Drone News

Banking low over the trees, the small quadcopter slows and begins a gradual climb. Rising above the roof, it hovers in place for a moment before flying over a fountain in the courtyard and sweeping along the edge of a swimming pool.

Welcome to the modern world of real estate.

Drone photography and videos and sophisticated software programs are seeing increased use among Realtors looking to up their game with eye-catching visuals that will help sell homes.

“Drones can be used on all kinds of properties,” said Bob Gonsalves, president and CEO of the U.S. Association of Unmanned Aerial Videographers, a membership association focused on the needs of commercial UAV operators.

“It allows real estate agents to show off properties in a very unique way that you couldn’t have done several years ago,” he said.

Actually, it could have been done it back then.

“You would have hired a pilot to fly a helicopter, and that would have probably cost $2,000 for a couple of hours,” Gonsalves said. “What has changed over the years is the affordability of drones. Now you can buy a DJI Mavic Pro Quadcopter with high resolution from Best Buy for about $1,000.”

About half of his association’s 6,000 members use their drones for real estate purposes, Gonsalves said. It’s no wonder because Multiple Listing Service statistics show that homes with aerial images sell 68 percent faster than houses that are marketed using standard photos.

Industry research firm RIS Media additionally notes that 73 percent of homeowners say that they’re more likely to list with a real estate agent who uses video to market their home.

Chad Z. King, who owns a Los Angeles-based aerial photography business called A Bird’s Eye, got in on the ground floor, so to speak. In fact, King figures he was among the first to utilize drones to showcase homes.

“I started doing aerial photography with a miniature remote-controlled helicopter in 2009,” he said. “We mounted a Nikon D7000 camera on it. Back then that was the best that Nikon offered. We didn’t have a downlink, so we just sort of winged it. We’d land it and take a look at the footage and say, ‘OK, we need to get further out,’ or ‘we need to angle it down a little more.’ We did it that way for about three years.”

The company has since refined its aerial productions, which now serve both the real estate world and the movie industry. These days, King’s drone videos are used to showcase high-profile homes like the sprawling Playa del Rey estate once owned by the late Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

King recently shot aerial footage and still shots to showcase a 22,000-square-foot home on La Cuarta Street in Whittier which is priced at nearly $5.5 million. The property is co-listed by Jason Gonzalez, who manages First Team Real Estate’s offices in Whittier and Fullerton, and Dean Lueck, a Realtor with the company’s Newport Beach location.

Gonzalez said aerial footage and photos have become an increasing bigger part of the mix.

“In our company’s luxury division, it has become a necessity,” he said. “You get more offers, but that’s really the result of all the things we do. The key is syndication. Our listings go out to as many as 2,000 industry and social media sites.”

But this new way of marketing doesn’t come cheap.

An aerial video combined with moving interior shots typically runs anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 according to Gonzalez, whereas a traditional non-aerial photo package costs $300 to $500. Still, he thinks it’s money well spent.

“It’s really a reflection of your work and when future clients look you up they’ll find out how you marketed properties,” he said.

Lueck said his office uses drone footage to promote most of its listings.

“It works great on large properties with a lot of acreage,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s the only way to get a really good idea of how big a property is. We even use it on less expensive homes. We just did this with a $900,000 property in Dana Point to show that it’s just a few blocks from the beach. People don’t know how close a home might be to a beach or harbor and a video like this can show that. And it really builds emotion.”

Lueck offered an example.

“We had a woman who wanted to buy a home for $8.8 million in Corona del Mar,” he said. “Her husband was out of the country and said, ‘I’m not spending that kind of money on a home I can’t see.” Well, she told him to watch the video. He did and they ended up making an offer.

“We have multiple examples like that. We’ve even had homeowners almost decide to not sell their homes after seeing the videos. It almost brings tears to their eyes.”

Realty companies are also turning to Matterport, a Sunnyale-based company whose 3D software program takes viewers on a virtual tour of a home. Richard Heintze, Matterport’s director of client services, explained how it works:

“You set up a 3D camera in a room, hook it up to an iPad and push the button and it rotates in a circle, giving you a 360-degree view of the room,” he said. “You can do this in multiple rooms, and when it’s finished you upload those images to our website and we process that into a 3D space that allows you to virtually walk through the home and spin in any direction.”

Justin Potier, vice president and broker associate at Boardwalk Properties in Long Beach, said his office relies on Matterport’s sophisticated software in addition to aerial videos and photos.

“Matterport gives you a doll house-like rendering of the home online,” he said. “You can break it apart and walk through the various rooms. It’s extremely impressive.”

Jordan Levine, a senior economist with the California Association of Realtors, said consumers have come to expect the kinds of visually stunning and interactive experiences today’s technology can provide when they’re shopping for a home.

“They are doing their research online to see what the market is and they expect to see more images and more Matterport-like stuff because that’s becoming more and more commonplace,” he said. “And from a seller’s standpoint you want to put your best foot forward … you want something that will lure them in and bring more foot traffic.”


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BUTTE, Mont. — Montana Tech students are on the cutting edge of drone technology, and it's fitting for Butte.

A group of students is researching how to use drones to keep miners and construction workers safe. The students are flying them underground, and they believe it could help with safety.

The students are doing the research 100 feet down at the Orphan Boy Mine on Montana Tech's campus.

Tech is the nation's only university with an underground mine research facility. It is also the only one to fly specially equipped drones through its tunnels.

They're searching for signs of instability in openings too difficult or dangerous for workers to reach. For example, researchers are looking for cracks in the formations for some type of failure, like rock fall. In the past, it could have signaled the potential for a deadly collapse. That's where drones come in.

Graduate student Elizabeth Russell is one of the students doing the flying. She said she’d rather have drones do the work rather than humans.

"It's really dangerous to enter these areas. There's loose rock above. There's no protection, except maybe a hard hat, and if you have a huge piece of rock fall while you're in the area the mine is liable, and you might not survive,” Russell said.

Montana Tech geological engineering professor Mary MacLaughlin is behind the project.

Last summer, she said the research group, consisting of four undergrad and four graduate students, received over $215,000 to fund the year-long project.

MacLaughlin said the project is a push for the future of underground mining.

"I think the future of mining actually involves very few people being underground, so this helps us work toward that autonomous mining where we aren't putting people at risk -- just equipment," MacLaughlin said.

The project ends in July. As for the end goal, Russell says she hopes to accurately map all underground openings for the on-campus mine and carry that knowledge into other underground mines in the area.


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While drones in plant agriculture are now well-established as a significant tool for managing resources, drones aren’t as commonly utilized to manage livestock.  Now, non-profit group Meat & Livestock Australia and leading drone services provider Aerodyne have announced a $5.1 million ‘Drone as a Silent Service’ R&D Program to study the issue.

According to a press release, the new program will research 9 “key focal points” for the first drone program for meat and livestock asset management:

  1. Fence Monitoring​ – Autonomous sensing and software to identify and categorise damage.
  2. Herd Location​ – Developing algorithms to measure herd behaviour, distribution and movements.
  3. Bull Tagging​ – Utilising ‘Smart’ tags to ascertain bull location in relation to a herd.
  4. Weed Location​ – Autonomous sensing to identify weeds (particularly those hazardous to cattle), and software algorithms to provide advanced analytics and prescribed preventative data.
  5. Feral Control​ – Identification and analysis of pests and feral animals.
  6. Feedbase Monitoring​ – Developing algorithms to sense and categorise ground coverage and produce detailed pasture analytics and reports.
  7. Water Monitoring​ – Develop sensors and algorithms to autonomously measure tanks, troughs, rivers and dams. Identify dead stock, water diseases and bogged animals.
  8. Feedlot​ – A reporting solution which can make suggestions for water time, feed time, isolation and growth factors.
  9. Tagless ID​ – A system for reliable identification of non-tagged animals.

“The ultimate aim is to develop solutions that run as a ‘silent service’ – removing the need for producers to be tethered to the drones and other automated sensors which capture, analyse and report data,” says the release.

“The two-year project forms part of MLA’s wider ‘Unmanned’ strategy to develop and implement fully autonomous solutions for the benefit of their 50,000+ members in the Australian livestock-producer industry. It will look at the role of automation and value-chain technologies in supporting livestock health, crop management, farm productivity and real-time weather sensing.”

“Aerodyne are delighted to announce our involvement in this innovative and disruptive project. Integrating drones and other autonomous technology into a smart, connected network of sensors gives us the opportunity to completely change the way that large-scale livestock and agriculture operations are managed,” says Kamarul A, CEO of Aerodyne. “Australia is the ideal testing ground to develop new systems and build on the lessons that Aerodyne have learned from our extensive experience in providing commercial drone solutions. We look forward to working with MLA and their members at such an exciting time for both our industries.”

“​MLA has three clear roles in the development and deployment of autonomous systems for the red meat industry. Firstly to demonstrate what they can be used for, secondly to develop platforms, sensors and algorithms and finally to ensure that when all of these components are combined they offer a fully autonomous solution that we call a silent service,” says Sean Starling, GM of Research, Development and Innovation for Meat & Livestock Australia. “Having producers at the controls of unmanned vehicles is not viable in the long-term, and it doesn’t add value to their productivity. We believe that Aerodyne provides expertise in all these areas.​”


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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been around for a lot longer than most people realize. The first drones were used by the Austrian military in their attack on Venice in 1849. Quadcopters have been around since 1920. Mini-drones and quadcopters have been used for photography for almost a decade.

As drones have come down in size and price, they have become accessible to event organizers. There are many different types of drones but some of the most popular include DJI Phantom 4 and the Parrot.AR Drone 2.0.

1. Sporting events

They are often used at sporting events as they make it possible to follow fast action across a large field. Drones can get much closer to the action than any photographer.

2. Resort and site tours

Drones make it possible to provide panoramic views of resort properties and zoom in for close ups of some features. Here Sandals provides a drone tour of its Whitehouse property in Jamaica with stunning results.

3. Destination tours

It’s helpful for event and meeting planners to have a way of quickly viewing the key attractions that a destination has to offer so that they can build those that will appeal to participants into their itinerary. Tourist boards and convention bureaus are making use of drones to showcase destinations from unique vantage points.

4. Meeting highlights

Drones can be combined with footage from traditional video cameras and GoPros to capture highlights from corporate meetings. Lions Club International blended footage of their 2016 convention from various sources together seamlessly to produce a very engaging video.

5. Entertainment

Always ground-breaking, the CCTV Spring Festival Gala for the Chinese New Year is enjoyed by millions of viewers around the world. For 2016, the show featured 540 dancing robots. Zerotech Dobby actually created a dance routine involving drones for the 2017 show.

The most important thing to remember is that using drones is not about the technology. The focus should be on the results and type of footage you want to create. That will drive the decision about whether or not drones are appropriate for your event.


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The foldable DJI Mavic Air is a meticulously engineered drone packed with advanced photography features that doesn’t break the budget.

Foldability means it uses little room in a backpack. It takes 12-megapixel stills and ultra-high definition 4K video and 2.7K video in slow motion. You get a bitrate of up to 100 megabits per second.

It has an in-built array of automatic video shooting sequences that means even amateurs can create videos with motion-picture style flying sequences. In short, it’s precisely the drone that many people will want, and in my view it should be a success.

You’ve got to hand it to DJI. The Shenzhen company has licked the serious competition in the proconsumer drone space. It’s main rival that started the ­consumer drone craze, France’s Parrot, laid off a third of its staff a year ago due to falling revenue. Yet DJI continues to expand its drone arsenal.

Parrot still sells interesting drones, such as the fixed-wing Disco that soars across the sky like an Eagle, but DJI offers so much quality and choice.

What makes Mavic Air attractive, is that at $1299, it’s a great compromise. In DJI’s marketplace, it sits between the entry- level DJI Spark ($649) and the more expensive Mavic Pro ($1599), another foldable drone.

But the compromises aren’t deal breakers. The Air actually has more camera-shooting options than Mavic Pro and is even smaller when you fold it. If you need the ultimate DJI flying experience with high-end photography, then you pay $1899 upwards for ­Phantom series drones, but they are not foldable like the Mavics.

The fun begins when you take Mavic Air out of its zip-up case. It weighs just 430 grams and feels so light. From there it takes just a few seconds to rotate the arms tucked in at the sides and click them into place for flying. The gimbal is housed internally, so all you need do is remove its cover. Clip in a battery and it’s almost ready to fly. You also need to install and run the DJI Go 4 app.

You can fly the drone using your phone directly, in which case the range is dependent on the strength of your phone’s Wi-Fi signal. Or you can clip the phone into the supplied controller and use its Wi-Fi link to the drone. It took me a couple of goes to link the drone and controller but it worked eventually.

You can also fly Mavic Air using hand gestures, as you can the DJI Spark, but this is a novelty feature.

The controller is designed to be compact. The antennas fold away, and the thumbsticks are stowed inside the side arms. DJI has a flight simulator that lets you try the controller before actually flying. It’s worth doing.

Flying range is less than the Mavic Pro controller, which uses a radio link to the drone. DJI cites up to 4km. Frankly, if you are flying legally, you won’t need 4km as CASA rules require line-of-sight flying.

The piece de resistance is the Air’s QuickShot intelligent video modes. These automatically ­create video sequences you’d be proud to include in your footage.

With Mavic Pro there was rocket, dronie, circle, or helix ­motion. In dronie mode, it takes video as it travels backwards and upwards away from you. In helix mode it flies around you in a circle, gradually getting further away. In rocket mode, it ascends vertically up leaving you as a small dot below.

DJI has added two new modes with Mavic Air. Asteroid is the most spectacular. The world around you is shown as a little ball in the sky, which expands and ­rotates and until it zooms down on you. Boomerang mode, as you’d expect, is a view of you as if taken from a boomerang in an elongated elliptical orbit above you.

DJI says the drone can stitch together 25 photos to create a 32-megapixel panoramic image in one minute.

The basic obstacle detection on Mavic Pro has been replaced with a more extensive one that senses obstacles up to 20 metres away. The drone flies around them or over them.

The camera has a 1:2.3-inch CMOS sensor rather than the larger 1-inch sensor on the Phantom 4 Pro.

The biggest issue facing drone users is not the drones themselves, but the issue of where you can fly them. The CASA smartphone app tells you where flying restrictions apply and what the rules are, but you will need to check the rules of local councils and park authorities.

In Sydney these days, there are few places left to fly in the metropolitan area, so don’t buy a drone unless you’re willing to travel to use it. If you do, consider buying several spare batteries and a car charger, otherwise you’ll be travelling long distances for just 20 minutes of fun.

It’s not all bad news. You can fly drones in some Brisbane parks, and near a few sections of Sydney eastern beaches, and you can fly drones in NSW national parks if you have the consent of a park area manager. You need to plan ahead.


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You might be using your drone (or thinking about getting a drone) for epic vacation shots and ultra-romantic wedding videos, but you should be thinking bigger. What if, instead of taking pictures of you, your drone could help you monitor hundreds of acres of crops? What if it could photograph a building's flaws? And what if it could fix those flaws or water those crops as soon as it spotted them?

Just as self-driving cars could fundamentally rearchitect the way cities work, drones have a disruptive potential that's hard to overstate. They could change the way people and goods are transported (where we're going, we don't need roads!), eliminate some jobs and create others, and upend the way we think about distance. Drones could bring the internet to people who don't have it, deliver food and medicine to people who need it, and cast a watchful eye over anyone and everyone. Drones are even inspiring new sports! The nascent industry also provides a helpful reminder that regulators and inventors need to work together to make tech actually function, because there are some seriously scary downsides to a world where drones fill the sky.

We're at the very beginning of the drone revolution. The GoPro sticking off the bottom of your Phantom is an early version of something smarter, faster, and more thoughtful. Nobody quite knows yet how these miniature flying objects will integrate into our lives and skies. But self-driving vehicles will be in the sky long before they're commonplace on land—and what happens up there might be just as important.

The First Drones

A gizmo you might call a "drone" could actually fall into a couple of broad categories. One is a fully autonomous vehicle that flies without any human intervention at all. The other is more like a remote-control flier: A pilot is still in charge, but they're on the ground watching the drone, or in a room somewhere watching on a computer screen or through a pair of goggles. The two types involve different tech with different potentials, but they both count as drones. So we'll consider them, for the purposes of this guide, one and the same.

The general idea of drones has been around for more than a century. It's not a terribly novel concept, really: We've invented all these cool ways to fly around, but many of them are dangerous, so wouldn't it be great if humans didn't need to be sitting inside? You could point to Nikola Tesla's 1898 demonstration of "teleautomation," in which he remotely controlled a small boat over radio frequencies. Or to Charles Kettering, who built the "Kettering Bug," a World War I–era automated missile. Maybe it was the Queen Bee, the first reusable unmanned aerial vehicle, which the British military used in the 1930s for military target practice.

Wherever the idea began, drones were primarily a military project for decades. They were perfect surveillance tools, small and nimble enough to avoid detection while flying over enemy territory—and if they were detected and destroyed, the only cost was building another one. Later, soldiers began attaching bombs to the drones, allowing them to spot and destroy their target in a single move. The Predator drone, conceived in the 1990s and flown for millions of hours since then, has changed the way the US fights wars, both for better and for worse. It keeps US troops out of harm's way, but it also removes them from the in-the-moment decisions of war. Predator strikes can be incredibly precise, but they have killed hundreds of civilians. Drone warfare has been hotly debated since its inception—it's both a technological debate and a moral one, a sort of Trolley Problem for the skies.

On the consumer side, drones rose from a community of remote-control airplane fliers. In the late 2000s, some hobbyists figured out that their phones contained all the parts they needed for a kickass autopilot system, so they started rigging their phones to their planes and letting one pilot the other. Others bought the individual parts—an accelerometer for measuring movement, a gyroscope for directional orientation, a small processor to keep everything running—and built them straight into their devices. Since phones were improving so fast, these parts were becoming cheaper, better, and more battery-friendly. Pretty soon, anyone with basic coding knowledge and an afternoon to kill could buy a kit and build their very own drone.

Until a few years ago, though, nobody would have thought of drones as regular-person toys. The few buyable products still cost thousands of dollars, basically required a PhD to fly, and were used for things like filming blockbuster movies. Then, in 2010, Parrot showed up at CES and wowed the tech industry conference with the AR Drone. Parrot's quadcopter was controlled by an iPhone or iPod Touch, had cameras on the front and back for capturing awesome aerial footage, and transformed piloting a drone into something like an augmented-reality game. Most important, the AR Drone was easy to fly. Parrot had included all those smartphone sensors and used them to program the AR Drone to keep itself stable. You still had to direct the drone around, but it kept itself steady and aloft. That was huge.

It was in 2013 that consumer drones really began to—ahem—take off. That's when a company called Dà-Jiāng Innovations Science and Technology Co. Ltd, better known as DJI, introduced the Phantom. DJI had spent the previous few years building software it hoped would power lots of drones, but found the hardware wanting. So CEO Frank Wang and his team built their own: a white 2.2-pound quadcopter ready to fly right out of the box. The Phantom could perform clever preprogrammed stunts and camera tricks at the touch of a button, and even if you screwed up it was programmed to automatically fly back to you. DJI made the first drone that wasn't a toy or a tool. It was both and then some. And it immediately made DJI the most important name in drones.

Since the first Phantom, everything has changed and nothing has. Drone companies developed new and better drones with new and better features, new and better cameras, and new and better safety elements. Some built bigger drones that could carry better cameras or carry small packages; others built tiny drones, just toys really, that cost less than a Lightning cable. You can now buy a drone that works underwater or takes off from the back of a dune buggy. The smartphone boom continued to fuel drone innovation, and Intel and Qualcomm even began to work on drone-specific chips and software. Drones gained the ability to automatically avoid obstacles, to stay steady in strong winds, and to fly further and higher for longer. Right now you can get a drone with a 4K camera, 30 minutes of battery life, and a range of more than four miles, that can hover autonomously and avoid obstacles without your help, for about $1,000.

Guess who makes that drone: DJI. No matter how fast the market changes, DJI keeps winning. From the ridiculously powerful Matrice line to the more entry-level Spark, nobody makes better drones. And nobody sells more, either: DJI owns as much as 70 percent of the drone market. The list of its failed competitors continues to grow. 3D Robotics (which was founded by former WIRED editor-in-chief Chris Anderson) and GoPro both made big entries into the drone business, and both failed to best DJI. Startups like Lily Robotics and Zano fell apart before even getting close. Even Parrot has mostly given up on drones. DJI's only real competitor, Yuneec, shares most of DJI's advantages: It's based near its factories and research facilities in China and can simply work faster and more effectively as a result.

The personal drone market is not smartphone-level huge—the FAA expects that 4.3 million hobbyist drones will be sold in 2020—but it's growing fast. And, ultimately, you and your kids taking epic videos in the park will only be a tiny slice of the pie. The skies may one day be filled with drones, but they'll mostly be flown for business reasons. Probably. Hard to say, right now. There's one big question left to answer before anyone can get busy inventing the future.

The Future of Drones

If you want to panic a drone enthusiast, just say these three words: Federal, Aviation, and Administration. The FAA's job is to regulate the skies, making sure everything that flies does so responsibly. Over the past few years, the agency has taken a keen interest in drones. It has slowly rolled out new regulations for how users can fly drones and what those drones can do. Ultimately, FAA rules and not the tech itself will decide what drones can accomplish.

For instance: Unmanned drones currently cannot weigh more than 55 pounds, which rules out drone taxis and huge cargo ships. Anything you're flying has to stay in your line of sight, and operators can only control one drone at a time, so companies won't be able to command their fleets from an office. You can only fly during the day, and never in congested or sensitive areas. (It's increasingly easy to get an exemption from the FAA, though, so your diapers-by-drone delivery service can skirt the rules in some cases.) These rules have led drone-curious companies to test their products outside the US, where regulations are either looser or nonexistent.

There's more regulation to come in the next several years, clarifying how and where drones can fly without causing trouble. For now, let's imagine the most wide-open regulatory scenario, in which drone operators can do just about anything they want. Almost immediately, drones will start to perform new tasks and capabilities. Ever since Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos debuted Prime Air on 60 Minutes, anyone who delivers anything now wants to do it with drones. Amazon has been testing Prime Air by flying small packages into a few customers' yards in the UK, and is hoping for a broader rollout soon. Meanwhile, Domino's is dropping pizzas all over New Zealand and Zipline is bringing medicine to rural areas of Rwanda. UPS is looking into delivering your package by driving a truck into your neighborhood and then dispersing a fleet of (presumably brown, shorts-wearing) drones to each individual house. Then they’d fly back to the truck and charge up on the way to the next neighborhood. Drones can go into unreachable or unsafe areas to assess the situation or drop off necessary supplies. Almost anywhere humans cannot or simply don't want to go, a drone can zip over and look around.

It won't just be one drone, either. Researchers and engineers are already starting to think of drones as "swarms," looking at how birds and insects fly in order to see how dozens or hundreds of drones might be able to work in concert. They could carry more cargo or split up inspection work, generally acting as a many-headed whole instead of a bunch of individual flying objects. Already, drone masses have been used in a Super Bowl halftime show and to assess damage and plan repairs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

More prosaically, real estate companies are using drones to shoot promotional footage and filmmakers have used them to reinvent the chase scene. A flying camera provides a useful view for the media, for wedding videos, and more. It's a valuable inspection tool, too, able to quickly traverse a bridge or field looking for problems—and, pretty soon, the same drone will fix those problems too. Drone racing is growing fast, and even shows up on ESPN—it's an awesome spectator sport, because you get to watch from a first person perspective, as if you're flying yourself. Sadly, the more sci-fi use cases are a ways off, like drone taxis that can scoop you up from your front door.

It's worth mentioning that anti-drone products are coming along just as fast as drones themselves. You can already buy a drone that catches other drones, a shotgun shell that releases weights and nets to drag drones down, or even a radio-frequency jammer that prevents them from flying at all. Researchers have even enlisted falcons and other birds of prey to attack and disable drones. The debate over what to do about a drone's ability to violate people's privacy or invade their space has led to an arms race of sorts: the drone-makers are trying to make their products fly higher and faster, while others try to keep them grounded.

There are plenty of reasons for people to worry: a camera that flies will soon do more than just take pictures. The camera in your phone is learning to recognize your face, to enable augmented reality, even to see in the dark with thermal or infrared imaging. This is another place where regulation matters: drones can already spot an individual person from thousands of feet up, and the Big Brother implications are terrifying. Drones, like anything else, can be used for spying and tracking and all sorts of privacy violations. Still, those same cameras will enable better flight, more fun features and games, and new uses for drones beyond what anyone has even thought of. Every time your phone's camera gets a little smarter and sharper, so does your drone.


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Researchers have found more than 60,000 hidden Maya ruins in Guatemala in a major archaeological breakthrough.

Laser technology was used to survey digitally beneath the forest canopy, revealing houses, palaces, elevated highways, and defensive fortifications.

The landscape, near already-known Maya cities, is thought to have been home to millions more people than other research had previously suggested.

The researchers mapped over 810 square miles (2,100 sq km) in northern Peten.

Archaeologists believe the cutting-edge technology will change the way the world will see the Maya civilisation.

"I think this is one of the greatest advances in over 150 years of Maya archaeology," said Stephen Houston, Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology at Brown University.

Mr Houston told the BBC that after decades of work in the archaeological field, he found the magnitude of the recent survey "breathtaking". He added, "I know it sounds hyperbolic but when I saw the [Lidar] imagery, it did bring tears to my eyes."

Most structures are believed to be stone platforms for pole-and-thatch homes

Results from the research using Lidar technology, which is short for "light detection and ranging", suggest that Central America supported an advanced civilisation more akin to sophisticated cultures like ancient Greece or China.

"Everything is turned on its head," Ithaca College archaeologist Thomas Garrison told the BBC.

He believes the scale and population density has been "grossly underestimated and could in fact be three or four times greater than previously thought".

How does Lidar work?

Described as "magic" by some archaeologists, Lidar unveils archaeological finds almost invisible to the naked eye, especially in the tropics.

  • It is a sophisticated remote sensing technology that uses laser light to densely sample the surface of the earth
  • Millions of laser pulses every four seconds are beamed at the ground from a plane or helicopter
  • The wavelengths are measured as they bounce back, which is not unlike how bats use sonar to hunt
  • The highly accurate measurements are then used to produce a detailed three-dimensional image of the ground surface topography

Revolutionary treasure map

The group of scholars who worked on this project used Lidar to digitally remove the dense tree canopy to create a 3D map of what is really under the surface of the now-uninhabited Guatemalan rainforest.

"Lidar is revolutionising archaeology the way the Hubble Space Telescope revolutionised astronomy," Francisco Estrada-Belli, a Tulane University archaeologist, told National Geographic. "We'll need 100 years to go through all [the data] and really understand what we're seeing."

Archaeologists excavating a Maya site called El Zotz in northern Guatemala, painstakingly mapped the landscape for years. But the Lidar survey revealed kilometres of fortification wall that the team had never noticed before.

"Maybe, eventually, we would have gotten to this hilltop where this fortress is, but I was within about 150 feet of it in 2010 and didn't see anything," Mr Garrison told Live Science.

While Lidar imagery has saved archaeologists years of on-the-ground searching, the BBC was told that it also presents a problem.

"The tricky thing about Lidar is that it gives us an image of 3,000 years of Mayan civilisation in the area, compressed," explained Mr Garrison, who is part of a consortium of archaeologists involved in the recent survey.

"It's a great problem to have though, because it gives us new challenges as we learn more about the Maya."

In recent years Lidar technology has also been used to reveal previously hidden cities near the iconic ancient temple of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Hidden insights

Maya civilisation, at its peak some 1,500 years ago, covered an area about twice the size of medieval England, with an estimated population of around five million.

"With this new data it's no longer unreasonable to think that there were 10 to 15 million people there," said Mr Estrada-Belli, "including many living in low-lying, swampy areas that many of us had thought uninhabitable."

Most of the 60,000 newly identified structures are thought to be stone platforms that would have supported the average pole-and-thatch Maya home.

The archaeologists were struck by the "incredible defensive features", which included walls, fortresses and moats.

They showed that the Maya invested more resources into defending themselves than previously thought, Mr Garrison said.

One of the hidden finds is a seven-storey pyramid so covered in vegetation that it practically melts into the jungle.

Another discovery that surprised archaeologists was the complex network of causeways linking all the Maya cities in the area. The raised highways, allowing easy passage even during rainy seasons, were wide enough to suggest they were heavily trafficked and used for trade.

"The idea of seeing a continuous landscape, but understanding everything is connected across many square miles is amazing," said Mr Houston.

"We can expect many further surprises," he added.

The Lidar survey was the first part of a three-year project led by a Guatemalan organisation that promotes cultural heritage preservation. It will eventually map more than 5,000 sq miles (14,000 sq km) of Guatemala's lowlands.


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The growing adoption of BIM and demand for digital data are fuelling the take-up of drones in the construction industry. Ian Tansey of ProDroneWorx discusses this growing technology and its potential to transform the sector

The construction industry is moving towards to a world where digital information is an essential part of conducting business due to the many benefits it brings. Within this industry, its commercial adoption is being accelerated by the shift towards more and more companies using BIM (Building Information Modelling).

Drone technology is one of the tools a company can use to produce digital data, other methods include ground-based scanning. Drone technology can be deployed very quickly, safely and cost-effectively on any job that requires digital information.

Here are some interesting facts about drone technology:

  1. Drones are going to be a major disruptor in the construction industry now and in the coming years. Early and effective implementation of the technology will give companies a significant edge in a very competitive market.
  2. According to PwC, drone technologies will upend and reshape construction-related business models. Of all industries, construction has the best prospects for leveraging drone technology.
  3. Balfour Beatty is also predicting that drones in the construction industry will play a key part in the digital transformation.

These forecasts and adoption of the technology were confirmed in a recent survey by my own company, ProDroneWorx.

A third of the respondents, which included construction firms, surveyors, architects and engineers, were already using drone technology and, of those that did not, almost 70% of them planned to do so in the near future.

Of the third of respondents that were already using drone technology, the majority (60%) had been using it for less than a year. But an important sub-group of this set (11%) had been using the technology for three to five years – making them very early adaptors indeed.

ProDroneWorx believes that drone technology will transform traditional business models and help digitalise the construction industry. Indeed, early adopters are already starting to see a positive impact on their operational processes from the way projects are understood and monitored to the inspection of assets.

Drones in the construction industry have a wide variety of uses, from 3D modelling (point clouds and textured models), topographical surveys and volume measurement to progress monitoring. Indeed, at nearly every stage of the construction process drones can be of huge benefit, from the planning stage to final construction.

Drone technology and BIM

Although drone technology has many applications within the construction industry, currently its primary use is in photography and video, surveying, asset inspection and progress monitoring.

The technology also has many uses within BIM, for example:

  • 3D modelling: 3D models (point cloud, textured model) over large areas or objects can be easily created using drone technology or can be combined with ground-based laser scanning and conventional total station surveying to produce the complete 3D model. 3D models can be imported into BIM or CAD packages so that comparisons can be made with the design plans or it can be used to create an intelligent 3D model.
  • Progress monitoring: Drones are the best way for companies to monitor work progress on a project. They provide managers with data to better track a project’s progress, manage resources, reduce downtime and keep projects on schedule and within budget. They also allow teams to verify the ‘as-built’ project status against design models using 2D and 3D data.
  • Orthomosaics: High resolution aerial imagery can be captured on the whole project area and all of the images can be merged to form a seamless mosaic. This data can be used within BIM to understand the development area in great detail, while the 2D image is orthorectified so measurements can be taken from it.

Drones are likely to revolutionise construction through the use of 3D modelling, which will reduce the amount of time it takes to design, analyse and maintain a structure, or implement any changes. 3D models are capable of spanning a project’s entire lifecycle, from the initial planning stages through to the operation and maintenance. As a result, onsite and offsite management can enjoy a clearer understanding of a project’s performance by maintaining more consistent data and responding faster to change.

3D models bring the real world or ‘as-build’ into the office and this means that the user can carry out some of the following tasks: appraisal of existing conditions, monitoring construction progress, carrying out structural assessments and recording ‘as-built’ conditions.

In recent years, we’ve seen a lot of improvement in positioning accuracies through the use of ground control points (GCPs) or drones with RTK/PPK built-in, developments of photogrammetry software and the use of LIDAR on drones. 3D point clouds and textured model accuracies have now been demonstrated and validated down to just a few millimetres.

So how can drone technology be used within BIM? Let’s take an existing building where a laser scanner is used to acquire data on the inside while a drone can be used to capture data on the external of the building and the surrounding area. Integrating information from two different datasets enables a complete representation of a building to be achieved. This information can then be used for a variety of purposes, including redesign, visualisation of the building inside and out for prospective customers and as a historical record.

A key benefit of using drone technology, and the specialised photogrammetry software used to create the 2D/3D maps or models, is that the data can be imported into BIM or CAD packages in various file formats, such as dwg, dxf, xyz, las, laz, obj and kmz. This makes integration of the digital 2D/3D data into workflow processes straightforward.

What does the future hold?

Drone adoption is clearly set to grow in the future – and I have no doubt in my mind that we have much more to see in terms of the development of new products and technological innovations.

These technological improvements will make drones fly faster for longer, while also improving safety. The real benefits will come from improvements to the drone itself, with sensors and the use of predicative data analytics to analyse real-time information through machine learning and algorithms.


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If you are planning to list your home for sale, you probably already know that you need to prepare your home for the market. This is called staging! The point is to create the most attractive, welcoming version of your home to entice buyers into the home and encourage offers. Your listing needs staging also! Professional photography has traditionally been the best way to attract those buyers. Today’s buyers also expect to find real estate drone photography/video and drones are changing the way listings are presented to the marketplace.

Most buyers now start their home search online. Over 90% in 2015 used resources on the Internet to research properties that meet their needs. The online listing is your first opportunity to showcase your home to potential buyers. With drones, you now have the ability to show potential buyers aspects of your home and neighborhood that was once reserved only for the very high-end market. Aerial photography no longer requires an expensive aircraft, for under $200 a decent drone can be purchased and used with very little instruction.

Studies show that using professional photography is instrumental in selling the home as quickly as possible and for the highest sales price. Drones have added an additional value to online listings. Online listings with drone photography or video receive significantly more views than those without. Buyers tend to linger on the site longer as well. Video options and drone shots increase attention and in doing so, the potential buyer has the opportunity to see aspects of the home never seen before.

With drones becoming more mainstream; just want kind of pictures and video are real estate agents offering in their listings?

  • Great way to showcase larger homes, provides perspective
  • Display the entire property including yards, land and acreage
  • Video moves around the home, offering details on architecture and landscaping
  • Positions the home in its surroundings. Does it sit on a bluff overlooking the lake? Is there a park or trail nearby? How far to the community clubhouse or golf course? If part of the appeal is location, drone video/pictures really allow the viewer to feel the location.
  • Pair with a script to narrate the drone tour to engage potential buyers and call attention to special features.

The real estate industry has embraced drone photography/video whole heartedly, but there are more changes to come. While most municipalities still allow drone piloting by lay-people, hiring a professional is still the best choice. Professional drone operators understand how to get the best shot without infringing on the privacy of the neighborhood members. Careful attention to air traffic rules must also be observed. But all-in-all, drones are changing the way we market online homes for sale.

Aerial photography and video is no longer reserved for luxury property listings. More and more agents are seeing the value of drones. Make sure your home stands out among the sea of listings as potential buyers sort through properties online. Professional drone photography will help you sell your home faster and for a higher sales price than those without. Present your home in the best possible light to attract those buyers and encourage them to visit and write you an offer.


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The utility industry has taken tentative steps to enter a new era of technologically-driven opportunities – along with its challenges – with the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (also known as drones).

Electric, gas, and water utilities are increasingly interested in taking advantage of the capabilities of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to support their operations. Applications for UAS are numerous and include maintenance inspections, surveying right-of-way, evaluating asset restoration, and in the construction of power lines and plants.

It is through autonomous commercial drones that utilities are changing the way they inspect and survey generation facilities, transmission and distribution infrastructure, and terrain by enabling the rapid, repeatable and safe collection of high-resolution imagery. Some are using UAS for Visual Line-of-Sight (VLOS) applications, such as the provision of substation aerial views. Others are actively investigating the use of UAS to inspect transmission towers and power lines as an alternative to costly and potentially more dangerous helicopter deployment.

Many utilities use the capabilities of the UAS to supplement inspection operations performed by line crews, such as power line and substation inspections, and during routine vegetation maintenance. UAS are also uniquely suited to assess damage to utility infrastructure in the aftermath of natural disasters, such as a flood, tornado or hurricane. Utility maintenance and outage restoration efforts are greatly enhanced by using many kinds of smart technologies and drones are a key piece of this new story.

However, for utilities to take full advantage of the promise drones can offer they need to be able to operate them Beyond VLOS (BVLOS).

Securing authority to operate BVLOS is a critical step for utilities where in many countries the use of drones is either not allowed or is highly restricted. With utility lines and pipes spread over thousands of meters and across various terrains, BVLOS drones are more efficient and can complete inspections more economically, safely and faster than traditional means (typically helicopters and inspection ground crews).

BVLOS drones, equipped with cameras and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors, capture imagery that only a few years ago needed an aircraft, large sensors and a crew to accomplish. Today drones with sophisticated software can process the LiDAR images very quickly in cloud-based platforms so effective decisions can be made by stakeholders and relevant parties. It is, therefore, understandable that utilities are increasingly attracted to this gamechanging technology.

Asset inspection and maintenance

North American electric utilities are particularly eager to use drones to mitigate hazardous, time-consuming and expensive work of inspecting remote, often dangerous power lines and transmission towers. In one example, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) has partnered with a Canadian utility on drone inspection between Lake Erie and the Niagara River in an effort to make repairs that are quicker, safer, more environmentally friendly and considerably less expensive.

Solar power plants are also seeing a high rate of drone use. Drones give operations teams a birds-eye-view of the solar field with sensors outside of the visible light spectrum allowing the utility or IPP to find hot spots in a solar field. This allows much more efficient maintenance when looking for the panels that need replacing. Ultimately, this results in a more efficient solar field, with more proactive maintenance versus the more traditional approach of testing each panel on a maintenance schedule.

Another example is wind turbine drone inspection, which is set to be a billion-dollar industry in the next 10 years. Advances in operational intelligence (OI) technology as well as easing regulations will certainly help to accelerate this growing trend in utilities around the world.

Disaster recovery and outage restoration

While drones can help with the routine maintenance needs of utilities, they also have a place in disaster response and damage assessment. Drones can be quickly deployed in the event of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, in order for utilities to get a sense of the damage to utility infrastructure, potential hazards such as blocked roads and unsafe bridges, and where repairs are needed most.

This allows utilities to dispatch the right number of ground crews to the right places, with the correct equipment and knowledge to make the necessary repairs and stay safe while doing so.


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