Drone News

Yamaha Motor Co. said Friday that it will launch its first drone for agricultural use in March 2019.

The company aims to sell 500 units of the YMR-08 in 2019 and 1,000 units in 2021 amid growing demand for labor savings when it comes to the spraying of pesticides, due to a decline in the number of farmers.

It aims to win a 50 percent share of the market for agricultural drones.

Yamaha Motor has managed operations involving small remote-controlled helicopters for agricultural use for 30 years.

Drones are more suitable than helicopters for use at small farms in cities and mountainous regions, according to the company.

The YMR-08, which can spray one hectare with agricultural chemicals during a 15-minute flight on a single charge, is priced at ¥2,754,000, the company said. A device to spray pesticides will be sold separately.

Yamaha Motor plans to hold seminars on how to use the drone at 25 sites nationwide.

Japanese firms lag behind some companies in China and other foreign countries in the development and sales of drones.

Katsu Nakamura, senior general manager of Yamaha Motor’s division for unmanned systems, said the company has taken awhile to launch an agricultural drone because it “took time to examine the benefits (of the product) without giving up (development) by the company itself.”

“We hold the lead in spraying devices,” Nakamura said, adding that he’s eager to recover from setbacks in the field.


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Autonomous drone start-up Emesent, led by former employees of CSIRO’s Data61 technology division, has received $3.5 million in capital investments for its Hovermap system.

Hovermap is designed for automated data collection via drone in dangerous underground areas.

Last year, the team was responsible for the first fully autonomous beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) drone flight in an underground mine. This took place 600 metres below the surface in Western Australia.

Emesent co-founder and chief executive Stefan Hrabar said, “Hovermap enables the mining industry to safely inspect inaccessible areas of underground mines while improving the type and quality of data collected to unlock new insights.

“This includes comparing the stope design to the actual post-blast shape to detect over-break and under-break, identification of geotechnical structures and accurate post-blast volume reconciliations.”

The LiDAR-equipped Hovermap has already been deployed at operations in Australia, the United States, Canada, China and Japan in various capacities, and is currently being rolled out as part of a new program designed to target the underground mining sector.

CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall said Emesent was a company that “hit the innovation sweet spot” by combining digital expertise with mining experience.

“This has been harnessed by the environment we have created at CSIRO where deep science combines with innovative ideas and agile minds to create game-changing technologies,” he said.

“CSIRO’s strength lies in our knowledge and experience of core markets like mining and agriculture and the channels we create, like our ON program, to deliver digital innovation which is transforming and creating new industries.”

Capital raising for Hovermap is led by CSIRO’s innovation fund Main Sequence Ventures.

Tags: Australian Drones, Mining Drones


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Over & Above Africa, an LA-based charity, is dedicated to fighting the poaching battle on all fronts and have teamed up with Giant Films to direct and produce The Guardian. The aim of the project is to raise funds to supply drones to wildlife reserves.

the guardian african wildlife poaching

The film was made by an international team of creatives led by Fackrell who is currently based in Amsterdam, with Coleman from Cape Town-based Giant Films taking the lead in the director’s chair.

The 90-second documentary was released earlier this month and points out that “all of Africa’s animal groups are threatened by poaching,” but explained that drone surveillance could increase their chances of survival by 80%.

Drones were used to shoot the short expressive docu-film and include aerial shots of animals along with their collective nouns – a dazzle of zebras, a wobble of ostriches, a pride of lions, and so forth. The footage then shows a “gang of poachers,” calling them a plague, and branding what they do as a slaughter.

the guardian african wildlife poaching

Kerry David, Over & Above Africa’s founder, said it is indeed a slaughter, and added:

“Every day is a tech-war between heavily armed, well organised, skilled poachers and our courageous, but often ill-equipped rangers. Dropping our guard can mean the loss of whole herds.”

With the help of drone surveillance, Africa’s animals can be protected, and poachers can be brought to justice. Poaching is rampant through most of Africa and with the rhino population numbers dwindling, severe measures are needed to guard against extinction.

the guardian african wildlife poaching

While the numbers are decreasing, approximately 1030 rhinos were killed during 2017 and elephant numbers dropped by 9%. It is without a doubt a scourge on the world and is systematically forcing many animals to the brink of extinction, all in the name of profit.

Animals are killed for their pelts and tusks, and when it comes to rhino poaching, poachers torture and kill these animals to get their horns. The horns are sold on the black market and ivory rakes in enormous profits. In some instances, it is even valued more than gold.

We reached out to the creative team for insight into the creation of the film and the impact and awareness they hope to generate with the Guardian project.

Understanding that this must have been a tiny budget, can you give some insight as to what role you played in bringing this film to life?

Sam Coleman: Projects for these kinds of causes of course tend to be on the low budget side and absolutely rely on the goodwill of others. The wellbeing and future of our animals’ hit’s a nerve with people and everybody clambered on board to help, from my DOP and often-time collaborator Devin Toselli, to my amazing post partners at Strangelove and Priest.

What kind of difference do you hope to make and how do you think this film will affect change?

SC: As long as it raises awareness, and ultimately donations to Over & Above African it’s doing it’s job. It’s ultimately a tech war between poachers and the rangers on the ground, so the more we can help the rangers the better equipped they will be to fight the war.

the guardian african wildlife poaching

What do you feel the role of creative is in affecting positive change in the world?

SC: Ultimately, in todays divided world we are also seeing creativity becoming being more politically active and aware to fight all kinds of injustice which is a great thing. We shouldn’t, and don’t, exist in a vacuum for our own entertainment, there’s too much at stake.

What is the role as a creative when it comes to projects like these?

Andy Fackrell: I always try to find an emotional trigger that’s not expected. Collective nouns, something that romanticises animals provided that hook.

It was an ambitious idea that required everything be treated with great sensitivity; the edit, the music, the grade. It was important to present the poachers and dead elephants in a very matter of fact manner, not in a sensationalist way.

We have been informed that Over & Above Africa was shortlisted for the prestigious Ciclope Festival. The festival kicks off on 8 November in Berlin.


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The marine mammals live at the base of the 100-metre-high Bunda Cliffs along the Great Australian Bight in South Australia.

Nullarbor travellers are none the wiser to their location with the Southern Ocean's huge swells and the crumbling cliffs protecting their existence.

But now SA Marine Parks staff have been able to fly drones down the cliff to get a true picture of just how many sea lions live there.

The project has logged sea lion pups in 25 colonies dotted along a 180 kilometre stretch of the coast.

man looking at camera holding drone controls, drone on ground with ocean and island in background

PHOTO: State Marine Parks manager Dirk Holman says the drone is more effective than peering over the cliff. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

Marine Parks manager Dirk Holman said the pinnipeds were first discovered there in the 1990s and previous counts had been difficult because of the inaccessibility of the area and typography.

He said using drones to photograph and create 3D models of the cliff base had immediately revealed greater numbers than counted before and in the long term, would help identify population changes.

"We had about 385 per cent more pups that we saw, compared to previous survey, so that number did surprise me," Mr Holman said.

"This is not due to a population recovery but being able to visually access the entire colonies for the first time.

"We've been monitoring them on and off for I guess the last 20 years and I've been scratching my head for the last five or six years knowing that we could do it better.

"We've just been peering over the cliffs with binoculars trying to look at how many sea lions are at the base."

Drones sent 60m down

The drones are sent 60 metres down the cliff edge and thousands of high-resolution photographs are taken in quick succession.

Tall cliffs with ocean waves and tiny person and vehicle on top

PHOTO: The remote Bunda Cliffs are home to about 25 colonies of the endangered Australian sea lion. (Supplied: EP Natural Resources)

The images are stitched together using photogrammetry software to build 3D digital images of the terrain and colonies to allow accurate estimates of the population size based on pup numbers.

Global Unmanned Systems manager Rob Lednor said the terrain posed difficulties for the drone operators.

"The Bunda Cliffs reach a scale of approximately 100 metres and this rough, steep landscape is often battered by strong winds blowing in from the Southern Ocean," he said.

"Conditions are challenging for RPA (remotely piloted aircraft) operators and the equipment, especially in the context of conducting fauna surveys."

Dangerous clifftop viewing

Mr Holman said the drones were providing a safer and more accurate count than their previous method of peering over the cliff edge with a pair of binoculars.

"Even colonies where we know there's been animals there, I've only had counts of five or 10 [in the past] but with using the drones, we've counted up to 60 to 65 animals in a colony," he said.

"We always knew that the data we were getting just by peering over the edges using cameras and binoculars wasn't the complete picture but I was really surprised how many more animals we saw."

He said the drone project was a breakthrough in sea lion management and could help preserve the species.

Australian sea lion filmed in the Great Australian Bight off South Australia

PHOTO: Sea lions were hunted to near-extinction by commercial sealers during the 1800s. (Supplied: Tim Watters via Sea Shepherd)

"It's a tough existence for the sea lions to survive, let alone breed at the bottom of the cliffs," Mr Holman said.

The 3D models of the cliffs would allow parks management to study how the colonies are changing over time and how they fit with the population trends.

Hunted almost to extinction

It is believed that in the early 1800s the Australian sea lion, or Neophoca cinerea, was nearly hunted to extinction in some areas by commercial sealers, including around Bass Strait and off Albany in Western Australia.

Now the pinnipeds are only found in colonies from The Pages off South Australia to the Houtman Abrolhos in WA but the populations have not recovered from sealing and were listed internationally as endangered in 2008.

"Unfortunately they're not tracking too well," Mr Holman said.

"The latest state-wide population survey we did showed a 78 per cent decline over three generations, which is significant.

"There's been an overlap of fishing effort with the sea lions' foraging grounds so there's been an historical incidental bycatch of the animals.

"Unfortunately they only breed every 17 and a half months so they don't breed every year so when there are fatalities through bycatch, and if that's gone on for a period of time, then they're going to recover really slowly."

Man standing

PHOTO: Drone technology has allowed greater access to offshore islands, providing real-time footage in the field. (ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

Population still declining

Department of Environment research lists fisheries bycatch as the primary threat, as well as demersal gillnet fishing for sharks, rock lobster pots, and entanglement in marine debris.

Among the secondary threats listed were marine fish aquaculture, including loss of habitat and entanglement as well as direct killing, disease, pollution, oil spills and noise, particularly from seismic surveys, construction, or marine operations.

"There has been a lot of work done to minimise the interactions between the fisheries and the animals so we're sort of hoping that pretty soon we'll see a response in the pup production," Mr Holman said.

"We mainly pups in a survey so the last survey state-wide, which we did 2014/2015, there were just over 2,200 pups.

"[That's] down from 2,900 pups between six or seven years earlier so you can see that the pup numbers are declining across the state."

rocky island, two people pointing, sea lions lying around

PHOTO: The National Parks team works to manually count sea lions on Dangerous Reef near Port Lincoln. (Supplied: EP Natural Resources)

Natural Resources EP will be applying the drone technology to count sea lions at more accessible islands off Port Lincoln over the next four months.

"At the moment we're doing Dangerous Reef which is the biggest sea lion colony and some of the data we're getting from that is really spectacular," Mr Holman said.

He expects the technology will have other applications for conservation.

"I can see it being used for things like mapping revegetation projects [and] tracking rehabilitation," he said.

"So, anything where you're looking to measure change over time, you can get a really intricate and a really detailed set of data from using the drones."

Tags: Drone Tracking, Endangered Species, Aerial Photography


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In the night sky near Interstate 75 in northern Oakland County, 60 drones moved with precision.

Their preprogrammed electric dance lit the early evening October darkness with a changing, blending palette of red, green and blue as they outlined many forms — a rotating cube, a tornado ripping a roof from a house, a pair of eyes gazing.

The 16-minute unmanned aircraft system show north of Detroit was not advertised, but it drew enough of a crowd of cars that drone operators felt compelled to shut the gate of the field managed by a Radio Control flying club known as the Holly Cloud Hoppers.

The shapes and maneuvers, accompanied by the swarm's hive-like buzz, were not designed to entertain on this night but rather to allow a Michigan company, Firefly Drone Shows, to try out new ideas, some of which may be used for an upcoming performance.

Ryan Sigmon, who owns Lake Orion-based Firefly with Kyle Dorosz, compared the LED light display to something seen on a computer screen.

"Just think of them as pixels. Every drone has a very specific place to be at a specific time,” he said.

But try not thinking of them as drones, Sigmon advised. Instead, think of how an artist would see them.

"Look at it like, I’ve got a bunch of dots in the sky, what can I do to it? That’s when the real magic starts to happen there," Sigmon said.

That magic is what is prompting interest in the kinds of drone shows Firefly and some other companies can create. Last month, Firefly produced a show for the 100th anniversary of the start of production at the Ford Rouge Plant. Drones were used to spell out "HAPPY B-DAY!" in the sky and even create vehicles, including an F-150 pickup, which appeared to drive over rocky terrain.

The kind of evening celebration that might have once been the exclusive domain of fireworks is expanding to include the increasing technological prowess of drones. Firefly, which got the necessary waivers to operate multiple drones at night from the Federal Aviation Administration just this year, demonstrated a piece of the potential market this summer when Sigmon and Dorosz got a call from a resort community in Arizona.

Extremely dry conditions had forced a cancellation of the community's Fourth of July fireworks show. With only a few days' notice, Sigmon, Dorosz and crew drove west and pulled off a drone show in between their other scheduled events.

“We were able to use drones to solve an actual problem that someone was having, which was super neat ... and just the fact that we were able to pull it off in four days was just the cherry on top,” said Dorosz.

Firefly did not provide specific price information, but Sigmon said pricing is "typically in line with a large firework display."

Firefly Drone Shows from Lake Orion uses multiple drones to swarm creating evening light shows. They are doing a test in Holly for an upcoming show on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018. Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press

Good enough for Lady Gaga

Drone shows have been used in a number of high-profile events in the last few years, including during the Super Bowl LI halftime show with Lady Gaga in 2017 and earlier this year for the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The Olympics performance featured more than 1,200 drones in a pretaped show that memorably created a snowboarder in action. 

Intel, which is considered a pioneer in drone entertainment; Firefly; and Great Lakes Drone Co., which is based in southwest Michigan, are considered the main operators in the lighted drone shows, but anyone hoping to develop similar nighttime shows in the U.S. could seek the necessary Federal Aviation Administration waivers.

The FAA said it has issued 38 waivers allowing operations of multiple drones by a single pilot, and more than 1,900 waivers allowing operations at night. The three companies have both types of waivers.

Firefly Drone Shows founder Kyle Dorosz prepares to launch 60 drones in a field near Holly on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 to test for a upcoming show.  (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

The need to issue waivers to allow such operations, however, might provide a false confidence in the safety of the technology, according to one expert, Ella Atkins, an aerospace engineering professor at the University of Michigan.

"The fact that it’s a waiver means it's not an established process," Atkins said. "If you think about it, you're getting exceptions or waivers that really amounts to the FAA acknowledging that they don’t yet have a process to carefully evaluate the safety of every drone that asks them to operate so they instead review paperwork that is really light on the technical details."

Atkins has worked extensively with drones as a faculty adviser for Michigan's student drone team, helping to push for a netted test facility at the university and serving on a National Academies committee related to drone research, according to the university. She is also a private pilot.

Atkins said risks that a drone may fall from the sky remain, and those risks, in terms of equipment, software and operational practices "where the drone can be absolutely trusted to fly in a crowd” have not been carefully examined.

“We can go out and show that a drone is really impressive at following a prescribed path, which is what a lot of these light shows are doing. People have very meticulously created what they believe is an artistic pattern for the group of drones to follow, which is normally great ... but if something goes wrong, maybe it’s not so great," Atkins said.

Drone injury lawsuit

Something did go wrong for a Los Angeles woman on June 30.

Before a fireworks display at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Monika Nourmand was hit in the face by a drone operated by Great Lakes Drone Co. owner Matt Quinn, according to a lawsuit and her attorney, who noted that Nourmand did not know a drone show had been planned. 

Nourmand and her husband sued Quinn and his company, both of which have denied responsibility, according to a published report, as well as Caesars, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The collision led to an emergency room visit for Nourmand, who was treated for a range of injuries, including subretinal bleeding, cuts around her eye, a fracture of the orbital floor, blurriness and vision loss, according to Nourmand's attorney, Robert Glassman, who said she is now at risk of early onset glaucoma.

Why the drone hit Nourmand in the face is unclear, but Glassman said something obviously went wrong, and he believes his law firm can demonstrate negligence.

"When you’re operating a flying machine like that, you need to take appropriate and proper precautions that in the event of a failure, and here I think it’s clear something failed but there were no protocols in place to ensure that it wouldn’t fall and hit one of the spectators below," Glassman said.

He dismissed the idea that a waiver would shield the operators from liability.

“Even if there is a waiver to the federal regulations, you can’t operate a drone that falls out of the sky and strikes someone in the face without being held accountable. I mean the waiver is not a waiver in the event that there is an injury or that there’s negligence," Glassman said.

Firefly Drone Shows Ryan Sigmon, 28, of West Bloomfield holds one of the 60 proprietary drones before it is launched in a field near Holly on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 to test for a upcoming show.  (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

The FAA, however, said "based on the investigation, there appeared to be no violation of existing federal aviation regulations.”

Quinn, the owner of Great Lakes Drone Co., declined to discuss the incident, citing the lawsuit, but said “all FAA investigations are open. I'm not too worried about anything."

Quinn predicted that while accidents may happen, they will be small in number compared with the total number of drone operators. He pointed to a recent TechCrunch article written by a journalist who said a small Intel drone dropped on his head during the unveiling of a new Audi electric vehicle. The writer noted that he was not hurt.

But Quinn emphasized that drones hold tremendous promise and will be expanding in many arenas, such as package delivery, in coming years.

"The drone industry is new and emerging, and it's going to be amazing to see what's going to happen in the future as all of us come together and get better at what we do," Quinn said. “There's no manual out there that says this is how you do a drone light show."

Great Lakes has been involved in shows at state fairs in New York and Michigan, an air show in Wisconsin and a show with fireworks on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Quinn said his company was scheduled for about 50 shows this year and is booked for about twice as many next year. 

Natalie Pavlatos, managing associate of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, an advocacy group, noted that FAA regulations opened the door to commercial drone operations in 2016.

"Since then, over 110,000 commercial small (unmanned aircraft systems) have been registered with the FAA, and they expect more than 450,000 UAS to be flying for commercial purposes by 2022," Pavlatos wrote in an email.

Drone regulations

The regulations stipulate that drones must fly under 400 feet, within a visual line of site, one at a time and during the day, she said.

"However, the FAA recognized the need for this rule to be flexible and created a waiver process to allow for expanded operations on a case-by-case basis, including flights at night or multiple drones at once (both important for drone light shows)," Pavlatos said.

A waiver is also available for operators who want to fly over people.

Firefly Drone Shows Ryan Sigmon, 28, of West Bloomfield helps to position 60 drones in a field near Holly on Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018 to test for a upcoming show.  (Photo: Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press)

In the lead-up to the October test show in Oakland County, Firefly's Sigmon described the preparations taken, such as running simulations for safety purposes. The drones would be flying at speeds up to 10 mph and with enough separation at all times.

Sigmon described the individual units as a "very stripped down, basic drone … built just for the purpose of light shows" from a proprietary design, "whatever we could build that could fly the longest and have the brightest light."

Sigmon described how he and Dorosz, who's "been winning trophies flying planes ever since he was a little kid," started the company. 

Two years ago, they were marveling at the work Intel was doing with drones, pondering what it would take to fly multiple drones. They began building prototypes in Dorosz's basement.

Now Firefly is "booked just about every other weekend," doing shows across the country.

Tags: Drone Light Show, Drone Swarm, Events


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DRONELIFE is excited to announce a new collaboration with drone attorney and business expert Enrico Schaefer, of Traverse Legal, PLC and Drone Law Pro.  Welcome to the first edition of From the Ground Up: a podcast series designed to help drone businesses level up and grow.  Enrico Schaefer will interview drone businesses from around the country to identify key steps to succeeding in the industry.

Check out our first episode below, an interview with Matt Quinn of Great Lakes Drone Company.


[Transcript of the Show (edited for readability)]

Welcome to Drone Law Pro Radio. I am your host Enrico Schaefer, a drone attorney from the law firm Traverse Legal, PLC and the operator of Drone Law Pro. This is our first addition of “From the Ground Up”. From the Ground Up is a new show that we have put together with Drone Life and is designed to help Part-107 pilots grow their commercial drone business. From the Ground Up is going to talk to Part 107 pilots who are successful in their Part 107 operations. If you are a Part 107 pilot that is just getting started, you have been around for a couple years or you are a substantial Part 107 service provider that is looking to grow their business, then this Drone Law Pro radio show is going to be for you.

Enrico Schafer: So, welcome to the first installment of From the Ground Up. Today for our first guest we have, Matt Quinn. Matt is the CEO of Great Lakes Drone Company. They are one of the top service providers in the country providing a wide array of activities that include kind of a brick and mortar Part 107 services, as well as some interesting stuff like drone light shows. They are one of just a few companies out there including Intel that does drone light shows. They are doing lots of shows for lots of big customers. With over 100 drones in the air designing some cool stuff. We will talk about some of the drone light show aspects of this business and then we will talk a little bit about the services portion, inspection services, and what areas are hot in terms of the niches that drone pilots can be providing services in. You should understand that Great Lakes Drone has been around for a long time; this is their third year of operations. They are doing 400-500 operations a year. Some of their clients include Toyota, T-world, Michigan State Fair, Aspen Chamber of Commerce and many more.

Enrico Schaefer: Matt Quinn, welcome to the show.

Matt Quinn: Good morning Enrico, how are you?

Enrico Schaefer: Good. Matt, I want to talk a little bit about some of the things that will be relevant to other drone pilots. I really appreciate you being on this show because essentially what I am asking you to do is to share your best tips and experiences to help other Part 107 operations get off the ground. My view is that we are at a point where a rising thermal lifts all drones and so everyone helping everyone out is important for market growth. The first question I want to ask you about is kind of your own background. What pre-Part 107 experience can make a difference in a successful Part 107 operation? What kinds of things should people be thinking about in terms of what they bring to the table besides going and getting their Part 107 certificate. So, talk a little bit about your prior experiences and how it has helped you grow your business.

Matt Quinn: Well, I think there are two key factors that really help 107 pilots that stand out. Having some type of aromatic background, whether minimal or quite extensive, comes in very handy because there are a lot of laws and regulations and such that we must work through and around to accomplish the actual end products for the actual missions that our clients are coming to us with. You really must be and out of the box thinker regarding all of that. So, for me I had several years of simple air patrol when I was younger and had a lot of aeronautical background, as well as worked as a flight paramedic for several years. So, I had a lot of aeronautical background experiences regarding regulations, Part 135 operations through resource management. All those key things that are very regulations specific. And understanding the aeronautical field itself. And then having some type of minimal hobby level aspect of photography and videography when you are really starting to merge in this market. The drone industry itself is so diverse between your main markets you are looking at cinematography, you are looking at the entertainment industry, looking at the inspection industry, the ad industry, the survey mapping industry. There’s so many different dynamics all the way up to what we assume will be the future of actual delivery drone integration in a national air space. There’s a lot of background that comes together to develop the drone industry that it will become in some point and time soon. The key is having some type of aeronautical background and/or developing some and putting some time into understanding the aeronautical background, the regulations, the flight dynamics, and all those aspects. Because the safer your operation is, the more things that you put into your operations from a safety stand point is what’s going to help you stand out. The one thing people must understand is that no matter what you do in the drone industry just like everything that they do in the medical industry and they do in the general aviation, commercial aviation, accidents are going to happen. But its how you handle a situation and how you build around those situations and stuff and do everything you can to avoid them and understanding that aeronautical knowledge and being able to say that you did everything you could to get to this point. Some things are still going to happen. So, it is all of that baseline knowledge and everything that is going to make you stand out and apart as the industry moves forward. Last I knew there was over 80 something thousand Part 107 certified pilots in the US now. So, everybody is out there trying to grab whatever job they van and trying to develop a business. Most 107 pilots start with the typical real-estate stuff and everything because that is the easiest gateway into some of these aspects of drone operations. You aren’t going to make money there. So, it is taking some of this business knowledge and aeronautical knowledge and photography knowledge and if you are getting into the entertainment industry and such. It is all those things together that is going to help you build your drone business. One of the key things that I see that is a huge barrier for the drone industry beyond regulations and stuff is that everybody is fighting for those jobs, underbidding everybody trying to get their name out there, get their company out there and stuff. One of those key things you must do is develop partnerships with other drone companies. Partnerships with other industries to further that business. So, having those social skills to be able to work with other people and develop good partnerships and relationships moving forward and working through the commitments and everything is what’s going to make your business.

Enrico Schaefer: Yeah. So it’s interesting because we represent a lot of drone pilots and help them build their businesses with contracts and intellectual property and give them that presentation of being professional. One of the interesting things that I find when I talk to people is there are people that come into the business that just bought a drone and they think that that is the business. And it’s not. What I hear you saying Matt, is that you really leverage your prior aeronautical knowledge into a market differentiator. So, your ability to comply with Part 107 regulations, get your Part 107 waivers, work with ATC, express with your customers and potential customers how things need to be done right from an aeronautical standpoint is giving you some real good traction in the market. Is that accurate?

Matt Quinn: Yes, that is. A lot of people don’t realize that those key relationships and that knowledge is what’s going to set you apart. For example, working with the EAA and working with the FAA to put on the drone light show at Oshkosh was a huge feat for us, was a huge feat for the FAA and was a huge feat for the EEA. I mean we are trying to do this drone light show at a place in which you cant test the show beforehand or anything because you can not replicate the magnetic interference, the weather, the wind, the amount of planes, peoples cell phones, the Wi-Fi, everything else that is at that venue because it is so unique until you actually have to be there and do that. Not to mention all the regulatory aspects of the TFR approvals, safety margins and everything else to integrate drones outside of a cage, multiple drones in the sky while we have planes taking off just a thousand feet away from u and staging in the area. Plames flying in the area over us while we are setting up and tearing down. Pyro technics involved just a thousand feet away from us on the runway. There are so many logistical aspects to everything and to be able to pull that off and work through all of it and figure it all out together as one big team, is an amazing feat with the FAA.

Enrico Schaefer: Let’s make this clear right off the gate. This was a completely lawful operation within the regulations with direct coordination with the FAA to comply with all the different things that had to be complied with. Your prior aeronautical knowledge made that, I assume easier but also gave you a comfort level that, yeah this is possible. You could work with the FAA, here’s how you work with the FAA. The FAA is not the enemy, the FAA can be an asset with these types of issues.

Matt Quinn: The FAA is a huge asset. The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is everybody thinks that the FAA is out to curtail the whole drone industry. From personal experience, I’ve worked with the FAA quite a few times, we did the Superbowl in Minneapolis with one of our clients. We ended up filming all of the events around the Superbowl that was going on as part of the Superbowl production for the Minneapolis community and working with the Minneapolis FSDO office. When we did New York State Fair, we worked with the New York FSDO office. We are working on a project right now in California working with the San Diego LA FSDO office. Working with Vegas FSDO, working with the Michigan FSDO. There’s these men and women that work for the FAA that are there to try and help us and make things work. A lot of them are intrigued about the possibilities and where things are going to go, and they are learning with us. That’s what people don’t understand is that they want to be involved to learn more. I have worked with some of the members of NTSB and they are very intrigued about everything. It is all about data and collecting data to make things safer. To make things so that we can all learn together. For us it has been a great experience working with them. We have never really had any issues working with any of the federal branches that govern the department of transportation. Working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation on some of the projects because Minnesota and North Carolina are one of the few outliers that have internal state drone regulations and licensing and we have worked with both in the past. So, it’s been quite an experience, but we have always had a positive experience with all of them. We haven’t had any negative experiences. And we personally reach out to all of them ahead of projects and coordinate with them. It makes things much easier and having them there involved on some of the projects is quite entertaining. When we did the EAA Oshkosh show, not only did we have a bunch of heads of the FAA from Washington DC, a lot of the directors, both the director of the FSDO departments but as well as well as the airshow departments and everything, we actually had the Australian equivalent come visit and hang out with us for the entire day to see what we were doing, how we were doing it and the different safety practices that we put into the operations so that they can learn to figure out how to do some of this stuff and integrate some of this in Australia. So it’s a learning experience for all of us as we grow because there is no book out there that’s going to tell you “this is the best way to run a drone business. This is the best way to do this. This is the best way to do that” because no matter who you are, were all still working on figuring it out together. That’s one of the keys is figuring it out together.

Enrico Schaefer: Let me just put this in context for everyone, for all the listeners. So, Matt Quinn of Great Lakes Drone has this prior aviation experience and he leverages that prior experience in lots of ways. One of the ways in which you do this Matt, is your outlook. Where I talk to a lot of people with maybe prior engineering experience, or prior public safety experience or what have you and they are coming into drones and they are going to leverage their prior experience but its not aviation. They tend to see the FAA and their regulations as this big bad evil thing that is just messing them up and making it harder. You having that prior experience embrace the regulations, embrace the FAA and you are doing it one of the most challenging spaces of all, which is drone light shows. Which means it’s at night, which means you could be controlled air space, which means multiple drones from a single controller waiver. You’ve got all these waivers and authorizations you need to line up for these shows. Most Part 107 pilots don’t even have to think about most of that stuff and yet you very effortlessly navigate it all because of your outlook. Because you embrace it, because you work with the FAA, you build those relationship with the FAA to your advantage and kudos to you. I want to encourage all the drone pilots out there to think about this one question. What expertise do you bring to the table that you can leverage that gives you an advantage against the competitors? And the next question that I want them to think about is what I’m going to ask you, Matt. Which is ok. I’m a drone pilot and I’ve got prior experience in energy or infrastructure and I want to launch a drone operation, but I have no prior aviation experience. So how do I build on my experience on energy or infrastructure in a way that allows me to get up the mountain of the regulatory frame work and working with the FAA and navigating that system so that I can be like Matt Quinn at Great Lakes Drone, running these amazing drone lightshows or doing infrastructure inspections that require waivers and authorization. How do I get the aviation side? Do I need to partner with someone? Do I need to study? How do I add that critical piece to my business model?

Matt Quinn: So, it really comes down to whether, if you are coming from the energy industry or you are coming from the surveying industry, the first question you have to ask is, do you want to open up your own aviation division? A lot of companies don’t realize that if you get into the drone operations, basically you are opening from a regulatory standpoint and a paperwork standpoint. Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, you are opening up in their line operation from a paperwork and a regulatory standpoint. First you have to ask, do you want to do that, or do you want to subcontract it out in which that’s what they do? That is the first question that you have to figure out. The second question that you have tot ask yourself is, how you can leverage that information, that knowledge, that partnership that you have in relation to the aviation aspects and the regulations and so forth. If you are going to do it yourself, you must take the time to learn. The 2018 FAA re-authorization bill that just got signed, which everybody is analyzing it and looking it over. I’ve seen several videos out there of how people think it is going to affect things and what they think the FAA is going to do and such. All it is, is a frame work for the FAA. It’s setting guidelines and so fourth for the FAA to develop the regulations, to develop these changes, to develop all of this stuff. So trying to say, ok this is what its going to be right now, is we just have to slow down a little bit and see what the FAA is going to do and how they are going to handle some of these requirements that the houses and senate and the current administration has set fourth that look, over the next 5 years these are the things that need to happen. So, we’ve got to slow that down a little bit. Everybody is jumping out on everything and stuff, you know but we must take the time and we have to invest the time to sit there and look through it so that we can anticipate these changes. One of the biggest changes that’s going to be a challenge for a lot of people, including us, when we are looking at it and stuff is the airworthiness certification aspects. How is the FAA and NTSB and everybody else going to view this new requirement of creating an airworthiness standard of these unmanned systems? That’s going to be a key factor for the future. And it’s also going to be a key factor for getting those waivers of flying over people and beyond visual line of sight. I highly anticipate some of those aspects. Taking the time and actually reading through this stuff, doing the research yourself, I see so many drone pilots, I meet so many drone pilots where they say they watched this video, they watched this companies’ video of opinions or this lawyers’ opinions of stuff. You know, all of those are great and everything, but I go through and validate everything myself. I go through and look at everything myself and I reach out to the FSDOs, I reach out to the industry leaders, I’m friends with a lot of the other industry leaders.

Enrico Schaefer: Let’s stop right there because that is the next question I was going to ask is we all know that helping each other is an important piece of the puzzle in terms of market growth and getting this emerging technology to be adopted by customers and then having customers understand that its not just buying a drone. Having drone pilots understand it’s not just buying a drone. Who are the industry leaders that you rely on that you coordinate with that some people might say, oh those are your competitors. But that you see as key resources in sharing information back and forth to help your own business grow and to help the industry grow.

Matt Quinn: Yeah, exactly. Because when we look at other key industry leaders, whether they are in the sales aspect or the development aspect. I’ll drop some names. So, you’ve got Ryan up in Lansing Michigan, he’s local. He and I are great friends and everything. He is like a regulation guru. To him that’s his hobby, understanding regulation and how these regulations affect everything. He’s a drone pilot and he owns Capitol Drones. He’s not a huge market player out there, but he’s a huge resource from a regulatory standpoint. Then we look at Doug from Sundance Media Group in Vegas. They do a lot of public safety stuff and they do a lot of other cinematography stuff. His knowledge behind cinematography and behind regulations and public safety integration and stuff, he’s a great resource and great friend as well. You look at John McBride from Rocky Mountain. John is a great guy and his knowledge behind unmanned systems and development aspects and flight characteristics and everything from a technical standpoint. He’s one of the industry leaders out there because he’s been around and been in the industry prior to the industry being an industry, working with these aerial unmanned systems. Developing those partnership and developing those relationships and stuff is the key. You’ve got Frank and Vicki from Carolina Drones, they are in drone sales. But their knowledge goes beyond that. Same thing with Doug and John and everyone else. These things develop beyond that. I mean, you. You and I have talked quite a few times over the years and your legal knowledge behind everything. All these things coming together to build stuff together and, but the other thing is when you look at cost and profit margins. If I have a client that calls me that wants something out in Vegas or California or whatever, these relationships that I have developed, I’m going to reach out to some of the people out there because it doesn’t make sense for us to travel out there to do it. So, you partner with these other drone operators and these other drone businesses and stuff to accomplish the job with high quality end products for your client with minimal cost and higher profit margins. That is one of those keys of that partnership and knowing who to talk to and throw ideas back and forth together. You have to have forward thinking mentality of looking at what’s going to be the next big thing, what’s going to be the next best, what should we set. Because right now every drone operator out there that’s operating flying in the sky, we are developing the standards and the future for the industry. And if we don’t all work together, were going to either set standards that we are never going to meet, or we are going to set standards that are not going to develop the quality end products and end shows and everything else that we want to accomplish together in the future of the industry.

Enrico Schaefer: Yeah, so Matt here’s my From the Ground Up takeaways from todays show.

1. Prior experience can be a very important differentiator. So leveraging your prior experience, whatever it is whether or not its in a technical field that can use drones, whether or not it’s in my experience, law, whether or not its in your prior experience in aviation or maybe Doug’s prior experience in public safety, find out how you are going to leverage that prior experience and make it a market differentiator.

2. Form the ground up you are going to have to build relationship with other people in the industry who bring other expertise to the table and to be able to share your expertise and receive expertise from others for the good of the industry and the importance of that in terms of making thigs grow.

3. From the ground up, if you do not see the FAA as a resource then you should probably get out of the business. If you are going to complain about the regulations, then you are in the wrong space. You should go do something else because the FAA is not going away, the regulations are not going away, and the FAA does in-fact want to help you.

4. These regulations are from a business point of view are the market barrier. Your ability to go out and do these drone light shows by getting the waivers, by getting the authorizations by working directly with the FAA, there are not many Part 107 pilots out there that could do that and pull it off. And yet, you do it in part because of your prior aviation experience.

5. The last thing, from the ground up is that you must understand that this is an emerging market. Just as you have done at great lakes drones, preparing yourself for future success is a big part of what we are all doing.

So, Matt Quinn, congratulations to you and Great Lakes Drone Company on your success today and if anyone wants to see some of your drone light show work and footage, what’s the best way for them to access that because it really is spectacular. It is unique in our business and it’s really worth checking out.

Matt Quinn: So, you can go to www.greatlakesdronecompany.com. Obviously, we are on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, all the social media markets and stuff. You can just click on drone lightshow on our website and then we have a media page there where we have a lot of videos and photos of everything. It’s an ever-growing market. The one cool thing is that we pretty much took the month of October off mainly because we have already done over 50 shows this year and we are rolling out version two of our system. We are actually upgrading to RTK on all of our systems, so we will be able to do some really cool stuff here in the future. So, we took the month to work on testing and work on all of our system and upgrade all of the systems. That’s the unique thing is that no matter what you do in the drone industry is that the technology is always changing, and you are always trying to improve and be better at what you are doing. Sometimes you have to take a little time off to accomplish those things. We have shows starting again in late November and we’ve already booked quite a few shows between now and August of next year. So, if you are listening to this and you are looking for a drone light show, you want to book soon because we can only do so many shows in a day and we already have about 86 shows booked between now and August of next year. If you want to get on the list, you must get on the list soon.

Enrico Schaefer: Great. Matt Quinn, CEO of Great Lakes Drones, thanks for being on this first addition of From the Ground Up. A special podcast by Drone Law Pro and, sponsored by DroneLife. We will be doing this every other week, interviewing the top people in the industry so that you, Part 107 pilots, and you, Part 107 business, can get the insights you need to succeed. Until next time, fly safe.

Tags: Drone Technology, Small Business


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In the construction industry, where jobs are fraught with cost overruns, missed deadlines, untended RFPs and more, drone consultants’ services are in high demand. Construction projects are bedeviled by many factors that can drive up costs, impact worker safety and spawn lawsuits between stakeholders. Drones have made definable differences in this space, since they decrease the need for lengthy visual inspections, reduce planning time, and identify problems by spotting anomalies. However, these efficiencies are just the beginning.

Part 107 of the FAA has allowed construction organizations and drone service providers to make a difference for companies of all sizes. However, it’s a difference that requires a construction company to define how drones can fit into their established processes, as well as for service providers to define how drone data can be transitioned into actionable information.

Build or Outsource?

Consultants who want to take advantage of opportunities created by the FAA’s Part 107 regulations and serve organizations in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) sector should understand the needs of this industry as a whole. Any workflow that can be made more efficient by a drone is likely to be of interest to AEC companies. They want results, though, and don’t always have a lot of time to learn new technology. That’s why many are outsourcing drone work to consultants.

While some AEC companies only need occasional drone services, others are doing a mix of implementing their own drone programs and hiring consultants.

“Some companies are interested in buying the hardware, buying the software, and building things out internally,” says Jeffrey Freund, Vice President at Firmatek, a data analytics firm using drones to service the construction and mining industries. “Other companies aren’t interested in taking that route and want to outsource everything or rent/lease the products. Companies can and should make whatever choice is best suited to them, but many are still trying to figure out the true value of having drones onsite. So a lot of companies are dabbling with the technology that way and having their own engineers and construction mangers become Part 107 certified internally.”

Creating a drone program can mean engineers and managers are subtracting energy from their day-to-day jobs though, which represents work billed at a much higher rate than operating a drone. For many, it’s better to sub out the work.

“These resources are usually better suited to help with the actual construction projects themselves rather than flying drones,” Freund told Commercial UAV News. “That’s where the benefit of a platform like PrecisionHawk’s pilot network comes in. Construction companies can scale across all their projects using the network and won’t have to be dependent on a few internal Part 107 certified pilots.”

Regardless of whether a company is building a drone program or outsourcing the work, the value drones are creating is real and definable. Through the use of sensors including telematics, drones can identify when a worker may be in trouble, on a blisteringly hot day, for example. Stakeholders who aren’t able to visit the worksite can inspect through drone-provided photos, and a drone inspection can find damage to a structure that was caused by weather, theft or vandalism. These differences factor into the “build or outsource” question for construction companies, but the answer ultimately depends on a myriad of factors.

“We’re finally getting to where we can fly and monitor projects on a weekly and monthly basis. Stakeholders are seeing how the technology can help when it comes to comparing the as-designed with the as-built, and how things are moving around on a site. These are things where you’re not going to know about the true benefit until some of these projects are completed,” says Freund.

Time is money in construction, which makes many firms risk-averse and not wanting to invest in new technology or consultants. Consultants can refute such stinginess with a quick sales primer on the benefits of drones, but all of it needs to be positioned in a way that underscores where and how the technology is creating value.

Serving AEC

Timesaving is just one aspect of the value created by drones. If a drone is in some way taking an employee out of a risky situation, it’s creating value with regard to safety. Making a hazardous workplace like a construction site safer, with better surveillance through a drone, positively affects a firm’s bottom line.

“Many of these larger construction sites have heavy machinery moving all over the place,” Freund continued. “There are slip and fall hazards all the time, and some companies have moved forward with using drone technology based on the safety value alone. The value of increasing safety, just from a time delay perspective, can be incredible. If someone can get a drone in the air and see what they needed to see or even more than they can by walking around a site, I think that’s a huge safety benefit.”

The benefits of the technology can extend across many stages of the project as well. After construction, drones support the insurance claim cycle. By easily slipping into spaces that are not simply or safely accessed by humans, drones are perfect for bridge and other high elevation inspections. On a construction site, a drone report can gauge the volume of an aggregates pile or check structure locations to determine if they are accurately placed.

They also can be used in pre-construction for terrain modeling; drone software can determine if terrain is buildable. When it is, drones can lay out roads and corners of buildings within centimeters of perfect accuracy, with the help of imagery captured by drone and converted into a 3D model.

Drone consultants hoping to most effectively serve the construction industry should understand the challenges of those in the industry. They should learn about issues like inventory management, maintenance costs and safety violations, which can oftentimes be spotted by a drone long before an inspector.

“There’s been a lot of skepticism of what 3D modeling can do in photogrammetry, and there really isn’t a perfect solution out there,” Freund concluded. “A lot of people expect a perfect 3D model that’s going to be like a building information model, and that’s really not the case. Users need to figure out how the data is going to give them an answer. A big misconception is that the answer is going to come out of the drone in a ready-made manner, but it requires a trained drone service provider to analyze the information and deliver true business intelligence.”

Consultants should also be ready and willing to interpret the data for clients. It’s one thing to get the raw data to the client, however a good consultant should go beyond offering just images and videos. Effectively leveraging drone technology depends on not just capturing data, but on what sort of data is being captured, and how that information is turned into actionable insights.

Flying Smart

While many drone operators provide video, photography or one type of sensing equipment on the drone they fly, there are a variety of other sensors available. Using them can enhance the services operators provide for construction clients.

LiDAR sensors augment pre-construction surveying and mapping with a 50 percent-time savings on data capture, compared to traditional techniques. Multispectral sensors can offer vegetation mapping on proposed sites, and volumetric calculations on aggregate material (which helps with materials planning and staging). Thermal sensors can detect hidden anomalies beneath surfaces and check for proper sealing of roofs and windows. And visual sensors can be used to measure the elevation and shape of terrain, calculate cut-fill volume, create models, and monitor job progress.

Pilots licensed under Part 107 have shown their ability to operate professionally, but there are safety considerations, too. Drone consultants must carry hull and liability insurance, for the equipment and for bodily injury. They should know which types of flights are permitted and which aren’t. Most construction sites require authorization be given to on-site personnel. Waivers allowing operations beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) allows pilots to capture more area in a single deployment, compared to flying a drone within line of sight; this option may be a smart move for the consultant, depending upon the project.

To enable AEC firms to avail themselves of a drone service, consultants should price simply. Make it easy for clients to engage your services at a scale and frequency they prefer. Give them value for the price they pay.

While one of the biggest misconceptions about drones in construction focuses on a drone replacing workers or equipment, it’s an illogical worry. Drones are merely an additional tool construction companies can use to gain actionable insights and make more informed decisions for their clients.

Tags: Drone Construction, FAA, Drone Business


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But this is just the start. Goldman Sachs has predicted a US$100 billion market opportunity for drones between 2016 and 2020, with businesses and civil-governments expected to fuel a large chunk of the demand.

A big part of that includes real estate and construction, with the sectors expected to pump US$265 million and US$11.2 billion respectively into drone technology over the next few years, according to the global investment bank. Their ability to collect real-time images and submit work orders for building managers; carry out digital building walkthroughs for potential investors and tenants; conduct thermal imaging surveys to improve energy efficiency; and monitor construction progress at height, will only gather momentum.

Add to that they will completely reconfigure the way we design cities, releasing buildings from roads because “we’re probably going to be entering buildings from a roof or balcony,” says designer, Paul Priestman in the documentary Elevation.

However, the real game changer with all this is drones’ ability to collect data, says Adrienne Revai, Chief Operating Officer at JLL Australia.

“Drones are our digital eyes in the sky, and with clever software can turn visual data into insights that can help us create and manage places with more precision and efficiency than ever before, and with machine learning, provide solutions,” she says.

Drones make sense when the risk to humans is high, such as physical inspections in an elevator shaft, but the wide use of drones also comes with concerns around privacy, safety, cybersecurity and electronic waste, as outlined in the report Crossing the Threshold, produced by the RICS and corporate sustainability group Morphosis.

“Drones are just one aspect of the digitalization of real estate we are experiencing right now, transforming the way we manage and interact with cities and buildings, and we should embrace it,” Revai says.

Here are four ways the real estate sector, business and governments are embracing the possibilities of drones right now:

The drone capital of Australia

In Australia, the Queensland Government has removed a major policy barrier to the mainstream application of drones with a long-term strategy aimed at supporting advancements. 

The vision will ensure Queensland “is best positioned to make the most of drone technology and application, and has the agility to address new opportunities and challenges as they emerge,” the government says.

Part of its strategy is to inspect government-owned assets with drones. “It’s cheaper, safer, more efficient and accurate to send up a drone rather than a crew,” Adam Beck, executive director of the Smart Cities Council Australia New Zealand, tells the Property Council of Australia. 

“A drone’s camera can capture the condition of a building. We can then plug that video into artificial intelligence to run through analytics and algorithms. Machine learning can build up patterns of recognition, which means the drone can automatically identify issues and opportunities,” he says.

Landing pads on London rooftops

Startup company Skyport Drones is amassing a network of London rooftops upon which it will create landing sites for drones. 

Known as vertiports – named for the aircraft taking off and landing vertically – they will include facilities for recharging as well as loading and unloading. Vertiports are already in use in Switzerland by drones that carry medical supplies between laboratories and hospitals. 

Skysport has negotiated with landlords for the right to some 15 rooftops in London, which it wants to grow to 100 over the next 18 months. Once urban drone flights get the regulatory all-clear, the company expects the sites to be activated within a few years. 

London-based architect Barr Gazetas is working on the vertiport designs, with multi-storey car parks, office buildings and railway stations among the buildings that will host the “discreet, secure, environmentally-friendly” facilities. “Air taxis might feel like a futuristic invention, but they will soon be filling our skies," says Jon Eaglesham, Barr Gazetas director.

Drones in China go the extra mile 

Chinese online retail giant JD.com, and express delivery company SF Holding, have been sending packages by drone to remote areas that are unfeasible to access by road transport. 

JD.com has developed 40 different kinds of drones that can deliver goods on a large scale and address the issue of last-mile delivery, hampered in many cities by limited supply of land for logistics centres, road infrastructure and congestion. 

The venture, which leverages China’s regulation, infrastructure, and the world’s biggest e-commerce market, plans to escalate its operations to include large autonomous planes taking off from airports to ferry bulky goods between warehouses, and even cargo loads to distribution centres in rural locations, where 590 million people reside. 

Self-repairing cities

Street works are a frequent frustration for people living in urban environments around the world, but an initiative in the UK aims to use robots to banish the pain by 2050. The Self-Repairing Cities initiative – lead by UK universities Leeds, University College London, Birmingham and Southampton – will design robots to identify, diagnose and repair street-works using three methods.

First is “Perch and Repair,” whereby drones will perform repair tasks such as fixing street lights. Second is “Perceive and Patch,” with swarms of flying vehicles carrying out autonomous inspections, diagnostics, and repair, or even preventing highway defects such as potholes using drones mounted with 3D printers to identify and fill cracks in roads before they expand. 

Third is “Fire and Forget”: hybrid robots will be designed to operate indefinitely within live utility pipes, performing inspection, repair, metering and reporting tasks. 

With this project Leeds City Council aims to be the first city in the world that is fully maintained autonomously by 2035.

Tags: Drone Photography, Queensland Drones, Real Estate


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Dr. Chris Walach, executive and senior director of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, poses with a Yuneec Q500 4K quadcopter at his office in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal Follow

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s drone group has formed an unlikely partnership to help advance the unmanned aerial systems industry: the largest Polish coking coal-producing company in the European Union. According to the partners, this collaboration could bring innovations in space mining.

The Nevada Institute for Autonomous System, which works to expand Nevada’s drone industry, announced that it has signed a letter of intent with Polish company JSW SA, which makes the main ingredient for steel and has a $2.5 billion market capitalization.

Chris Walach, executive and senior director of the institute, said the institute and JSW SA intend to create the first joint Autonomous Systems Test Center that is focused on mining safety, public safety and technology that could be used to mine areas on the moon, Mars or asteroids.

“All of the technology that could be deployed on another planet is dual purpose and could be deployed here,” Walach said.

The test center would have locations in Poland and Nevada, he said, and more details will be revealed after a second trip to Poland this September.

The partnership will open economic development opportunities for small businesses within the state, he said.

“More companies (will be) interested in repositioning here and opening a subsidiary in Nevada,” Walach said.

Representatives from NIAS visited JSW SA’s mining sites during a trip to Poland last week, where they examined how JSW uses autonomous systems to aid production.

A research-and-development division of the Polish company engineers aerial drones and works to advance the Polish unmanned traffic management system, a system created to manage drone traffic.


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The idea behind Agriculture and Space Day was to make sure everyone appreciated just how much space technologies contributed to the agriculture sector. The setting was a field of grass in the back garden of the historic natural science museum, a surprisingly quiet space in the heart of Brussels, dominated by the looming glass and steel European Parliament building.

Europe’s flagship space program, Galileo, always has been advertised by the EU as a boon to farmers, enabling precision agriculture practices that save time, money and resources. Galileo’s satellite navigation signals are also used by unmanned aircraft, which can study fields from above to help trouble shoot problems and fine-tune the amount of fertilizer and water that should be used.

“All around the world, drone service providers deliver image acquisition to farmers,” said Tamme Van Der Wal, a partner at AeroVision B.V. That imagery, he said, can be done in natural color, which supports visual recognition, counting plants or mapping. Sensors detecting red/infrared reflectance enable vegetation indexing and thermal mapping and a better understanding of how temperature is related to evapotranspiration. Unmanned aircraft are also able to do 3-D imaging that captures the land’s contours for mapping.

“Other sensors are flown too, but only in experimental use, such as GNSS reflectometry systems for soil moisture, or LiDAR for crop height, etcetera,” he said.

There are now many different companies providing drone services, Van Der Wal said, comprising two main groups: “First, there are the drone service companies, basically pilots making a business out of their personal capabilities. And then there are the agricultural service companies that are expanding their offerings to include drone imagery acquisition. These are people like farming contractors, farm extension services, advisory companies and supply services.”

Van Der Wal said he believes there is a lot of potential value in drone-based crop monitoring, but the costs must be aligned with the benefits: “Currently, costs are very much related to the pilot and restrictive regulations and are quite high compared to the benefit to the farmer. So at this moment, I would say it is not yet a very broad market, but more a niche market, like many innovations. However, the potential can be enormous when extended line of sight is approved or even BVLOS [beyond visual line of sight] or autonomous flights.”

Regulation on the Horizon

“It’s not only a technology thing but also a legal thing,” Van Der Wal said. “Drones, of course, are very much subject to regulations nowadays. We cannot fly further than line of sight, for example, as I said. We are, of course, definitely paying attention to what’s happening with the European drone regulation. We are absolutely on top of it. We are very excited about what EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency) is now promoting with the specific scenarios.”

EASA has been very much involved in the drafting of the EU’s soon-to-be-adopted drone regulation. Under the envisaged scheme, the creation of so-called ‘standard scenarios’ for European drone operations will allow a level of automation in the flight authorization process. The idea is to have a pre-established risk assessment ready for certain types of operations, so it’s not necessary to do a long and drawn-out assessment for every drone mission.

“With these scenarios, if you are able to get an agricultural scenario prepared, then we can say: “Listen, line-of-sight is just too short for most of these fields,” Van Der Wal said. “I’m not talking about the Netherlands and Belgium, these are small countries. But you go to France and Germany, with line of sight you do not even cover a quarter of your fields. The new technology will be able to do it. With this technology we can easily fly the whole field without interfering with anything else, and that would be the great jump forward. So, yes, 2019 I think is the year they’re going to have this new European regulation. If that comes through—I hope as soon as possible—we can convince the regulators and this agricultural scenario will roll out. And then we’ll be able to make major progress.”

Having said all that, Van Der Wal and partners are not waiting around for new regulations. His new startup, BIOSCOPE, is delivering imagery by integrating more expensive drone monitoring with less expensive satellite monitoring. The company uses satellites whenever possible and drones when needed.

“With this combination,” Van Der Wal said, “we achieve an affordable, reliable data service to farmers, providing them with fresh imagery throughout the growing season.”

Other viable business cases exist in niche markets, he said. For instance, plant breeders are using drones to closely monitor experimental plots, and agricultural insurance companies use them to carry out damage assessment. So there is money to be made now for drone operators in the agriculture sector in addition to the untapped potential that regulatory advances will open up.

And then there are those farmers who want to take things into their own hands, as has been their custom for untold thousands of years.

(Agri)Cultural Gap

The event in Brussels was an interesting assemblage of politicians, bureaucrats, consultants and real-life, hands-on workers of the land.

One unnamed policy type wanted to know if there wasn’t a mismatch somewhere: “Here we’re speaking about a sophisticated technology,” they said. “Is there a cultural barrier for farmers to get into these technologies?”

“Yes and no,” Van Der Wal said. “These machines here (pointing to a very big and very high-tech tractor some yards away which, by the way, can be operated in ‘unmanned’ mode) are full of advanced technologies, but farmers know very well how to use them. The problem is that we, as scientists and engineers, we have to make our new technologies understandable to the farmer. So I would say that there is a gap, but it’s more on our side than on their side.”

Max Schulman, an arable farmer from Finland, has been working with unmanned technology for a number of years.

“We started already around five years ago,” Schulman said, “first as just a fun thing, with drones on the farm, just to look at the crops at different times during the growing season and also during the off season—to learn and to see how

nature actually affects the fields when you’re looking at the crops, but also at how water was running after rains, where maybe we should put up certain buffer zones, and so on. Simple, easy things. Of course we’re doing more advanced things now, to be more precise and more efficient, and this is helping us to improve productivity.”

The new technologies are having an impact in that they are making the business more attractive to the next generation of farmers, Schulman said.

“It is more interesting to young people now. Drones have become an important part of this process in recent years. We’ve always had the big equipment,” he said, indicating the high-tech tractor. “Now we’re getting to the smaller equipment that today is even more powerful.”

Drone expert Van Der Wal said many farmers like Schulman will not be interested in the technical side of things per se, including things like location-specific signals. “What they really want to know is what they have to do with the information,” he said. “They need to use it. If they are able to use it they will invest in it. That means the software, all these new packages now coming into the market that absorb our data and translate it into required actions, that’s really important too.”

Government Business

Drones also are being used to calculate field sizes for subsidy purposes. Today, when a farmer says he has five hectares to declare, what he’s done is gone out with a GNSS receiver and walked around the perimeter of the property. Then there is the verification process, which involves an inspector coming out to make sure the farmer’s measurements are accurate. It’s a time and labor intensive process, compared to what could be done using drones.

“One of the more cumbersome things is when you have to control the area of your farm,” Van Der Wal said, “and there have been some tests with control officers using a drone. With stereo photography we can easily measure the size of the field. We can even see under the trees. With satellite photos we can only look from above.

“What I think would be interesting is if we could give the farmer a drone or let them use their own drone to measure the field. Then they submit that to the government. With Galileo you have the integrity function so we know it’s true. No further verification is needed.”

It sounds straightforward, but drone use in this way has not, so to speak, taken off. Not yet, at least. Van Der Wal said a lot of that has to do with the people involved. “The point is the farmer, like the controller, has a specific task and background. They are used to working the way they work. And now they have to learn a new way and even how to fly a drone. It takes time.”

Copa-Cogeca spokesperson Stephen Weller said there are other obstacles to drones being used to verify field sizes: “You have the question of price. Then there is interoperability with the systems already being used by the control agencies. They need time to learn and gain experience. You’ve got to test this new solution, to see if it’s accurate, and you need to understand which methods you’re going to need to use to verify the results.”

The Galician government, Weller said, has launched a public tender to do exactly this. “The first results will be ready by early next year. They also need to determine which sensors and resolution are the most adequate for the job.”

The value of such operations does seem pretty obvious. The market is as vast as the fields of France and Germany, and all the rest. Whoever gets there first stands to make a bundle, or is that a sheaf?

No Small-Time Players 

For its part, Copa-Cogeca expresses particular apprehension over the plight of Europe’s small farmers, for most of whom survival itself requires at the very least joining a cooperative. Much like in manufacturing, it’s these small and medium sized concerns that play an important role in things like innovation and, in the agriculture sector, maintaining biodiversity. But they also face the greatest challenges.

“I don’t have statistics, Weller said, “but when it comes to drones being used by small farmers, we know there is a huge way to go forward. We heard from Max Schulman, who uses them. I also know that Terrena and other agri-cooperatives, possibly Gaia (Gaia Epicheirein), offer drone services to its members as a complement to satellite maps.”

In addition to the cooperatives, contractual companies do provide drone services. It is more cost-effective and “more professional” this way, Weller said, as opposed to farmers just doing it themselves. “On top of the hardware, the drone, you also need the software, and there’s maintenance and piloting skills and licenses. All this is necessary to be able to extract and process the data.”

One thing is certain—the market for drones and drone services in agriculture is not going away. Some farmers might be a little shy, but they won’t shy away forever, not if the value is clear, Schulman said, “Everybody says; ‘Do these guys know how to use this technology?’ I can tell you one thing—we know how to use the technologies. We use them every day, from the biggest combines and tractors down to the smallest sensor technologies. Every farm has its own choice, its own system, how they do it, so you will never find a one-size-fits-all solution for all the farms. Give us a choice of solutions, lift it up, make it easy to use and accessible and we’ll use it.”

Big Data – The Business Model

Copa-Cogeca General Secretary Pekka Pesonen provided a big vision for agriculture based on, you guessed it, Big Data.

“New technologies such as GNSS promise to provide European farming with the tools to compete in dynamic markets,” Pesonen said. “The technological and digital transformation of agriculture is no longer a discussion for the future. Big Data, provided by precision farming methods, optimizes the use and marketing of related tools, facilitating sales and improving the competitiveness of EU farming.”

Though Pesonen referred primarily to satellite-generated data, his argument applies equally to drone-generated information.

“These technologies improve resource efficiency and optimize the use of fertilizer, seeds, plant protection products, water and machinery, improving the financial bottom line,” he said. “Data can be safely shared between industry and authorities to help map farm land and track environmental initiatives accurately, simplifying regulatory oversight and making it more efficient, modern and fair.”

And making the agriculture sector another huge target for interests ready to step in and provide the ever more powerful data-based information services that we all know are just around the corner.

Tags: Agriculture, Drone Spraying


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