little bit fuzzy on some of them. It is essential to know these things as it helps you to operate in a safe manner which is the single most important thing.

Also, be aware of all the airports in your operation area - especially the small ones. We must operate defensively in the sky and respect those who came before us who are now forced to share (in most cases, whether they like it or not) it with very tiny aircraft that can be difficult to see from the cockpit."  - Ian Smith, UAV Manager at Delair-Tech.

Location, location, location. "I always recommend people go into a very large field...you want to minimize the chances of hitting something. Most people are so excited they just want to go fly it right away. Don't cut corners!" - Eric Cheng, Director of Aerial Imaging at DJI. "Start in a safe location like an empty park or AMA club field and get a lot of experience with your drone equipment before doing anything more challenging." - Brendan Schulman, head of the civilian drone practice group at Kramer Levin. "Take it slow and make sure your surroundings are tailored to be crash-proof. The more vast and open the field you practice in the better. Lots of trees and buildings? Not so good.

Oh, and don't fly anywhere remotely close to water. Not near a lake, not near the ocean and DEFINITELY not your backyard pool." - Sally French, Market Watch editor and creator of thedronegirl.com.

Dronelife's own Alan Phillips could not stress this point enough:

"Don't do your first flight in your backyard. That's what everyone told me and, if I had listened, I would be flying right now instead of waiting for a backordered piece to fix my Phantom." Continue reading at Dronelife.com


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Quadrotor SRTM elevation map altitude control

The video below shows a quadrotor following bilinear interpolated SRTM elevation data. Pitch, roll, yaw are controlled manually.

Barometer and elevation readings are zero'ed at start.
The baro setpoint is set to a safety distance of elevation + 7m.

There are basically three Linux processes involved in this: The GPS publisher passes latitude/longitude data to the elevation map lookup service, which publishes elevation data to the autopilot. This communication is implemented using ZeroMQ. The GPS and autpilot services are implemented in C, while the elevation map is implemented in Python.

The interpolation of SRTM data can be found here:

Note: There are some "jumps" in the altitude, which are caused by wind gusts or lateral movement commands, affecting the imperfect altitude controller. Some more tuning is required here.

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Amazing new post-processing video stabilization technique from Microsoft Research

It doesn't just do image processing, but actually computes the trajectory of the camera in post and calculates a shake-free video from that. Really impressive work from Microsoft Research, which they call "Hyperlapse" (because it is a combination of time lapse and hyperpath finding). With a drone, where the path is already known, you could possibly do this in real-time: stabilization without a gimbal.

We present a method for converting first-person videos, for example, captured with a helmet camera during activities such as rock climbing or bicycling, into hyperlapse videos: time-lapse videos with a smoothly moving camera. 

At high speed-up rates, simple frame sub-sampling coupled with existing video stabilization methods does not work, because the erratic camera shake present in first-person videos is amplified by the speed-up. 

Scene Reconstruction Our algorithm first reconstructs the 3D input camera path as well as dense, per-frame proxy geometries. We then optimize a novel camera path for the output video (shown in red) that is smooth and passes near the input cameras while ensuring that the virtual camera looks in directions that can be rendered well from the input. Next, we compute geometric proxies for each input frame. These allow us to render the frames from the novel viewpoints on the optimized path.
Proxy Geometry
Stitched & Blended Finally, we generate the novel smoothed, time-lapse video by rendering, stitching, and blending appropriately selected source frames for each output frame. We present a number of results for challenging videos that cannot be processed using traditional techniques.

We are working hard on making our Hyperlapse algorithm available as a Windows app.
Stay tuned!

Technical paper
PDF (35.0 MB) Supplementary Material
Click here

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Thermal image camera on Kickstarter. (Small, Affordable, Lightweight)

Hema-Imager, accessible thermal imaging for smart devices

The Hema-Imager is an affordable thermal imager that pairs with your smart device to help you diagnose common household problems

The Hema-Imager is a wireless thermopile-based imaging device that is not only compatible with nearly any smart device but has better temperature accuracy (0.2F), wider temperature range (-50F - 450F) and better sensor angular resolution (0.61 angular degrees) than the closest affordable competition. Our apps can be used to display and store thermal images only or to display and store combined thermal and optical camera images, with adjustable thresholds and colormaps.

A few key elements of the Hema-Imager require further development (listed below in Development Timeline). The hardware, including electronics, case and firmware, is developed, with a manufacturing plan in place. A beta version of the Android and alpha version of the iOS application software have been developed and are being tested, but require further development for consumers.

Product Specs:

64x62 thermopile array with integrated optics.  Best sensor resolution at this price at 0.61 degree angular resolution No non-uniformity correction needed with thermopile technology Frame rate up to the ITAR-TASS regulations limit of 9 frames per second to any fully Bluetooth- or WiFi-capable device. Low power consumption and 850 mAhr battery provides up to 8 hours of continuous use without charging, or over a month if just using for 10 minutes daily. Android application for smartphone or tablet iOS application for iPhone and iPad Python & OpenCV application for windows & linux desktop App or button-driven laser pointer and online temperature display aligned to center of field of view with 0.2 deg Fahrenheit accuracy Thermal measurement range: -50F to 450F


Use with any smart device (see Attachment and Thermal-to-camera calibration) Stores securely in an ultralow power mode, wakes up with a single button press Quick-connect with your smartphone or computer within seconds Store thermal images with various colormaps or transparent overlay on camera images Store video stream of either thermal or transparent overlay on camera video Can be used at up to 20m (Bluetooth) or 100m (WiFi) distance from your smartphone or computer Standby alarm mode: set it up on a scene, capture, then set an alarm on a selected feature and walk away

Link to Kickstarter Project

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Brushless gimbal to shoot 360° video

New 6x+1(top) GoPro3  gimbal for 360deg video...
Mount without any dampers.
Flight controller: acFC5.1SE
N-axis Gimbal controller: acCC 2.1
Gimbal software: v2.0

Experiments continue ...
Results will soon be available here: http://www.airpano.ru/360-videos.php


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