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Inside Drones

Inside Drones (Oct 11th, 2016)

In our present reality, not a day goes by where there isn’t a drone story in the news. Partly because the technology is new and somewhat unproven, but also because drones promise to change so many things that affect us as humans. A drone can quite literally kill someone (colliding with an airplane), save their life (by transporting medicine), or deliver them a burrito. To me, nearly all of today’s stories have an underlying theme around safety, and how it plays such an important role in drone operations. – @SkyCapture

Researchers are developing an unmanned, solar-powered drone to fly around the world. Swiss pilots Andre Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard developed a manned airplane named Solar Impulse, which runs entirely on batteries charged by solar energy from the sun. The men circumnavigated the globe in this aircraft, flying more than 26,700 miles. Their next step is to develop an unmanned version, expected to cruise at 12 miles above the earth’s surface for months at a time. Solar drones are not new, but ambitious projects like these at such large scale are usually reserved for companies like Alphabet or Facebook. Borschberg and Piccard say their drone will still be useful while up at altitude, beaming down WiFi signals to the earth and collecting agricultural imagery. - PHYS.ORG

According to UK Airprox Board, there has been a steep rise in the amount of drone-related incidents around airports in the UK. There's been an average of 6.3 close calls reported each month so far this year, compared to just 2.4 last year. Stronger regulations are being heavily considered by the CAA, with a flight safety specialist spelling out the “potential catastrophe” caused by drones. Heathrow may want to consider seeking guidance from airspace security companies similar to Dedrone, who offer systems that can help detect and neutralize rule-breaking drones. - GUARDIAN

Recently announced commercial drone regulations from the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Australia’s FAA-equivalent, are under scrutiny. These changes allow for any drone weighing less than 2kg (4.4 lbs) to be operated without a license and also grant farmers the ability to fly drones of up to 25kg (55 lbs) over their own field without needing a commercial license. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be conducting a safety review of these new regulations, which manned aircraft pilots have labeled as unsafe by essentially encouraging unlicensed drone pilots to “fly anywhere.” - SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

An Australian company called Landgate is investigating using aerial photogrammetry from custom designed fixed-wing drones to create 3D models and point clouds that measure the country’s “rangelands-to-coast carbon footprint.” Previous methods of accomplishing this were destructive, with some involving cutting down areas of the bush and measuring it to calculate the biomass per hectare. Automation is the next step. Drones capable of collecting this data, software with the ability to process it, and visualization of change over time will bring rapid advancements to these environmental initiatives. - PHYS.ORG

The United Nations is undertaking a project in Malawi that could determine the viability of using drones to deliver HIV test samples and medication. Africa has a huge infrastructure problem—the World Bank calls it “one of the continents with the worst infrastructure endowment of any developing region today.” Lack of electricity and paved roads makes transportation extremely challenging. Drones can soar above these problems, in mostly open airspace, and cut time-to-delivery exponentially. Drone startups, in what seems like droves, are working in conjunction with humanitarian groups all across the continent to try to solve these problems. - ABC NEWS

Google X’s drone burrito deliveries did happen... but students had to take a 4-mile bus ride to get them. After enrolling as a volunteer, taking a 10 minute bus ride, and a paying a $5.99 delivery fee, Ben Robson—a student at Virginia Tech—finally got his drone burrito delivered. Some students felt a bit hoodwinked, as it seemed like the burritos could actually be delivered to their apartments. “That would’ve been cooler,” one of them said. This required trek does, however, make sense— in order to test this proof-of-concept, the Project Wing team needed to operate the drone within visual line of sight in a controlled environment. FAA regulations currently prohibit operating drones beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), which make it challenging to conduct “true” deliveries. The most ironic thing? There’s a Chipotle just 0.2 miles away from the Student Center. - MARKET WATCH

Drone footage posted on Twitter helped rescuers reach a man trapped in his flooded home after Hurricane Matthew. Drone photographer Quavas Hart from North Carolina tweeted an aerial shot of houses flooded all the way up to the second floor. It was noticed by Craig Williams in Texas, who was worried because his brother Chris and his elderly dog were trapped in the flooded area with no rescue in sight. The brothers realized Chris’ house was shown in the photo, and Craig asked Hart to send a boat to the address. - WASHINGTON POST


People on the Drones subreddit brought up an interesting scenario: using drones in schools, and how to regulate them. 

"I'm a middle school teacher who has been approved by my district for an educational drone," writes personguy. "I'm in career and technical education so it would be used in tech ed classes as well as by the yearbook class. We currently use a parrot AR, but we've outgrown it. Currently I'm looking at the DJI Mavic. Mostly for the obstacle avoidance (again, middle school). Are there any other models around that price I should be considering? Maybe the Inspire? Also, I've read the FAA rules and can't find any rules that would prevent a 13 year old pilot (under 400 ft) but I may be missing something."

fluffykittycat replies, "You are correct, the 13 year old can fly it all day. However, I would if I were you I'd get a Part 107 RPIC, just to cover your basis. Here is the weird thing about the FAA: the kid can fly it all day as a RC hobbyist as long as you are flying under the FAA Part 101 and the AC91.57a. You, on the other hand, are flying it as part of your job, therefore you touching the controls is commercial. Therefore you need an RPIC from FAA's part 107. You will need to do a ground school course on the 107 and aviation topics like understanding airspace and weather among a few other topics. Online courses are like 90 bucks. The test is about 150 at a CATS or Lasergrade center.

"Here is the thing: you will want to learn how to fly the thing and become very proficient before you let some 13-year-old just take the controls. The Inspire is a good machine. However it is not a two pilot setup. The second controller is for the camera operator. One controls the drone, the other controls the camera gimbal. This is an entry level professional drone and has been used on some movies and TV shows/commercials that you have probably seen recently."

Responding to another Redditor who seemed surprised that the school would pay for the technology, personguy said: “I'm lucky to work in a district that has been very fiscally responsible for many years. The community surrounding us is generally supportive. Also, I don't think schools should ignore the impact drones are having on careers of the near future.”


Do you think school districts should invest in educational drones? Would you be upset if your local schools used tax dollars to buy drones? At what edge should kids first be exposed to drone technology, ideally?

Hit "Reply" and tell us what you think, and we'll feature your answers in the next edition of Inside Drones.

Guest editor Ian Smith is the creator and host of the Commercial Drones FM Podcast, which has generated over 41,000 downloads in its first 3 months. The podcast focuses on the projected $20 billion commercial drone industry and sheds light on the people, concepts, and global industries who already use drones in their businesses today. Ian, a commercial helicopter pilot, has been part of the commercial drone industry since 2013 and works in Business Development for DroneDeploy in San Francisco.

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