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HackflightSim Rebooted

In earlier posts I described HackflightSim, an open-source quadcopter flight simulator built on the V-REP robotics simulation platform, using actual C++ flight-control firmware. After seeing the kinds of beautiful, real-time simulations that Microsoft was able to get with ts AirSim program built on UnrealEngine (UE4), I figured it was worth looking into UE4 for my own simulator. Thanks to the powerful features of UE4, I was able to start from scratch and build a rudimentary, 120 frames-per-second simulator in under 500 lines of C++ code. 

As this video shows, UE4 makes it easy to switch among a variety of cameras: "follow" camera (always in front of the vehicle); "chase" camera (behind the vehicle); and the familiar FPV.  It's also pretty straightforward to import an existing frame design (like this modified 3DFly frame) and propeller design into UE4 as a "mesh", saving you the trouble of designing a vehicle just for the simulation.  

I'm planning to work with a studio-arts student on building some realistic interesting indoor environments in which to fly, using the powerful level-design tools in UE4. This should speed up the prototyping of firmware algorithms to exploit the tiny, powerful new sensors available these days, like the VL53L0X ranging sensor and the PMW3901 optical-flow sensor, before deploying them on an actual MAV.

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A Look at Where Service Providers Are Making Money in the Drone Industry

This article first appeared on UAV Coach.

In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the data collected in the new report from Skylogic Research on the drone industry—data we think is important to you and answers the question: “Where are drone-based service providers making money?”

The report defines Service Providers as those individuals or companies that offer drone-based imaging or sensing services for outside hire (as opposed to Business Owners, who “use or purchase drone-based imaging or sensing services”).

Let’s dive in.


Skylogic’s report found that the top three primary service areas for commercial drone work are: Aerial Photography / Videography; Surveying / Mapping / GIS; and Real Estate.

However, as indicated in the pie chart below, the first area (i.e., Aerial Photography / Videography) takes up the lion’s share not just of those three, but of the entire services scene, with 41% of the entire chart, while the following category (Surveying / Mapping / GIS) only receives 13%.

A note on the data: Respondents were asked to indicate the primary and secondary commercial product or services they offer. They could pick one primary and up to three secondary services. Skylogic intentionally had them choose a primary because previous research revealed that many service providers boast about their ability to service multiple industries, but have no domain expertise in those industries.

But just because the majority of commercial drone operators are working in aerial cinematography doesn’t mean they’re actually making money in that sector.

The report goes on to rank the top 10 drone services making over $100K/year. Surprisingly, it’s Surveying / Mapping / GIS that ranks first in that list. Aerial Photography and/or Video is #2. (Of course, just because you’re not making over $100K/year doesn’t mean you’re not making any money.)

After those first two, the third area listed where people are making over $100K/year is Utilities Infrastructure Inspection or Monitoring—even though this is the seventh item listed in the pie chart above, with only 3% of respondents indicating that they work in that field.


It seems one conclusion we can draw from these data points is that those commercial drone pilots who find a commercial niche (a place where there aren’t many people operating, but there is a demand for the work) are likely to make the most money.

Taking a simplistic view, a commercial operator could potentially look at those areas of minimal saturation on the pie chart—the ones lower down the list—and then look at those areas where people are making over $100K/year, and see what might be required to get into that sector.

Of course, transitioning into commercial mapping or inspections isn’t as easy as just knowing how to fly a drone. But we can foresee a future where solopreneurs team up with other professionals with specific skill sets—for example, a licensed surveyor—to provide high-end services to large industrial operations.


Another chart we want to share from Skylogic’s report shows the commercial areas where business owners are outsourcing services.

If you’re a solopreneur looking to find a skill set that will help you find work, this graphic could be a great jumping off place for finding skill sets you might want to develop.

The bottom line is that there is money to be made as a service provider in the drone industry, but the most popular field (i.e., aerial cinematography) is not the most lucrative, and the areas where you’re most likely to find a solid financial foothold will require additional skill sets beyond knowing how to fly and how to operate a camera.

It will be interesting to see the data in another year or two. Things are developing rapidly, with students beginning to study drones and STEM in high school and the landscape appearing to shift radically to focus more on industrial applications. We may soon see mapping, surveying, and similar commercial use cases rise to the top of the services areas for drone service providers, and we might also see a resulting shift in the market from cheap drones to high-end drones developed for niche applications.

Don’t have a copy of the report? Purchase a full copy of the report here.

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Flying Robots Conquer San Fran! — on Film

For the third year in a row, flying robots will take over the City by the Bay – or at least their film footage. The 2017 Flying Robot international Film Festival launches on Nov. 16 at San Francisco’s historic Roxie Theater. Billed as “an open competitive drone film festival focused on aerial cinema created from the […]

The post Flying Robots Conquer San Fran! — on Film appeared first on DRONELIFE.

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Project log: Autonomously returning a glider from the stratosphere!

Our High Altitude Balloon (HAB) project aims to return the electronics on board a weather balloon autonomously instead of drifting away on a parachute. My Project Log series aims to provide short sweet and to the point updates to said project. Heres the most recent one:

Heres some background:

Our High Altitude Balloon (HAB) project aims to return the electronics on board a HAB autonomously. Traditionally, weather and HAB's return electronics safely to the ground via parachute, but this obviously steers waaaayy off from the launch site and takes hours to find. We aim to cut down the risks involved by just bringing everything back via flying wing.

The flight plan is as follows:

1.) Climb to 100,000 feet under balloon
2.) Have balloon explode at highest altitude and have small parachute bring down the plane from 100,000 feet to 30,000 feet. Lack of air pressure makes the void from 100,000 feet to 30,000 feet an uncontrollable abyss for the glider. Small parachute is used to decrease terminal velocity.
3.) Airplane releases itself from flight line and glides towards destination.

My Project Log series aims to provide short sweet and to the point updates to said project. Heres the most recent one:

This week I try to start making progress on the flight controller. Starting off with the original program code written by Kemal, I try to fix things here and there to smooth out the glide.

Next video will explain the program a little bit more, and will be of trying to achieve a successful autonomous straight line flight, and trying to incorporate turns.

Side note, you guys know of any other arduino flight controller projects i could pick up on and learn from? Computer science isnt my strong suit.

Previous uploads:

Project Log 1: Introductions

Project Log 2: Base Flight Test

Project Log 3: Q&A about design choices

I'm trying to do this whole project from the bottom up DIY, so i'll be keeping an updated, weekly project log series going! Let me know what you guys think of the project so far, and drop any feedback if you have them!

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uAvionix Joins ForeFlight Connect Program with echoUAT and SkyEcho ADS-B Transceivers

Bigfork, MT, October 10, 2017 – uAvionix Corporation announced today that both the echoUAT and SkyEcho ADS-B Transceivers are officially supported on ForeFlight Mobile, the leading flight planning app for the iPad® and iPhone®.   As part of the Foreflight Connect program,  echoUAT and SkyEcho display ADS-B weather and traffic through the ForeFlight Mobile application. “We are […]

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