It takes years for a tree to grow, only moments to chop it down. It's one of the basic facts of nature that can make environmental restoration projects so painstakingly slow. BioCarbon Engineering, a company out of Oxford, England, wants to speed up the process by getting drones to plant trees faster than any human could. A billion of them.


The company is going to start testing its plan in September, when its partnership with the Worldview International Foundation (WIF) will begin in Myanmar, also known as Burma. A development group focused on local forestation efforts around the globe, BioCarbon's drones have the potential to radically change WIF's mission. WIF has spent years working with locals to plant over 2.7 million mangrove trees in the delta of Irrawday River, a central river in the country and crucial to many industries and communities.


Planting 2.7 million trees in 5 years, as WIF and its local partners have done, is impressive. BioCarbon says its drones can plant 100,000 trees in a single day. WIF and its local partners have planted trees in around 750 hectares in the delta, which works out to a little more than 1,850 acres. BioCarbon is going to take 250 additional hectares and plant a million trees there. BioCarbon was founded in 2015 and while it doesn't get into much detail about the evolution of its drones, it does say that it's had successful tests in England and Australia, where it has planted trees in abandoned mines.

The Johnny Appledrones (sadly not an official name) work in three stages. There's mapping, which is a familiar use of drones for anyone involved in farming. With investments from dronemaker Parrot, the company's drones will map an area and analyze surface topology and composition, soil type and moisture, any possible physical obstructions. These analyses will, according to the company, "help decide which seeds should be planted. Since it is generally advantageous to have a heterogeneous mix of tree species planted in the same area, the planting UAV is capable of carrying a mix of seeds and control their planting pattern."

Once the data is in, the drones fly low, around 3-6 feet above the ground, planting new seeds every six seconds. The one advantage of planting by hand, of course, is that you can guarantee that each seed is buried in the ground. The company refers to this as a survival rate. "We can modify what to plant, and where, so you have the highest chance of survival," Irina Fedorenko, cofounder of BioCarbon Engineering, tells Fast Company. "If you do aerial spreading–you just spread seeds wherever–maybe they hit a rock, maybe they hit a swamp, and they're not going to survive. But we can basically control for that."


The drones aren't just letting the seeds drift in the breeze. Each drone uses a pressurized can to shoot a biodegradable seed pod into the ground. The company says each seed pod is "designed to ensure high germination rates and customized to application." After the mapping and planting, the drones monitor the area regularly. That data gets fed into the company's machine learning algorithms, presumably strengthening the mapping part of the plan. And then it begins all over again.


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In recent years, a host of Hollywood blockbusters — including “The Fast and the Furious 7,” “Jurassic World,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” — have included aerial tracking shots provided by drone helicopters outfitted with cameras.

Those shots required separate operators for the drones and the cameras, and careful planning to avoid collisions. But a team of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and ETH Zurich hope to make drone cinematography more accessible, simple, and reliable.

At the International Conference on Robotics and Automation later this month, the researchers will present a system that allows a director to specify a shot’s framing — which figures or faces appear where, at what distance. Then, on the fly, it generates control signals for a camera-equipped autonomous drone, which preserve that framing as the actors move.

As long as the drone’s information about its environment is accurate, the system also guarantees that it won’t collide with either stationary or moving obstacles.

“There are other efforts to do autonomous filming with one drone,” says Daniela Rus, an Andrew and Erna Viterbi Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT and a senior author on the new paper. "They can follow someone, but if the subject turns, say 180 degrees, the drone will end up showing the back of the subject. With our solution, if the subject turns 180 degrees, our drones are able to circle around and keep focus on the face. We are able to specify richer higher-level constraints for the drones. The drones then map the high-level specifications into control and we end up with greater levels of interaction between the drones and the subjects."

Joining Rus on the paper are Javier Alonso-Mora, who was a postdoc in her group when the work was done and is now an assistant professor of robotics at the Delft University of Technology; Tobias Nägeli, a graduate student at ETH Zurich and his advisor Otmar Hilliges, an assistant professor of computer science; and Alexander Domahidi, CTO of Embotech, an autonomous-systems company that spun out of ETH.


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Drones are everywhere, literally. After becoming one of the top presents at Christmas last year, they have also seen their use by businesses rapidly increase over the past few years.

Following the rise in popularity of drones, there have been an increasing number of concerns about their use and regulations around them. It’s understandable. There have been drones used by film crews that have crashed into spectator stands at sporting events. Drones which have flown into private areas, such as the White House lawn. Paparazzi have tried using drones to capture celebrities in their homes.

There are clear security and safety concerns surrounding these flying, sometimes autonomous vehicles. As a result, from December 21st, 2015 (today), the US Government wants every drone owner to register that they own a drone. There are also calls by politicians here in the UK to get the EU to track drone usage and ownership.

In Europe alone, it is estimated that by 2050 as many as 150,000 jobs will be created by drones being used across various industries. With a large amount of interest in the potential of drones, we thought it would be a good time to look at some of the ways they are currently being used, and what the potential for the technology is.

1. When Typhoon Hagupit hit the Philippines in December 2014, Aeryon Labs offered a drone to disaster response charity, Global Medic. Using the drone, Global Medic was able to capture a series of images to create a map of the affected area and help response teams focus their relief efforts.

2. Last year, Doctors Without Borders in Haiti, and the World Health Organisation in Bhutan also ran trials using drones to carry diagnostic samples from rural villages to a central lab. Also in Bhutal, trials ran in August 2014 to carry Antibiotics from a hospital in the Himalayan capital of Thumphu, which is 7,710 ft above sea level, to a remote mountain health clinic. These trials were due to be put into full deployment this year.

3. In October this year, West Mercia Police, covering Herefordshire and Cumbria Police announced that they were going to be trialling drones to help tackle crime. The idea in both cases is to have a cost-effective method to deploy drones in situations where deploying patrols would put members of the public, or officers at risk. Drones would be used to capture footage that can be used to help prosecute and identify where criminals may be, or to search for missing people.

4. This year, researchers in Zurich also demonstrated the ability to use drones to build a suspension bridge, strong enough for someone to walk across. The team, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, equipped the drones with ropes, with the drones working in harmony to weave a bridge.

5. We’ve also seen Amazon increase its trials of drones for delivery with Amazon Prime Air. Amazon recently unveiled its latest drone, capable of landing to deliver packages for people. The company recently announced that it is to test its drones in Chiba City in Japan.

6. Closer to home, the British government announced in September that it is working with Nasa to come up with a realistic plan for monitoring drone usage. Nasa hopes to have a system that monitors all low-flying drones within the next five years.

7. In the oil industry, drones have a huge amount of potential to help companies. Shell, for example, has been using drones in some of Europe’s largest energy plants. The company is planning on rolling them out in hard-to-reach places at oil and gas facilities, as it is safer, and more efficient, than sending people.

8. In the rail industry, Network Rail is looking to use drones to get a better picture of the transport network. The firm would use this for its ORBIS project, which will see the railways in the UK digitised with 3D cameras and visualised online to analyse maintenance and field worker distribution. Currently, they are using aerial cameras.

9. easyJet has been testing drones at Luton airport to carry out safety inspections of its aircrafts. There are parts of the plane which are more challenging to reach and check manually, so the company is using drones to improve its operations. It plans to carry out a full deployment next year.

10. Norman Foster, the famed architect and head of Foster + Partners has recently unveiled designs for a drone port in Rwanda. The port would be used to transport urgent medical supplies to remote parts of the country. The aim is to have the project completed by 2020, bringing an affordable alternative to medical deliveries in a country where infrastructure makes it a struggle to make deliveries. It is estimated that drones flying from the port would be able to cover 44% of the country.


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Since the launch of Facebook Live , we have seen a boom in the live video trend in the industry. Live streaming during events is, by far, the best way to reach viewers both at the event as well as those remotely located in real time. It has become the new way to document and promote events by providing up to the minute updates to audiences.

While user generated video streaming is a growing trend, event documentation is being taken to the next level (literally!) by drone technology. Drones with high-definition 4K video cameras and GPS stabilized drone platforms enable high quality videos to be screened on multiple monitors across the venue. Not only do attendees experience a whole new perspective of the event they are at, remote audiences are treated a to a bird’s-eye view as well, creating an immersive experience for everyone. 

Drones are a continuously evolving and multifaceted technology that is becoming an important component of the event industry. Drones have come to be useful in more ways than one by providing powerful ways of connecting people, securing venues, providing useful analytics as well as improving the overall event experience.

1. Alternative Uses of Drones: Connecting People 


The lack of wifi or reception is the bane of every millennial’s existence. At crowded outdoor events staying connected can be almost impossible. In cases when existing cell towers get overcrowded with users, drones can actually act as additional cell sites. Drones packed with technology usually found in cellular towers can be sent to hover up to 400 ft above the crowd, ensuring continuous signal and access to existing networks over a wider reach, thus curbing attendees’ frustrations. 

This relatively new technology is still being tested out by the likes of Facebook and AT&T, not just to connect people at events, but to also provide internet connection in rural regions as well as to deliver emergency wifi services during times of natural disasters.    


2. Alternative Uses of Drones: Security


To many event planners, safety is a much bigger concern compared to providing wifi. In order to monitor large-scale events, cameras that accurately detect possible security violations or signs of disturbances in crowded areas can be fitted into drones. This way, drones will be able to catch unrest before they become full blown problems. The continuous aerial monitoring during events will also help in the efficient delegation of security personnel should an accident or security breach occur.

Eventually, as technology improves, drones might even be equipped with systems that are able to scan entire arenas for weapons. This kind of technological sophistication is bound to revolutionize event security procedures in the near future.


3. Alternative Uses of Drones: Analytics 


Not only are drones helpful when it comes to crowd safety at events, they are also helpful in collecting advanced crowd analytics. Drones fitted with sensors are able to perform quick and accurate area mapping, analyse footfall, crowd distributionduration of stays and revisit patterns at events, therefore proving to be an incredibly cost effective and portable solution for gathering real-time event analytics that will aid in planning. The LBASense Mobile App is an example of an application that is used in conjunction with sensors attached to drones to perform such analytics.


4. Alternative Uses of Drones: Enhanced Event Experiences



One of our favourite uses of a drone was when Spotify teamed up with Belgian telecommunications company BASE to release their very own “Party Drone” decked out with 3 speakers and an amp at a music festival to entertain unsuspecting ravers.  

When people registered for the festival online, they were asked to add their favourite song to a spotify playlist. When they turned up at the festival to collect their tickets, the drone was able to detect which song was added by them and blasted their favourite tunes while hovering right above their heads as they entered the venue. This of course resulted in very excited albeit slightly shocked revelers. 


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So how do real estate agents and brokers benefit from using camera drones in their marketing, in the real world?

1. Create more dramatic, compelling images.

Using a modern ready-to-fly camera drone like the Phantom 4, you can create dramatic shots very easily(almost on auto-pilot) by combining GPS-programmed flight paths with automatic point-of-interest camera targeting.


Well-designed drone camera shots not only look incredibly professional, they can generate a sense of aweand interest that you simply can’t get from ground-based photography.

2. Create more interesting virtual tours.

A camera drone can literally fly into a home through the front door, and travel throughout every room, creating a far more natural virtual tour than station-based photography can.

Combined with a professional voice-over sound track, virtual tours can become beautiful visual stories, rich with information and history.

3. Highlight more property features.

Landscaping, pools, walking paths and back yards are important to many buyers. So are nearby parks and schools.

Aerial photos & video bring these advantages to life.

4. Generate new business.

Using drone videos and photos to market your properties shows prospective sellers that you take advantage of every opportunity to make their property look awesome – and to stand out.

5. Out-market the competition.

It’s a well-known fact that listings that look better and provide more information, sell better.

6. Save money.

Compared to shooting aerial photos from a helicopter or a fixed wing aircraft, drone videography is far cheaper – and easier to arrange.


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Using a drone that can both fly and swim, a team comprising the Delaware River Bay Authority (DRBA), Rutgers University-New Brunswick (RU-NB) in New Jersey and SubUAS LLC recently executed what it calls the first combination aerial and underwater bridge inspection.

According to a press release from the DRBA, the group conducted the operation on June 18 at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Twin Spans.

The hybrid unmanned vehicle, known as the Naviator, was developed at the Rutgers School of Engineering with Office of Naval Research (ONR) funding. The Naviator was also used to conduct demonstration air/water flights from a 100-passenger car ferry vessel at the Cape May Ferry Terminal on June 19-20

“We’re pleased to be able to participate in this test demonstration,” says Thomas J. Cook, executive director of the DRBA, a bi-state governmental agency for Delaware and New Jersey. “Our infrastructure assets are subject to rigorous inspection programs on an annual basis, and drones have the potential to make these inspections significantly safer and more cost-efficient. The ability to have a single autonomous vehicle inspect piers or vessels both above and below the water line is no longer science fiction.”

Researchers in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at RU-NB – under the direction F. Javier Diez, a professor at the School of Engineering – developed the Naviator prototype in 2013. What followed have been technologic advancements to its propulsion, buoyancy and control systems.

SubUAS LLC was founded in 2016 to commercialize Rutgers’ drone development. The company has an exclusive license for the commercial/military development of the university’s patented air/water drone technology.

“The Naviator’s ability to seamlessly and rapidly transition from flying in the air to maneuvering underwater provides tremendous opportunities for a number of industries and naval operations,” says Diez. “As these recent tests demonstrated, what previously might require a helicopter, boat and underwater equipment, the Naviator was able to complete as a single deployment with fewer complications and in less time.”

Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) has been supporting Naviator’s development. Notably, Rutgers School of Engineering is certified as a Federal Aviation Administration unmanned aircraft systems testing facility.

With continued interest and funding from government and corporate partners, the Naviator research team continues to develop further enhancements valuable for not only bridge inspections but also for ocean floor mapping, search and rescue operations, critical infrastructure monitoring, harbor security and more.

“The Naviator drone’s ability to repeatedly transition from water to air in less than two seconds has opened up novel markets that will find these capabilities advantageous,” notes Mark Contarino, vice president of technology at SubUAS LLC. “Our long-term partnership with Rutgers, DRBA and our sponsor, ONR, continues to provide invaluable insight into future enhancements and applications of this amazing technology.”


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The so-called 'digital mine' is no longer a future prospect.

It is already well and truly a fixture of the Australian mining landscape, and operators large and small, from front-end mining companies to the service industries, are a vital cog in the extractive industries supply chain.

The mining and resources sectors have undergone more change in the past 10 years than in the past 100 years.

Terms such as real-time data capture, automation and autonomous vehicles, wearable technologies and digital-twinning are part of the mining and METS sector lexicon in the 21st century.

But as Australian mining races to be at the forefront of a global trend, there are concerns about not only workforce availability and skill sets, but the traditional approach to tertiary education that is not necessarily geared towards the requirements of modern mining needs and practices. 

What is the 'digital mine'?

The evolution of the 'digital mine' in Australia has been led by the the well established mining companies, known as the majors — large multi-national companies that tend to work in the bulk-commodities sectors such as coal and iron ore.

Rio Tinto led the charge when it moved its iron ore rolling stock to an autonomous model, and BHP Billiton followed with driverless trucks on some of its mine sites.Trains that can be kilometres long are autonomously operated from a nerve centre in Perth, Western Australia, and driverless trains and trucks are now commonplace in the iron ore industry in the Pilbara in Western Australia's north-west.

Now the junior and mid-size miners and the companies that service them are operating or working towards the digital mine model. 

A digital mine is a traditional mine that is using digital technologies, for example: autonomous trucks, trains, and drones to extract greater value from existing assets.

They work with the so-called internet of things that enables them to use advanced technologies such as real-time data capture with low cost sensors that feed information back to operators.

That information, known as big data, may also come from technologies such as 'wearables', is integrated in areas such as planning, control and decision making with the ultimate aim of extracting greater value at lower cost, while improving the health and safety of mine workers.

The rise of the robotic drone

Drones are increasingly being used across many industry sectors, but Israeli company Airobotics is the first to introduce fully autonomous drones to the Australian mining industry. 

It has teamed up with South32 to trial the drone at the Worsley Alumina project in south-west Western Australia.

Joseph Urli is the director of flight operations in Australia, and said the drones aimed to remove the '3 Ds' from the jobs of the mine workforce — danger, and dull and dirty jobs.

"Instead of doing things like sending people out on surveys, or having them undertake a mission, the drone can do it all and it reduces the exposure of humans to risk," he said. 

Airobotics is also working with aviation safety body CASA to use the trial to help develop regulations on the use of autonomous drones. 

"Australia actually led the world in terms of regulating drones and issued its first set of regulations in 2002," Mr Urli said.

"Since then, however, other civil aviation authorities around world have caught up and in fact overtaken regulation in this space. 

"There's a senate inquiry underway into safety of drones at moment, and we think that's a very positive move, it is very inclusive and seeking input across the board from people like airline pilots, air traffic controllers, and professional drone operators. 

"We want to see the mavericks taken out of the equation, and the drone hobbyist sticking to their assigned, approved airfields."

Airobotics demonstrated its technology at Diggers and Dealers in 2016 and at the time no company in Australia was working with industrial level autonomous drones.

It now has three deployed across the nation.


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What Are Agricultural or Farming Drones?

Agricultural drone technology has been improving in the last few years, and the benefits of drones in agriculture are becoming more apparent to farmers. Drone applications in agriculture range from mapping and surveying to cropdusting and spraying.

On the surface, agricultural drones are no different than other types of drones. The application of the UAV simply changes to fit the needs of the farmer. There are, however, several drones specifically made for agricultural use (more on that in a later section).

Agricultural Drone Technology

Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture refers to the way farmers manage crops to ensure efficiency of inputs such as water and fertilizer, and to maximize productivity, quality, and yield. The term also involves minimizing pests, unwanted flooding, and disease.

Drones allow farmers to constantly monitor crop and livestock conditions by air to quickly find problems that would not become apparent in ground-level spot checks. For example, a farmer might find through time-lapse drone photography that part of his or her crop is not being properly irrigated.


The process of using a drone to map or survey crops is a relatively straightforward one. Many newer agricultural drone models come equipped with flight planning software that allows the user to draw around the area he or she needs to cover. Then, the software makes an automated flight path and, in some cases, even prepares the camera shots.

As the drone flies, it automatically takes pictures using onboard sensors and the built-in camera, and uses GPS to determine when to take each shot. But if your drone does not have these automatic features, then one person needs to fly the drone while the other takes the photos.


In 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration approved the Yamaha RMAX as the first drone weighing more than 55 pounds to carry tanks of fertilizers and pesticides in order to spray crops. Drones such as this are capable of spraying crops with far more precision than a traditional tractor. This helps reduce costs and potential pesticide exposure to workers who would have needed to spray those crops manually.

Future of Farm Drones

BI Intelligence, Business Insider's premium research service, expects spending on the overall drone market to surpass $12 billion by 2021. But what about the agricultural drone market specifically?

Global Market Insights forecasts that the agricultural drone market size will exceed $1 billion and 200,000 units shipped by 2024. GMI attributes the growth through 2024 to increasing awareness of the pros and cons of drones in agriculture among farmers.

The company also claims that technological advancements in farming techniques will push demand during the forecast period. Increased automation stemming from a lack of skilled resources and a labor crisis will also bolster agricultural drone demand. Finally, GMI expects government programs in this sector to permit operations of various sizes to help make farming processes more efficient.


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Small drones offer a timely and cost effective means of collecting high resolution data of particular use to agricultural and environmental assessment and monitoring.  A combination of the ability to fly safely at a lower altitude,  flexibility and maneuverability means that inspections can be conducted in areas which can be difficult or hazardous to access by other methods and allows for greater coverage than conventional approaches.  Further, as the imagery transmitted by the drone can be viewed in real-time or on the screen immediately after flight, more detailed on the spot inspections can be carried out as needed.  Additionally, because the flight plans are based on GPS positions, they can be repeated on a regular basis for purposes of comparison, analysis and planning.  With the V-Map system on board the drones platform, surveys and mapping can be carried out without ground control, and with the appropriate software 3D digital surface models can be generated.

Micro Aerial Projects using a small uav to inspect agricultural plantingsMicro Aerial Projects using a small uav to inspect the health of strawberry plantations

In agriculture, the combination of high resolution|multi-spectral and infra-red photography and computer software can detect water and nutritional stress, monitor insect damage and show the general health of plants.  Substantial savings in water and chemical applications can thus be realized through seeing immediately if, when and where they need to be applied.

Micro Aerial Projects using small uavs on a project to monitor agricultural field erosionMicro Aerial Projects using small uavs to monitor invasive plant encroachment

The environment can be monitored as fields and plantings are checked for erosion, land degradation and the encroachment of invasive species. Pollution and industrial accidents can be monitored and the appropriate restorative action plans can be identified and carried out.

Micro Aerial Projects using small uavs to monitor land degradationMicro Aerial Projects using small uavs to monitor pollution in the environment

(Examples of aerial environmental monitoring)

Micro Aerial Projects using small uavs for environmental monitoring

(Below is a 3D model we created of a dairy farm in Montreal, Canada)

3D model of farm in Canada generated by Micro Aerial Projects using their v-map system

The usefulness of the imagery and models which can be generated from small uav photography and the V-Map system is evident from these examples showing how structures, feedlots, water, erosion and cattle, to name a few, can be monitored and consequent planning and decision making can quickly be determined. (The mosaic below was stitched on site prior to demobilization for preliminary image quality control.)

mosaic made by Micro Aerial Projects of a dairy farm in Canada, stitched on site prior to de-mobilization for preliminary image quality control


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If you have watched Planet Earth II (2016), a follow-up to the nature series aired in 2006 on BBC – the intimate close-ups, chases and kills, and the sweeping vistas might have left you spellbound. While the voice of Sir David Attenborough still gave us goose bumps, the sights added on to the experience – made us feel right in the middle of the action.

Cinematographers have used the latest in camera technology to create the experience. Drones! To capture those stunning panoramas and actions, drones created the magic that you witness sitting in your living room. If you watch television with a trained eye, you’ll notice that many series, documentaries, and movies are shot using drones to provide a real-life experience to the viewers. Movies like The Expendables 3, Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Wolf of Wall Street, and Captain America are shot using drones.

Drones are becoming popular among production companies for filming shots that require adrenalin-filled action sequences, literal birds’ eye views, dramatic panoramas or 360-degree views of subjects. In fact, 2015 wit-nessed the birth of the New York City Drone Film Festival, the world’s first drone film festival to recognise the remarkable usage of drones in cinematography where at least 50 per cent of the footage is shot using a drone.

Ben Sheppard, managing director of Spider Aerial Filming, sums up the advantages of drones over static cranes and expensive helicopters. “No other filming method can start a sequence inside a building and end up at 400 feet altitude in one uncut shot,” says Sheppard. Not only do drones allow the reader to build a better mental picture of the layout of the land, but they can also get down to ground level, with smaller shadows and less air disturbance, unlike helicopters.

The media and broadcast industry, particularly journalism and documentaries witnessed a revolution in 2016 as a result of the increasing capabilities of drones. After the popularity of the New York Times story on the impact of the Syrian Civil War on Aleppo that was captured using drone footage, the newspaper published a list of top stories it covered through drone footage.

CNN uses drones to augment its traditional television coverage and provide improved vantage point. The news network has also launched a team to fly and operate drones as part of expanded news coverage to provide the benefits of planes and helicopters for a fraction of the cost.


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