Drone News

Drones are finding increasing use in Japanese agriculture as farmers start to use the unmanned aerial vehicles for crop inspection and other purposes.

Drones “are effective in promoting data-based agriculture and reducing agricultural work” at a time when many aged farmers are struggling to find successors, says an official at the farm ministry’s Technology Policy Office.

In Japan, it is necessary for unmanned helicopters that spray pesticide, fertilizer or seeds to be registered with a special organization.

Registration became necessary for drones in 2015. As of January, 673 drones had been registered, up about three times since last March.

Pesticide drones use 8- to 10-liter tanks. One hectare of rice paddies requires about 10 liters of pesticide. While it usually takes hours for a farmer to treat a hectare of paddies, a drone can do the job in about 10 minutes.

Unlike conventional unmanned agricultural helicopters, drones can make sharp turns and do not generate strong winds, which can damage leafy vegetables. They also cost around ¥2 million, which is far more affordable than unmanned helicopters.

Video cameras on the drones can be used to check the progress of crops. Computer analysis of the images can tell farmers where growth is slow and provide other valuable information.

Based on such analyses, farmers can change the amounts of fertilizer or make other adjustments to improve quality and shore up yields.

Researchers are also trying to establish a method to use drones effectively to reduce damage caused by birds and animals. This is done by flying drones at night, when deer and boars are active. The UAVs capture images on the ground using special cameras, and the data help researchers find ways to catch them.

Drones are also proving useful in examining damage to irrigation channels and other farm facilities caused by typhoons and other natural disasters.


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JOSH Carr’s films from Carr and Drone superbly capture the picturesque beauty of Western Australia’s Wheatbelt.

Growing up in Merredin, rural WA has always been close to Josh’s heart, and after purchasing a drone about two years ago, he has found a way to creatively express his passion through videography and photography.

Over the past year and a half, he has produced various films across the Wheatbelt, featuring shires such as Goomalling, Mukinbudin, Wongan Hills and his home-town Merredin.

Josh’s films all have a focus in portraying the spectacular natural and man-made features of the country, while telling a simple story through a seamless sequence of video shots and music.

His most recent film Harvest in Australia was filmed in the Goomalling Shire over the course of a day.

Josh said he had always wanted to make a harvest film and when one of his Facebook followers from his page Carr and Drone contacted him, he jumped on the opportunity.

The film, which goes for two and a half minutes, follows the story of harvesting in the Wheatbelt, with various video shots of headers, chaser bins, tractors, truck and follows the journey of the trucks through the Goomalling townsite to the CBH Group receival site where the grain is delivered.

Considering Josh’s impressive skills in capturing exceptional shots of landscapes and harvesting, you might be surprised to learn that he had no photography or videography experience prior to buying his drone.

Even more so, Josh never even had the slightest interest in such projects.

“Prior to this, I had never been interested in photography or videography at all,” Josh said.

“I bought the drone and thought it was really cool and it intrigued me to learn more through YouTube tutorials and I basically spent all my spare time getting better.”

Before he embarks on a new project, Josh usually has an idea of what shots he plans to film, which he then tailors according to the client’s requests.

Josh said filming usually takes him about four to five hours, depending on the client, but Harvest in Australia was one of Josh’s more timely films to shoot which took about eight hours.

After downloading the files onto his computer and compressing them, Josh edits the footage using Adobe Premiere Pro, first by looking through each shot and cutting them down to the most interesting parts or the sections he wants to use and then he finds a song to sequence all the shots together.

Josh said the editing process was by far the lengthiest task of the production process but it allowed him to experiment with new ideas and skills.

Editing Harvest in Australia took Josh at about 15 hours.

Over the past two years Josh has developed a portfolio of short films that all showcase country WA, with natural beauties such as Eaglestone Rock, an old mine site west of Mukinbudin, Lake Ninan Nature Reserve, Lake Hinds Nature Reserve, Mt O’Brien, Mt Matilda, Reynoldson Reserve and a dust and lightning storm.

For now drone videography and photography is just a hobby for Josh which he fits in between his full-time job as a storeman at Westonia, but he has seen a steady increase of interest which he hopes will enable him to grow his hobby into a business.

Josh’s films can be found on YouTube and Facebook under ‘Carr and Drone’ or on Instagram through ‘carranddrone’.


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OSLO — Norway’s fjords have long inspired the country’s artists and drawn streams of tourists. In winter, their ice-laced surfaces shimmer beside snow-capped mountains: a vision of natural beauty, blissfully untouched.

But lost in the depths of the fjord in Oslo, stretching out from the capital, is a trove that would please any intrepid archaeologist or Nordic noir sleuth: sunken Viking trinkets, bullion from Hitler’s prized warship and, possibly, a few victims of homicide.

Mostly, though, the fjord is filled with garbage, like unwanted cars. And that has alarmed environmentalists.

“Not many years ago, a mayor said if you want to get rid of a car, put it on the ice,” said Solve Stubberud, general secretary of the Norwegian Divers Federation.

Now, the capital is turning to new technology to help pinpoint the litter so that human divers can scour it off the seabed. This past Thursday, board members of Oslo’s Port Authority approved a pioneering trash-removal plan.

“We will test out drones,” said Svein Olav Lunde, the chief technical officer of the Oslo Port Authority, shortly after the meeting, explaining how these unmanned vessels will be used to help clear out underwater “islands of trash.”

Geir Rognlien Elgvin, a board member, says he believes that Oslo’s port will be the first in the world to try this sort of trash pickup. The drones will plunge into the depths of Oslo Fjord this spring. An electric-powered ship with a crane will join the cleanup fleet by next year.

Oslo is turning to drone technology partly because of a dead dolphin — bloodied, beached and ensnared in plastic. Gory images of the carcass, taken in January on a trash-strewn shore of Oslo Fjord, resonated on social media among Norwegians, who tend to see their jagged coastline as a paragon of untouched natural beauty.

Mr. Stubberud said that recent images of beached dolphins and whales have woken up Norway, but that “plastic is the real problem.” Politicians and the public have shown more interest in the cleanup campaign in the past two years, he said.

But it’s mainly driven by environmentalists. Ambitious plans to clean up the city’s industrial waste and sewage have been in the works for decades, along with a proposal for a car-free city center and a ban on using oil to heat buildings that is to go into effect in 2020. Campaigns like these won Oslo the European Green Capital Award for 2019.

Fjords are indelibly linked to Norway’s identity as a seafaring nation. The long, narrow, deep inlets form at the base of mountains where ocean water flows into valleys formed near the coast. The Oslo Fjord is 62 miles long.

But in the fjord — roughly one-third of Norway’s five million people live on its shores — the problems started with industrialization and increased shipping after the oil boom in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Even as the first drones are set to plumb the fjords, the national government is moving in another direction. Norway is one of the few countries that allow offshore dumping of mining waste, which can destroy vast numbers of fish stocks in fjords with hundreds of thousands of tons of sludge.

Norway has refused to sign an International Union for Conservation of Nature resolution outlawing the practice, putting it in the company of Chile, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Turkey.

“It’s wrong, and I wish that we didn’t do it,” said Lan Marie Nguyen Berg, vice mayor for the environment and transportation in Oslo. Ms. Nguyen Berg says Norway should preserve the fjords “for future generations.”

But the national government has emphasized that the mining projects provide local jobs.

Now, to tackle the household trash in the city’s surrounding seabed, a drone bidding war awaits for the technology to map the trash spots.

“There are whole households of furniture,” Christine Spiten, 27, a drone operator and tech entrepreneur, said recently at Oslo’s Lysaker River, which forms the boundary between the municipalities of Oslo and Baerum.

Ms. Spiten spoke before unraveling a bright yellow cable of rubber and Kevlar that linked a video game controller and touch screen to an underwater drone called BluEye. She had showcased the drone to representatives of the port authority and Norway’s shipping industry at the mouth of the river in February. The demonstration uncovered a rusty red bike and showed how drones could save time, money and hassle in cleaning the seabed.

Ms. Spiten and her team in the seaport town of Trondheim, where she lives in a sailboat, engineered the drone’s technology. She said her skills were partly drawn from her training at an oil company. Some board members see Ms. Spiten as the favorite to take home the contract, but she has stiff competition from international drone makers.

After the meeting on Thursday, the litter collection plan settled, Roger Schjerva, the chairman of the port authority, noted even more important items in the fjords that continue to need urgent attention: mines.

The mines date back to the Second World War. There are more than 1,550 of them in Oslo Fjord. Of the 270 that have been located so far, around 100 of those have been detonated, said a spokesman for the Royal Norwegian Navy. When detonated in the fjords, they can damage ships and fish. The mines are also leaking.

So another wave of mine sweeping may come to the fjords. Mr. Schjerva said, “We will prioritize removing remaining mines from World War II.”


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We usually think of aerial drones as consumer technology or used by the military to fly pilot-less missions. But there is an entire industry dedicated to using drones in industrial settings like mining, construction, and insurance.

The technology of industrial drones is fascinating and involves components such as ruggedized flight bodies, GPS, and LIDAR, in addition to cameras. These industrial drones combine data collection from a network of sensors with advanced image processing techniques and artificial intelligence.

So I could learn more, public relations ninja, Laura Hoang, introduced me to George Mathew, CEO of industrial drone supplier, Kespry. The company provides a complete enterprise platform for industrial drones that includes hardware, software, and rich data analytics.

Because drones are both cool and important, I invited George to take part in Episode 277 of the CXOTalk series of conversations with the world's top innovators.

During our talk, George explains drone tech and talks about topics like volumetric analysis in mining, LIDAR on drones, photogrammetry, and 3D orthomosaic image processing.

Watch the video embedded above and read the complete transcript. Below is an edited transcript of key points raised in the discussion.

What are the use cases for industrial drones?

They can fly seamlessly over industrial worksites into broader, commercial use cases where you can easily and reliably collect data. Drones can collect information in a meaningful, easy, cheap, and safe way. The drone becomes not only a method of data collection but also a way to transmit all kinds of new sensory-based input into analytics and models for industrial use cases.


What is Photogrammetry?


One of the first industrial use cases that we started was measuring the volumetrics around a mining aggregate's operation. Mining in aggregates, you're digging things out of the ground. That's the primary product on which you're managing inventory. To understand how much material you have, you effectively have to be able to do a volumetric analysis of how much material you've pulled out of the ground.

Previously, the primary method to do that was taking survey grade equipment, whether precision laser-guided equipment or a GPS backpack, climb a stockpile and take 10, 15, 20 points of measurement. Then, go back to the home office and measure those volumes.

kespry drone site analysis

Site analysis with drones. Image from Kespry.

What's amazing about a drone now is you can fly over a worksite, a mine site, or an aggregates location, be able to take imagery of all of the stockpiles and material and convert those into three-dimensional models. Those models are hyper-accurate because you're taking 600,000, 700,000 points of measurement on a typical site and being able to get a level of accuracy on your inventory that was unprecedented. That's where we started in the industrial use cases that we're serving today by being able to do better and more accurate measurement in the mining space.

Since then, we've expanded into topological models for construction worksites around earthworks projects where John Deere is now reselling Kespry drones. We've expanded into the insurance and roofing world where we can do topological models of a roof and be able to assess the damage on a roof from weather events and, more recently, expanded into the energy sector.

What do drones add that is new?

Historically, there are two changes that drones, and other similar sensor-based technologies, introduced into the market. In effect, if you're getting information from a map, it's two dimensional. Drones now provide a level and a view in the third dimension: being able to understand elevation, being able to understand topology, being able to understand the volumetrics related to material that might be dug out of the ground. That capability of understanding the third dimension becomes quite relevant, particularly when you can do it in a super accurate way.

When we introduce precision GPS combined with data processing, what's incredible is we can create a topological analysis that's down to three centimeters of real space X, Y, and Z. Inaccurate, two-dimensional maps in your mining site are now realized as a fully available, three-dimensional, topology of that entire landscape as it changes over time. That's where we start to see the benefit of drones and added sensor-based input in this kind of industrial work.

What sensors do you include in the drones?

There's a visual sensor, a high-fidelity camera that can take imagery on the worksite itself. But, alongside that visual imagery, we have a one-dimensional forward-facing LIDAR.

The LIDAR, as a sensor, can be used for collision avoidance, obstacle detection, as well as a terrain map. We see use cases where, as the drone is autonomously flying on a worksite, you can have imagery autonomously taken, to see if there is an obstacle and avoid it in real time. That's possible because of sensor-based input.

On the top, you see GPS. We introduced precision GPS into the Kespry product about a year ago. Now we can fuse the data that comes off additional sensors like the visual sensor, the gyrometer, the accelerometer, with the precision GPS to get topological analysis coordinated down to three centimeters of real space X, Y, and Z.

This is why I think the drone is a new sensor network that can start to apply these insights in a combined fashion that you, frankly, couldn't do most seamlessly before technology like this was brought together into the market.

What's the difference between industrial and commercial drones?

Kespry has introduced industrial capabilities into the market for ruggedized work areas like a mining location or construction location. You can potentially fly a consumer drone, but the challenge is that a consumer drone will have difficulty being able to be operated on a mine site that's 8,000 feet in altitude. It'll have difficulty in flying in 25-mile-an-hour winds. It has difficulty flying more than 15 minutes, and our drone today flies for almost 25-, 30-minutes and covers 150 acres when it flies at about 150-, 200-feet in the air.

And so, these qualities of industrialized work being accomplished with a drone needs a different type of product in the market than a consumer grade drone that has typically been in the market for quite a few years. This is where Kespry's focus has been in not only delivering that industrialized drone, but also the data processing, the applications that support the use cases that are necessary for the markets we serve.

Integration with enterprise systems must also be important?

That's right. If you're bringing a consumer drone in, you can potentially collect all that data, but then how do you process that? That's going to be manual, right? How do you make the insights possible? Well, you're still going to be going through a bit of a kludgy, broken experience. Then how do you get that data into an application that's consumable or a set of APIs that could be exposed to downstream applications? All of that tends to be laborious work that we help effectively prepackage and deliver to the customer base we're serving.

What kind of analytics do you use on the drone data?

One of the things that we care about primarily is integrating and owning the physical model of how a worksite and asset area is effectively understood from an analytical perspective. One of the key things that have been a differentiating factor in the market regarding automating this data collection and being able to generate analytics from it is a technique called photogrammetry. What I mean by photogrammetry is that you can take the 2D images that are collected off of a drone and, if you have the right overlap available of imagery and the right angle that you've captured that imagery, you can convert those 2D images into fully realized, three-dimensional models.

We started with that idea to, first and foremost, generate that 3D model, generate what's known as 3D orthomosaic, and then layer in all the aggregations, calculations, machine learning algorithms, artificial intelligence directly on top of the three-dimensional model. This is a natural progression of how industrial work continues to get accomplished because better decision-making is available; the physical model is easily exposed to a level of unprecedented accuracy with data and analytics.

Where is drone technology going?

Historically, you've taken sensors, flown over worksites, flown over commercial locations, and figured out how to manually get insights out of that information.

The market needs better automation, better data processing, better capabilities to get those insights off of the sensors; and, make automated sense out of them using machine learning, using artificial intelligence.

We've never built a solution with even a joystick. With autonomous capability, you punch in the coordinates to fly by casting a geofence and then drawing out the area with your fingers on an iPad. Hit the start button, and the drone autonomously takes off and does the work that it needs to do.

We see this as natural automation and set of applications that support the data that's coming off the drone versus someone manually flying, which has been historically what the drone market has looked like.

It's not that the two are in violent conflict with each other. There are perfectly adequate needs to be able to fly manually. A good example is doing a bridge inspection, which is best-suited by a pilot manually flying a drone to collect that insight.

But, to look at shipping containers that might come to a port, or the dimensional analysis of a roof, or the operating efficiency of an entire solar farm, those things can be automated without pilots manually flying drones.


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Dolce & Gabbana used drones to carry its handbags down the runway at the ‘Secrets & Diamonds’ eveningwear event on Saturday night. While we’ve seen the use of unmanned aerial vehicles permeating all sorts of industries and occasions—as an interactive experience at sporting events, or to celebrate Chinese New Year—this is certainly something new. If one of the most prestigious fashion brands in the world is using drones as a vital part of its show, at which it’s unveiling a new line of products, then surely, drones are firmly locking themselves into mainstream culture. 

According to Elle, attendees were instructed by announcements in both English and Italian to turn off their cell-phone WiFi connections which could potentially affect the fleet of drones and thereby the integrity of the performance. The show reportedly began with the sound of church bells, followed by Kendrick Lamar and SZA’s “All The Stars” booming from the speakers. Finally, it was time for the aerial surprise: Drones carrying a series of handbags down the runway, to resounding applause from the audience.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Quadcopters, parading D&G's new handbags down the runway.

The UAVs flying in tandem, and being recorded by spectators.

Drones at Dolce & Gabbana's "Secrets & Diamonds" event on Saturday night.

From the looks of it, it seems the drone's are commemorating the event's theme, diamonds, with the UAVs being adorned by them atop. As expected, a fairly traditional fashion show ensued thereafter, with seasoned designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana showcasing their most recent work. Us drone enthusiasts, however, are understandably more fascinated by the implementation of UAVs in a seemingly prestigious fashion event, than the clothes being promoted. In any case, it certainly seems as though drones are becoming fashionable themselves. 


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Real Estate and aerial photography go hand-in-glove. One of the most competitive areas of the rapidly expanding commercial UAV industry is real estate, and recent research has even shown that properties that feature aerial imaging in their marketing collateral generally sell between 20-30% more quickly than those that do not. In short, for Estate Agents, commercial drone operators are a dream come true.

But all too often, as with other sectors of the industry, rogue operators are creating chaos where there should be harmony, and accidents where there should be safety. So if you’re an estate agent, and you are thinking about hiring a drone pilot, here are some things you should know:

1.Always ask to see permissions and insurance

Every legally qualified drone operator will have a copy of their permissions from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and a valid insurance certificate. They should have them ready for inspection whilst on-site and should also be able to send them via email. There are no circumstances under which a legal operator would not be able to show you these.

2.Ask to see risk assessments

A qualified commercial drone operator will perform two risk assessments. The first will be immediately upon you confirming a project, and the second will be when they arrive on-site. Don’t be afraid to ask for a copy of these for your records, or to ask them to talk you through it. The risk assessment should include the type of airspace being operated in, and also the telephone numbers of the local police station, Air Traffic Control and any other numbers pertinent to the project. 

3.Landowner’s permission and minimum separation distances

In order to operate from any specific site, the commercial operator will need to be in possession of the landowner’s permission. This will be a signed form giving the commercial operator permission to take off and land from the site. If the property is in a built-up area, minimum separation distances come into effect. This means that the pilot must not fly within 50M of any vehicle, person or property not under their control (this distance increases to 150M is you are an amateur). In essence, the pilot will have to use some mapping software to calculate all of those properties that fall within a 50M radius and speak to the relevant resident to let them know what will be happening, when it will be happening, and also to preferably get a signature stating they understand the safety briefing they have been given, and do not mind UAV operating within their vicinity.

Tell-tale signs of a Del-Boy Operator

These things are what Ely Aviation would consider being minimums of professional practice.

Here are some tell-tale signs of a rogue operator

  • Your hired operator turns up in a car with a Mavic Pro and has none of the above available for your inspection.
  • They do not have any safety equipment with them
  • They do not talk you through every step of the process
  • They do not examine the site prior to operating and mitigate any on-site risk
  • They charge 90% less than all of the other quotes you had (this is a dead give away)

We’ve all seen the chandelier episode of Only Fools and Horses - if you hire an illegal operator the star of the show could be you!


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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.

Digital mine calls for specialist skills

Northern Star Resources has had a meteoric rise from start-up exploration company in 2003 to becoming Australia's third-largest gold miner by 2014.

Its focus is underground gold mines, which is a reflection of the fact that, after years of easy to access open pit surface mines, the future trend is definitely underground mining.

"We're looking forward and what we see is the surface mine deposits will be depleted," CEO Stuart Tonkin said.

"The industry has already moved from 75 per cent of the mines being open cut to now only 56 per cent.

"And with the push to remove diesel trucks from underground and move to autonomous electric vehicles, we need to be preparing for that future."

The company has just committed $50 million over 10 years to develop and expand an appropriately skilled workforce.

But Mr Tonkin warns against confusing technology with innovation.

"As soon as you move to those electric vehicles, there's a whole different skill set in trades that need to be involved in keeping that gear running, like diagnostics" he said.

"Everything in industry is driven by people, so we're investing in people, and the skills, and recognising what skills they will require in the next two decades.

"We need to start training them now, because it does take time."

Like many, Mr Tonkin refutes claims that the move to digital mines means a reduction in jobs.

"There's no point displacing labour," he said.

"You need the same labour and there is a shortage of labour, a shortage of people who are interested in going into underground mining.

"So just the sheer education and getting people excited about it is part of this whole program we've embarked on."

Need for tertiary education models to change

Mining Education Australia director Steve Hall said vocational training centres and universities needed to be prepared to quickly change the way they structured their degree systems.

Professor Hall agreed with Stuart Tonkin that getting people interested in mining careers was an issue that needed to be addressed.

"I think we've got two challenges," he said.

"We need to compete with the Ubers and the Goggles of the world and attract the IT, the mechatronics, the robotics people and get them to look at mining, and get involved in it.

"But we've also got to get the mining people to understand what's really going on in those same disciplines; it's got to come at it both ways."

Professor Hall advocated a new approach, known as micro-credentialing to produce suitably skilled workers much quicker.

"I think the old style of thinking was more around the 'double degree' but what we're talking about, is called micro-credentialing," he said.

"It might be a small set of subjects that a chemical engineer or a mechanical engineer or a geologist would do alongside their studies, so they come out with both at the end of just a single degree program.

"Double degree adds another year of study, another year of debt, and another year away from the workforce.

"And I also think the other thing that perhaps isn't well understood by students is that a lot of the employment [in mining] is going to be with some of these exciting METS companies, whether it's flying drones or big data analytics.

"Those skill sets are probably going to be in the consulting and service sector areas, not necessarily within the mining companies themselves."


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Researchers in the United Kingdom have successfully grown the world's first crop of barley using nothing but robot tractors and drones.

The project's aim was to have no operators in the driving seats of the machines or have any agronomists set foot into the 1-hectare paddock.

Researcher Martin Abell said there was a lot of farming already automated, such as GPS steering, but it was rare to grow an entire crop without anyone stepping into the paddock.

Hence the name of the project — Hands Free Hectare.

Mr Abell said the crop was seeded, sprayed, monitored and harvested autonomously, and it is something farmers could be doing soon.

"We have been able to show the public that this is something that isn't too far ahead in the future, and it could be happening now," he said.

"It has also allowed us to raise the perception of agriculture to the public, so they see it as a forward-thinking industry and something that might attract new people to the industry."

Drone technology automates processes

Researchers used drone technology to automate small agricultural machines, such as tractors and chaser bins.

They also used drones to monitor and bring samples for agronomists to check.

"They were essentially our eyes, so we would assess the field using a multi-spectral camera and get imagery from the field showing us where it was strongest and weakest," Mr Abell said.

"We would then send a little ground rover that would collect samples for us that we could conduct agronomy on.

"And this meant we aren't walking out and on the crop as much, therefore protecting the crop a bit more."

A man wearing earmuffs sitting in a control room looking a computer monitors, with windows and a paddock in the background.

Researcher Martin Abell checks the data from the Hands Free Hectare paddock. (Supplied: Hands Free Hectare)

To get the tractors to work for seeding and harvest, the researchers used an autopilot from a drone, which Mr Abell said was unconventional for research.

"We only had a year to do this project so we had to pick something that didn't require much development," he said.

"It also brought its problems, because the navigation algorithms within a drone are vastly different from those conventionally used for the auto steers on tractors to drive in straight lines.

"So we had to adapt that system to work like an auto steer system and achieve those straight lines that farmers are familiar with."

More testing needed to scale up

After a year of growing, monitoring and harvesting the crop of barley, the researchers were able to show the future of farming could be completely automated.

But there is still plenty of work and testing to be done on a larger scale.

Mr Abell said they were able to prove it could be feasible because part of the project was to do it on a small budget.

"It was roughly $350,000 we had and that was also to hire three people's time, as well as all the equipment we had to buy.

"I am sure if we can make it happen on that budget they can do it commercially with something that is user-friendly for farmers."

The barley crop was harvested completely hands-free. (Supplied: Hands Free Hectare)

Mr Abell said the barley that was grown in the Hands Free Hectare would be put to good use.

"We are currently getting our barley malted to produce a hands-free beer and it is in the process at the moment," he said.

"So hopefully in a couple of months we will have a hands-free beer, which will be nice finish to the project, to celebrate drinking some of that."


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This was my second year in a row going to the New York City Drone Film Festival and I have to say that I have yet to be disappointed. Year after year, they manage to find some of the best videos from a variety of different categories to share with the world. Without further ado, here are the winners from the NYCDFF:

Extreme Sports: Candide Thovex Quattro 2 - Candice Thovex

News & Documentary: The Big Ugly - Maquina Voadora  

Narrative: Donny the Drone - Mackenzie Sheppard

Dronie: The Last Drone - 
Chris Castor

Stills: Football Island - Brent DeBleser

X-Factor: Kingdom of the Wild - Mike Bishop


There were a lot of fantastic submissions this year. I even submitted my Oregon video from last fall, but that did not make it into the festival. It goes to show that the competition is tough, the work is good, and the amount of talent at this festival is truly amazing. I personally think that all of this work will inspire a lot of people to get out there and create more. I know for sure that it has inspired me to create better drone work and day after day, I work towards doing that. If you haven't seen all the films, I will include a link for you to check them out. If you haven't been to a drone film festival, I would also recommend getting out to one to see great drone work, meet new people and stay in touch with the rise of all this incredible technology.


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The geospatial industry has seen exponential growth in the adoption of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or ‘drone’) solutions in recent years, particularly in surveying and mapping applications. Photogrammetry has recovered from a decline during the analogue era and benefited massively from the light digital sensors on versatile UAVs. Innovative technologies and more integrated, customer-friendly solutions have enabled photogrammetry to stay on the radar of industry professionals. Today, photogrammetry is increasingly capable of meeting demands for faster, more precise and efficient data collection.

At the turn of the century, the survival of photogrammetry depended on its ability to adapt in the face of more innovative, competing technologies, such as airborne and terrestrial laser scanners (ALS and TLS) and other multi- and hyper-spectral sensors of remote sensing. This need was driven primarily by a growing demand for faster, more efficient and reactive data collection and imaging, with traditional photogrammetric methodologies like analogue cameras on manned aircrafts falling out of favour. This growth in demand has coincided with the rise of UAVs in the geospatial sector, which has played a significant role in changing the future direction of surveying.

Aside from serving as a more cost-effective alternative to manned aerial mapping systems, the precision and efficiency that drones provide has enabled them to become an essential surveying solution. Precise positioning is becoming the standard for UAVs, allowing highly detailed and highly accurate outputs in record time.

Indeed, advances in photogrammetric technologies have enabled this field to complement the rise of drones in the geospatial industry. For instance, there are now photogrammetric cameras that are lightweight and agile enough for use on drones during flights, e.g. the senseFly S.O.D.A. camera which produces detailed, vivid orthomosaics and highly precise digital surface models (DSMs). More complex and higher-quality camera sensors have also enabled a continuum, in terms of ground sampling distance (GS) and angle of view, ranging from nadir to oblique to horizontal to zenith.

Continued innovation

While developments have been crucial in enabling drones to thrive in the geospatial arena, further innovation is required to allow UAV surveying and mapping to continue its upward trajectory. Development of real-time processes is also expected to help streamline drone mapping techniques, further supporting faster image capture, processing and analysis.

With greater awareness of the benefits of drones in commercial applications, including agriculture, mining and humanitarian aid, it is vital that hardware providers continue to innovate. One way in which this can be achieved is through investment in strategic partnerships between hardware and software companies, to enable drones to become integrated, decision-making tools, able to inform project feasibility and operation. With ease of use being more important than ever, such partnerships will also facilitate greater interoperability and more holistic processes, supporting customers from data collection through to analysis and enabling smarter workflows.

Moving forward

As drone adoption becomes more widespread, safety is inevitably a key consideration for surveying and mapping professionals. Since the first European UTM Day in Geneva in 2017, global attention on unmanned traffic management (UTM) has increased significantly, with greater and safer access to airspace being an important focus for drone providers. At senseFly, we will be working with key stakeholders worldwide to ensure that UAVs are able to integrate more smoothly with manned air traffic, in line with drone regulations across the globe.

Today, the need for more integrated, dynamic UAV surveying and mapping methodologies is greater than ever, while traditional imaging techniques like photogrammetry are increasingly capable of meeting demands for faster, more precise and efficient data collection. Greater interoperability of processing and analysis software with UAV technology looks set to play a key role in ensuring that the geospatial field remains dynamic, while supporting more complete, end-to-end UAV solutions for industry professionals.


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