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Drone Girl

Drone races are coming to NYC

You’ve seen drone races in stadiums and parking garages, but drones are about to race into the Big Apple.
The world’s first drone race to be set against the New York City skyline is happening on July 30 and 31. Dubbed The Liberty Cup, it will host 100 pilots who are competing for prizes.
Courtesy: Liberty Cup

Drone racing is a new sport in which pilots fly their drones at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour using first-person view (FPV) technology, enabling pilots and the audience to experience the flight of the drone firsthand, in real time, from the birdlike point of view of the drone. The two-day event, sponsored by the creators of the New York City Drone Film Festival, will also include demos on building drones and flight simulation

“Drone racing has similarities with other extreme sports but is a unique experience that almost defies categorization,” said race director Randy Scott Slavin, executive director of Yeah Drones and founder of the NYC Drone Film Festival. “Cars are bound by gravity so the tracks are two-dimensional. Drones don’t have that restriction, so The Liberty Cup will be less like NASCAR and more like a freewheeling rollercoaster ride in the sky.”
The races will be held at The Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, NJ.

Courtesy: Liberty Cup

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The small FAA change that means more to me than anything

Me (left) with freelance photographer Stuart Palley in drone journalism class, working with NBC Nightly News on using drones for their shoot.

The FAA announced a change to one of its policies that means more to me than anything before.

It’s not a leak about the announcements expected to come in June about commercial operation of small UAVs. It’s not about geofencing, or air traffic control, or registration, or any of the topics that are hot in the drone news world or discussed on the stage at conferences.

It’s this: the FAA this week announced that in the very near future, it will start allowing students to operate UAS for educational and research purposes.

“As a result, schools and students will no longer need a Section 333 exemption or any other authorization to fly provided they follow the rules for model aircraft,” according to an FAA statement. “Faculty will be able to use drones in connection with helping their students with their courses.”

I first got into drones when I was a journalism student at the University of Missouri. I needed one more credit to graduate by May 2013, and there was basically one class that fit in my schedule — a brand, new class called Drone Journalism. I hastily signed up the first week of January 2013 with no idea what I was getting into, or what even a drone was. I was hooked. We explored the use cases for drones in journalism — documenting environmental changes, covering protests or getting a bird’s-eye view of natural disasters. We learned how to fly, and heavily discussed safety, like flying near people and alerting relevant authorities when flying. We discussed laws (which were more often than not pretty vague) and ethics, like how to handle the drone looking over private property. That class changed my life.

And in July 2013, after I graduated, I learned the FAA shut that class down. Commercial use of drones, they said, was illegal. We argued it was an educational purpose, but the FAA argued since we paid tuition and the teacher received a salary, it was commercial. You can read the FAA’s letter to us here.

The first time I ever flew a drone in early 2013 in an arena at the University of Missouri.

That was sad, but even more so — terrifying. In the myriad of incidents where drones crash near the White House or fly near airports, the thing people say is, “we need more education.” Ironically, the FAA prohibited a university from doing education. If college students training to be journalists who will inevitably use drones for reporting couldn’t learn safety, laws and ethics around drones while flying them, how can we expect drones to be used appropriately?


But what’s refreshing is that the FAA has learned over the years that it is allowed to reverse past policies. This May, the FAA has decided that a student doesn’t need to obtain the arduous Section 333 permit, which requires having a pilot’s license. They can conduct drone operations in accordance with Section 336 of the FMRA to help further their drone and aviation-related education.

This is a signal that the FAA is changing its tune — in a good way — by embracing, not banning, drones. While I am frustrated by the fact that my school’s drone journalism program was shut down in the first place, I am enthusiastic about the future drone pilots, who get to take classes and study drones more seriously in a formal institutional environment than many of this generation has ever had a chance to.

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GoPro’s Karma is delayed, but CEO Nick Woodman has a consolation for you

This article was originally written for MarketWatch.

The launch of GoPro Inc.’s  drone is going to be delayed until the 2016 holiday season.

The drone, named “Karma,” was initially announced to be released in the first half of 2016. As part of an earnings report Thursday, though, the action-camera company said its highly anticipated flying robot won’t make the deadline it originally promised.

“As late as this week, we believed Karma’s launch was on schedule,” said Nick Woodman, founder and chief executive of GoPro.

“Karma’s features make it much more than a drone,” he added. “To give ourselves more time to fine-tune these features, we have made the difficult decision to push Karma’s launch to the holidays.”

The delay means Karma will have to push even harder to compete in a rapidly evolving consumer drone market. Two of China’s biggest drone makers, DJI and Yuneec, surprised consumers this year with highly advanced drones that have sense and avoid technology, making them nearly crash-proof. Smaller competitors like Autel and Parrot are also making names for themselves in an increasingly crowded consumer drone market.

3D Robotics, which offers the “Solo” drone that failed to compete with DJI and Yuneec’s new technology, cut an undisclosed number of staff earlier this year, according to internal emails obtained by MarketWatch.

“We made too many Solos, especially given how fast our competitors dropped prices and flooded the market,” 3DR President Jeevan Kalanithi wrote.

GoPro’s Woodman would not say if Karma has features that would put it ahead of what’s already available on the market.

“We can’t share any information about how Karma may or may not evolve as we get closer to launch, but what I can share is we are incredibly excited about this product,” he said.

Goldman Sachs says that GoPro’s ”recognizable brand and customer base” could give it an advantage in the consumer drone industry, according to a March report. At 2.2 million units sold in 2015, the global drone market is 20% the size of the GoPro-dominated action camera market in terms of units, according to Goldman Sachs.

With a holiday launch of Karma, all bets are on the fourth quarter.

“The upside about they delay is it does allow us to launch Karma at a wonderful time of year,” Woodman said.

GoPro shares dropped 9% in after-hours trade Thursday after its first-quarter earnings report. GoPro reported a deep loss of $107.5 million, or 78 cents a share, down from a profit of 11 cents a share, or $16.6 million, a year earlier. The company posted an operating loss of $121.4 million, compared with an operating profit of $22.3 million a year earlier.

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Why I’m celebrating International Drone Day tomorrow (and why you should too)

This post was originally written for Randi Zuckerberg’s online community Dot Complicated, a site aimed at “untangling” our modern, wired lives.

Tomorrow is the Second Annual International Drone Day!

So much has changed since the first International Drone Day. Last year, the message was “Drones Are Good.” The first International Drone Day came at a time when people were concerned about privacy, safety, spying, crashing and data being stolen. It was not uncommon for strangers to approach me as I flew my drone and say, “Who are you trying to spy on?”

In just a year, there has been a massive shift in public perception. These days, I’ll be out flying and strangers will approach me to say something like, “That’s really cool! How long can it fly, and how much does it cost?”

The first International Drone Day was intended to educate people about how drones can be used for good, like using aerial cameras to do otherwise dangerous inspections, gathering data that allows farmers to make decisions about the health of their crops, or carrying out search and rescue operations.

Me with International Drone Day co-founder David Oneal

Within that year, I’ve written about so many more creative and life-changing uses for drones. Yuneec’s drones are being used to help scientists gather whale DNA in a noninvasive manner by hovering drones a few yards over them as they come up for air. In Africa, elephants have a tendency to trample on farmland, and farmers often have no choice but to shoot them. Since elephants are afraid of the sound of drones, DJI has given drones to African farmers, which farmers fly towards elephants to not only ward them off, but protect them. FLIR’s thermal cameras for drones identify hotspots and help firefighters see the safest place to enter a burning building. Drones operated by Flirtey and Matternet are delivering medical supplies to people in rural areas.

Nowadays people these days have no doubt that drones are good. International Drone Day worked.

Me meeting both old friends and new at last year's event
Me meeting both old friends and new at last year’s event

This year, the focus is on policy and bringing the drone community together in support of laws that increase technological innovation. Right now, it is illegal to fly a drone for commercial purposes without a Section 333 exemption, an arduous paperwork process that even requires the operator to have a pilot’s license. (Most people, including the Federal Aviation Administration, recognize that the same skills needed to pilot manned aircraft don’t translate to operating a drone). The FAA in June is expected to come out with rules directing how drone operators can run a business using a drone — without needing a pilot’s license. The policy focus this year is also about getting our government on the same page so states don’t create laws that contradict the FAA’s work. This year we’ll also learn more about plans for drone air traffic control, so our national airspace remains safe.04

Last year, I celebrated from the main event just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. This year, I’ll be celebrating from my own city of San Francisco. But I won’t feel any less connected. In fact, I feel more connected than ever. Throughout the year, the number of people interested in drones has grown exponentially.  There are more groups springing up in cities like San Francisco, in suburbs, in other countries and even online. Because of the Internet, I’ve become friends with people around the world in various groups like a Slack channel for commercial drone operators, a Facebook group for women in drones and websites for photographers to share and critique aerial photos.

International Drone Day, 2015 at the main event in Nevada

You can get involved too. Whether you have never seen a drone in person yourself, or whether you’re an expert using drones everyday for your business, it’s important you get involved. Show that drones aren’t a passing fad, but are a technology that makes this world a more efficient, safer, smarter place to live in. Your involvement tells the world that “Drones are good.”

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Skytango features The Drone Girl in drone journalism expert roundup

Aerial video marketplace Skytango’s latest post focuses on drone journalism — and I was honored to be included in it!

Their post, titled “Opportunities and challenges in drone journalism” features  views from 14 “industry experts,” including Matthew Schroyer, founder of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists, Ben Kreimer, the beta fellow for BuzzFeed’s Open Lab Fellowship and Mickey Osterreicher, the General Counsel for the National Press Photographers’ Association.

Read the entire piece here.

Here’s what I told them:

Top 3 opportunities for drones in journalism:

The biggest opportunity is cost savings. It’s not uncommon to see a news helicopter photographing something like a fire or highway traffic from the air, but that can cost thousands of dollars per hour. A drone can get that same shot for a one-time fee of about a thousand dollars. Newsrooms are already tight on money, so this could be a huge money-saver. With that cost savings comes the ability to cover stories we wouldn’t cover otherwise because it would just be too difficult. In the future, we’ll see more parades, protests, natural disasters, etc. all documented via drone.

Top 3 challenges of drones in journalism:

The biggest challenges for journalism are no different than any other commercial drone use case. Safety is of upmost importance, and while the technology has improved so much even in the past two years to make these safe to fly, I still am not 100% confident a drone could safely fly over a protest scene 100% of the time. There is also the regulation aspect, which (hopefully) will be resolved this year. The 333 exemption process has been a huge hindrance to a lot of people who don’t have a pilot’s license.

The area with the most potential:

Right now the majority of drone journalism we’re seeing is of unpopulated areas due to safety concerns. There have been cool videos of drones covering flood zones, showing bridges over water or depicting farmland. They are largely environmental focused stories, which is great – but in the future, we’ll see more protests and events involving people being covered.

Read what everyone else had to say on Skytango’s site!

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