Here in central Texas, drought has become the norm. Currently the lakes around Austin, the state capital, are at 38% capacity. These lakes provide drinking water for more than a million people, as well as water to industries, businesses and the environment. When the lakes drop below 30% capacity, projected to happen as early as January 2015, the state will officially declare a “Drought Worse than the Drought of Record,” which will compel industries and other consumers to reduce water use by 20 percent. Compounding the problem is the present danger of nonnative aquatic vegetation—such as the invasive species hydrilla—which when left untended can choke out an entire lake. Moss Monster, a local contracting company owned and operated by Clifton Chowning, harvests aquatic vegetation and dredges the lakes and canals of central Texas, thereby combating threats of invasive vegetation and erosion.
For Clifton, the 3D Robotics Y6 is like having a superpower. The ability to automatically fly a camera over the water makes aerial data acquisition automatic, reliable, affordable and, most importantly for Clifton, repeatable. He can fly identical patterns week after week, capturing crisp and accurate aerial images that allow him to target specific problem areas and over time prove out changes and threats, which ultimately makes Moss Monster’s operations more efficient and effective. Clifton passes this on to customers in the form of savings, and to the city in the form of a cool glass of water.
The 3DR platform makes this possible. All of our drones are capable of autonomous flight: they’re robots that can fly themselves and carry a hi-res camera or other sensors along customized routes with virtually unlimited waypoints. You can save routes and fly them precisely at any time. This combination—crisp aerial images, automation and repeatability—can be particularly useful for enterprise applications: by flying lower and slower than satellites or manned aircraft, our drones make data acquisition more efficient, accurate and affordable than it’s ever been. But what’s most exciting is what people will discover they can do with this kind of access, and that too is virtually unlimited.
The 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.
"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.
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.
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.
"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
Dronelife's own Alan Phillips could not stress this point enough:
This is part of the series “Drones are the Future” – a collection of posts outlining the positive impact UAVs will have on our world in the not-so-distant future.
If Jeff Bezos is fixated on automating delivery of goods from “store to door,” it should be no surprise that the businesses that operate the world’s largest freight boats and planes are researching ways to eliminate cost through automation.
So, where are we headed? Cargo planes and boats, unmanned, on autopilot or remote control, ready to deliver goods at a reduced cost. If smaller drones can be remotely controlled by pilots in a central command center, we can expect that larger unmanned vehicles could be controlled from thousands of miles away as well.
Companies like Rolls Royce are already investing in this future, saying drone cargo ships would be more efficient, more enviro-friendly, and less expensive to operate than the massive freighters that carry most of the globe’s cargo today.
Navigating a 1500-foot long boat full of giant shipping containers is a complex undertaking. The emptiness of the vast, unpopulated ocean, however, make computer navigation of a vessel practical and simpler.
Envision a completely automated supply chain. Factories with robots manufacture goods that are automatically loaded into driverless trucks. These rigs will carry goods to ports where robotic cranes will stack containers on ships without crews. The entire chain of getting goods from store to door would be touched by only one human – the customer making the initial purchase.
Here are 5 ways that cargo drones will shape the future of big-load transport in the not-so-distant future:
1) Save Money
According to Bloomberg, human crews make up almost 50% of the cost of operating a cargo ship. If automation can save that amount of money, we expect a major trend toward cargo drones to arrive soon.
In an idealized future of complete automation, robot-staffed factories will crank out goods loaded into tractor-trailers without drivers. These will transport shipping containers to ports where robot cranes will load them onto crew-less ships. The same process will reverse itself on the receiving end, where the entire supply chain could be set into motion by online impulse buys made by the only human connected to the whole process — the consumer.
3) Keep Humans at Home
Shipping companies can set up command centers to act as pilots of a vessel. Rolls-Royce, for instance, is setting up a “virtual bridge” of a ship, offering 360-degree views from a boat’s bridge. Imagine captains in Kansas City commanding one of these massive vehicles with no water in sight!
The military already uses pilot-less aircraft regularly. It’s not crazy to think that unmanned cargo planes are around the corner. Unmanned cargo planes do not need costly life-support systems to keep cabins pressurized. Additionally, drones could increase safety as most crashes are caused by human errors.
4) Deliver Goods to Places We Wouldn’t Normally Go
Remote areas of the world, such as oceanic islands, Arctic regions, or troubled or remote areas of Africa, are often inaccessible due to poor communications and transportation networks to those locations. Simply put, it’s either too dangerous or too costly to ship goods there regularly.
Unmanned aircraft or seacraft can perform just fine in extreme conditions.
5) Monitor & Protect Transportation Lanes
Companies, law enforcement agencies or safety organizations could use drones to monitor sea lanes. Early identification of potential pirates could keep cargo safe. An advanced Coast Guard drone could gather information, capture images, and “give eyes in the sky” all while saving money and time over sending out a human-led patrol. Companies could keep a watchful eye on wildlife (think migrating whales) and make adjustments for environmental concerns if needed.
Admittedly, a completely automated supply-chain, led by cargo drones, has many hurdles to overcome. Unions, safety concerns, lack of centralized computer networks and platforms, to name a few. When the paths are cleared for drones and mass transport, however, the implications are enormous.
Additional Information and Resources
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.