Drone News

Robotics researchers have succeeded in inducing self-organising flocking behaviour in drones.

Although demonstrated many times using computer models, the latest research – led by Gábor Vásárhelyi of the Hungarian Academy of Science – marks perhaps the first time drone-flocking has been achieved in the real world without the use of a central control system.

The achievement points the way to forward to using drone flocks in a range of applications, from search-and-rescue to mapping and defence.

Flocking behaviour is, of course, commonplace in the natural world, particularly among birds, fish and insects. Understanding its dynamics, however, continues to present a challenge, with different models being suggested.

Nevertheless, understood or not, it happens, often spectacularly. Large numbers of independent organisms are able to move collectively, maintaining direction and not smacking into obstacles or each other.

The same, until now, cannot be said for drones – or, at least, multiple drones that do not respond to a single controller.

One of the main reasons for this, explain Vásárhelyi and his colleagues, is that drone-flocking is primarily the pursuit of computer modellers. Theoretical frameworks for the design of distributed flocking algorithms are all well and good, but they fail to account for real-world conditions.

These, the researchers write, include “constrained motion and communication capabilities, delays, perturbations, or the presence of barriers”.

The absence of such factors from theoretical models limits their value. Barriers and obstacles are not merely isolated challenges, but things that have large and continuing effects on the collective behaviour and cooperation of the flock. Because of this, the scientists note, models that work gracefully on computer screens “tend to oscillate and destabilise quickly under real-life conditions when delays, uncertainties, and kinematic constraints are present”.

The researchers reference a number of apparent real-world examples of autonomous drone flocking behaviour, including events staged by the US military and the band Metallica, but suggest that each is in some way more apparent than real. The drones are all separately programmed to follow specific flight paths, for instance, or instructed to flock towards a specific target, thus limiting variables.

The general principles that govern flocking behaviour, whether in birds or drones, are well understood and uncontroversial. They arise from the interaction of thee simple rules: the need to not crash into a neighbour, the need to steer in the same direction as a neighbour, and the need to follow the average position of a neighbour.

So far, so elegant, but while each of a thousand flying starlings, for instance, is perfectly capable of flying around a tree, a dozen autonomous drones confronted by the same obstacle are likely to crash into it, collide with each other, or fly off in several different directions.

“Creating a large decentralised outdoor drone swarm with synchronised flocking behaviour using autonomous collision and object avoidance in a bounded area is as yet an unresolved task,” note Vásárhelyi and his team.

To a significant extent, however, the new work solves many of the issues.

To do so, the researchers began with modelling that included several extra variables intended to reflect unpredictable real-world problems. These included not only the presence of obstacles and boundaries encountered while moving at high velocities, but also the sudden failure of sensors and short-range communication equipment.

The model was subjected to a process known as evolutionary optimisation – running the program through many generations so that optimally fit features could be identified.

The proof, however, could only be in the real-world robo-pudding. To test their findings the researchers used 30 quadcopter drones and set them up in a physical environment full of obstacles. They programmed them to fly autonomously, set up some of the electronics to fail, and let them go.

Through several runs, the drone swarm flocked and flew without problems – especially, as it turned out, at high speeds.

“The model works in a noisy environment, with inaccurate sensors and short-range communication devices, and in the presence of substantial communication delay and with possible local communication outages,” the scientists report.

Vásárhelyi and colleagues conclude that their results need to be subjected to more sophisticated analysis, but already hold promise for improving drone performance in a variety of contexts.

The research is published in the journal Science Robotics.



19/07/2018

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DJI has rolled out enhancements to its geofencing system, which uses GPS and other navigational satellite signals to automatically help prevent drones from flying near sensitive locations, such as airports, nuclear power plants and prisons.

Now, professional drone pilots who do have authorization to fly in sensitive locations can use a streamlined application process to receive unlocking codes within 30 minutes.

According to the company, this feature was carefully designed to help expand the beneficial uses of drones in sensitive areas that have been restricted in DJI’s geofencing system. While those areas will remain restricted to more casual drone pilots, DJI now staffs its global authorization team around the clock in order to process applications and provide unlocking codes quickly.

“DJI now processes most requests within 30 minutes, though requests involving unusual circumstances or requiring additional documentation may need additional time,” explains Michael Perry, managing director of North America at DJI. “By making it easier for authorized pilots to put drones to work in sensitive areas, DJI is once again showing why professional drone operators choose our aerial platforms for the most important tasks.”

Professional drone pilots can apply to unlock restricted zones at www.dji.com/flysafe/custom-unlock. The portal page allows pilots to enter information about their aircraft and controller, as well as authorization documents supplied by the controlling authorities in areas where they wish to fly. Enterprise users can also, for the first time, include multiple aircraft in a single unlocking request.

“DJI first implemented geofencing in 2013, and it is now established as an important tool to help our customers make thoughtful flight decisions while also addressing legitimate concerns about safety and security by helping prevent unauthorized flights in the most sensitive locations,” notes Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI.



19/07/2018

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SkySpecs, the award-winning provider of robotics solutions for the wind energy industry – in collaboration with Ørsted, global leaders in developing and building offshore wind farms, today announce a successful automated inspection of the world’s largest offshore wind turbine at Burbo Bank Extension, in the Irish Sea.

“Providing consistent image quality across the largest turbines offshore is challenging and requires consistency from the drone,” David-Lee Jones, Ørsted’s Senior Technical Project Lead, said. “This was the purpose of our work with SkySpecs. We really wanted to validate that their technology could provide the type of precise and robust inspection capabilities that Ørsted expects.  We are pleased to announce that the inspection was a success.”

Ørsted’s mission is to lead the way in offshore wind innovation, and testing an automated inspection on an 8MW offshore turbine was an important step in gaining confidence that this technology has the potential to be rolled out on all larger sized wind turbines.

Ørsted is bringing that innovation to the U.S. as well, with projects under development in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia. As the industry leader, the company is using its expertise to help build a mature, technologically advanced U.S. offshore wind industry – creating jobs and continuing to push the global industry forward.

The data that SkySpecs collected will be used to evaluate the condition of the 80-meter turbine blades as well. SkySpecs’ solution includes:

-Fully automated robotic inspections of wind turbine blades that take less than 15 minutes from start to finish;

-Automatic data upload to their software product, Horizon, that classifies images by damage type and severity;

-An advanced feature set in Horizon that includes repair planning workflows, analytics dashboards and insights that enable users to spot trends, project repair costs and determine ROI.

“We are pleased that we’ve helped Ørsted move ahead with their goals. As an organization, we are committed to applying robotic solutions to solve challenges faced by the renewable energy,” said SkySpecs’ CTO Tom Brady. “We’re helping owners craft their predictive maintenance strategies with a mountain of blade data and analytics tools that help them understand the health of their fleet.”

SkySpecs delivers automated onshore and offshore inspections to global customers.  Working with industry leaders, SkySpecs’ is realizing their mission to automate renewable energy O&M.



19/07/2018

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The Australian Government will invest over A$1 million dollars into drone technology designed to complete environmental mapping works ahead of mining projects to ensure the safety of national miners and minimise the environmental damage of mining operations.

The money will be invested into Western Australian business Emapper as part of the Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) Growth Centre Ignited Project Fund. More than $7m will be spread across a total of eight projects, with the Emapper project receiving A$1.2m of government funds and a further A$1.2m from industry investment.

METS Growth Centre Ignited CEO Ric Gros said: “Opportunities for the sector to band together and innovate are vital to the growth of the sector. Facilitating such innovation is part of the mandate for METS Ignited, and the recipients of this round will be making invaluable contributions to the mining and METS sectors through their initiatives.”

The drones are designed to collect a range of data from potential mine sites and combine this with existing information on the regions, in order to determine the optimal areas to begin mining operations. This enables fast and efficient data analysis, as well as removes the need for human workers to spend long periods of time in adverse environments such as the Pilbara region of Western Australia, which is home to 27 species of venomous snakes.

Data is stored on a mobile app known as Scout provided by Emapper, which automatically checks data to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date.

The combination of governmental and industry funding means that more than $17m has been provided to recipients of the Ignited Project Fund; other projects to have received funding include software to improve the efficiency of mine truck fleets and battery-powered vehicles for underground mining.

The METS Growth Centre said in a statement: “Collectively, the projects will benefit the mining sector by optimising the value chain, increasing productivity for mining and mineral processing, supporting and enhancing environmental management, and improving operational safety.”



19/07/2018

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According to a 2017 poll, thirty-one percent of farmers are considering the use of drone technology. The use of drones in agricultural communities is gaining ground due to several key benefits, including higher crop yields, time management efficiencies, and long-term planning abilities. Combined, these benefits allow farmers to increase productivity, while controlling costs and environmental risks.


Uses

Although businesses have been using drones for several decades, the use of drones in agriculture is a more recent development. As the amount of land available for farming decreases and the need for more food increases, the agricultural community is becoming more reliant on technology to produce enough supply to meet demand.


Some of the common uses of drones include spraying crops with fertilizer and pesticides, spotting irrigation problems, surveying and mapping fields, monitoring livestock, and planting.


Benefits

Drones can help farmers save money on labor costs and collect more precise data. A few of the common uses for drones in agriculture can help reduce the amount of resources needed to grow crops, while also reducing the amount of environmental waste from the growing process. When farmers use drones to analyze fields, they can determine which parts of the field need more water, less water or more fertilizer.


The mapping and surveying capabilities of drones and drone-related software applications allow farmers to detect the health and life stages of various crops. Drones can also detect variances in crop health between specific areas of larger fields.


Drones help farmers with livestock


Thermal imaging cameras on certain drone models can alert farmers when livestock is injured or missing. Drones with thermal imaging can also determine whether certain areas of a field are experiencing pooling water or a lack of moisture from irrigation.


Smartphone Apps

Farmers can use smartphone apps to design flight plans for drones and schedule them to take flight from a remote location. An app can tell the drone to take pictures of crops, which can be useful if damage occurs.


The capabilities of the app allow farmers to specify what type of damage crops and fields sustained. With the app, it is easy to distinguish damage caused by hail, flooding, tornadoes or disease. Classifying separate incidents can help farmers keep track of trends and implement some degree of prevention planning.


Some drones have the ability to capture and store data obtained from fields where network or wireless connectivity is a challenge. The data can then be transferred from the drone to the smartphone app where there is solid network or wireless connectivity.


Although the initial cost of purchasing drones can be expensive, manufacturers and software developers are producing solutions specifically for the needs of the agricultural community to help farmers save costs over time.


Have you or anyone you know used drones? What for? Let us know about your experience!



19/07/2018

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When it comes to telling a story, drones often provide the only way to get a big picture across.  San Francisco-based food innovator JUST set out to communicate what life is like in one neighborhood in Liberia – and went to the air to capture a compelling snapshot.

“The concept for JUST’s ad was simple. We wanted to show the world a place where people live hard but joyful lives with an unparalleled sense of pride, purpose and community,” says Andrew Noyes, JUST Head of Communications.  “Getting the shot wasn’t so simple. That place was West Point, one of them most crowded, chaotic areas in Monrovia, Liberia.”

“JUST’s resident filmmaker enlisted a four-person crew who — with limited time, resources and on-the-ground knowledge — packed their bags and passports for an exhilarating and emotional adventure they’d never forget,” says Noyes. “Our filmmaker told the team what we wanted to accomplish and discussed various ways to execute it. They eventually settled on using a drone that would deliver the camera into a camera operator’s hands who then finished the shot on the ground.”

Making it Work

“Enter Freefly’s Alta-8, a large eight-rotor drone — perfect for smooth, precise, and dynamic control of camera movement,” Noyes explains. “One crew-member was a pro at operating remote controlled camera rigs in unpredictable conditions and this time he’d have to deal with the hot sun, sweeping crosswinds and dive-bombing birds of prey. Another crew-member operated the camera during the flight and a third was the reluctant drone “catcher” who carried the camera (with the drone still attached) for the final leg of the single, seamless and stunning shot. A fourth served as first assistant camera, managing the 40lb. drone-camera’s focus and aperture from the ground.”

The team had multiple challenges to be mindful of:  “crowds of locals, mostly throngs of excited children, …poured into narrow streets and passageways to gawk at the spectacle,” says Noyes.  Local law enforcement and community leaders helped the team keep everyone safe while filming was going on.

While the filmmaker was meticulous about getting the perfect result, says Noyes, the shoot used a fraction of the crew and equipment that would typically be required to create the film. “Our resident filmmaker directed the shoot and ensured we got everything we needed – height (200 feet), distance (300 feet), performance, staging… as well as editing, sound design and music,” says Noyes. “He spent an entire day recording natural sound at different heights or altitudes across Monrovia for this shot.”

A Snapshot of Life

The result is an advertisement for JUST’s innovative food product, designed to combat food insecurity across the globe – but one that conveys the spirit of a place beautifully.

“West Point is a special place for me and my team and we wanted to celebrate the work that local farmers and entrepreneurs are doing to improve the lives of women and children in communities across Liberia,” said Josh Tetrick, cofounder and CEO of JUST – and one of team that conceptualized the short film. “Our goal was to take a snapshot of what life is like there and show how producing food that is delicious, nutritious, affordable and sourced locally can make a big difference in the lives of many people. Given the location’s challenging conditions, utilizing a drone was the only way we could tell the story in the way we knew it needed to be told.”

“Getting the shot was difficult but the end result made the long, hot days and multiple takes worth it,” said Tetrick.



30/06/2018

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For real estate and land developers, drone surveys have opened up a world of options. Drone imagery has changed the front end of the project, offering highly accurate and detailed photographs and videos that give the total view of an entire expanse of property. This information can be retrieved within days rather than weeks, so that a developer with just an idea can validate the vision of the project before spending any more time or money.

Less Buck, More Bang

No developer can justify spending tens of thousands of dollars to stake acreage for development, or to commission aerial photography by plane, until the project feasibility is fully assured. But for a fraction of the cost of traditional survey means, developers can use drone services to survey a large land parcel to determine if it will fit their needs, before investors are even on board.

The envisioning stage of a project has always been hindered by reliance on old surveys or the lack of sufficient detail from aerial and satellite imagery. How much time and money do you tie up in an idea, to get to the stage of knowing it will be profitable? Drones now supply superior detail and accuracy up-front to identify more opportunities, and reveal more pitfalls, within an area.

While it now costs much less to survey specific parcels that a developer is interested in, using drones allows developers to take a deeper look at more parcels up-front. If you look at more parcels, you will always make a better land purchase. A drone can survey a 100-acre property in three days for a few thousand dollars.

One or two parcels thus become five or 10 properties under consideration. Big IS better when it means finding that perfect site for development. Using high-accuracy topography and orthomosaic maps from qualified drone companies can make this a reality.

The envisioning stage of every project involves a feasibility study across a number of fields, from funding to approval, to construction to ultimate return on investment. All the professionals involved in this process – from contractors to zoning boards, county authorities and local inspectors, and from investors to architects – will look at photographs first as the realistic view before moving on to any of the detailed drawings.

Drones can quickly and affordably fly over areas of varied terrain and capture potentially millions of data points for later software manipulation, all the while bringing back superb, high-resolution photographs that present all this data in a way that humans can immediately relate to.

Survey Accuracy

While drone affordability and rapid delivery time make drone surveys a game changer in the initial thinking and investment stages, the great feature of drone imagery lies in its accuracy, which benefits subsequent development work. Photographs and videos present a mass of data in a clear way, but engineers need drawings and measurements.

As planning evolves, the data returned from the initial drone survey can be overlaid into maps, topographic contour lines and even 3D models. These output files can be imported as shape-files, Autocad/DXF files and other industry-standard formats, integrating right into your existing workflow. Because the drone can fly close to the ground, and can maneuver dexterously around structures, true oblique imagery is returned showing side features that can’t be captured from higher above by satellite or plane.

Assuming the data commissioned is dense enough, drone survey images will be orthorectified to match not only their map coordinates but the elevations at each point also. Orthomosaic mapping results, with all images stitched into a coherent whole. Drainage and elevation calculations can be made from drawings all produced at scale across the parcel.

The great bonus of the drone is that its spectacular photography is also accurate enough to offer precise measurements, to within centimeters or finer. Many times, depending on the level of service commissioned, the exploratory survey data can be incorporated into the eventual construction work.

The Industry

The skill sets of a drone company and a survey firm are quite different, and as the field of drone surveying evolves, developers are using specialized drone service companies that also work extensively with surveyors. Piloting drones and investing in their rapid technological innovations typically takes a specialized drone company, while surveying is a professional skill. The two fields are synergizing well together, and real estate development loves it.

To gain a clear vision of our land we once had to go to the mountain top. Then we had planes, and then we had satellites, and now finally drones have supplied the missing piece of land development. Land surveying, and real estate developers, were always waiting for drones.



30/06/2018

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The Las Vegas shooting in October of last year has caused massive ripple effects. It has fueled much of the ongoing gun-regulation discussion, the mental health conditions of potential perpetrators, and added to the conversation regarding unmanned aerial vehicles as a security element at large-scale events. Since the Route 91 Harvest festival at which Stephen Paddock opened fire on innocent civilians was a music festival, it only makes sense for event organizers thereafter to consider ramping up their preventative measures. In this particular case, it’s next month’s Coachella 2018 music festival that will serve as an example, as organizers are planning on implementing unmanned aerial vehicles as part of the event’s security forces.

According to TMZ, local law enforcement is apprehensive about letting this year’s Coachella festival unfold as usual as if this country didn’t just witness the largest mass-shooting in history. First responders will reportedly be prepared with tourniquets and other medical equipment intended to prevent massive blood loss. In addition, authorities intend to add drones as part of the increased surveillance system that concertgoers will see this year. Law enforcement reportedly told TMZ that “an abundance of caution” has led to the decision. Frankly, it’s a pretty bleak time in American history when people can’t see an artist perform without the fear of somebody shooting into the crowd, and that flying robots have to be deployed to prevent tragic scenarios like that from occurring, but that’s where we are now. 

The idea to deploy one or multiple drones above a massive music festival, in order to more accurately surveil the audience for potential threats, just makes logical, affordable, and practical sense these days. Soon after the Las Vegas incident, terrorism experts and authorities vocalized their professional opinions on drone-use post-emergency events, and how beneficial it would be to apprehend suspects more rapidly, and in a safer manner. We’ve seen law enforcement across the country clamor for UAV equipment over the past few months, as the tool can keep officers from harm’s way while providing invaluable data to those on the ground. 

It is unclear what kind of drones, how many, or how frequently they’ll be flown above the crowds at the event, which starts on Friday, April 13, but the decision has reportedly been made. The everlasting discussion pitting privacy and security priorities against each other continues. In the current cultural climate of the United States, it makes sense for these measures to be taken. Stay safe, and enjoy the music.



29/06/2018

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Between now and 2020, Drones are big business according to Goldman Sachs, +$100 billion big. From Amazon to Uber and your neighbour's kid trying to take an aerial picture, Drones are going to be a big part of life once the law can get its act together. Unless you're Dominos, businesses seem to be struggling with how to apply the new technology and are back on forth on when to go in. How can you make the right decisions? Here's how.

I recently sat down with Robert Garbett (Founder and CEO of Drone Major Group - 'the global commercial trade organisation for the drone industry' and got some answers about where drones are doing in the next ten years and how businesses can take advantage of the technology now and later on. Overall, Garbett was clear that there is 'no one-size fits all' solution or framework when it comes to implementing drone tech. Businesses should focus evaluation on; "...their current technological position; the purpose for adoption; the environment of operation; it's associated risks, and the mindset within the business which is often the deciding factor between adoption and stagnation".

Garbett went on to discuss how he helps businesses that approach DMG; "[We talk about] where the business is now, where it wants to go (using drone technology) and how it is going to get there." The issue is usually a lack of understanding around what's possible and the cultural views around drone technology ; "[Doing this exercise] not only confirms that known issues can be addressed with drone technology but it often exposes further beneficial applications previously unknown to them. GDP also helps businesses understand the risks involved as "this ensures that all issues on the route to adoption are identified and addressed individually" according to Garbett.

Garbett believes businesses are missing a lot when it comes to the potential for drone technology; "...the possibilities and benefits always go far beyond what is generally understood or expected. [Drone technology] represents a paradigm shift in capability, enabling organisations to significantly reduce costs and increase safety and efficiency." Most businesses are unaware that drones exist for underwater for example - for some that won't be relevant but for others, it will mean the differences between being in business and being out of business.

The future of drones is clearly useful rather than simply fun cameras to take more pictures of things. The consumer element shouldn't be underestimated - the dedicated area at this year's Consumer Electronics Show is a testament to that but businesses have a unique opportunity with drone technology. From planning to mapping, repair to construction, anti-theft to identification and beyond, drones are already making a huge difference to the bottom line for many industries and we're just scratching the surface.

While it's easy for businesses to focus on delivery ("...delivery of freight will be revolutionised over the next 10 years through the removal of freight from inner cities and the resultant improvement in road safety" says Garbett), drones can offer businesses a lot more options but the key is to think bigger at the beginning . Instead of asking what should we do, businesses should ask what could we do. Garbett offers one final piece of (you could argue self-serving) advice for businesses, act now. While it may be tempting for corporates to wait to see what is next to emerge these businesses may miss early the savings to do more in the future thanks to the savings a good drone strategy can offer. Drone technology will improve and additional applications will certainly come along but moving now ensures your business has skin in the game and is truly focused on the areas where drones can make a difference now and in the future.



29/06/2018

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Many industries and businesses are already reliant on drones for their everyday operations. The world of real estate is no different. The applications are many. Can drones, however, really be used in real estate? Can these be incorporated legally in business activities and if so, what steps do you have to undertake?

Drones in Real Estate Photography: How Does It Work?

Just a couple of months ago, both clients and agents were wondering – how could a drone be used to sell property? Aerial photography adds a cool touch to adding and selling property.

  • Drones move effortlessly above areas that will be difficult to access otherwise
  • Drones are perfect for creating HD video clips and giving the potential buyer a better idea about the property
  • A well-made aerial video can serve as a virtual tour – going from the entrance through the different rooms and even the backyard
  • Clients are looking for interactive and realistic presentations and because of this fact, aerial videos are a wonderful form of promotion
  • Depending on the needs of a real estate business, the investment in a drone can be small (starting at around 500 USD)
  • A drone can help you establish your reputation as an innovative real estate agent who’s willing to embrace new trends and use those to benefit clients

Real Estate Aerial Photography Tips

Great drone photos and videos cost more and need more time to be shot and edited than regular pictures. This is why a couple of important rules have to be followed for a quality outcome.

For best results, agents should hire professionals. Individuals that know how to fly drones and that have experience with aerial photography will be the ones that will produce the best outcome.

If you want to hire a drone operator,or use a drone yourself, keep the following additional tips in mind:

  • Shoot long, steady shots. A drone with a gimbal will be needed because it will keep the camera steady.
  • Follow the 10-second rule: whenever you are done shooting the video, don’t stop filming right away. Instead, count slowly to 10 and then hit the stop button.
  • Practice makes perfect. It’s best to create the same clip a couple of times. Footage can be lost. Technical problems may occur. Having a few clips to choose among will give you options and versatility.
  • Use the wind. Allowing the drone to move naturally instead of against the air current can improve the quality of the footage.
  • Have a preliminary plan. Drone flying time is still limited. The best models can fly for 10 to 20 minutes before they run out of battery. If you have an idea about what you’d like to photograph or film, you’ll make the best use of the available shooting time.

Whether you want aerial clips or pictures of property, a drone can be the perfect business tool for you. The trend is still relatively new and if you act fast, you can become one of the innovators in the real estate field.

If you are looking for a drone for real estate photography and video, I would recommend the DJI Phantom 4 Professional.

It is super stable, shoots crystal clear video and is not difficult for a beginner to use, while still having massive professional potential. The price is slightly higher than the average user drones, but it is not too large,it is easy to use, and has lots of advanced video and flight features.



24/06/2018

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