Inside Drones - January 15th, 2020

Inside Drones (Jan 15th, 2020)

Colorado mystery drone sightings update / Drone cannabis deliveries / Pegasus Mini

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1. According to Vox, there is no concrete evidence that the mystery drone sightings over Colorado actually occurred (at least in the way people described them). In late December, The Denver Post reported that “a band of large drones” - at least 17 of them - was seen flying about 200 to 300 feet in the ground over an area of about 25 square miles in northeast Colorado. The drones would come out around 7 p.m. every night and then vanish by 10 p.m., the report said. In response, the Colorado Department of Public Safety flew a plane with thermal-tracking abilities over the area, but found nothing. The Air Force acknowledged that it performs drone operations at a nearby base, but didn't link that to any of the sightings. A joint drone task force with 10-15 agencies was even formed to try and solve the conundrum, which has captured people's attention nationally. (More drones have since been reported in nearby Nebraska and Wyoming.) But as Vox notes, many of the reports fail to note "that there’s precious little evidence these drones actually exist. - VICE

2. The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) plans to ground its civilian drone program over concerns that the UAV hardware made in China could be used for spying, The Financial Times reports. This comes after the DOI temporarily grounded its drone fleet last year to allow secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt to evaluate any security risks. Two people briefed on the plans told The Times that the agency would stop using its 1,000 drones - all of which contain Chinese-manufactured parts - for things like mapping terrain, counting wildlife, and responding to wildfires. Department staffers are reportedly worried that grounding the fleet would cost the department additional time and money. Over the last several years, the U.S. government has expressed concerns about data security vulnerabilities in drones manufactured overseas, particularly by China-based DJI. In 2017, the U.S. Army grounded its DJI aircraft due to perceived cyber vulnerabilities, though the manufacturer has since launched Local Data Mode, an independent security audit, and a Government Edition Solution to address the concerns. - ENGADGET

3. Sixteen DJI Matrice 200 drones fell out of the sky in the U.K. last year, including at times when police and first responders were using them, according to a new report released by the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). All of the drones crashed while it was raining, despite a description on DJI's website that says they were developed to withstand strong winds and resist water. In its report, the AAIB says the drones fell vertically to the ground after "a loss of power and control," which could injure people on the ground. The agency recommended that the U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority issued a warning to Matrice 200 users that there is a "possibility of moisture entering the aircraft when operating in rain and that this could result in a sudden loss of control of the aircraft." DJI said the aircraft received a rating certifying that any water falling "at any angle up to 60 degrees from the vertical" would not have an impact. It shouldn't be operated under any conditions, including rainfall, that exceed this certification, it said. - CNN WORLD

4. Cannabis deliveries from wholesalers to dispensaries are close to becoming a reality in greater Seattle. Last month, the company GRN Holdings signed a letter of intent to acquire drones for a cannabis delivery service. While it wouldn't drop the deliveries directly on a person's doorstep, they would transport payloads of up to 40 kg (88 pounds) from wholesalers, growers, and processors to dispensaries, it said. The Seattle-based company says it wants to launch the service as early as this February or March, starting with six drones, which would be equipped with iPads for payment. About 20 workers would recharge and calibrate the drones, while an undisclosed number of certified pilots would fly them. The system is apparently cheaper than the company's current delivery system. - PORTLAND MERCURY

5. U.S. company Robotic Research announced its latest "transformable drone" - the Pegasus Mini - during last week's CES, the Consumer Electronics Show. The Mini is about the size of a football and can transfigure from a normal flying UAV into an unmanned ground vehicle. The 4.2-pound hybrid drone, which is a smaller version of the original Pegasus unveiled last year, is being marketed for search-and-rescue operations, as it can fit into tight spaces and drive over difficult terrain. It's capable of carrying 2 pounds of payload and can fly for up to 30 minutes or drive for two hours. In its review, Inverse reports that the device is "not built for hugs" and "looks like a drone and a tank had a terrifying child." - DRONE LIFE

6. Autel also announced three Evo II drones during CES. They include the Evo II, the Evo II Pro, and the Evo II Dual, which all have the same body with foldable airframes but differ in their payloads and camera specs. Each has 35-40 minutes of flight time, a range of 5.5 miles, and omnidirectional obstacle avoidance (thanks to Autel’s Dynamic Track 2.0), as well as 8K video cameras. Its object detection capabilities can recognize people, animals, and cars, among other things. Currently, the drones are in production, with the EVO II ($1,495) expected to start shipping in the coming weeks. After checking out the drones at CES, The Verge's Vjeran Pavic wrote that the consumer series "looks like one of the most capable drones out there, and, to be completely honest, it sounds a bit too good to be true." - THE VERGE

7. Overall drone spending is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33.3 percent, according to the International Data Corporation. The analyst firm projects that drone spending worldwide will tally $16.3 billion this year. Over the next five years, drone software is expected to experience the fastest growth - a 38.2 percent CAGR - followed by drone services (37.6 percent CAGR) and drone hardware (32.8 percent CAGR). Consumer spending is expected to total $6.5 billion this year and represent 40 percent of the worldwide total. - COMMERCIAL DRONE PROFESSIONAL

8. The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is back for sale on DJI's website after the company stopped selling it in 2018 due to a "parts shortage." The flagship drone is now available to buy on the DJI official store, as well as Amazon, B&H, and BuyDig. However, it now costs $1,729, up from its previous price of $1,499, which is partially it not all because of the recent higher tariffs on Chinese good imposed by the U.S. government. - PETAPIXEL

9. Following 2018's Gatwick drone incident, London's Heathrow airport has installed a new drone detecting and tracking system, though its manufacturer is staying tightlipped on any details. Operational Solutions says its "bespoke system" can detect and tracks drones within certain airspace and alert airports about "unauthorized drone use quickly and efficiently." It's apparently capable of integrating with other counter-drone technologies. - EVENING STANDARD

10. DJI has released the latest version of the DJI Fly app. Version 1.0.6 for both iOS and Android "fixes crashing issues and improves app stability," among other improvements, DJI reports. In an article, Drone DJ notes that there it doesn't contain any new features for the Mavic Mini. - DRONE DJ

Written and curated by Beth Duckett, a former reporter for The Arizona Republic who wrote a book about the solar industry and frequently covers hobby and commercial drones. You can follow her tweets here.

Edited by Sheena Vasani, Inside Dev editor.

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