Posts tagged "Commercial"

Climate change is one of the biggest topics facing humanity today and, for climate scientists, data is everything. However, collecting data is rarely a quick or inexpensive task, particularly when that data is best acquired via a bird’s eye view of Greenland’s melting ice sheet or the rising sea levels on California’s coastlines, for instance.

Here’s where unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), more popularly known as drones, can play an integral role in the study of climate change. Drone technology can fill the data niches inaccessible to conventional methods of aerial data collection. It can offer researchers that essential bird’s eye view, but at far less cost than traditional methods such as helicopters, chartering planes or satellite data.

Environmental Protection from a Drone’s Eye View 

Now, UAS is not necessarily a new technology for climate scientists. Researchers began utilizing UAS in the 1990s, however that technology has been far surpassed by what is available to researchers today. Nowadays, scientists have access to drones that are more affordable, capable and user-friendly than what they were working with just over a decade ago.

For instance, sending out a UAS to survey an area requires minimal personnel, and can be done in a matter of minutes. “We can go from launching a drone to having workable data in four hours, versus maybe four days if we’re using an airplane,” recounts David Johnston, assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

In addition to making gathering data easier, less expensive and less time consuming, operational intelligence (OI) technology offers real-time data analysis which provides scientists with more accurate data with which to study changes to the planet and mitigate the accompanying impacts. While flying over vast, rugged landscapes, UAS can collect GPS coordinates, real-time video and still images of the situation, helping scientists establish priorities at mission control. This data can be overlaid on area topography and maps using an OI platform like Simulyze’s Mission Insight.

Not only data analysis but the images drones produce can also provide great opportunities for researchers. UAS imagery enables photogrammetry by collecting still images and video that are pieced together to form 3D representations and maps that can be used to predict events like the current sea level rise in coastal areas. Also necessary for studying the effects of climate change, thermal imaging cameras can be used to study animal populations in a variety of environments.

“It [drones] gives you a scale you can’t get anywhere else,” said New York Times photographer, Josh Haner. Drones can easily communicate the shocking effects of climate change to inform scientific and public understanding of the situation. This footage of the Marshall Islands, for example, demonstrates how millions of people are in danger of losing their homes due to rising water levels brought on by global warming. “Drone imagery can add a new visual layer that hopefully draws viewers into an important story, giving them a new perspective on a complicated subject,” concluded Haner.

OI Promoting Climate Research Innovation

Although drones are providing more valuable opportunities for scientists than ever before, drone operators have limitations of their own. In particular, they need the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) authorization to operate their drone in the national airspace.

However, drones along with applications that run on an Operational Intelligence (OI) platform are proven to be more accurate and effective than operations carried out by traditional methods. Though the industry has faced concerns about the number of drones in our skies, it’s important to remember that OI can provide a key foundation needed for scientists to continue to study and protect our planet.

UAS are opening up new research possibilities and deepening the scientific record in ways that are having measurable impacts on our understanding of changing environments. Drones don’t just offer a safer way for scientists to observe and collect data; they’re often less costly, more efficient and more precise than traditional approaches. This technology is only going to become more important as a capable research tool and more so as drones become further integrated with other advanced technologies.

Drones can offer a unique perspective of the Aug. 21 eclipse.

1979 was the last time a total solar eclipse graced the shores of the contiguous United States. It was 38 years ago when the first Sony Walkman came out, when 63 Americans were taken hostage at the American Embassy in Tehran, and when the first Aliens movie hit cinemas. It was a long time ago, a time before drones.

Luckily this time drones will be there to help the whole nation get a unique perspective of a total solar eclipse. This Monday, August 21st, 2017 will be another first for drones and another reminder of how drones can be used for good. Forget eclipse glasses and holes punched in cardboard, drones are the latest and coolest way to view a solar eclipse.

If you have a drone, make sure you carve out some time this Monday morning or afternoon (depending on where you live) to take to the skies and capture this rare event. Our friends over at Drone360 have compiled a great list of the best places to fly to capture the total eclipse and a reminder to make safety your priority by following all FAA and local regulations.

If you don’t live near the path of totality, can’t make the trip, don’t have your own drone, or are looking for a professional drone pilot to help you capture the historic eclipse, head on over to Up Sonder. We have FAA certified drone pilots throughout the path the moon’s shadow will carve across the good old U.S. of A. Just to make it super easy for you, below is a list of Up Sonder drone pilots along the path of the eclipse.

Up Sonder has numerous drone pilots in the path of the solar eclipse.

The news is full of stories of crises around the globe, and getting much-needed aid and materials to affected areas – whether in times of natural disasters or ongoing humanitarian issues – can often be a challenge. Natural and manmade disasters often take out critical infrastructures, from roads to railways to means of communication, leaving first responders scrambling in times when they’re needed most.

But emerging drone technology is helping solve that critical shortfall in times of humanitarian crisis. The very same unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that are making headlines for same-day delivery can provide valuable services for aid workers and others on the ground.

From accessing areas that vehicles simply can’t reach to more safely entering unsound structures, here are four ways UAS technology can provide a helping hand with disaster relief.

Going Down the Road Less Traveled

Step one following any disaster is to assess the current situation to best determine the next steps – determining who needs immediate assistance and where. But in remote areas where roadways are questionable before disaster hits, following a crisis, simply accessing these locations can be a monumental challenge.

Enter drones. With unmanned flights that can soar above any wrecked infrastructure, first responders and humanitarian missions can quickly and easily identify damage such as toppled buildings, obstructed roadways and fallen infrastructure, as well as locate potential survivors.

Such was the case in Utah, where late last year, flash floods swept through the cities of Hilldale and Colorado City. The Utah Division of Emergency Management deployed drones to survey where the floods started, assess damage and even access restricted areas where helicopters and other means of transportation weren’t usable in the past, such as tight river channels.

Save Time and Money

Dispatching fleets of emergency responders via helicopter or land vehicles costs precious resources, particularly in times when lives might hang in the balance. Sending out a UAS to survey an area requires minimal personnel, and it can be done in a matter of minutes following a disaster.

With UAS in use, emergency employees can also realize incredible budget savings. Per Utah Division of Emergency Management spokesperson Joe Dougherty, the Division purchased a drone for $2,200, which requires little to no maintenance costs. But helicopter missions – whether to survey damage, search for survivors or other emergency tasks – can cost upwards of $4,000 an hour for each deployment. In April’s flood, the ability to fly into previously inaccessible areas using a UAS instead of a helicopter saved time and money and afforded the Division critical information that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

While drones can’t rescue people (yet), helping to pinpoint key areas of interest more quickly with UAS technology can potentially help reduce costs for each mission and reap dramatic savings for budget-conscious municipalities and emergency response teams.

Set Priorities for First Responders 

Using a single operator, aid organizations, emergency management operations and law enforcement departments can quickly observe damaged areas, like those left unsteady following April 2015’s earthquake in Nepal, without endangering other lives.

Flying over ravaged landscapes, drones collect GPS coordinates, real-time video and still images of the damage, helping first responders set priorities back at mission control. This data can be overlaid on area topography and maps using operational intelligence (OI) technology to show specifically where and how the landscape has shifted, as is often the case with powerful earthquakes, floods and other natural and manmade disasters that can decimate identifying landmarks.

This insight is invaluable for crews tasked with determining where to set up key access points to the area, locating and rescuing survivors and identifying critical needs for those who are still in the vicinity.

Go Where No Man Has Gone Before

In addition to getting into tight spaces like the flood channels in Utah, drones and other unmanned vehicles are ideal for deployment in areas that might not be safe for humans following disasters. Post 9/11, unmanned ground vehicles were sent into the rubble to search for survivors in buildings that lacked structural integrity.

Similarly, cases of arson, earthquakes, tornadoes and other emergencies can severely alter a building’s integrity and affect the ability of first responders to enter and assess damages. Using unmanned vehicles, emergency crews can gain unprecedented access to these areas without putting personnel at risk, with the added benefit of recording the encounter and collecting additional data.

UAS are also being used to measure radiation in nuclear power plant accidents because they can fly lower than manned operations without risk of exposure.

UAS adoption is rising rapidly, and while we hear stories about drones and their potential to make our lives more convenient, we shouldn’t forget that UAS also stand to have a dramatic impact on saving lives during times of disaster and helping those affected return to life as normal as quickly as possible following a crisis.

Could the same technology that’s currently being used for aerial pizza deliveries and capturing news coverage also be the solution to fixing America’s crumbling infrastructure?

That’s what researchers at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are advocating. According to a recent report, PwC found that the best potential prospect for drone applications is in the infrastructure sector, which they predict to be a $45.2 billion opportunity. Infrastructure maintenance and inspection by drones is cheaper, safer, faster and likely to become an increasingly important tool for American infrastructure companies.

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, are used in multiple industries to safely and efficiently inspect hard-to-reach assets and they are essential in monitoring sensitive infrastructure for dangerous situations. Many infrastructure industries are already taking advantage of drone technology, from oil and gas to electric utilities. And the one thing this broad variety of industries has in common is the valuable equipment and assets, from bridges to cell towers, which need to be monitored and inspected on a regular basis.

Today, most of this kind of work is done manually by work crews or manned aircraft that fly over and capture images of sites. Not only can these be time-consuming and costly processes, but results are often poor in quality as well. These monitoring methods are in desperate need of updating—in fact, the majority of the work can be performed more efficiently via drone. 

The potential for drone solutions in infrastructure is vast. Savings of up to 50 percent can be applied to inspection and maintenance of bridges, tunnels and even offshore oil platforms. And not only do UAS offer cost-saving opportunities, time efficiency and increased safety, but the data gathered, images captured and post-inspection analysis stand to revolutionize the way the infrastructure industry solves maintenance issues.

UAS enables the rapid, repeatable and safe collection of high-resolution imagery. For example, aerial mapping can also be used to track job progress and conduct site surveys. And each three-dimensional models made with aerial imagery can contain millions of data points.

For instance, with Simulyze’s operational intelligence (OI) platform UAS operators can operate safely and efficiently with real-time data insight and situational awareness. Drone applications built on OI platforms can also integrate and correlate big data sources from any platform to standardize the information and provide in-depth intelligence. This offers a complete operational view of workflow data and provides deep analytics for insight into real-time events that enable well-informed decisions.

Fortunately, UAS technology is developing by leaps and bounds. Infrastructure maintenance and inspection is becoming an increasingly serious matter and paving the way for the sector to improve operational efficiency.

Protecting our natural resources and wildlife habitats is mission number one for millions of scientists and concerned citizens across the globe. And, technology that has been making news for innovative deliveries is making a dramatic impact in how nature conservation efforts are carried out and measured.

That’s right, we’re talking about the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, in conservation applications. They are helping wildlife biologists and conservationists better map and track natural resources and endangered animals in remote areas, all while reducing the impact on the environment. From monitoring rhino poachers in Africa to surveying endangered palm trees in Hawaii, drones have been crucial to conservation and environmental protection efforts.

“Our latest research has demonstrated that a very high degree of precision can be achieved when using drone technology to monitor wildlife,” said ecologist Dr. Rohan Clarke who conducted a recent study from Monash University in Australia.

The results of the study suggest that drones are actually better at wildlife monitoring than humans. This is because UAS are able to monitor remote areas that are difficult or even too dangerous for humans to reach. They can also get a much wider view than possible for someone on the ground and require less expense (and risk) than using a helicopter. The study also found that drones along with applications that run on an Operational Intelligence (OI) platform can even be more accurate and effective than operations carried out by traditional ground-based methods.

Keeping an eye on the world’s wildlife

“It’s highly likely that in the future, drones will be used to monitor populations of animals, especially in inaccessible areas where on the ground surveying is difficult or impossible. This opens up exciting new possibilities when it comes to more accurately monitoring Earth’s ecosystems,” said Dr. Clarke. For instance, some wildlife parks in Africa are even tracking and stopping poachers using the technology.

Particularly in South Africa, where poaching has reached unprecedented levels, conservationists have begun employing anti-poaching drones in wildlife reserves to curb the killing of endangered species like rhinos. The unarmed drones are making a significant difference in anti-poaching efforts that traditionally relied on the “boots on the ground” of rangers on patrol. Once in flight, conservationists can scan live video from the UAS’ thermal imaging camera to monitor for heat signatures of poachers stalking through the bush to hunt rhinos.

Environmental preservation from a drone’s-eye view

Drones are not only coming to the rescue of endangered wildlife, they’re also being used to defend the natural spaces in which they live. The pressure is increasing on natural resources in almost all conservation spaces on the planet. From Hawaii to the rainforest, drones are aiding in the fight against humanity’s footprint on the environment.

However, it takes a serious threat to convince the U.S. National Park Service (NPS) to allow drones in its airspace, and for the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on the island of Hawaii that threat was the overwhelming loss of palm trees. In an effort to address the increased loss, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau sought a new strategy to inform officials about the health of the palm trees and other plants within the park’s jurisdiction.

During the project last July, the park’s ecologists used drones to make better-informed decisions for the palm trees by discovering the root cause of the suffering. Drones were less disruptive than other examination options, such as surveying each tree from a helicopter or truck, which could further lead to damage of the site. The UAS used photogrammetry and multi-spectral analysis via high-quality cameras for visible light, as well as a hyper-spectral system that allowed photos into near-infrared.

“Following the NPS procedures to get the drones into the park took a lot of effort,” said the chief archaeologist for the park, Adam Johnson, “but it was worth it for the efficiency in surveying the park’s hundreds of trees.” Beyond convincing his boss, he said there were an additional eight months of work and five levels of approval to go through. The preliminary results have indicated there could be a fungi attacking the trees and potentially insects as well.

Operational Intelligence helps drones take to the skies 

Drones don’t offer just a safer way for scientists to observe their subjects; they’re often less costly, more efficient and more precise than traditional approaches. Although the industry has faced concerns about the number of drones in our skies, OI can provide a key foundation needed for drones to continue to protect our environment.

While flying over mountainous landscapes, around major rivers or through forests, drones can collect GPS coordinates, real-time video and still images of the situation, helping scientists set priorities back at mission control. This data can be overlaid on area topography and maps using OI technology. Sending out a UAS to survey an area requires minimal personnel, and it can be done in a matter of minutes.

Drones can act as surveillance and security for wildlife and the environment. Because they allow situations to be viewed from on high, operators can monitor for accidents or suspicious activities and relay information back to officials who can signal a manned response if needed. And when coupled with OI technology that can aggregate various data sources to provide greater situational awareness for conservationists, UAS technology can be a literal lifesaver for wildlife and its natural habitats across the globe.

Drones bring a new perspective to real estate listings.


Just think about it. Ten years ago the only way I could write about ‘drones at work’ was in Science Fiction form. Now, every single day across the country, drones are taking to the sky and changing a variety of industries, including everything from real estate to television news. In late June, the Trump administration said drones are a key technology that will drive innovation in the future. Unmanned aerial vehicles will create jobs—100,000 by 2025 according to one estimate—and increase business efficiency by saving time and money. Drones have come a long way in a short amount of time and we’re still only at the beginning.

Up Sonder has taken an active role in helping drones get to work. Our online platform for drone pilots and services is available 24/7 across the nation. It’s the best way for companies to find a reliable drone pilot or service.

Trust us there are a lot of opportunities out there when it comes to work done with drones. This is why I need to highlight four industries I believe drones will have an immediate impact on over the next few years. Those industries are real estate, construction, insurance and journalism/entertainment. (I have left out agriculture and inspection, because I believe the four industries above will be impacted more immediately or have a clearer social impact in people’s perception.)

In part one of this series, I will write about drone in real estate. So without further ado, let’s look at how drones can help sell houses!

What Drones Bring to the Table

If you are a real estate agent the question you are asking yourself is, “Why do I need a drone?”

Let’s think about the big picture first. According to a market report from Goldman Sachs, the addressable market for drones in real estate is $265 million by 2020.That’s the near future potential of drones in real estate, apart from what is already being done, which is widespread enough for local municipalities to address with local laws.

Drones are a powerful tool for realtors because they are a cost effective way to get aerial shots of any house. Aerial images and videos give a perspective on a property not possible before. They are a great way to tell the story of the property and show its surroundings and neighborhood. Realtors that implement new selling tools like drones are finding more success.

According to statistics from Multiple Listing Services (MLS), homes with aerial drone images (and video) sold 68% faster than homes with standard images. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) also has numbers that show 73% of homeowners say they are more likely to list with agents that use video to market their home. Simply put, drone videos create better listings and more sales.

What Realtors Say

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Kirk Hawkins, an agent with The Agency, a leading Los Angeles-based real estate brokerage, about drones. The Agency already extensively uses drone photos and videos for its listings.

“Drones are important because they offer a fresh and unique perspective on a property. When combined with more traditional methods like ground-based photography and print media it adds something special that attracts more attention and gives you an edge when selling,” said Hawkins.

Take a look for yourself below and see how drones video adds something special to an online listing. “Everyone starts online these days,” said Hawkins. “Great drone video sets a listing apart.”

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Up Sonder is actively working with real estate agencies to help them set themselves apart with drone video. Recently, we helped award-winning real estate firm Lamerica find a drone pilot for a listing in West Hollywood.

“We got Lamerica a great pilot and great video that showed off the vastness of the property,” said Up Sonder’s CEO Derek Waleko. “Our marketplace of drone pilots allowed Lamerica to make the most of their listing.”

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The Agency and Lamerica are just two examples of drone usage in Los Angeles, but don’t for a second think it is something that is just for big city markets. Drone use in real estate is soaring across the country. BlueLaVaMedia in Northern Michigan has a whole drone team that is busy shooting homes that line Lake Michigan. In a recent webinar on drones in real estate, BlueLaVa’s Jason LaVanture talked about how he has a backlog of over 30 drone jobs.

Getting Involved

If you are a real estate agent who wants to use a drone to increase your sales then go and check out Up Sonder. All of our pilots are FAA licensed and are ready to help you increase the value of your listings.

If you are a drone pilot looking to get into the real estate business then make sure to check out this great webinar from our friends over at UAV Coach.

Coming Up

In the next article of our four-part series on drones at work, we will take a look at the construction industry and what drones offer. Just a little teaser, drones in construction has billions in potential!

Not only for sports and news coverage, commercial drones are now increasingly being used for another relatively new frontier: film making. Aerial filming in movie production can provide audiences with more spectacular views than ever before. Now, celebrated television series and Oscar winning films are being captured with the help of this exciting, yet controversial new technology.

Although Hollywood has known about the potential for aerial shots using drones, up until 2012 when Section 333 was passed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the U.S. had a blanket ban on using any drones for commercial purposes. This meant filmmakers couldn’t utilize the technology until recently.

It’s been a little over two years since the FAA fully cleared the way for drone use by the film and television industry, and unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are now becoming increasingly popular tools for directors and cinematographers. While drones and filmmaking is still in its infancy, demand is growing rapidly on production sets because they allow for more nimble camerawork.

The 2014 announcement was a significant milestone in broadening commercial UAS use, while ensuring the utmost safety in all forms of flight. Directors and cinematographers are still in the beginnings of capitalizing on the aesthetic potential of this new technology. However, there has been some pretty incredible footage captured using drones ever since Hollywood got the go-ahead, and they haven’t hesitated to take full advantage.

Although productions like “Skyfall” and the Harry Potter movies had already been using camera-mounted drones for aerial shots, the filming had been in other countries that have less rigorous restrictions. But after the FAA gave the green light for drone use on the set of movies and TV shows, the first U.S.-based production to use drones was “The Mentalist,” shot that December. Other projects that have used UAS include “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and HBO’s “The Leftovers.”

On a recent Atlanta-based production for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” the director found that when using a drone specialist production company, they were able to work with the FAA and find a way to get the shot they needed without breaking the bank. During production, for example, the supervising location manager was able to secure permission to fly a drone through the center archway of the central government building in Hong Kong, which wouldn’t have been possible with a manned flight or helicopter.

In a more recent example, the Oscar-nominated film, “Lion,” starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel, used drones to film vast landscape scenes over India and Australia. With a smaller budget, the crew needed to find creative ways to film sprawling scenes. They ended up using cameras on drone rigs for aerial shots in India. Another magnificent part of the film was captured with drones over Bruny Island, one of Tasmania’s most beautifully preserved natural environments, with abundant wildlife and stunning cliff-top views.

Debates aside, it’s evident that drones are transforming the art of filmmaking, and they are providing audiences with viewing experiences like never before—and it doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon.

Selfie DroneSelfie drones give your narcissism wings, but luckily they can do more.

At CES 2017 you couldn’t get away from selfie drones. Everywhere you looked there was your very own aerial camera that quite literally brought narcissism to new heights.

It’s hardly been six months, but this space is moving so fast there has already been some shake-ups. One of the most anticipated selfie drones has crashed (Lily drone) and just two weeks ago DJI, the biggest player in the world of drones, plopped down its considerable presence on the overcrowded couch of selfie drones. And let’s not forget that it was the selfie drone that finally got the attention of the world’s largest consumer electronics brand—now you can buy one in any Apple store.

What is it about the selfie drone anyway? Are they the latest tech fad that will reel in money for a year or two and then fade away? Maybe, but I think there’s a lot more to selfie drones than dollar signs and social media buzz.

Selfie drones are important because they serve as the new testing ground for technologies that are vital to the future of drones like miniaturization, autonomous flight, machine learning (gesture commands), and interfacing with the life of an average person (social media). A selfie drone is the fastest way to get new drone technology into the hands of average people and see the interaction of this technology with normal life.

Who Said Smaller Isn’t Better

As with any technology, miniaturization is important. Over time you can do more with the same amount of space. Drones are no different. The new DJI Spark weighs 70% less and is only 1/3 of the size of the Phantom 2 drone I keep on my shelf for posterity’s sake. Even with these reductions, the Spark manages to offer a 12 megapixel camera, advanced GPS/GLONASS satellite positioning, a 3D sensing system, and computer vision—none of which the Phantom 2 has.

The DJI Spark has a lot of technology crammed into its small frame. (Source : DJI)

Zerotech’s Dobby is even lighter and, in fact, small enough to fit into the breast pocket of a button-up shirt. While its specs are not as impressive as the Spark’s, the story of its “insides” is really a story about how miniaturization is key to unlocking the true potential of drones.

To make the Dobby, Zerotech partnered with Qualcomm. The key to miniaturizing the drone was making an integrated chip that could fit into a mini motherboard and be able to handle CPU, imaging, communications, GPS, artificial intelligence, and remote control functions. Zerotech had not worked with integrated chips before so there were some issues getting their drone tech to operate correctly. It took months of engineers banging around problems, but eventually the Dobby came into being.

Dobby is arguably not the best drone on the market, but both Zerotech and Qualcomm view it as a transitional product on the path to the drones of tomorrow. They have proven they can integrate and reduce size which will make drones a powerful computing platform for the sky. In five years, drones the size of the Dobby and Spark will be more powerful than larger drones today. Sensors will be smaller, processors will be smaller, power sources will be smaller—all because of selfie drones.

Autonomy at the Touch of a Button

Selfie drones didn’t create the idea of autonomous drone flight and they are not the main factor pushing this technology forward. But they are playing their part and are the way most people will become familiar with the reality of autonomous drone flight.

Their contribution can be traced back to 3DR’s Iris+ drone which, when launched in 2014, was the first widely available commercial drone with a “follow me” function. Every selfie drone today can do this in addition to course lock, go to a point of interest, active tracking, as well as preset movements for shots. With the push of a button selfie drones can become autonomous by using a combination of computer vision and software.

This technology is not unique to selfie drones, but just think how many millions of people around the world are going to be introduced to autonomous drone flight just because they want the ultimate selfie.

Signing with Robots

Another selling feature of most selfie drones is the ability to be controlled by gestures. With a wave of your hand you can command a drone to do everything from fly away from you to take a picture. Like with autonomous flight features, the ability to command with gestures is pretty limited and sometimes buggy, but that’s not why I am mentioning it.

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The fact that drone manufacturers were able to cram machine learning and intelligence features into something so small is impressive. But more than anything else, it’s a way to introduce consumers to the concept of using gestures to command drones. Researchers around the world are working on drones that can autonomously interact with people via facial and hand gestures. The end goal is for these drones to be used as a kind of personal assistant at retail locations, on tours, and even in the workplace. Selfie drones are the first large scale testing ground for using machine learning and gestures. The lessons being learned will be vital for further drone development.

Let’s Take a Dronie

Regardless of what the future holds, selfie drones are making their mark today because they are easy to integrate with the great passion of our time, social media. The marketing of every selfie drone shows happy people documenting moments for their friends with the help of a wonderful new tool. If you want more confirmation of the social power of drones just remember that in late May Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, bought Los Angeles-based drone maker Ctrl Me.

For better or worse selfie drones are here to stay. Just don’t forget that these drones have a lot more going for them than narcissism. They are a stepping stone to the drones of the future.

Joe Christian is Director of Content for Up Sonder, a network of drone pilots for hire and the first on-demand drone rental platform powered by UberRUSH and Postmates. Up Sonder gives business and the public access to the drone industry while providing a way for drone pilots and owners to earn extra money.

The drone superhighway will need a network of charging stations to power it.


This article is the final in a four-part series so if you haven’t read the previous parts please go back and start where you left off. In part one, I introduced the groundbreaking work currently being done to lay the foundations of the upcoming drone superhighway. In part two, I wrote about how the drone superhighway will require a new air traffic management system that includes drones and current legal hurdles that need to be addressed. Last week in part three, I wrote of beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation, the possibility of fully autonomous drones, and how Trump administration policies could be used to advance the drone superhighway.

This week I will go over the need for new energy solutions and how the reduced costs of drone technology will play an important role in making the drone superhighway a cost effective network.

Energy Solutions—Better Batteries and Docking Stations

Reliable and longer lasting power sources are vital for the success of the drone superhighway. Right now, the new DJI Matrice 200 has one of the best performance specs of commercially available drones. However, its two lithium-ion batteries only give it a flight time of 38 minutes.

Obviously better batteries are needed, but the real issue here is that battery technology hasn’t been able to keep pace with other technological advancements. Drones are still slaves to the performance of lithium-ion batteries that are not only dangerous, but also fairly inefficient.

Canadian company Nano One is aiming to improve lithium-ion batteries with a new manufacturing technique that decreases cost and improves performance. Nano One’s patented method uses a chemical rather than mechanical process to produce the cathode for a lithium-ion battery. This chemical process creates nanometer-sized crystals which makes the battery last longer and perform better.

Speaking of lithium-ion batteries, in March 2017 their creator John Goodenough announced he has developed a new solid-state sodium-ion battery that could triple the range of a drone and allow it to operate at much lower temperatures (-4℉).

Other promising battery technologies are lithium-air batteries that have 15 times more capacity than lithium-ion batteries and gold nanowire batteries that don’t degrade with use. Only time will tell how quickly these new battery designs can go from a lab to mass production.

Another possible power source is hydrogen fuel cells. Simply put, hydrogen fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity through a chemical reaction of positively charged hydrogen ions with oxygen. Chinese company MMC already has a hydrogen fuel cell drone on the market. The 6-rotor HyDrone 1550 can operate for up to 2.5 hours and is marketed for industrial use. However, this kind of power source requires a hydrogen fuel tank in order to operate. While hydrogen fuel cell drones offer some intriguing possibilities for local use, they don’t make a lot of sense for a drone superhighway because they would require facilities that would have to replenish, or switch out a hydrogen tank.

Batteries will eventually improve but the demand for drones to carry heavier payloads for delivery and other functions will largely offset these advances and probably not drastically increase flight times. This is why there is a fundamental need for a network of charging stations along the path of the drone superhighway that can quickly recharge a wide variety of drones.

Drones will have to land and charge.

Up Sonder is working on a solution that involves developing a charging station that costs only $100 per unit. A lot of what we are working on is proprietary information, but there are some things I can share with you about the Up Sonder charging station.

  • Rapid wireless charging: if you want to be fast, wireless is the only way to go, it also helps the unit to be more weather-proof.
  • Autonomous precision landing: the charging station must communicate and guide a     drone to land in a precise location to charge.
  • Compatible: the wireless charging station will have to work with a wide variety of drone systems.
  • Intelligent charging: the station will have to be able to monitor a drone’s current power level and charge accordingly to optimize battery life.

Our goal is to create an interconnect network of over 200,000 charging stations across the nation to power the drone superhighway.

Cost Effectiveness

Ten years ago if I wanted a drone with a 20-megapixel camera, five dedicated sensors for obstacle avoidance, as well as the ability to recognize and follow people, it would easily cost me tens of thousands of dollars. But today I can get all that (and more) standard in a DJI Phantom 4 Pro for just $1,499.

In terms of what they offer, drones are cheaper today than they have ever been. Drones also offer companies a much easier way to achieve return on investment (ROI). In some cases drones are replacing manned aircraft for tasks like aerial surveying because they are so much cheaper. For example, the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is looking into using drones to conduct aerial surveys at small airports across the state. According to their own estimates, an aerial survey by a manned charter plane would cost around $100,000 while a drone survey would only cost $2,500. That is a savings of $97,500!

There is also a reason why so many companies are interested in drone delivery — hint, hint because it saves them money! Our friend over at Drone Girl, Sally French, broke down a report from Skylark Services earlier this month that demonstrated that Amazon estimates the cost of the last mile of delivery is $2.50, whereas drones can complete that last mile for an estimated $1.74.

We have almost hit the sweet spot where all the technology needed to make the drone superhighway a reality can be provided at a reasonable cost. Give it a few more years and things will be ready for sure, if regulators allow it.

The Future

In the future, the Up Sonder community will be able to send things to each other via drone.

As the CEO of a company leading the charge to make the drone superhighway a reality, I’m excited about the possibilities it offers for the future. I’ll leave you with one teaser for the members of the Up Sonder community.
Think how cool it would be if one day you needed a cup of sugar to bake a cake, but instead of driving over to the grocery store, you hopped on the Up Sonder app and had a fellow community member deliver the sugar to you via drone! It might sound crazy, but we are working on it!

Derek Waleko is CEO of Up Sonder, the first on-demand drone and service rental platform powered by UberRUSH, specifically designed for drone pilots and drone owners to earn extra money.

Drone CommunicationDrone communication is important for the drone superhighway

Last week, I wrote about drone traffic management systems and legal hurdles to the drone superhighway. If you haven’t already read part one and two of this four-part series be sure to go back and start at the beginning. Also, check out Up Sonder to find out more about how my company is building a marketplace of drone pilots and drones to unlock the economic possibility of the drone superhighway.

This week, we’ll look at a beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operation, the possibility of fully autonomous drones and how Trump administration policies could be used to advance the drone superhighway. It’s a lot to cover, so let’s dig in!

BVLOS and Flying Over People:

There is no way of getting around it, drone superhighways will require both BVLOS operation and flight over people. Unfortunately, right now according to FAA regulations without a special exemption, drones are required to stay within the line-of-sight of the operator or spotter and cannot fly directly over people. The FAA is not against BVLOS or drone flights over people, it just wants to make sure it’s done safely.

For BVLOS, the concern is that, unlike manned aircraft, drones don’t have enough self-awareness of their surroundings. Luckily technology, like advanced sensors and machine learning is quickly making this concern invalid. FAA approval of BVLOS drone operations really hinges on two points, implementation of a functioning drone traffic management system (already discussed) and the ability of drones to operate autonomously (I will address this more below).

Luckily some very smart folks at NASA, Harris Corp, and BNSF Railways are helping the FAA research how to make BVLOS a safe reality. Back in October of 2016, NASA was able to fly two drones BVLOS into a designated area and successfully keep the drones from running into each other using technology they are developing to assist in drone traffic management.

Credits: NASA Ames / Dominic Hart

​This February, Harris Corp and the University of North Dakota received a grant to develop an integrated network infrastructure for BVLOS drone operations. This includes everything from using cell phone towers to help find location, to machine learning that allows drones to detect obstacles and avoid them. Harris partnered with Ligado Networks in early May to use a commercial satellite with the largest antenna in North America for BVLOS navigation. The satellite’s 22-meter length (over 72 feet) gives it the ability to communicate with small devices like a drone over a large area. The exciting thing about Harris’ work is that after initial testing they plan on partnering with end users, like a utility company, to test BVLOS at their North Dakota test site.

BNSF Railway and Rockwell Collins have been testing BVLOS drone operations using a more down-to-earth approach. BNSF can communicate and control drones with a data link network that uses both radio spectrum and telecommunications infrastructure. The system automatically determines the best tower-to-drone link for control and can transfer control of the drone between towers during flight. This has given them the ability to test long-distance BVLOS operations for drones that are inspecting railway tracks.

The FAA’s concern with drones flying over people is public safety. What happens if a drone falls from the sky? What if a drone is being flown over groups of people with criminal intent? These are very real safety concerns the FAA cannot ignore.

The FAA has partnered with a number of universities to test the physical dangers of drones falling on people. Schools like Virginia Tech have been busy slamming drones into crash test dummies and a recently released report found a drone was not as dangerous as a block of wood or piece of steel when falling from a height of 50 feet. While the test is promising, the FAA will need more tests before it allows flights over people. A test on airborne drone collisions will reportedly be released this summer, so keep your eyes open for that.

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There is also a need to quickly identify drones when they act badly, particularly around large groups of people. Leading drone manufacturer DJI has stepped up to the plate and proposed an electronic identification system for all drones that would require drones to automatically broadcast identification information. If a standard can be created and applied to all drones, it will act as a digital license plate and will allow authorities to more easily track a problematic drone and find out who is operating it.

All of this testing is building a strong case that drones can operate safely BVLOS and over people. Hopefully, this will convince the FAA to revise current restrictions. One thing that could make this easier is the Trump Administration’s 2-for-1 executive order on regulations. A single revision to Part 107 to allow BVLOS and flight over people would eliminate four waiver regulations (107.31, 107.33, 107.39, 107.51).

Autonomous Drones:

OK, before we talk about autonomous drones any further, let’s get one thing straight…just because a drone is autonomous doesn’t mean it is going to go rogue and turn into a flying Terminator. For simplicity’s sake, we are talking about drones that can fly from point A to point B without any human interaction.

To fly autonomously, drones must be able to sense and avoid obstacles near them, communicate with other aircraft and air traffic control, be aware of changing environmental conditions like weather, have a fail-safe protocol in case of emergencies, etc. It’s a lot to do, but luckily the technology is mostly there. What must happen now is intensive testing to make sure autonomous drone flight is safe and scalable at size.

There is a lot of testing currently going on, here are three cool examples:

1-US company Matternet has partnered with the Swiss Post to successfully carry out 70 autonomous drone delivery tests in Switzerland. The Swiss Aviation Authority is supporting these tests and the plan is to make the drone deliveries between two hospitals in the city of Lugano a permanent situation by 2018.

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2-Engineers at NVIDIA have successfully tested autonomous drone flight through a path in a forest using deep learning and Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM). The deep learning lets the drone orient itself and follow the dirt path and the SLAM (same technology used on autonomous cars) allows the drone to map the area around it and avoid obstacles. While testing is still ongoing, the ability to connect machine learning with obstacle avoidance is an important step in autonomous drone flight.

3-The US Air Force takes the cake for most advanced testing with its Loyal Wingman Project. The idea is to create autonomous aircraft that are paired with a manned aircraft to act as the manned aircraft’s wingmen. These drone wingmen are supposed to do everything from carry out attacks on enemies to protect the manned aircraft. In the last few months the Air Force has reportedly “successfully demonstrated” the concept using F-16s as drones in tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

According to a press release from Lockheed Martin (who is involved in the project), the testing successfully showed the following:

  • the ability to autonomously plan and execute air-to-ground strike missions and
  • the ability to dynamically react to a changing threat environment during an air-to-ground strike mission while automatically managing contingencies for capability failures, route deviations, and loss of communication.

In Israel they have moved beyond testing. Airobotics has built a fully autonomous drone system that is designed to conduct survey and security missions for industrial applications. The Civil Authority of Israel has given Airobotics full approval to operate autonomous drones in Israeli airspace.

Airobotic’s Optimus drone system houses a drone in a box where it is protected and is able to recharge itself. When tasked with a mission, the drone will take off and autonomously conduct the mission before returning to its housing unit. What is even more amazing is that Airobotics is testing using this proven technology for emergency response in less predictable and more congested urban airspace.

Next week, in the fourth and final part of this series, I will discuss energy solutions to power the drone superhighway and look to the future about how everything mentioned here can be cost effective enough to be widely implemented.

Stay tuned!

Derek Waleko is CEO of Up Sonder, the first on-demand drone and service rental platform powered by UberRUSH, specifically designed for drone pilots and drone owners to earn extra money.