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Drones in Conservation: An Interview with Jeremy Roberts, Owner of Conservation Media

Conservation Media uses drones to create stories about wildlife and nature. We wanted to learn more about their work and how they first got started, so we sat down with owner and producer Jeremy Roberts to learn more.

About Conservation Media

Conservation Media has an exclusive focus on conservation storytelling. They work with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon, and the National Wildlife Federation to produce high quality professional products for their digital outreach campaigns.

conservation media_logo

About Jeremy Roberts

Jeremy Roberts is a digital storyteller formally trained in conservation science, filmmaking, and photography. He serves on the Board of Directors for Filmmakers for Conservation, and is the owner and lead producer at Conservation Media.

Jeremy Roberts
Jeremy Roberts, Owner and Producer at Conservation Media

Begin Interview

In one sentence, tell us what does Conservation Media does.

Conservation media produces multimedia stories for conservation professionals, including scientists, nonprofits, and government organizations.

How do use drones in your work at Conservation Media?

Conservation work is inherently a landscape scale endeavor. By landscape scale, I mean you have to look at things on a big scale—a landscape scale—to really get your point across about important conservation issues.

Conservation Media-cover-fb
Image courtesy of Conservation Media

If you want to engage people in landscape scale issues, the thing you have to do is either fly over in an airplane or get on top of a mountain. Or get footage with a drone.

You need that aerial perspective so that you can see entire areas—massive ecosystems, water shifts, migration corridors, animal movements. You need to be able to see this stuff.

And there’s no better way to do that than with drones.

So, from my perspective, drones are essential for conservation storytelling, because they allow you to tell the conservation story at a landscape scale.

How did you first incorporate drones into your operations?

I used to hire out a lot of drone work before I finally decided that I could probably do a better job getting the exact image I was envisioning by doing it myself.

So I finally took the first step and got a little Air Hog helicopter, and I flew it around my house for about a month. I would be editing and then in between, when my computer was rendering, I’d fire up that little helicopter and I’d fly it through the kitchen and down the hall, around corners, and just try and get my thumbs wired to my brain a little better.

After that I bought a Phantom, and went out into the world. At that point I was measuring my skill as a pilot as my ability to fly from A to B, or around obstacle X and back, safely.

It wasn’t until I went through Drone Pilot Ground School that I realized flying successfully and flying safely are not the same thing.

Just getting from A to B and not crashing is only about you and the aircraft. But safety is so much bigger than that. It encompasses the people around you, but also other aircraft. So many things can go wrong—if you’ve ever seen a drone lose its mind, you know it can suddenly become a flying lawnmower. And that is terrifying.

So over time I’ve learned that being a good a pilot isn’t just about flying well. It’s also about being aware of potential safety hazards, other people, and having a plan for what to do if something suddenly goes wrong.

There’s just so much unpredictability about being up in the air. Airspace is dynamic—it’s not a constant atmosphere, and it’s not a constant level of safety concern. Things are always changing, and they change quickly.

How did Conservation Media get started?

My background is in wildlife biology. Originally I was going to stick with hard, scientific research as it applied to wildlife conservation, but at some point I realized that most scientists are publishing in an academic vacuum, where their findings only reach other people in academia.

I really wanted to bridge that communication gap, and bring scientific research and conservation efforts to those stakeholders involved in shaping policy and making decisions that impact the environment. These people aren’t reading science journals, but they are watching videos and reading popular magazines.

And that’s where the idea for creating a company like Conservation Media was first born.

Conservation Media sanderlings
Photo courtesy of Conservation Media

How did you go from being a scientist to producing videos?

When I realized that I really wanted to bridge that communication gap, I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University, which was the only program of its kind at the time.

I spent four years going through grad school and in the process became a jack of all trades. The goal of the graduate program was to give people the technological skills in all the various departments of film production, so that you’d have the skills to be a gaffer, or just do lighting, or just do editing, or just do camera operations, or produce, or executive produce.

Most of the students that I went through that graduate program with went straight into National Geographic, and some went on to work with NASA at their visualization studio. But I just turned around and went back to my biology community, and my conservation community, and asked if I could do outreach for them.

So rather than doing broadcast commercial work, where you’d have to show the blood and the fangs and sensationalize your material, like Shark Week or something, I really wanted to produce straight story telling about nature and wildlife.


Check out this showreel from Conservation Media

Have you run into any legal hurdles using drones in your work?

Of course, there are a lot of off-limits places. You can’t fly in National Parks, and you can’t fly in wildlife refuges. And in some areas to get a filming permit you have to apply six months ahead of time and pay hundreds of dollars.

But I mainly fly in rural areas, in National Forests and remote public lands. Which means I’m lucky, because I really don’t run into a lot of problems with constraints on wanting to fly somewhere but not being able to.

What drones do you fly, and what cameras do you use?

Right now we’re flying the Inspire One with the X5 camera on it, which is a nice compromise between image quality and price.

We’ve also got a couple of Phantoms, which we use for riskier situations.

What has been one of your favorite projects and why?

One of the most incredible things I’ve ever done was to fly a drone into a wolf den to count the pups.

This was five years ago, way before the Part 107 rules came out, and the group I was working with—they were an official entity working to protect wolves in this area—was having trouble sneaking into the den to count the pups. So they asked me to see if we could do it with a drone.

Something to emphasize here is that we took extreme care to make sure the animals weren’t harassed, and to respect their space and autonomy. Also, the counting was crucial for a conservation effort that was underway, and climbing into the den was definitely more disruptive than flying overhead, and more effective, so it was decided that this was the best approach.

So we flew into the wolf den and counted the pups. I remember it so clearly—I just dropped right down between the trees, went in, and there they were. There were five of them, just chewing on bones. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

In addition to media services, you also provide education through Conservation Media. Can you tell us more about that?

My main goal there is to try and teach people how to shape their stories. So, how to do better writing, how to do better audio, how to cut and edit their footage.

A lot of the folks just don’t have the budgets to engage in video production, so they end up doing the work themselves.

That’s why I ended up offering seminars on how to produce videos, as well as teaching and leading workshops, or sitting on panels. It varies. My mission is to help those scientists, or those nonprofits, who can’t afford to step up their game in communications by providing them with some simple techniques and tactics to make their work better.

My ultimate goal is to help spread information about conservation efforts and why their worth investing in. The education piece fits perfectly with this because it puts the tools into other people’s hands, and lets them go out and tell their own conservation stories themselves.

Want to see more videos from Conservation Media? Make sure to check out their Vimeo channel to see more of their impressive work.

The post Drones in Conservation: An Interview with Jeremy Roberts, Owner of Conservation Media appeared first on UAV Coach.

UAV Coach Launches $2,000 Drone Technology College Scholarship, Aims to Highlight Ways Drones Are Being Used for Good

Here at UAV Coach we’re proud to announce our new Drone Technology College Scholarship, which will provide $2,000 total, with two awards of $1,000 each, to support undergraduates studying at a U.S. college or university.


The primary requirement for winning one of our two scholarships is for students to write an essay that explores how drones are changing the world for the better.  We’ve been writing about how drones are being used for good for a while now, and we’re excited to hear more on the topic from undergraduates with new and fresh perspectives.

The essay topics for the scholarship range from how drones can be used for good, to the use of drones in STEM education, to how drones will change our world over the next ten years.

As technology improves and drones get less and less expensive, we’re seeing a proliferation of niche applications in the drone industry, from uses in agriculture, mining, surveying, fire fighting, and much, much more. UAV Coach wants to hear from thoughtful college students inspired by drone technology from all walks of life—when they think about the possibilities and the future of the drone industry, what do they imagine?

UAV Coach has always been first and foremost about education. This college scholarship, along with the high school scholarship we launched last year, fit perfectly into our mission of providing training and resources to the drone industry. We’re thrilled to be supporting young people in pursuing their educational goals while also helping to push the drone industry forward.

– Alan Perlman, CEO and Co-Founder of UAV Coach

Eligibility requirements for our scholarship are really simple: Applicants must be enrolled as an undergraduate in a U.S. college or university at the time of receiving the award, but may apply before being enrolled (i.e., high school seniors are eligible to apply).

That’s it.

The deadline to apply is May 1, 2018. Winners will be announced May 10, 2018. The two winning essays will be published on the UAV Coach website.

To learn more, and to apply, visit the Drone Technology College Scholarship webpage.

High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots

We also offer a scholarship to high school students that provides free access to Drone Pilot Ground School, our remote test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 test.


Applications for the high school scholarship are accepted on a rolling basis, and there are no limits to the number of scholarships awarded. The first 100 high school scholarship recipients to take the Part 107 test will also have their test fee covered (up to $150).

We’re excited to share that we’ve seen an impressive response since we first rolled out our high school scholarship last fall, with almost 90 applications processed in total since then.

As drones get more sophisticated and less expensive, more and more people are becoming curious about finding work in the drone industry, and interested in exploring ways they might be able to make a part-time income, or even a living, working with drones.

We see the high school scholarship as a way to provide students with an opportunity to start down the path to a possible career in the drone industry, knowing that an interest in drones could dovetail with an interest in engineering, cinematography, surveying, or a plethora of other possible occupations.

To learn more about UAV Coach’s high school scholarship, visit the High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots webpage.

The post UAV Coach Launches $2,000 Drone Technology College Scholarship, Aims to Highlight Ways Drones Are Being Used for Good appeared first on UAV Coach.

How’s the FAA Doing? You Tell Us: Results from a Short Survey We Did in Partnership with the FAA

Recently we put together a short, informal survey in partnership with a contact we have at the FAA to help evaluate how well drone pilots think the FAA is doing when it comes to educating them and the public about sUAS policies.

In the end we had 493 people fill out the five minute survey.

By the way, if you participated, THANK YOU. We really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Image source

Who Were the Respondents?

About 2/3 of respondents identified as commercial pilots, and 1/3 identified as hobbyists (with a handful of Other / Non-pilot respondents as well):


So according to the folks who chimed in, how well is the FAA doing when it comes to educating people about drones? Let’s take a look.

How Do Drone Pilots Interact with the FAA and FAA Resources?

The first section of survey questions relates to how people interact with FAA resources.


It’s pretty neat that 89% of respondents have been exposed to the FAA’s webpages and FAQ materials. Given that about 7% of respondents probably don’t fly, this means almost everyone who flies and responded to the survey interacts with the FAA website in some way.

Which is good news.

The first step in making sure the skies are safe, and drones are being flown responsibly by commercial and hobbyist pilots alike, is simply knowing what the FAA recommends.

The next question is similar to the first:


These numbers aren’t too surprising, given that the B4UFLY app isn’t necessarily for everyone, and that there are other apps that can serve similar functions. 56% is still pretty darn high, when you think about it.
And of those 56% who say they use it, the B4UFLY app seems to have a pretty high approval rating:


One last data point about how people interact with the FAA is this question about whether respondents had ever contacted someone at the FAA. We were actually surprised to see how many people had done so—check it out:


73% seems really high, especially when you think that this means some of those folks were hobbyists (since only 61% of respondents were commercial pilots).

To us, this indicates that people 1) Know that the FAA is the place to go with questions about airspace (pretty basic, but hey, still a good thing!); and 2) Feel comfortable reaching out to them. The second point is not a small one—can you imagine contacting the Department of Transportation with a question about roads in the U.S.? OK, that example is a little far fetched, but the point stands: most of us don’t think about reaching out to an organ of the federal government to have our questions answered.

So from this, we’d say we can at least glean that the FAA has done a pretty good job letting people know that they’re around, and happy to talk.

So How Well Is the FAA Doing?

So-so, according to you:


It seems like the key word in this question is “public.”

The answers above seem to indicate that respondents—i.e., drone pilots—engage with the FAA regularly, and know that the FAA is a go-to location for information about how and where to fly.

But do the same pilots think the FAA is doing a good job informing the general public about those issues that most concern drone pilots? Not so much, is what we take away from this answer.

One respondent wrote:

There should be a notice inside every drone sold that directs people to the FAA website. Some of the info is there, but it is not as obvious as one would expect or hope.

Love that idea!

The same so-so feeling also seemed to apply to this question on how well the FAA is doing with efforts to integrate drones into the national airspace:


This isn’t too surprising. And, to be fair to the FAA, this isn’t entirely up to them, but also involves congress and other stakeholders.

When you consider the White House’s new pilot programs that will explore sharing airspace authority between the FAA and local entities, and other initiatives in the works like LAANC, the FAA is for better or worse not always in a position to lead the charge when it comes to integration.

But they’re certainly going to take the brunt of frustration when people are asked how integration is going. Even still, given how Sisyphean (meaning, two steps forward, one back) the integration effort appears at times, 6 out of 10 is actually not so bad.

Regarding progress that’s been made, like the instant airspace authorizations provided by LAANC, one respondent commented:

LAANC is a great start but the roll-out is excruciatingly long. Simple airspace waivers take forever to process. There is low confidence that a system like LAANC will ever come to an area such as ours (greater NYC area).

But then we had people who felt like this:

It is a huge undertaking and I believe they are doing a good job.

Hear hear.

I think most of us would agree on this—not only is the project of integrating drones into national airspace a huge undertaking, but it’s something that we’d be intimidated to take on ourselves.

Image source

And that’s all folks. As you can see, it was a short survey, but pretty revealing.

Here are our main takeaways from this survey:

  • Drone pilots—commercial and hobbyists alike—are engaging with the FAA in a big way. They’re visiting the FAA’s website, reading FAA materials, and contacting the FAA.
  • Drone pilots think more could be done to educate the public about national airspace, and to get drones integrated into it. These two things are intertwined, in that the integration effort is a legislative one, and legislation is, by definition, tied to public opinion and perception.

We have a long way to go, but we’re in this journey together. Here’s to pushing the drone industry forward in partnership with the FAA, one step at a time.

The post How’s the FAA Doing? You Tell Us: Results from a Short Survey We Did in Partnership with the FAA appeared first on UAV Coach.

Intel Flies Over 1,200 Drones at the Winter Olympics to Beat Their Own Guinness Record—Again

Intel just beat their own Guinness World Record at the Winter Olympics.

On opening day, Intel played a recording of 1,218 of their Shooting Star light show drones in the air at the same time, beating their previous Guinness World Record for “most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously.”


Intel’s Shooting Star drone—also generally referred to as their “light show drone”—was designed and created just for light shows. They come with bright LED lights that can produce more than 4 billion color combinations, and they were designed so you can program them to create different animations, symbols, and images.

The Olympics are a time when the sports and entertainment industries are buzzing with record-setting performances, so it was the perfect stage for Intel Shooting Star drones and our team to set their own kind of record.

– Natalie Cheung, General Manager of Intel’s Drone Light Show Team

While the light show itself is impressive, what stands out to us is how much news there has been during the Winter Olympics kickoff related to drones—we wrote last week on the widely reported Counter-UAS measures put in place by the South Korean government, and now drones are making headlines again for Intel’s lightshow record.

And it looks like this trend will only grow.

According to Intel’s press release on their new world record, “Advanced Intel drone technology will enhance the Olympic Games through 2024.” Sounds like we can expect to see a lot more light shows with drones, and we can only guess that they’ll continue to get bigger and more virtuosic.

Past Contention Regarding Intel’s World Record

Intel has been working on simultaneous drone flights for a while now.

They first won the Guinness Record for “most unmanned aerial vehicles airborne simultaneously” for a flight of 100 drones that took place back in 2015. A year later, they beat their own record with a flight of 500 drones that took place in Germany.


But then in 2017 Ehang claimed to have beaten Intel’s world record by flying 1,000 of their Ghost Drones at the same time in Guangzhou, China.

The flight took place a week after Lady Gaga performed with Intel’s light show drones at the Superbowl, and at the time we speculated that Ehang might be trying to leverage Intel’s publicity to get some attention for themselves, possibly to increase the buzz around their plans to launch taxi drones in Dubai.


However, when we reached out to Guinness to confirm Ehang’s record at the time, they said that no Guinness official had been present for Ehang’s flight, and Intel still retained the world record for their 2016 flight of 500 drones.

Where Are We Headed Next with Light Show Drones?

A point that Anil Nanduri, General Manager of the Drone Group at Intel, made when we interviewed him back in September is that the light show drones are artistic by nature, and that therefore their potential is, in many ways, defined mainly by the creativity of those using them.

Not unlike the athletes competing in the events [at the Olympic Games], we continue to push to innovate and develop the drone technologies that inspire people all over the world.

– Anil Nanduri, VP and General Manager, Intel Drone Group

From this perspective, there are two key aspects to the light shows put on by these drones.

On the logistical side, you have people thinking about how to actually get all these drones flying in formation and working as a single unit. This is about GPS and the language of positioning and speed, and everything that’s required so that the drones are always in sync with one another.

But on the creative side, you have people using animation tools and thinking about what the show should look like to make it spectacular and beautiful.


Intel is no slouch when it comes to pushing technology forward, and we’re sure to see more technological innovation for the Shoot Star. But what we’re excited to see is where people take things on the creative side.

As Anil told us: You’re going to see the evolution of storytelling with these light shows, with people looking at how they mix art and lighting. You’re going to see many, many different variations.

As the lightshow drones get adopted by more organizations, and their use gets mainstreamed so that more and more artists get to work with them, we’re sure to see some new, spectacular ways to use them. Which is all to say that the future of this part of the drone industry will be limited as much by our imagination as by current technology, and that is pretty darn exciting.

The post Intel Flies Over 1,200 Drones at the Winter Olympics to Beat Their Own Guinness Record—Again appeared first on UAV Coach.

Drones in Fire Departments: The Step-by-Step Process the L.A. Fire Department Followed to Create Their Drone Program

When the Los Angeles Fire Department launched their drone program back in December to help combat the rampant wildfires that were affecting the city, it was a big deal.


Major news organizations around the country picked the story up, and reported on the innovative approach the LAFD was taking to do everything they could to stop the fires.

The story was so widely covered, and the LAFD is held in such high esteem, that at the time we speculated that the launch of their drone program could represent a tipping point that would lead to widespread adoption by other public agencies throughout the U.S., and possibly the world.

We already have a group of firefighters FAA-certified to fly drones, and soon drones will be helping with structure and brush fires, and with accidents, water rescues, and a lot more. The L.A. drone program is going to be one of the biggest in the world.

– Derrick Ward, Los Angeles City Fire Department

But what specific steps did they have to take to launch their drone program?

Given the size of the city of L.A., the potential bureaucratic hurdles required to actually launch something so new were significant. In this article, we’ll share the step-by-step process that was followed for the LAFD’s drone program approval to be expedited, so that the department could have UAVs at their disposal to help with the devastating outbreak of wildfires.

By sharing this in-depth information, we hope that other fire departments can follow a similar approach to help develop and launch UAS programs in their cities. Not all cities will need to take as many steps and include as many stakeholders as are listed out below, but by seeing how this process unfolded in a city the size of Los Angeles, we hope other cities can learn how they might be able to plan and expedite the incorporation of drones into their operations as well.

A quick note: We owe a big thank you to our friend and Drone Pilot Ground School alum Derrick Ward for the information presented in this article. Derrick led the creation of the drone program in L.A., and he’s generously shared his time with us to inform our reporting on the LAFD’s drone program launch and related stories.

Derrick doing a demo for the media outside Los Angeles

Here Are the Steps the LAFD Followed to Launch Their Drone Program

1. Proposal of the Drone Program to the Board of Fire Commissioners

In June of 2017, the LAFD submitted a formal proposal to the Board of Fire Commissioners outlining its proposed policy governing the use of UAS in their operations. As part of their submission, they included an in-depth draft of an operations manual that was 30 pages long.

2. Strategic Plan on Innovation Meeting

Following the submission of their proposal, key representatives from the LAFD took part in a “strategic plan on innovation” with city and fire representatives.

3. Presentation to the Board of Fire Commissioners on Draft Operations Manual and Policy of Use

As a follow up to their formal proposal to the Board of Fire Commissioners, LAFD representatives made an in-person presentation to the Board of Fire Commissioners, in which they covered their draft Operations Manual and their Policy of Use.

Here is an excerpt from the proposed Use Guidelines:
We envision this technology being applied in two phases. Phase I will focus on use scenarios limited to:
• Hazard Assessment (with example) related to BUT not during the initial action phase of an incident.
• Hiker (Hi/low angle rescue) Incidents
• Swift Water Incidents
• Extended/Expanded Incidents (FIMT Activation)
• Planned Training Events

Phase II will be identified as the period of time after which the Department has completed the FAA’s process and obtains a Certificate of Authority. These use scenarios may include:

• Wildfire Mitigation
• Flood Response
• High Rise and Commercial Fires
• Hazardous Material Mitigation
• Search and Rescue
• Structure Collapse and Confined Space Rescue
• Pre-Incident Fire Planning
• Post-Incident Fire Review
• Creating Communication Networks during disaster response

4. Public Comment and Feedback/Review from ACLU

Following the presentation and review by the Board of Fire Commissioners, the LAFD opened up the drone program for public comment and review by the City Attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

This step was crucial for getting buy-in, and demonstrating that the proper review steps had been taken to involve key stakeholders—not just those more internally concerned with operational matters, but also those concerned with how a drone program might be perceived by the public.
This review helped make the LAFD’s follow up letter to the Board of Fire Commissioners from Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas that much stronger.


The remaining steps are pretty self-explanatory, and were primarily focused on including key stakeholders, and providing maximum transparency and opportunities for interested parties to both see the value of the proposed drone program, and have a voice in how it was shaped:

5. Follow Presentation for Board of Fire Commissioners with Updated Draft Operations Manual and Policy of Use


6. Presentation to City Safety Committee, with Public Comment


7. Presentation to City Council for vote


8. After City Approval, Request to City Attorney for Declaration Letter


9. Declaration Letter Sent to FAA to Apply for a COA

Want to learn more about applying for a COA? Check out this article on the process.

10. COA Received in December

By luck, the LAFD received their COA in December, right around when the wildfires hit.

Because they had already put in all this work they were able to launch their drone program quicker than anticipated, and get it up and running to help with the wildfires.


As you can see, even though the launch of the drone program was expedited in December, the LAFD had already done the lion’s share of the work to both create the necessary documentation for launching—they had a 30 page Operational Manual in place, as well as a Policy of Use—and to loop in the appropriate stakeholders for approval.

Do you want to build a drone program in your public agency, but don’t know where to start? We hope this article will help you get started with thinking through all of the steps you’ll need to take for a successful launch.

The post Drones in Fire Departments: The Step-by-Step Process the L.A. Fire Department Followed to Create Their Drone Program appeared first on UAV Coach.

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