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Drone Startup Sky-Futures Nabs $3.8M To Scale Up Oil And Gas Inspections

Source: TechCrunch
By: Mike Butcher

Sky Futures

Startups dealing in the world of drones have been given a boost today with the news that Sky-Futures, which flies drones around oil rigs and gas pipelines, has raised $3.87 million (£2.5m) in a Series A from London-based venture fund MMC Ventures. The funding is believed to be Europe’s largest-ever drone investment to date.

Although it’s been running since 2009, Sky-Futures has grown in recent years to work with over 30 of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. It operates in the North Sea, the Middle East, South East Asia and North Africa. The company also has an office in Houston, Texas, to serve clients in the Gulf of Mexico, having been one of the first companies to receive FAA regulatory approval to operate in the US. Their drones collect HD video, stills and thermal imagery data, which is analysed and delivered to their clients

This investment follows two significant seed rounds, which included prominent angel investors Nick Robertson (CEO of ASOS) and Jon Kamaluddin (former International Director of ASOS).

Co-founder James Harrison got the idea for a drone-based venture while serving in Iraq, and in 2009 co-founded Sky Futures with Chris Blackford and Nick Rogers.

Harrison has said that he hopes the UK government will push the tech innovation around drones and help with tax breaks that support the industry, as well as putting in clear regulation.

Britain is fast becoming a haven for drone startups, due to favourable regulation. A House of Lords report last month said the sector could create 150,000 jobs in Europe by 2050.

While in the US, the commercial use of drones is banned, in the UK it is permitted, subject to licensing and safety requirements set down by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. As of now, over 500 non-military entities are licensed to fly drones in the UK. In 2012 that figure was 120. People buying ’toy’ drones do not need a licence but have to fly them in safe areas and keep in visual contact, as drones are still considered to be piloted aircraft.

Drone technology is being boosted by Facebook’s involvement, which has tested its first solar-powered drone since its acquisition of the Somerset manufacturer Ascenta. These are designed to beam Internet access into rural areas. Meanwhile Google has also acquired a US drone maker. And Amazon has been approved to test its drone delivery services long as the machines fly below 400 feet and do not exceed 100mph.

In the UK, former Hailo Taxi app co-founder Jay Bregman has created Verifly, a new startup that develops verification and control systems for unmanned flying vehicles, allowing drones to be traced and their owners identified. It’s raised £1.4 million of investment from Dublin-based Irelandia Aviation, the low-cost airline developer run by Declan Ryan, of the family behind the budget carrier Ryanair, TAG, and Prospect Insurance, the insurance broker that sits within Lloyd’s of London.

The post Drone Startup Sky-Futures Nabs $3.8M To Scale Up Oil And Gas Inspections appeared first on UAV Coach.

The Camera Drone That Flies Itself

Source: WIRED
By: David Pierce

HENRY BRADLOW HOLDS an RC controller and a horribly cracked Moto X, but he’s only gripping these devices in case something goes wrong with his demo. When Bradlow, the CTO and co-founder of Lily Robotics, gives the go sign, Nghia Ho, the company’s computer vision engineer, flings a drone straight up into the air. It rises, and then immediately begins to fall. For a split second, it appears as though this 3D-printed prototype with a camera attached is about to shatter into a thousand pieces. But just as the drone starts to descend, Lily’s four rotors flick on. The machine steadies itself in mid-air, then rises about twenty feet and hangs there, awaiting instructions.

Bradlow never once touched the controller, or his phone. That’s the whole point of Lily, the first product from Lily Robotics, a five-person company co-founded by a couple of recent Berkeley grads with funding from Silicon Valley heavy-hitters like Ron Conway. Lily is a self-flying drone that is always following you, following a certain set of commands. It follows a small circular tracker, which you can have in your pocket or on your boat.

With one tap of the tracker, Lily can execute some nifty camera moves, all while staying focused on you. The camera inside, Bradlow says, is roughly equivalent to the GoPro Hero 3: It can shoot 1080p video, or 720p up to 120 frames per second—there’s some tech inside that will detect when you hit a jump while snowboarding and automatically kick the camera into slow-mo. It’ll also shoot 12-megapixel stills and it can make a cool 360-degree panorama. It can fly 25 miles per hour, is totally waterproof, lasts up to 20 minutes on a charge, and has range up to 100 feet. Bradlow says it could move faster and have more range, but the point isn’t to map agricultural landscapes—it’s to take pictures, or have the Lily chase you down the slopes while you carve some powder.

Lily’s round trackerThe Lily’s round tracker can go in your pocket, or in a case on your wrist.

It’s a drone, sure, but mostly it’s a flying camera. And at $499 if you pre-order (or $999 after), it’s a pretty expensive one too. You can tweak the default settings using either the companion app or the small tracker, but you don’t have to know a thing to get it to work. You can’t take over the piloting if you want to—there is no manual mode.

“It’s not the future of drones; it’s more like the future of the point-and-shoot.”

The prototype Bradlow and Ho were demonstrating in a meadow in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park was primitive. It’s too big, for one thing. Bradlow really wants to build a Lily you can carry in your pocket and pull out to take video as easily as you might reach for your phone. There was also a quirk in the firmware that screwed up the height sensors and briefly left the Lily flying a couple of inches off the ground and shooting video mostly of grass. And the app is a website right now, a complicated IP address and a bunch of HTML buttons.

But Lily does work: you hold it in your hand and tap Take Off, or just toss it up into the air, and it floats up and hovers above you. I took a spin, tapping Follow in the app, and Lily chased after Ho as he ran away with the tracker in his hand. I hit Spiral and the Lily spun in a wide circle around Ho, the camera trained on him. The whole time, live video streamed to my phone. It looked good, certainly better than I could have done myself.

Lily’s not a DJI competitor, and it’s not trying to take down the super-powered Solo from 3D Robotics. It’s not complicated, and in a couple of years it won’t be expensive either. It’s not the future of drones; it’s more like the future of the point-and-shoot. And it can get shots your selfie stick couldn’t even imagine.

The post The Camera Drone That Flies Itself appeared first on UAV Coach.

Drone Filming Of Blue Mosque In Istanbul Goes Wrong

This video starts out so beautifully. The problem with this is that most drone crash videos do. But when this pilot misjudges his flight pattern past one of this mosque’s towering minarets, the footage takes a different turn. As far as we know, no damage was done to the mosque, which is good news, and the drone appears to survive the impact too.

The post Drone Filming Of Blue Mosque In Istanbul Goes Wrong appeared first on UAV Coach.

What The U.S. Can Learn From Europe’s Growing Commercial Drone Industry

Source: TechCrunch
By: Michael Dahmen

Two Drones

Note: Michael Dahmen is the CEO of FLAIRICS and SPECTAIR Group.

Drones are an auspicious future technology that can service a vast number of professional industries. Businesses around the world are discovering the great benefits that drones can provide. However there is a notable difference in the economic growth of the drone industry in Europe compared to the rest of the world.

For example, in Europe, the number of companies deploying drones for commercial use has risen significantly in the past three to four years. UAVs are becoming a business sector with the greatest potential. So what can the U.S. learn from Europe’s growing commercial drone industry?

In recent years, Europe has experienced an increase in the amount of new businesses utilizing drones to provide either B2C or B2B services for countless industries. In France alone, the number of approved drone operators has increased from 86 in 2012 to 431 in 2014. Currently, Europe has over 1,000 operators.

The European drone industry is not only thriving simply because of the great technology behind the UAVs, but because the EASA is encouraging and creating new categories, as well as rules and regulations to help this market reach its greatest potential.

The European Aviation Safety Agency vs. FAA

When the leaked FAA documents displayed a level of understanding of the benefits and support of commercialized drones that came as no surprise. But the pace at which these rules will take into effect is simply staggering.

The FAA’s current integration roadmap provides insight as to when commercial drone use will be approved. So while this is great progress, it’s also very slow progress. Currently there are only a few businesses that can utilize drones commercially, notably Amazon and CNN.

In the U.S., civilian UAVs that are cleared to fly must be flown within the line of sight, away from areas such as airports and nature reserves and up to an altitude of 150 meters and with a weight maximum of 55 pounds.

UAV operators need to be able to see the drone personally without any assistance from a GPS or geo-referencing tool and need to acquire a license in order to operate. For example, a person who wants to fly a drone for recreational purposes has no real restrictions on utility, but a person and or company using drones for business-related purposes would require an operational license that can over time accrue cost.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently published its Vision 20/20, which serves as an overall inclusive proposal for the future of the aviation regulatory system, similar to the FAA integration roadmap.

The EASA also proposes three new categories of drones that help to better regulate UAVs which are now used in industries such as filming, farming and parcel deliveries. UAVs under the lowest “risk category” would include low-energy aircraft, including model planes, and would not require any license, unlike the FAA.

Requirements proposed by the EASA for commercial operations are a lot more lenient than the regulations proposed by the FAA; for example the EASA would not require a license for commercial usage.

Business Is Booming

According to the Drone Project, the drone industry will generate an economic growth of $90 billion in the next five years, and 30K drones will soar in the sky by 2020. However, Germany alone, from 2012 to 2013, has experienced an increase in drone use, almost 5x greater than predicted. Unique drone companies in Europe help make the industry such an exciting and flourishing market. Companies like Delair-Tech create small, long-range drones capable of providing pipeline surveillance.

They offer long-range drone solutions and unique image-processing techniques to help companies make better decisions by incorporating automated algorithms and drone-acquired data. Their DT18 was the first and only UAV in the world certified for “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS) operations.

Another great example of an exciting drone company is Danish Aviation System. Danish Aviation Systems are dedicated to cutting-edge drone solutions. They’re experts in drones for agriculture, land surveying, mining and research.

Europe is producing some of the most technologically advance drones globally, and drones are estimated to be 10 percent of the European aviation market ($15 billion euros) by 2025 as well as create 150K jobs by 2050.

We’re in This Together

In the EASA’s Vision 20/20, the agency suggests that when national authorities have a lack of resources or expertise, they should be able to delegate some of their oversight functions to other authorities or to the EASA in order to make sure that no safety risks are overlooked. So while EASA sees the benefits drones offer economically, they also see the same benefits on a global scale for neighboring countries that might not have the same expertise and/or resources in the market.

Countries that are in the process of approving drones for commercial use can learn tremendously from the EASA. The support and leniency have allowed the drone market to make a significant impact on the European economy. Once other countries follow suit and allow the market thrive globally, the sky is the limit.

 

The post What The U.S. Can Learn From Europe’s Growing Commercial Drone Industry appeared first on UAV Coach.

DroneBase Lets Any Business Rent A Drone And Pilot

Source: TechCrunch
By: Josh Constine

Drone Base

You don’t want to own a drone. Or learn to fly a drone. Or hire someone full-time to fly a drone. And you definitely don’t want to pay for a helicopter, plane or satellite. You just want some aerial photos or videos of your work site, real estate or infrastructure. Now, thanks to DroneBase, you can get the benefits of unmanned aerial vehicles without the hassle.

DroneBase lets you commission a drone and its pilot for commercial jobs. You just submit your request online, DroneBase finds someone who can do the gig, they come fly and send you the media and data needed. The DroneBase marketplace is now open for business in Los Angeles with plans to expand.

DroneBase has the potential to both disrupt old ways of getting aerial imagery or doing heavy industry inspections, but also open up options to businesses that couldn’t afford it. Now after graduating from Y Combinator, DroneBase has raised a seed round led by Union Square Ventures and joined by SV Angel, Rothenberg Ventures, and Launchpad LA.

Screenshot_One

From Military To Everybody

“I was a marine infantry officer, When we’d go on patrol in Iraq, we’d have air cover from a pair of F16s.”
While those fast-flying jets might be great at shooting down other fighter planes, “You’d want to know what was behind the wall 20 feet away and they couldn’t always solve that problem.”

– DroneBase co-founder Dan Burton

But drones could, and he soon realized they’d have plenty more uses back in the civilian world.

After his tour, Burton came to California and learned about the budding commercial UAV business.

“I was driving around with five drones in the back of my truck” ,
doing jobs shooting photos and videos for construction companies, mines, real estate agents, and more.
“They didn’t want to own drones. Ones that bought them would often get frustrated because six months later ones would come out at half the price, and they had to hire employees to fly them. They just wanted the output,”

– Burton said

Meanwhile, he grew closer to the community of drone hobbyists turned part-time professionals. They wished they could make a living as drone pilots, but many struggled with the sales, marketing, and payment aspects of their business.

So Burton came up with DroneBase to solve problems on both sides.

“The vision for this company is to enable the profession of drone operator. And on the customer side, drones are a very intimidating, advanced technology. We want to make it as simple as pushing a button.”

– Burton said

Burton linked up with Eli Tamanaha, a veteran developer from Microsoft, Amazon and Netflix, and together they built a rough prototype of a marketplace for drone services. While dogfooding the product, Burton and Tamanaha ended up drone videoing a scheduled explosion at a mine, which became its homepage.

Drones For Hire

For now, DroneBase is focused on three verticals:

  1. Real Estate – Imagery for marketing property to potential customers
  2. Construction – Monitoring progress of construction projects
  3. Mining – Surveying dig areas and doing inspections

To keep things simple, DroneBase charges $399 for a set of 15-20 HD photos, 3-4 videos, and an edited final video showing the best angles of an area; and $499 for surveying under 50 acres plus producing a high-res orthomosaic map with basic surface area and volumetric calculations. DroneBase plans to take a commission of around 15 percent on jobs.

Drone pilots will find missions they’re qualified for in their area on the site and be dispatched with instructions. Many times, the business doesn’t have to do any hand-holding or even meet the pilot on site. The operator just collects the data and images, sends them to the client, wipes their memory cards, and goes to their next DroneBase job.

Screenshot_Three

Luckily, most of these jobs fall within the FAA’s rules, as the drones are flying under 500 feet within a line of sight of the pilot with permission of the land owner. Eventually, Burton hopes to allow businesses to rate their pilots on the imagery and data they produce, and let pilots earn certifications for different specialties.
Burton insists that

“safety is my #1 priority. We’ve turned down jobs for that reason.”

DroneBase’s site is still rough, but then again, the commercial drone rental market is still in its infancy. With time I expect DroneBase to become easier to use while offering a much wider range of bookable services. It also wants to build better tools for collaborating and annotating data, which could create repeat customers that want to update or combine data from multiple work sites.

Turning Passion Into A Profession

The money from Union Square Ventures and others should help DroneBase take off. Burton tells me he chose Fred Wilson’s fund because the team was humble and helpful, and because of their investment thesis that network effect businesses win, which led them to success with Kickstarter, Tumblr, Twitter and Etsy. Wilson writes that he wanted to invest in drones because “they represent a 10x improvement in cost and speed over things they replace.”

Turning Passion Into A Profession

While Burton says DroneBase can get businesses what they’re already paying helicopters, planes, or satellites for at one-fifth of the price, he tells me the larger market is all the companies who couldn’t afford aerial imagery before. While DroneBase is an early mover, he’s not too worried about similar marketplaces springing up, saying

“The first competitor is non-consumption.”

 

Big drone manufacturers like DJI have been getting a lot of attention. But the hardware will become commoditized. It’s the hard-to-replicate software that controls the drones like Airware and Skydio, and the networked businesses like DroneBase that democratize access to these vehicles that could be the real money-makers.

But it’s when Burton talks about helping people do what they love for a living that his eyes really light up.

“People are so passionate and crazy about flying these things. They’ve put a lot of time and money into developing the skill of operating a drone and I want them to have a profession.”

 

The post DroneBase Lets Any Business Rent A Drone And Pilot appeared first on UAV Coach.

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