Posts tagged "DJI"

Five years ago, the pundits predicted that by now we would be seeing tens of thousands of drones buzzing over our heads delivering everything from pizzas and burritos to the latest “must-have” item from Amazon. So what happened? Where are they? In a nutshell, they are here, but the general public doesn’t see them—at least not daily—and they aren’t necessarily delivering what was predicted.

The fact is that commercial drones fly in remote areas or over private property every day by the thousands. They’re performing work on farms, powerlines, construction sites, cell towers, and oil pads, especially in the U.S. where there are more than 118,000 FAA-certified remote pilots. Compare that to the U.K., where there are just under 5,000.

Delivering pizzas and burritos will likely be a very small part of what drones will be doing in the future. According to the largest benchmark study on commercial drones, the bulk of all current industrial use outside of film, photo and video falls into two categories: surveying and mapping land areas and inspecting and monitoring physical structures. And it’s these two uses that will continue to drive the growth of drones for industrial use for many years to come.

Three companies represent this growth and are worth getting to know: PrecisionHawk, DroneDeploy and SkySkopes. In many way,s they are emblematic of the current state of the growing commercial drone industry and provide insight into its future.

PrecisionHawk

Founded in 2010 and headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., PrecisionHawk was one of the first vendors to offer a full end-to-end enterprise drone solution stack. That stack included a drone aircraft with advanced sensors, software, analytics, and contracted services for inspecting things like oil well pads and utility lines and more. (“Advanced sensors” refers to specialized cameras on the drone that detect things like crop growth patterns.) With over $107 million in investment and more than 180 employees, PrecisionHawk has some large customers, including ExxonMobil, John Deere, Monsanto, and Verizon. They offer services in more than 150 countries and have a network of 15,000 pilots.

Two things illustrate how PrecisionHawk leads the industry. First is their regulatory experience and FAA partnership. Second is their focus on operating drones beyond the pilot’s ability to see them, or “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS). PrecisionHawk was one of a few companies to partner with the FAA on its Pathfinder Program, and the company’s work is informing current FAA regulations and BVLOS policy. PrecisionHawk also understands that as the commercial drone industry evolves, widespread BVLOS drone inspection has the potential to significantly change business models for many industries. With their programs and papers like “The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections,” they educate businesses and help them evaluate when it’s best to use traditional ground and manned aviation, line-of-sight drones, or BVLOS drone inspection approaches. PrecisionHawk is unique in evaluating the costs and benefits of BVLOS operations compared with traditional operations, which allows businesses to plan an aerial intelligence strategy that delivers the most value for the money.

DroneDeploy

San Francisco-based DroneDeploy provides software that controls drone flight plans and workflows as well as processes the images they collect. They have more than 4,000 global customers mapping and assessing everything from construction progress, to disaster recovery, to agricultural crop vigor.  Founded in 2013, the company partnered with leading drone manufacturers to provide its software to operators in a variety of industries, including agriculture, real estate, mining, construction and many other commercial and consumer arenas. Having raised $56M in funding, DroneDeploy started by selling software directly to pilots and later added selling through the channel that supplies mid-size companies and then added direct sales to enterprises and resellers.

By every measure, DroneDeploy has the most popular non-OEM mapping flight application on the market. They boast that their software processes over 100 million images per year and measures more than 10 million distances a year (for instance, between objects). But they are not resting on their laurels. Drone use by surveyors and mappers is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, and as that’s happened, DroneDeploy has been pushing boundaries more than any vendor. Their app market is the largest set of industry-specific integrated applications available.

Part of what has made DroneDeploy (and the drone industry itself) so successful has been the consumerization of drone technology. What others missed but DroneDeploy didn’t was the foresight to see that the prosumer drone category would be the only place where sales volumes and margins would be strong enough for aircraft manufacturers to recoup R&D investment. That’s why, early on, they pivoted from open source-based aircraft to DJI drones since DJI is and has been for four years the dominant player in the space. Last year, DJI’s market share for drone aircraft was 74%. As a result, all the major mission planning and mapping applications like DroneDeploy and dozens more now integrate with or run on DJI’s products. Most of them started off with applications dedicated to their own drone, but soon found that most professionals want to use the simpler and more reliable DJI prosumer drones. DroneDeploy made that bet early, and it has paid off.

SkySkopes

Whereas PrecisionHawk offers a full drone stack and DroneDeploy offers software, this last company doesn’t manufacture anything. They provide drone services. And in a field of more than 30,000 service companies, very few stand out as full-time ventures—let alone as profitable and growing—but SkySkopes does. They succeeded because they specialized. Based in Grand Forks, N.D., SkySkopes started in 2014 and has grown from a small startup with four part-time employees to over 18 full-time employees and four offices across the upper Midwest. Over the years, SkySkopes has refined its focus to strictly providing aerial services for the energy industry and now has operations in California, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, and Europe.

What makes SkySkopes successful is they are not afraid to push the limits of drone technology. Their specialization in acquiring aerial data with advanced aircraft has landed them projects with CenterPoint Energy, Duke Energy, Xcel Energy and a host of others. SkySkopes and NASA have also teamed up over the past few years to demonstrate and test BVLOS use cases for the UTM project to integrate civilian low-altitude airspace and unmanned aircraft system operation. All this landed CEO Matt Dunlevy a seat on the advisory board of the Energy Drone & Robotics Coalition, the only event exclusively focused on the business and technology of aerial, ground/surface and subsea robotics in energy operations.

Together these three companies encapsulate the present state of the growing industrial use of drones. Clearly, that’s not what the media prefers to focus on since it’s not sexy drone pizza delivery. But it’s important work with great business benefits to specific industries.

This article first appeared on FORBES.com

Image credit: Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg, © 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

We just announced the launch of our third annual Drone Market Sector Research survey, which promises to be our most comprehensive study of drone market trends and usage to date. The online portion of this research seeks to get information about who is buying and using small unmanned aircraft systems—otherwise known as drones. It improves upon the 2017 research by, among other things:

  • Asking more specific questions about flight operations and flight times
  • Investigating the adoption and maturity of enterprise and/or public agency drone programs
  • Diving into how users geo-reference images for maps

Take the brief 10-minute survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2018_drone_market

As an incentive for participation in the survey, there will be an opportunity to:

  • Receive a free summary report of the research results, a $95 value
  • Enter to win a free DJI Spark mini-drone package (a $425 value) or one of two $100 VISA gift cards.

What’s new?

This year’s research is designed to uncover fresh insights on which drone industry sectors are thriving (and which aren’t) and how businesses are using drone-acquired data in their day-to-day operations. Skylogic Research hopes the survey results will fill a gap in knowledge and understanding of the commercial drone industry around:

  • Actual drone and drone data usage (most reports forecast use but don’t survey actual users)
  • How and why operators and users are deploying drones now and how/why they plan to grow their use in the future
  • Baseline statistics for market share among the brands as well as information about the size of service providers, enterprises, and businesses that have drone programs

The online portion of this year’s research seeks to get information about who is buying and using small unmanned aircraft systems. This independent study is being supported by DJI, DroneDeploy, DroneInsurance.com, and Trimble.

The survey will explore:

  • Who’s buying what types of drones from which makers at which prices and for what uses?
  • How large are drone-based service providers, and how and where are they positioning themselves to whom and which target industries?
  • What most concerns businesses that perform drone-based projects and why?
  • How much are service providers, business buyers, and public agencies using flight management and data analytic software for image-based projects?

Our previous studies have found that more consumer drones are being used for professional use than ever before, the U.S. market is flooded with service providers and remote pilots but very few make enough money to sustain a full-time venture, and film / photo / video dominates both the hobby and professional uses of drones. This year’s study will continue to challenge these insights and explore further the sustainability of drone service providers.

Who should take the survey?

  • Individuals or organizations who have purchased a drone in the past 12 months for any reason
  • Commercial drone service providers
  • Businesses, enterprises, and public agencies that perform drone-based operations

Why this study?

We believe the consumer and commercial drone market needs this annual benchmark study. There is a lack of objective information on the drone industry. We find an absence of credible market-based research and little understanding of the difference between large industry forecasts and actual buyer adoption rates. This study will clarify much of that.

When complete, the research study will provide a complete view of topics like:

  • Critical industry drivers
  • Vendor and service provider market share
  • Business and public agency adoption trends and issues

The survey will be open for four weeks, and results will be available in September.

Image: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

NEW YORK — June 26, 2018 — Emerald Expositions, the largest operator of business-to-
business trade shows in the United States, announced today the exhibition component of the industry’s largest dedicated commercial UAV show, InterDrone, will include the first major presence by UAV industry leader, DJI. The exhibition will be paired with more than 120 sessions on all aspects of drone design, piloting, regulations, and business management when it opens its doors September 5-7 at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas.
With a 40 x 40-foot booth, DJI has reserved the largest exhibit space in the history of InterDrone and plans to showcase many of its vertical partner solutions along with its own industry-leading technology.

DJI will present a keynote in the morning on Thursday, September 6, as well as teach several 60-minute sessions on topics such as its developer technologies, the current landscape of drones in public safety, and what’s new and hot in aerial photography.
“The DJI team is excited for InterDrone 2018, where we will showcase our latest technology, which include solutions developed in close collaboration with our partners – many of whom will be exhibiting at our booth,” said Jan Gasparic, Head of Enterprise Partnerships at DJI, the world’s leading civilian drone manufacturer. “The commercial drone ecosystem is growing at a rapid rate and it is thrilling to see the emergence of specialized solutions that cater to specific industrial needs,” he added.

Other notable keynote speakers include a Grand Keynote address by PrecisionHawk CEO
Michael Chasen, and a Keynote from AirMap’s Greg McNeal. They will be joined at InterDrone by a high-level lineup of commercial drone CEOs and thought leaders who will frame the state of the industry for the more than 3,500 attendees expected at the conference.

“Exhibitors and sponsors include a cross section of the entire commercial drone industry,
including DroneDeploy, FLIR, Epson, NASA, Pix4D, Geospatial Solutions, ESRI, Brother
International, ComNav Technology, Bentley Systems, Harris, NovaTel, and DAE Inc. These
great brands mix with great content to attract our robust attendee base of drone business owners, pilots and professionals in all sectors of the industry,” said Katie Flash, Content Director, InterDrone.

“Aiding in the growth of our audience is the support of more than 300 media and association partners on six continents. They are helping to drive awareness of InterDrone and building on its position as the premier commercial drone event in the world,” said Ted Bahr, InterDrone Chairman.

The show this year will feature more than 120 sessions, panel discussions, and keynotes
conducted by renowned industry experts, covering numerous commercial drone applications.

The Exhibit Hall will showcase the latest hardware, software, and drone accessories from
industry-leading manufacturers and innovators. Registration for InterDrone 2018 is now open.

For information on exhibiting or event sponsorships, please contact Brian Scott at
brian.scott@emeraldexpo.com or 646.668.3784.

About InterDrone
InterDrone, The International Drone Conference and Exposition, is where the commercial UAV industry comes together. InterDrone allows drone pilots and buyers to connect with other drone pilots, service providers, UAS engineers and developers, UAV manufacturers, videographers, and enterprise UAV end-users at the largest, commercially-dedicated UAV event.

InterDrone boasts the most comprehensive conference program along with in-depth drone
courses and special events, including the Enterprise After Hours and the Women in Drones
Luncheon—which InterDrone spearheaded into an industry-acclaimed event—as well as
meetups designed for networking and keeping drone pilots up to date on the latest in drone news and the industry.

InterDrone is owned by Emerald Expositions, the largest operator of business-to-business trade shows in the United States, with many shows dating back several decades. Emerald currently operate more than 50 trade shows, including 31 of the top 250 trade shows in the country as ranked by TSNN, as well as numerous other events, connecting over 500,000 global attendees and exhibitors and occupying more than 6.9 million NSF of exhibition space.

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Somewhere between the Mavic and the foldable Spark (admit it, the Spark was a little disappointing), DJI has revealed the new ultraportable, high-quality camera drone, Mavic Air. Available for pre-order at $799, the Mavic Air boasts some of the best features and capabilities of both the Mavic, and the Spark, as well as a few new super-cool features of its own.

  • 3-Axis Gimbal Camera
  • 32 MP Sphere Panoramas
  • 4K 100 Mbps Video
  • Slow-Motion Video
  • HDR Photos
  • 8 GB Internal Storage
  • 3D Foldable Design
  • Foldable Remote Controller
  • ActiveTrack
  • QuickShots (such as Asteroid and Boomerang)
  • SmartCapture
  • FlightAutonomy 2.0

For full specs and capabilities, or to pre-order yours now, visit DJI.com.

We’re excited to see what the new Mavic Air can really do!

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Previous articleDJI’s Latest Drone Leaks Ahead of Launch

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by Matt Burns (@mjburnsy) of TechCrunch

DJI is supposed to announce a new drone tomorrow but this appears to be it. Called the Mavic Air, the small drone looks to be a combo of foldable Mavic Pro and the affordable Spark. I’m interested.

According to DroneDJ, the small drone will have four foldable legs, a 4k camera, 3-way gimbal and a obstacle-avoidance system. But what about the price and range? DJI will likely reveal those details at the event tomorrow morning.

Read more here.

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Previous articleThe Drone Market Environment Map – These companies will disrupt 2018

So you want to pick your first drone to start capturing beautiful photos and images like never before.

There’s an important distinction you must make when choosing a camera drone, at least if you care for not spending more money than what’s necessary.

In this guide I’ll try to help you understand the things you might want most in a drone, how expensive these are and what features might end up being just gimmicks for you.

If you want to get straight to buying your camera drone and are low on cash, better check out my top 7 camera drones under $200, trust me, you can’t go wrong with this.

What are you going to do with it?

There are many uses to a flying device with a camera attached to it. You can spy with a drone (actually that would not be feasible at all), you can take nice shots for your vacation or do some cool real estate video.

There’s simply to many uses to list, but here are the main categories of people who want such a drone:

  1. Professionals – who use the drone to make money either by enhancing their video or photo creations with an aerial shot or by inspecting certain hard to reach places and making money that way.
  2. The weekend amateur– most people fall in this category, they want a drone because it’s fun to fly and see their town from the air. Maybe they want to create a short video and post it on Facebook or show their friends where their grandparents live in the mountains.

Both these categories of people can save money on their drones, albeit the professionals might want to spend more if they intend to have a better final product.

What are the Most important features in a drone you should care about?

These are the things you should put the most emphasis when picking a camera drone. In the section bellow I’ll tell you which features might be an overkill for you and which you might need the most.

Camera

I always start with this part, because, let’s face it, drones are pretty much flying cameras and you’re interesting mostly in capturing good video that will impress or be useful.

An important feature of a drone camera (and sometimes cameras in general) is stabilization.

In most drones this is achieved with a 3 axis gimbal that work just like a chicken head to hold the camera in the same spot.

Below there’s a comparison between a stabilized video and a non-stabilized one

[embedded content]

You can see that the image of the camera behind the gimbal is shaky, but the one on the right (filmed on the gimbal) is very smooth and cinematic.

Some bad news…

The gimbal is usually one of the most expensive parts of a drone, so the price will increase (by at least $100).

There are many drones who come with a gimbal already included with the camera and drone. DJI Drones have very high quality stabilization, but they tend to be rather expensive.

 

Do you really need to spend money on stabilization?

Not necessarily…

If you want to just capture aerial imagery and happen to have a gopro(or any action camera) lying around you might want to look into a cheaper drone under $100 that can hold an action camera. The best one by far I can think about is the MJX Bugs 3, that not only can fly 200m in range, but also has powerful brushless motors.

Here’s a video showing what you can do with a little effort and no gimbal:

[embedded content]

What about camera resolution?

If you’re an amateur and want to take nice looking video, resolution might be your last concern. I’d suggest you get a drone that has at least FULL HD resolution (But most drones over $100 these days can do it).

There’s also the option of combining an action camera with a drone like we saw before.

Personally, I record at 2.7k resolution with my DJI Mavic so I can get a little more detail and be able to zoom in if I need to.

Why don’t I record in 4k, you ask?

The higher the resolution, the harder it is for a computer to edit such footage. So, I prefer the middle ground and keep my workflow smoother. Most people still don’t have 4k monitors, and trust me, 2.7k is enough…. Heck… 1080p might be enough for years to come.

Do real estate videos require more than 1080p drone video?

I’d say no, most of the time, but you should make sure the video is will stabilized and the quality of the footage is good enough.

Resolution is not all when it comes to final video quality

When buying a drone, especially if you want to use the footage commercially, you should check the sensor size and aperture of a drone. These two things will insure the footage is not grainy in low light.

Sensor size should be higher and the aperture number as low as possible. For example, DJI Mavic (price $1000) has an aperture of f2.2, which is pretty good in low light, but a Phantom 4 Professional has a bigger sensor, which makes it superior in dim environments.

Is GPS and long range worth in a camera drone?

GPS can be a life saver sometimes, but good GPS modules will also be adding quite a lot to your drone. The cheapest GPS drone that I know of which also works great is the MJX Bugs 2 or the Hubsan 501S, but keep in mind they don’t have stabilized cameras.

What can GPS do for you?

GPS will ensure your drone will not fly away and stay in a spot without you needed to constantly adjust the sticks at the first wind blow.

It can also return your drone to home when signal is lost.

This is why bigger range is also important!

If you have a range of let’s say 50m, you might not even realize when signal is lost, and if the drone doesn’t have a GPS module, it will probably drop from the sky or do a flyaway.

In terms of range, I’d say 200m is enough if you want just to scout around the neighborhood or get some shots at the beach.

Personally, I couldn’t do without at least 500m, simply because sometimes I want to capture the bigger picture or explore places I can’t go to by foot.

Recommendations

Now, let’s finish this article with my recommendations for different price ranges of drones and what I think you should buy:

  1. <$100 – MJX Bugs 3 – a powerful quadcopter that can hold an action camera and the battery lasts for 15 minutes
  2. >$200 – Hubsan 501s or Bugs 2 – both with GPS connection, over 1 km range and Full HD Cameras (not stabilized)
  3. >$400 – Xiaomi 4k drone – This is the lowest price I would go if you want all the features we’ve talked about. This drone is very good for the price, but it can be pretty big compared to others.
  4. >$500 – DJI Spark – Very small and inconspicuous drone that shoots stabilized video, takes 4k photos and more. It has a lot of gimmicks that can be interesting, but if you’re tight on a budget I don’t recommend it.
  5. >$1000 – DJI Mavic – My top pick at this price – Has all the nice features, cool flying modes, smart sensors, amazing 4k camera and is super compact. But yea, not everyone can afford it, and that’s not a problem.
  6. >$1600 – Phantom 4 pro – If you’re a professional and want to record in low light environments and capture very high quality footage, this is it.

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3DR has been busy lately. They’ve recently added Pix4D processing to their capabilities, and have just announced an upcoming integration with DJI drones. 3DR has a stated aspiration to make Site Scan the complete drone solution for construction and engineering professionals across the world.

With that goal in their sights, 3DR has just introduced another set of new features to Site Scan Manager. They’ve added three new ways to visualize your elevation data: Elevation Models, Hillshades, and Cut and Fill Maps. These viewers will help you get actionable, detailed information about your jobsite.

Elevation Model: With this model, you can turn your elevation data into a heatmap in order to quickly understand and verify elevation across your site. This is crucial, for example, when you need to know which way drainage water will flow and what areas of your site will require the most grading. You can adjust the altitude ranges to view the area that you’re most interested in, and change the opacity as well.

Hillshade: Need to clearly identify the 3D objects in your orthomosaic? The hillshade viewer makes it easy, providing a grayscale 3D image of your jobsite, with the position of the sun taken into account to ensure proper shading.

Cut and Fill Map: In addition to cut and fill calculations, now you can easily set your desired grading elevation and then view a high-resolution cut and fill map to know exactly how much work needs to be done.

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Previous article190 Commercial Drone Companies to Showcase Latest UAV Technology at InterDrone
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.

[embedded content]

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.

A FOUR PART SERIES

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.

https://nanoone.ca/

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.