Drone News

Florida-based VolAero CEO Charles Zwebner is in the drone business. It's a technology that has been on the rise for two to three years, Zwebner says. It's also a technology that companies like Amazon and Google have been investing in and touting. And now it's a technology being used more and more in real estate.

VolAero is a drone video, imagery and data processing company.

Zwebner told Albuquerque Business First he sees real estate professionals – over other industries – are taking advantage of the tech. He said the biggest challenge of increasing the drone popularity across industries is not the technology but humans' willingness to adapt and learn about the machinery.

He works with architects, developers, brokers and contractors to produce video for each stage of a property's creation. He noted work will range from mapping and surveying to marketing and construction management.

"It doesn't matter if it's an agent selling a small house or a hotel needing marketing," he said on those who are using drones.

Zwebner said that whereas photos and video once sufficed, there is higher demand for 360 degree, aerial video. And in a world where there is a high volume of information and listings, drone footage is being used to set the property apart.

"We are seeing this a lot [of drone usage], everyone is competing out there and standard imagery just ain't cutting it today," he said.

While he has noticed popularity in bigger markets like California and Florida, New Mexico has conditions needed for drones to take flight including clear weather and sunny days. Zwebner says the technology is also on the rise in smaller markets as well.

Albuquerque has its fair share of local companies using the tech for the real estate scene. Titan Development previously told ABF it used drones to fly over construction sites, make marketing videos of its properties and give project updates to its investors on a monthly basis. And other local companies have launched to build on the hype.


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Major industrial companies are moving into robotic inspection services, combining their knowledge of infrastructure maintenance with drones, robots and artificial intelligence (AI) for automating the collection and analysis of data.

Honeywell has launched a commercial inspection service using Intel’s Falcon 8+ industrial drone and targeted at the utility, energy, infrastructure, and oil and gas industries. The Honeywell InView package includes the drone, pilot app and a web portal to help customers create standardized routines and crisis-response inspections, as well as providing data analytics.

A General Electric startup is taking AI into the field to automate and optimize inspection of industrial assets by drones and robots. Avitas Systems, launched by GE in June, has partnered with computing specialist Nvidia to develop AI for robotic inspection and data analytics.

Replacing time-based manual inspections of assets such as transmission towers and flare stacks with automated checks based on assessing the risk of defects developing is expected to save customers time and money as well as being safer, says Alex Tepper, cofounder of Avitas Systems.

Boeing subsidiary Insitu launched Inexa Solutions in May to offer commercial aerial remote-sensing services for markets including linear infrastructure inspection—surveying pipelines, power lines and railway tracks. Lockheed Martin is also targeting the linear infrastructure market, while Airbus Aerial was formed in May to bring together commercial satellite and airborne remote-sensing capabilities.

A startup formed by GE Ventures—which creates, incubates and launches new businesses within GE—Avitas Systems is offering inspection services to the oil and gas, energy and transportation industries. It uses drones, crawler robots and autonomous undersea vehicles to automate inspections.

Avitas Systems is using Nvidia’s DGX computing systems to run the AI algorithms it is developing for use in planning the inspection paths, processing the images collected, and for the data analytics involved in automatically detecting defects such as corrosion, hot or cold spots or microfractures.

Nvidia’s DGX-1 supercomputing workstation is being used centrally for coding and training deep learning algorithms, such as convolutional neural networks for image classification and general adversarial neural networks for labeling captured images.

Additionally, Avitas Systems plans to deploy Nvdia’s compact DGX Station supercomputing system locally with the robots to help recognize defects automatically at inspection sites. “We are passionate about doing AI not just in the data center, but pushing it to the edge,” says Tepper.

“Our long-term vision is for the robots to incorporate AI, so they change their behavior on the basis of what they are seeing,” he says. “We are not there yet, but we are pushing AI from the data center to the field.”

Unveiled in May, DGX Station was designed as a deskside AI supercomputer, but Avitas saw the potential to deploy the system in vans, says Jim McHugh, Nvidia vice president and general manager: “We shared our prototype with Avitas and they will soon get the full production unit.” Based on Nvidia’s second-generation Volta architecture, this has three times the performance, he says.

Avitas Systems is using AI to plan flightpaths for drones that optimize the collection of data at points of interest on assets such as pipelines and refineries. AI is then used to layer the images collected on a 3D model of the asset and to perform automatic defect recognition.


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Researchers at Swedish company Inkonova are developing a drone that can autonomously map underground mines. 

This is a fairly big advancement, as drones traditionally require GPS signals to navigate—signals that don’t reach that far below the surface. We recently reported on a mining drone that can assist companies in more safely and efficiently analyze blast data and guarantee that no person is in an area of danger. Ahmed AlNomany and his team of researchers, however, are focused on a different aspect of the mining industry.

According to New Scientist, the unmanned aerial vehicle can transition from flying and rolling, to most efficiently navigate underground terrain. It’s not easy finding a new way of having a drone autonomously maneuver without the use of traditional satellite signals. 

“It’s complicated because we are trying to invent another way of positioning using bits and pieces of technologies,” AlNomany tells New Scientist. 

Fortunately, the team spearheading this new technology is already solving bits and pieces of its conundrum using an entirely new approach they call ‘SLAM’.

Laser scanners calculate the distance between the drone and objects around it, which allow the UAV to continuously create a map of the environment, according to New Scientist. Recently, Inkonova manually piloted their TILT Ranger drone and used the SLAM method to completely digitally map a section of an underground mine in Mali in a mere 10 minutes. The mapped area had a volume of about 30,000 cubic meters, the size of a large lecture hall. AlNomany is already accustomed to this impressive ability, claiming that “it’s not a big challenge to capture such zones quickly.”

Besides digitally mapping its surroundings, the drone simultaneously uses accelerometers, sensors that help it position and move itself without the currently-required GPS signals. 

According to the BBC, the drone has already proven itself to autonomously stabilize itself in underground areas. 

The rolling abilities of this UAV come in handy once it encounters an irregularly-shaped area, like a narrow pathway. Using its wheels, the drone switches from flying to rolling, and moves on. 

“If it is near a wall, the drone will adapt to it and climb it instead of flying,” AlNomany says. 

We recently reported on an "event-based" camera being developed at the University of Zurich, which would rid our current requirement of having enough light to effectively use a drone in near-dark conditions. We also learned about Rocketmine and how its drones help mining operations. 


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Agriculture drone can be used in soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying, crop monitoring, irrigation and others. Data generated by drones can help farmers to gain a more accurate & detailed view that how their crops are responding to their management strategies which may lead to the most effective use of limited resources. Different types of drones help to elevate agricultural efficiency.

Increasing applications of drone in agriculture sectors have influenced the industry to invest significantly in funding UAV-based startups. Also, increasing funding from venture-based firms for agricultural drones is fueling the market growth. However, lack of trained pilots and stringent regulations may restrain the growth of agricultural drones market over the forecast period.

Nonetheless, adoption of new technology is expected to offer new growth prospects to the agriculture drone market. Several benefits offered by the drone are strongly escalating growth of agriculture drone market. Many vendors such as Google Inc. and facebook are planning to use solar power drone that hovers around the atmosphere of the earth with internet access from remote places acting as flying internet or hotspot.

Agriculture drone market is segmented by type, component, application and region. On the basis of type, agriculture drone market classified into fixed wing, rotary blade, hybrid, data management, imaging software, data analysis others. Component wise agriculture drone market is bifurcated into controller system, propulsion systems, camera systems, the navigation system, batteries and others. Based on application, global agriculture drone market is classified into field mapping, variable rate application (VRA), livestock, crop spraying, crop scouting, agriculture photography and others.

Rapidly increasing adoption of drones for crop spraying application will increase the yield and reduce the wastage of crops, fertilizers, and pesticides. These key factors are responsible for the growth of the agriculture drone market for crop spraying application. Need for technological advancements in agriculture equipment and enhancement of the quality of farming techniques have led increased usage of agriculture drones in the market. Innovations in the GPS mapping field coupled with the advancements and solar power drone in agriculture are expected to drive the industry growth over the forecast period. Drones have the potential to implement better plantation with crop rotation strategies and give crucial inputs related to the daily progress of crops which is further contributing to the market growth.

North America dominated the global agriculture drone market due to high production and increasing applications in the agriculture sectors. Europe commercial drone market is expected to grow considerably in the forecast years owing to the relaxations in regulations and increasing applications in law enforcement and agricultural applications.

Favorable government initiatives towards agriculture sector are expected to be the key growth factors for the European market. Moreover, the demand for the drone is expected to gain traction in Asia-Pacific region. Australia and Asian countries such as Japan are increasingly focusing on the use of drones for agricultural purposes.


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DJI just introduced a new camera designed to work with drones, and in particular its Inspire 2 flyer. The camera is a “world first” in that it’s a super 35 digital film camera tailored for aerial cinematography — in other words, if you’re a filmmaker, documentarian or professional cinematographer, you are probably going to want one of these.

The Zenmuse X7 camera has a large, Super 35 format digital sensor, and supports interchangeable lenses for a range of potential focal lengths. It shoots up to 6K in CinemaDNG RAW format, or can capture in 5.2K Apple ProRes at frame rates of up to 30 FPS. It also can capture 3.9K Cinema DNG RAW or 2.7K ProRes at 59.94 FPS, which should meet the needs of most post-production work from Hollywood on down (or up I guess, depending on your perspective).

The new DJI camera uses DJI’s DL-Mount system, and works with prime lenses with fixed focal lengths of 16mm, 24mm, 35mm and 50mm, each with a max aperture of F/2.8, and all with carbon fiber bodies to optimize light weighting. The 16mm lens has a built-in ND filter that can provide up to 4 extra stops of light control. All together, the array weighs only 631 grams with the 16mm lens attached.

High-quality cinema video doesn’t come cheap, of course — but at $2,699 US for the camera, it’s not a bank-breaker for production professionals either. The 16mm, 24mm and 35mm lenses weight in at $1,299 each, and the 50mm will cost $1,199. 


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Drones are regularly used in infrastructure inspections, agricultural monitoring, and safety and rescue operations. And not just in America; this is also the case in the Chinese city of Dongguan, revealingly known as the world’s factory for the amount of manufacturing that happens there. According to the Xinhua news agency, the amount of market entities (read: factories) registered in this city surpassed 900,000 earlier this year. Naturally, this makes it extremely difficult for environmental inspectors to observe all the factories in regards to safety standards and unlawful disposing of chemicals. So, the city began using unmanned aerial vehicles last year to combat this overwhelming issue.

On Tuesday, a local townsman reported a strange smell to environmental inspectors, who immediately deployed a drone fitted with high-end gas sensors to the area in question. According to Xinhua, the sensors in question can differentiate between eight pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide or volatile organic chemicals. The UAV hovered about 33 feet from the ground for around 30 minutes, garnering data and producing a useful map displaying the various VOC levels in that area. According to Xinhua, it was clear as soon as inspectors noticed three red dots on that map, which signal a dangerous level of gas in the area. 

Now, Dongguan’s nickname really isn’t a joke. This city reportedly produces a fifth of this planet’s smart phones, as well as a fifth of all sweaters. That there are almost a million registered factories is astounding, and only makes the potential for pollution there more astounding. This is why drone use to mitigate those levels is a good way to go—having local inspectors walk around town to do their jobs simply isn’t as efficient.

In the beginning, drones were simply used for aerial photography as a means of inspection. That way, boots on the ground would know exactly which areas looked suspicious, and which factories were a waste of time to inspect. “For example, the walls of work sheds of polluting factories showed signs of corrosion,” explained the deputy director of the environment monitoring branch of Dongguan’s Environmental Protection Bureau, Chen Baihui. This seemed to be their modus operandi, until a pollution-detecting drone was presented to them by Shenzhen’s Scifly Tech and Guangdong’s IntelFlight UAV Ltd.

Baihui says that out of every three tips from the public regarding suspicious odors in the area, two of them went undetected prior to the use of drones. Reportedly, he also claims that one of these pollution-detecting drones can do as much—if not more—work than 60 environmental inspectors. If that math is actually correct, Baihui would be wise to continue implementing drones into his anti-pollution strategy. 


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They have been responsible for innumerable deaths in the Middle East during the last decade and, if Amazon has its way, will deliver millions of toasters, gift sets and novels in the future. But recently drones have begun to fulfil a less utilitarian kind of role: competition in the nascent world of futuristic motorsports. A confluence of technological advances has made drone racing possible. A minuscule camera, mounted on the drone’s nose, allows the pilot, as competitors are luxuriously titled, to control the vehicle through virtual reality-style goggles, as if perched in its tiny cockpit.

With powerful lithium batteries, the size of which dictates the speed class of the drone, these machines, which are typically the size of a box of tissues, can reach speeds in excess of 120mph. Studded with coloured LEDs, they fly like hyper-evolved, fluorescent mosquitoes and, thanks to their size and manoeuvrability, can make use of those areas of a sports stadium that are usually out of bounds: streaking over the pitch, for example, before grazing through a window, along a corridor and out again into the night sky. Impromptu courses can be set up anywhere. In September, during an event timed to coincide with the Paris Drone festival, pilots raced along the Champs-Élysées, watched by 150,000 spectators.

Zealous entrepreneurs closely follow on the tail of any emerging sport. Each invariably hopes to corner the market by establishing the definitive league. “When I first started the Drone Racing League, once a week I had someone telling me they were launching their own league,” Nicholas Horbaczewski, co-founder of the DRL, told me. Horbaczewski watched his first drone race in a car park outside a Home Depot in New York City. “I thought: how do we elevate this to a level where we can put it on TV?” Since its founding in 2015, the DRL has attracted serious investment – $12 million to date, with high-profile investors ranging from New York’s Lux Capital to media partners such as MGM, ESPN and Sky Sports.

Last week, Horbaczewski announced that the German insurer Allianz would sponsor the DRL’s 2017 championship, the final event of which will be staged at London’s Alexandra Palace in the summer. It’s a legitimising deal. Allianz is a major investor in Formula 1 racing, football (the company has bought the naming rights to six stadia around the world, some of which will be used in the forthcoming DRL championship) and a sponsor of tennis, golf and swimming tournaments. “What Red Bull has done with extreme sports is what we want to do with digital sports,” explained Allianz’s Jean-Marc Pailhol. “We want to make drone racing one of the main sports in the world.”

There are major obstacles standing in the way. Filming high-speed drones, zipping through courses as tall as they are wide, is an enormous broadcasting challenge (one tough enough to prevent the DRL championship from being broadcast live on Sky this year). Then there are significant technical concerns. The ultimate aim is to allow spectators to pull on their own headset in order to watch the action from the perspective of their favourite drone. Finally, there’s the need for sufficient money in the ecosystem to support young pilots so that they can afford the time off work to compete. “Executing successfully is extraordinarily difficult,” said Horbaczewski. “You have to be a tech firm, a media company and a sports league all rolled into one.”

Then there’s the issue of competition. Horbaczewski claims that with the emergence of the DRL, drone racing is a “professional sport now”. Rival leagues, he said, have faded away and, in the DRL, there is “finally a well-organised sports league”. These claims are vigorously disputed by Richard de Aragüés, director of the 2011 documentary film TT3D: Closer to the Edge and founder of the British drone racing team Tornado XBlades Racing. “This is far from a one-horse race and many of us close to the sport feel the DRL press claims are somewhat misleading,” he told me.


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Danny McMahon from the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre turns to drones for 3D modelling of wind turbines. He spoke with PE's Joseph Flaig.

My research is three-fold: ultrasonics, high-temperature optical measurement in forming and forging, and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) large-volume photogrammetry for asset inspection.

We’re working on a really interesting project in UAV large-scale photogrammetry, which involves using drones to inspect wind-turbine blades. It cuts out the need for working at height or taking the blades off the turbine, which can make the task safer and less costly.

The project we have just completed was the laboratory-based initial feasibility study. We carried out trials of tracking the drone position and continually updating the control system to ensure the flight path kept to a prescribed route. This allows us to cover the surface of the wind-turbine blade efficiently and to keep the drone at a constant distance from it.

We then capture images throughout this flight path and transfer them to a photogrammetry software package. The images are stitched together based on feature extraction to create a 3D model of the wind turbine. This has allowed us to achieve accuracies of the blade under 0.5mm, which would be impossible to pick up with the human eye.

This model can then be compared to an ‘as-built’ geometry, or a previous scan, to identify quickly areas that have changed and potential defects. The end goal of this work is to get to a point where the defects can be well-understood. Another type of drone could then be deployed to carry out a remote repair – a crawler drone might go up the turbine and fix a problem on one of the blades, without the need to remove the blade or for humans to work at height.

Another area we are looking to address is applying this in an automated solution to offshore wind turbines where the environmental factors will have a much greater effect – it’ll save having to send engineers out to sea to inspect and then fix the blades.

Drone with the wind

Large-scale photogrammetry is very useful for any large asset that is normally difficult to inspect – as well as wind turbines, we’re looking at using it on oil rigs, buildings and ships. There are other technologies that will inspect these assets, but they normally require people to work at height and, in some instances, only a visual inspection is carried out. The equipment required and the time taken to carry out these techniques makes them very costly, whereas large-scale photogrammetry can be done with a consumer camera and some software – the costs are comparably very low and the time needed to capture data is reduced. Cameras can also be drone-mounted, which eliminates the risk of a person working at height.

As an alternative to a visual inspection, photogrammetry will capture much more detail than the human eye can detect. A lot of these assets are quite monotonous so humans are likely to suffer from fatigue and become less effective at the inspection. The data can be transferred anywhere in the world, which cuts out the need for engineers to work on site.


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Drone photography has really taken flight of late, and rightly so.

This form of technology uses remote or software-controlled aircraft, which can be utilised for a number of purposes. Originally developed for warfare, drones are increasingly used for domestic and hobby purposes.

One of those uses is to capture aerial photographs and videos, making them ideal for real estate photographers. Rural properties in particular can benefit from drone technology, which can fly over acreage and homesteads at a relatively low cost.

The use of drones in real estate marketing has been a game-changer for those who are embracing these flying photography robots.

It isn’t just professional real estate photographers who are driving them. Though professional photographers often offer inclusions of drone shots in their packages, some agents have taken it upon themselves to invest in drones. This adds value to their vendor’s campaigns.

Just ask Matthew Horne, Real Estate Manager and Water Broker, of Elders Deniliquin. Horne has his own drone that he utilises for marketing.

“At the moment, it’s a point of difference. Drones gives a different perspective of a property from the air. You get to provide purchasers with a better understanding.”

In fact, drone photography a win-win, with advantages over older technologies that delight both vendors and buyers. 

Vendors get a wider selection of photographs and footage that showcase desirable aspects of their asset. Buyers are better able to gauge features and the scope of a property from angles they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see.

“It is a great part of our service”, says Horne. “It demonstrates our underlying professionalism as agents, and it gives a vendor confidence that they are dealing with a company that is embracing technology.”

And then there’s the novelty of a flying camera:

“When I get the drone out to take photos and videos of a vendor’s property, it certainly gives them a lot of excitement. For example, it’s great to see a farmer’s son, who is up-to-date with technology, running out to have a look.”

So just how easy are they to operate?

“Once you’ve driven one once or twice, they aren’t that hard to use… You may only need to hover the drone three or four metres in the air to get a better selection of angles… You don’t need to be a hundred metres in the air to get a great shot”, assures Horne.

Drones have also allowed for photography during wetter weather conditions. A year or so ago, some shots wouldn’t have been possible.

“If we have a wet season, we can’t drive around some properties without getting bogged. But now we can still fly a drone over the back paddock, for example, from the hard surface of the driveway and still get shots.”

In addition to drones providing a better perspective, by way of the aerial views that they provide, they can also save time: “If it’s calm, you can send a drone up to two kilometres away, meaning you don’t have to drive all over to take stills.”


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Over the past few years we have witnessed how technological developments have changed our habits and improved a range of processes, making them more agile, accurate and fast.

Among these cutting edge technologies, there is a strong consensus on the transformative power of drones – small, unmanned flying vehicles that can be controlled remotely for many different purposes.

Their applications appear to be infinite and are growing all the time, particularly in carrying out many processes involved in the complex day-to-day operations of airports around the world.

However, it is important to embrace drone-assisted processes not because they’re innovative, but because they lead to more efficient operations and add tangible value to airports where they are implemented.

Based upon such an approach, a multidisciplinary innovation team consisting of Ferrovial, Ferrovial Airports, Southampton Airport and AmeyVTOL (a joint venture between VTOL Technologies and Amey), has  collaborated, carrying out a proof of concept to use drones for the airport’s asset management tasks.

The trial was carried out at Southampton Airport. The objective of the trial was to prove that drones could be used “Within Visual Line Of Sight” (WVLOS) to replace or complement manual inspection activities, as a first step towards a more commercially viable autonomous use of  unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the near future.

The drone deployed for this project was a Skyjib 8 HL Quadcopter, which addressed the following activities:

Pavement inspections (stands, taxiways and runway)

Perimeter fence Inspections

Building inspections

Image of the runway taken from 20 meters elevation

Image of the runway taken from 5 metres elevation

During a 5-hour test run, the drone was able to shoot both HD video and capture more than 900 high-definition images at 5, 10 and 20-metre heights above ground level. Both formats produced images in which defects such as small cracks in the runway surface could be detected to a level of accuracy greater than that capable with the naked eye.

The technical feasibility of using drones for these activities was fully proved, as it could lead to the following qualitative benefits:

- More consistent data capture in imagery applications

- More repeatable and accurate data to compare changes between inspections

- A higher resolution of data coverage

- A reduced safety risk to the workforce, especially for building inspections

Time savings

Together with the technical feasibility study, the project team calculated the costs and savings of each activity to determine the economic viability of each business case. The conclusions were that the higher financial benefits were achieved with Level 3 pavement inspections and with building inspections that otherwise would have required costly scaffolding.

Dave Lees, Managing Director of Southampton Airport, said: “Southampton Airport constantly evaluates emerging new technologies, and the trial utilising drone technology has highlighted a potential breakthrough methodology to enhance both the efficiency and effectiveness of some of the airport’s operational activities.”


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