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Big Releases at CES 2018: DJI’s Ronin-S, and Lots of New Drones for Niche Applications

CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) 2018 is in full swing in Las Vegas, and there are some big, interesting releases on the drone front this year.

So far DJI’s launch of the Ronin-S has snatched up most of the headlines (although no new Mavic was released, despite some buzz about that being a possibility).

But there are several other releases at CES this year that are noteworthy, not just because of the tech involved, but because they indicate a strong trend in the drone industry toward niche applications.

Let’s take a look.

DJI’s Ronin-S and Osmo Mobile 2

The Ronin-S

DJI’s new Ronin-S is its very first one-handed stabilizer, or gimbal, for high end DSLR and mirrorless cameras. It’s not too complicated, and relatively light weight, which means it’s not too bulky to set up.

The fact that the Ronin-S can be operated with just one hand is a big deal. The original Ronin system required users to build potentially complex rigs to mount their cameras, but not so with this one, which is essentially an Osmo Mobile built for bigger, higher end cameras and lenses.

The Ronin-S is compatible with a range of cameras, including the Panasonic GH series, Olympus OM-D series, the Canon 5D series, the Nikon D series, and the Sony Alpha series.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_xlWShK1KY

The Osmo Mobile 2

The Osmo Mobile 2 was built to turn your smartphone into a stabilized camera.

DJI’s new version of the Osmo Mobile features an integrated battery with up to 15 hours of shooting, which is three times as long as the original’s battery life. It’s also lighter than the original, and comes with a new button layout that looks like it should be easier to control and aim from your phone while shooting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyMgiSDgD4U

Nuaviation’s Hyperlift 200E

The Hyperlift 200E  is designed for a very specific purpose: to carry incredibly heavy objects.

This drone can lift a payload of up to 200 pounds (91kg) while flying at high speeds, and seems targeted specifically at niche applications in the construction industry, where the ability to move heavy pieces of equipment quickly from one location to another could be highly valuable.

The 200E can stay in the air from 20-45 minutes, which means that it could make deliveries in fairly large construction areas, or over large farm fields.

“To build a UAV that operates safely and dependably over great distances and can be manufactured by the hundreds is extremely difficult, expensive, and time consuming. No one is doing that presently and we intend to be the first.”

– Mark Boyd, President of Nuavitation

In addition to construction and deliveries, Nuavitation’s website also lists agriculture and ice rescue (talk about niche!) as some of the other use cases for their heavy lift drone.

It’s worth mentioning that Nuavitation has been very secretive about their heavy-lift drones.

The only images available on CES are somewhat vague artistic renderings, and there aren’t any images of their drones posted on their website. Their site does feature the image shown below, with a note that explains they are “prohibited from showing this exciting new concept in heavy lift UAVs”, but they can show the shipping crate it comes in to give you an idea of how big the drone is.

Well, our interest is certainly piqued.

heavy-lift-200e-drone

Thunder Tiger’s Sirius CX-180

The Sirius CX-180 features two powerful LED lamps, and is designed for use in night-time search-and-rescue missions.

One of the specific proposed use cases for the Sirius CX-180 is as a safer alternative to sending helicopters to rescue mountaineers in the dark.

The Sirius CX-180 can fly up to 30 minutes with a 33 pound (15kg) payload.

sirius-cx-180-drone

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=BZ4HA0fYMEw

SwellPro’s Splash Drone 3

Unlike the Thunder Tiger and Nuavitation releases above, which are built for professional applications, SwellPro’s Splash Drone 3 is made for serious fun.

This drone is designed to help fishing expeditions catch tuna, sharks, and other large sea life by dropping bait from above. According to SwellPro, the Splash Drone 3 is the first fully integrated modular amphibious flying platform, which means that it can be operated both in the air and underwater just fine.

It comes with a waterproof 4k camera and all in one remote controller, and has a payload release feature that allows for fishing bait to be dropped into the water at a long distance from the boat.

Looks like SwellPro is angling (get it?) to corner the high end fishing drone market—yet another example of how niche applications seem to be the major focus at CES this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWdJkkzClGE

The post Big Releases at CES 2018: DJI’s Ronin-S, and Lots of New Drones for Niche Applications appeared first on UAV Coach.

The Regulatory Year in Review: A Look Back at 2017’s Biggest Stories and Developments in Drone Regulations

When you look back at 2017, a whole lot has happened on the regulatory front here in the drone industry. So much, in fact, that it can be hard to keep track of all the developments and changes.

In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the top regulatory stories of the year, as well as places where we’ve made impressive progress—progress we might not have even thought possible a year ago.

drones-regulations-2017
Image source

Hobbyist Drone Registration

On the regulatory front, one of the biggest stories of 2017 centered around the requirement that hobbyist drone pilots register their drones.

Back in May, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in the Taylor court case that hobbyists no longer had to register their drones with the FAA. The decision was based on the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, which states that the FAA “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft.”

This decision led to a big downturn in hobbyist registrations, as reflected by the data the FAA released toward the end of 2017.

But then just last month a new law passed by congress reinstated the hobbyist drone registration requirement. All of this back and forth has left many hobbyists understandably confused about what exactly they’re supposed to do, and to many debates about whether the registration is a good thing, or even whether it should be more thorough than it currently is.

One thing is for sure—the registration requirement for drone hobbyists seems like it’s hear to stay.

Federal vs. Local Authority 

2017 saw mounting tensions between local and federal authorities around drone regulation. Here’s a breakdown of what happened.

Conflict Between Local and Federal Laws

In April, Bard’s Center for the Study of the Drone released a report about local and state drone laws that ban certain types of flying that the FAA has deemed legal. Since the FAA has primary jurisdiction over all airspace in the U.S., many of these laws aren’t technically legal—or there legality is on shaky ground, to say the least—but breaking them could still lead you to lots of legal hot water (not to mention possible fines and even jail time).

The tension between local and federal laws came to a head in the Newton court case, in which several parts of a city ordinance concerning drones in Newton, MA were struck down as being in direct conflict with the FAA’s pre-existing (and pre-eminent) regulations.

White House Federal-Local Pilot Programs

While the Newton case was reassuring to many, and made it seem like the FAA was now back on stronger legal standing—of importance to those of us who would like to avoid a future where there are different drone laws in every county, effectively making it impossible to be a solo drone service provider—this calm only lasted for a short period of time.

In October, the White House announced a new pilot program that would test sharing authority between federal and local governments. We have yet to see what this pilot program will bring in terms of findings or actual policy, but it may not bode well for those who would like to keep regulations simple.

On the other hand, advocates of the pilot program say that it will help provide a way forward that will appease local officials, and avoid more radical measures like simply delegating all airspace authority to local governments (as proposed in Diane Feinstein’s drone act).

drones-regulations
Image source

UAS Facility Maps, and Instant Airspace Authorizations via LAANC

Some huge news this year for drone pilots was the release of instant airspace authorizations via LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability).

This new process is being rolled out airport by airport, and allows pilots to instantly request and receive airspace authorization through an app instead of submitting a form and waiting—sometimes up to 90 days or more—for approval.

Hand in hand with the release of LAANC is the FAA’s batched release of UAS facility maps for airspace throughout the U.S. These maps show the boundaries of controlled airspace throughout the U.S., and essentially provide a cheat sheet for airspace authorizations.

Using the maps, a drone pilot can simply see whether it’s even worth his or her time to seek airspace authorization in a given location—since the FAA refers to the maps in making their decision, the release of these maps effectively cuts out the middle man when it comes to knowing what you’re likely outcome will be for an airspace authorization request.

Learn more about UAS Facility Maps on the FAA’s website.

regulations-2017-drones
Image source

Special Part 107 Waivers Issued

2017 saw significant progress made by the FAA when it comes to issuing waivers for special types of flights otherwise prohibited by the Part 107 rules.

Although there were more waivers issued for all types of prohibited flights, special progress was made in a few key areas.

Flying Over People (107.39 Waivers)

Toward the end of 2017, we saw a wave of 107.39 waivers issued by the FAA (waivers that allow drone pilots to fly over people).

Not only were there a lot more of these waivers issued, but smaller companies such as AeroVista Innovations were able to secure them. Historically, only huge companies like CNN and FLIR had ever received a 107.39 waiver, so this development indicates that the doors are being opened for all comers, so long as they make a solid case for why they deserve the waiver.

Below is a screenshot of all of the 107.39 waivers issued from the FAA’s website (in case you didn’t know, all Part 107 waivers ever issued are public record, and you can search by type to see who has what). 9 out of 10 of the107.39  waivers listed below were issued in 2017, and half were issued in the last five months of the year—that’s pretty impressive progress.

faa-107.39-waivers

Beyond Visual Line of Sight (107.31 Waivers)

2017 also saw a lot of progress made in BVLOS waivers, or 107.31 waivers, being issued.

In 2016, the FAA partnered with CNN, PrecisionHawk, and BNSF Railway through their Pathfinder Program to conduct research on BVLOS drone flights.

At the time, these three companies were the only ones given official permission to fly beyond line of sight, but in 2017 we saw an increase in 107.31 waivers, with eight new waivers issued to six different companies.

Here we also see a similar trend as the one described above, with smaller companies being allowed to fly in these previously restricted scenarios, indicating an opening of the door for these kinds operations for applicants with a good argument for their special use case.

faa-107.31-waivers

Of course, these are just a handful of the regulatory stories from 2017.

2018 is sure to see a lot more change on the regulatory front, with even more Part 107 waivers issued, many more UAS Facility Maps released, LAANC available in more locations, and more developments on the federal-local authority sharing front.

The post The Regulatory Year in Review: A Look Back at 2017’s Biggest Stories and Developments in Drone Regulations appeared first on UAV Coach.

Hybrid Drones Breaks Record, Stays in the Air for Almost Five Hours

On Christmas Eve in Valencia, Spain the Quaternium’s HYBRiX.20 fuel-electric quadcopter flew for a recorded four hours and forty minutes.

This flight time is more than double the recorded length on Guinness World Records for the longest drone flight, which is two hours, six minutes, and seven seconds. (Since no Guinness representative was present, Quaternium was not eligible to beat the existing record—at least not with this particular flight.)

Here is a time-lapse video showing the HYBRIX in flight while a clock ticks away in the foreground:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNYcjFF4OwE&feature=youtu.be

Regardless of their official standing, Quaternium’s flight time is a milestone for the industry.

Since drones were created, extending the length of battery life has been a constant concern.

Most drones can only stay in the air for 10 to 30 minutes without needing to come down to have their batteries switched out, and these constraints have led many drone pilots to keep extra batteries and battery chargers on hand so that they can make sure to continue flying while doing work in the field.

drone-record-breaking
A picture of the HYBRiX.20 on the ground

Quaternium is not the only company interested in longer flight times, and there are other accounts of drones flying for long periods of time, from over an hour to over four.

These are usually customized drones built just for long flights. In 2016 a drone made the news for flying 72 minutes across the English Channel, and in September of last year SkyFront recorded its own four hour-plus flight that’s almost as long as Quaternium’s, at 4 hours and 34 minutes (featured in the video below).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYJuV92yjv0

Both Quaternium and SkyFront’s drones are hybrids that use a mixture of gas and electricity for power.

The news about extended flight times is exciting because there are so many applications that could benefit from longer flight times.

record-breaking-drone
The HYBRiX.20 in flight

We can only imagine that those who are trying to push things forward will ultimately find new, innovative approaches to extending flight times that will go beyond the five hour mark, and open up new possibilities for ways that drones can be used.

Surveillance of course comes to mind, but there could also be opportunities for extending the range of a drone that provides wifi coverage during emergencies, like the one recently approved by the FAA for use in Puerto Rico.

The post Hybrid Drones Breaks Record, Stays in the Air for Almost Five Hours appeared first on UAV Coach.

Flying Drones in Tight, Dangerous Places: Flyability’s Elios Inspects a Nuclear Power Plant, a Jet Engine Test Facility, and More

Many drones have now been designed for obstacle avoidancem but Flyability has taken a different approach to the problem with their Elios drone, which is designed to crash and keep going.

The drone sits inside a protective, flexible cage that can absorb the impact of a collision without bringing the drone to the ground. Check it out:

elios-drone

A drone like this has a lot of potential to do good and keep people from harm’s way, and to help us get a closer look at places that may have been impossible to reach in the past.

Let’s take a look at how the Elios is actually being used in the field.

Nuclear Power Plant Inspection

Inspection Goals

1) An annual survey of underground tank rooms at the nuclear power plant.

2) An investigation of a suspected leak inside of the reactor building.

Why Use the Elios for This?

Because of its unique design, the Elios can reach those tight areas needed for inspection and help keep staff at the nuclear plan from exposure to harmful radiation.

elios-nuclear-inspection
A shot taken by the Elios during an inspection

Overview

The inspection of a nuclear power plant is a difficult and dangerous process.

The primary concern for any inspection at a nuclear plant is safety, and there are detailed processes in place to avoid unnecessary exposure to radiation.

For the routine annual inspection (Goal 1 above) of three underground tank rooms, inspectors must access each of the three rooms by a ladder, passing from low dose areas (safe areas) at the top of the ladder to higher dose areas (protected by locked doors and shields.) The process requires inspection personnel to don a full suit of disposable anti-contamination clothing before entering each room, take pictures of various points inside the space to evaluate the condition of the assets, and remove the anti-contamination clothing again after leaving each room.

A radiation monitor is required to accompany the inspector, which means that two people are exposed to radiation during each inspection. After the inspection of the three tank rooms is performed, six sets of anti-contamination clothing (two for each of the three rooms) must be stored as waste and shipped for disposal.

“We used to send in a person with a flashlight.”

– Nuclear power plant manager

During this process, the inspector and the accompanying radiation monitor could each receive up to 250 millirem (2’500 µSv) of radiation in the 1-2 minutes required to enter the space and climb the ladders to reach critical areas. This amount of radiation is about 10% of the annual limit for radiation exposure.

Using a drone instead of a person means that much less exposure for the people involved.

Benefits

  • Inspection of tank rooms reduced from 1.5 hours down to less than 15 minutes.
  • Exposure to radiation representing up to 10% of the annual dose avoided.
  • About $456,000 of loss of income avoided in a single operation.

Wait, what—half a million dollars in savings?

Speeding things up and keeping people from harm’s way would make the use of a drone a no brainer for this kind of inspection in and of themselves, but to save half a million dollars in the process is pretty incredible. Let’s break that savings down.

Where Does the $456K Savings Come from?

When a person conducts inspections of a nuclear plant, those areas being inspected have to be shut down before the inspection can be performed. It takes about six hours to power down and six more to power back up, which means that not only are there costs associated with the inspection itself, the plant is not generating energy during the 12 hour window in which the inspection takes place.

The average power production of a nuclear reactor is about 24GWh per day. At the average wholesale price of electricity per KWh ($.12) and the average production price per KWh ($.025) a nuclear reactor generates about $2.3 M net per day. Using that estimate, the savings generated by retaining full output for approximately 12 hours is around $456,000.

Not only did using a drone allow the plant to avoid shutting down and powering back up, but it also provided more information than could have been obtained using a person. While a person can only spend 1-2 minutes in areas where the danger of radiation is high, the Elios was able to fly for 10 minutes in the same areas, providing much more data than could have been captured otherwise.

Other Elios Inspection Scenarios

There are dozens of scenarios where having a drone that can crash and keep going is a hugely valuable thing.

Here are just a few more.

Pressure Vessel Inspections

A prevalent tool in energy production and storage are pressure vessels, which hold gases and liquids at high pressures. These vessels have to be inspected regularly, since if one of them ruptures the results can be fatal to those working nearby. Using personnel for these inspections is time consuming, and dangerous. Enter the Elios.

elios-pressure-inspection

Jet Engine Test Facilities

The jet engine test beds used in the aeronautical industry for Quality Control and R&D require strict maintenance. Traditional methods of inspection involve lengthy and inefficient operations, which result in high costs and downtime. Using a drone for these inspections is cheaper, safer, and much, much quicker.

elios-jet-engine
How cool is this picture?

Want to learn more about how the Elios is being used to keep people from harm’s way? Check out the case studies on their website.

The post Flying Drones in Tight, Dangerous Places: Flyability’s Elios Inspects a Nuclear Power Plant, a Jet Engine Test Facility, and More appeared first on UAV Coach.

2017 Drone Year in Review: Stunning Progress on the Delivery Front, Drones for Good, and More

The drone industry moves a mile a minute, which means that when you look back at an entire year there is a lot of ground to cover.

As we approach the end of 2017 we wanted to take a moment to look back at just a few of the major milestones we’ve hit in the drone industry over the last year, and also take a look ahead to 2018 and what we might we expect to see in the near future.

Drone Deliveries

A year ago drone deliveries would have been at the bottom of our list of things to look for in 2017. Toward the end of 2016 there was so much hype and so little action that we had started to ignore drone deliveries, since it seemed like something that would never actually happen.

But now we have drone deliveries taking place all over the world, even as you read this. Below is a list of those companies who are making moves when it comes to drone deliveries, and the milestones they hit this year.

Amazon

In January, Amazon filed a series of patents for drone designs that were clearly targeted at deliveries. The month before filing these patents they had announced making their very first drone delivery in the U.K.

Zipline

In August, Zipline made headlines for their drone delivery network in Tanzania, which was designed to transport crucial medical supplies to remote regions throughout the country.

Flytrex

In September, Flytrex launched one of the first ever drone delivery programs in Iceland. The program is fully up and running, and Flytrex plans to expand delivery offerings to other countries and cities.

Matternet

Also in September, Matternet announced news of the first autonomous drone delivery network in Switzerland for carrying blood tests and other diagnostics between hospitals.

Project Wing

In October, Alphabet’s Project Wing announced their drone delivery program for carrying burritos to people in remote areas in Southern Australia. The fact that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, saw enough potential in drone deliveries to create their own company so they could get in on the action in and of itself indicates that drone deliveries are here to stay.

Flirtey

Also in October, Flirtey announced a plan to deliver defibrillators via drone to people suffering cardiac arrest. The program will first be rolled out in Nevada, but is not yet active to our knowledge.

When you look back at these milestones from 2017, in many ways it was the year of the drone delivery. Drone delivery companies made major strides this year, launching fully operational delivery programs that are providing help (or burritos, as the case might be) to people all over the world.

Note: This list is not exhaustive. There are certainly other companies involved in drone deliveries, but these are the ones who really pushed things forward in 2017.

Drones for Good: Hurricane Harvey’s Landmark Moment

Drones have historically suffered from bad a public image—in the common narrative (as it used to go), drones are only used to kill people or spy on people.

But 2017 saw some radical changes to the public perception of drones. During Hurricane Harvey, not to mention the other storms and hurricanes that followed, we saw drones being covered in the news in an incredibly positive light.

The response to Hurricane Harvey will be looked upon as a landmark in the industry.

– FAA Administrator Michael Huerta

Since Harvey we’ve seen drones in the news in many other positive ways, including the L.A. Fire Department’s recent launch of their drone program to support fire fighting efforts against the worst wildfire they’ve ever experienced.

FPV Racing Sweeps the World

When you look back at what has been accomplished in drone racing over the last year, the stats speak for themselves.

The Drone Racing League

In 2017 the Drone Racing League raised another $20 million, and won a Guinness World Record for the fastest drone in the world. Their second season, which took place this year, was broadcast in more than 75 countries and included 16 hours of original content.

DR1 Racing

In 2017 DR1 Racing hosted the very first drone race to appear on network television, and it received about 600,00 live views, beating out several other events like premier soccer and Showtime boxing.

DR1’s DHL Championship Series took place at some stunning locations throughout the world, and their races were broadcast in over 100 countries this year.

In a space as big and diverse as the drone industry it’s impossible to cover everything in one article. These are just a few of the milestones that we think were important in 2017, though there were certainly many others (stay tuned for a look back at drone regulations in 2017—that topic is so big we’ve set it aside for it’s own article).

Looking Forward

As we look forward to 2018, here are some things we’ll be keeping an eye out for:

  • Drone deliveries to start heating up, and take place in more and more countries . . . maybe even here in the U.S.
  • Drone taxis may actually start looking viable—more on that in our recent passenger drone year in review article.
  • Public agencies to start adopting drones more and more. By 2020, we wouldn’t be surprised if having a drone program at your police or fire department will be the norm instead of the exception.
  • Niche applications like 3D mapping or aerial thermography will see an upswing when it comes to the kind of work dronepreneurs are doing, and aerial cinematography will see a corresponding dip.
  • Construction and other industrial applications will continue to grow like crazy, and will result in highly specialized drone pilot skill sets, and highly specialized drones to go with them.

That’s all for now folks. See you next year!

The post 2017 Drone Year in Review: Stunning Progress on the Delivery Front, Drones for Good, and More appeared first on UAV Coach.

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