Posts tagged "Drones for Good"

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Delft, 31th Jan 2018 – The interior region of Silhouette is a national park, with some of the richest biodiversity in the entire Indian Ocean. It is also home to several, critically endangered, plants and animals. In order to keep track of the different species on the island and gain insights into the unique ecosystem, an up-to-date map is an essential tool. However, this was not possible for half a century due to its rough environment with mountaintops up to 740m and its remote location. Our hybrid mapping drone Marlyn has enabled cartography professional TFC International to map this tropical island paradise, kicking off the project for mapping the entire Silhouette national park with great detail. These flights prove again that Marlyn is capable of mapping under these extreme conditions.

“The outdated and inaccurate map is our only means of planning and guiding expeditions. During our trips, we can encounter cliffs or impenetrable areas that are not shown on the current map, forcing us to abort the mission prematurely”, conservation officer at the Island Conservation Society, François Baguette explains. He goes on: “The high-resolution photographs and maps made by Marlyn will help us to better understand this area and will enable us to better plan our expeditions, saving us a lot of time and valuable manpower.”

“With this project, we are seamlessly pursuing the vision of our company: empowering professionals across industries to effortlessly gather geospatial data from the sky, enabling them to make more informed decisions, more efficiently and effectively”, mentions Sander Hulsman, CEO of ATMOS UAV. He adds “Where all other hybrid drones quit, Marlyn continues. Her ability to withstand winds up to 6Bft during all phases of the flight from take-off to cruise and landing makes her a truly unique professional mapping tool that proved to be essential for this project. We are very proud that TFC International selected our flagship model Marlyn for this beautiful and challenging project.”

The combination of having only a handful of small take-off points in combination with the mountains, ever-present wind and heat makes mapping the Silhouette island a big challenge. Conventional drones that fly like helicopters lack the endurance and fixed-wing drones need a large empty space to take-off and land which is not available. “When we found out about Marlyn’s unique ability to take-off and land vertically under windy conditions combined with a high flight autonomy, we knew this is exactly the drone we needed for this wonderful project”, says Jean-François Rossignol, director of TFC International. He continues: “As Marlyn has what it takes to map this island given the extreme conditions, I am confident she is capable of mapping any other project all over the world.”

Stanford Blood Center is looking to use drones for blood product deliveries on a case-by-case basis through a proposal with the city and manufacturer Matternet plans to send to the Federal Aviation Administration. Weekly file photo.

Blood-carrying drones may soon make their debut in Palo Alto skies under a program that city and Stanford University officials are hoping to launch in 2018.

The city has partnered with Stanford Blood Center and drone manufacturer Matternet on a proposal to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is planning to select five projects involving unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones. The proposal calls for establishing an “approved flight path” west of Junipero Serra Boulevard that could be used by drones shuttling between the Stanford Blood Center, which is located at Stanford Research Park, and Stanford Hospital.

The City Council approved the application on Dec. 11, two days before the initial submission deadline (final applications are due by Jan. 4, according to a report from the Public Works Department. If the FAA approves the proposal and proceeds with a formal agreement, staff would return for council approval, according to the city’s announcement. Palo Alto staff would then proceed with conducting the necessary environmental reviews and soliciting community feedback.

According to the letter of interest from Stanford Blood Center, the center aims to use drones in “very limited clinical settings where timely delivery of blood products of diagnostic specimens is of the utmost importance.”

“Examples include emergent delivery of blood products from Stanford Blood Center when there are patients whose usage outpace the available in-house inventory at the hospital,” the letter states. “More importantly, we are extremely aware and sensitive to the concerns of residents; every measure to eliminate intrusiveness and maximize safety will be taken.”

The Public Works report argues that while the drone program can lead to “many positive benefits to the community,” any operation would require the city and Stanford to address a list of issues before approval can be granted. These include safe drone operations, compatibility of drones with sensitive environmental habitats and impacts to residents, including noise and privacy.

Both Stanford and the city believe the collaboration, if successful, would further bolster the region’s reputation for technological innovation. Public Works staff believe the program “could provide a worthwhile framework for engaging key stakeholders in a proactive and constructive manner and potentially influence national policy on conditions and requirements necessary for safe and community-sensitive UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) operations.”

The Stanford proposal isn’t the only drone operation that the city is considering. Multirotor, a German company that makes drones and which counts the Berlin Police Department and the German Army among its clients, has recently opened a Redwood City location to “unlock the US market and to win local partners for adapting our technology to the specific requirements of US customers,” the company’s CEO Marian Meier-Andrae wrote in a Dec. 5 letter to Palo Alto Assistant City Manager Ed Shikada.

Modern drone technology, Meier-Andrae wrote, has the potential to “make operations in the public services sector safer, more efficient and greener.” They could be used, for example, to conduct inspections that have traditionally been carried out by humans at great heights, thus reducing the risk of injury or death. They can also replace manned systems such as helicopters and ground vehicles, resulting in lower noise and emission levels, as well as reduced costs, Meier-Andrae wrote.

In Palo Alto, Multirotor proposes to apply drone technology for airport operations and maintenance, which includes runway inspections, wildlife detection and perimeter surveillance. Other uses, according to the letter, include law enforcement (for example, to conduct accident-scene reconnaissance or crime scene reconstruction) and disaster relief (tasks may include damage appraisal and hot-spot detection).

The FAA plans to select the “lead applicants” in early 2018 and to enter into a memorandum of agreement with each by May 7, according to the agency’s website.

The constant beating of mosquito wings you hear this summer may soon include the buzzing of propellers from flying mosquito-killing machines, otherwise known as drones.

Pioneered by the U.S. military, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, are being proposed in a growing number of commercial applications. Today, UAS technology is increasingly used to predict, prevent and study disease outbreaks. Most recently, drones are being considered to support mosquito control. One of, if not the most dangerous creatures on Earth, mosquitos have been spreading deadly diseases to humans for centuries. The latest plague they’re spreading is the Zika virus, and current methods of preventing mosquito-borne diseases continue to be highly inefficient.

Traditional methods such as helicopters, planes or ground workers with handheld sprayers also fall short in obtaining significant data from animals that live in harsh environments—drones could be the answer. By catching mosquitos, drones can help scientists to better understand and respond to the way diseases become epidemics. They can detect, catch and take blood samples of mosquitos to help them better mitigate the potential for infectious disease outbreaks before they become wide-spread health disasters.

Drones for Mosquito Control

Not only in an effort to study these dangerous insects, but to effect more immediate results, drones are set to be the future of mosquito control. For instance, Ascension Parish, a small district in the state of Louisiana, recently bought a drone in time for peak mosquito season. This June, Ascension launched the drone to fly, hover and spray up to 20 pounds of chemicals at a time in hard-to-reach areas where mosquitos breed. There, a private mosquito control company has also been using drones to scout for breeding sites to kill larvae found in standing water, removing the next generation of mosquitos before they take flight. This method is one of the best ways to control the population of mosquitos and prevent the spread of disease to humans.

With drones, operators can spray with greater precision, which will allow the company to save on cost, improve worker safety and limit environmental impact unlike more commonly applied aerial methods. Drones outfitted with cameras can also survey hard-to-reach breeding sites and enable the rapid, repeatable and safe collection of high-resolution imagery. Aerial mappingwith drones can be used to conduct site surveys and track job progress while conducting real-time data gathering and analysis.

Operational Intelligence Promoting Disease Control Innovations

Currently, the Ascension Parish mosquito control company mentioned above has employees in training to operate drones and they have been continuing to work on licensing requirements with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Safety and privacy concerns have often stalled the advancement of such commercial applications of drones. However, solutions like Simulyze’s operational intelligence (OI) platform, for example, provide the foundation needed for safe UAS flight.

By providing a complete operational view of post-workflow data, OI provides deep analytics, real-time processing, insight and intelligence that enables better-informed decision making. OI is helping to grow this industry and improve mapmaking, surveying and UAS situational awareness altogether.

OI has proven that drones can be safely integrated into the national airspace and can provide the necessary measures for eased FAA regulations to allow for further use and study of commercial UAS applications. All things considered, drones are already on their way to the frontline of mosquito control and global disease research.

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.

Building inspections for large and complex structures can at times be tough, expensive, and risky. Unlike the older buildings that

were basic and simple, most of the new developments have unique and complex designs. But regardless of the shape, complexity, or size, the developers and owners must comply with the building codes and regulations.

Authorities require that all structures adhere to the laid down standards that ensure safety for the occupants and people near the building. It is a requirement to carry out regular or adhoc building inspections to ensure integrity and compliance with the regulations. Other than the owner and prospective buyers, the insurance companies, financing firms, and banks, as well as maintenance teams, will often require knowing the state of the building.

From Industrial SkyWorks’ experience, the building inspections help in assessing all parts of the structure and give a report that can be used by any interested party. However, the building inspections have not been easy for some people who are still stuck in the old ways of doing things.

Traditional and modern building inspection technologies

Until recently, most people relied on the traditional, manual and time-consuming methods that often require a qualified building inspector to personally do the tests in the field. The exercise is usually risky, requiring heavy equipment to climb and access the rooftops. This requires heavy investments in terms of labor, equipment and time. But there are now modern, safer and efficient technologies, such as drones, that are slowly replacing the old methods, even though not completely.

Traditional building inspections are quite risky – from collapsing roofs and insect bites to falling off ladders and scaffolding equipment. This can happen due to malfunction, incorrect mounting or assembly. However, new technologies that rely on unmanned aerial vehicles or drones have greatly made the inspections easier, safer, faster and less costly.

The drones minimize or completely eliminate most the risks such as the falls, collapsing roofs under the inspector’s feet, and much more. In addition, sending a drone to perform inspections before climbing will also help to identify the defects. It also provides indications of faulty roofs so that the inspector will be more careful, in case there is still need to go up the building.

Unfortunately most of the people, I included, have been not been keen and therefore not taken advantage of the modern, building inspection technologies. Some of us are yet to adopt drone-based inspection technologies, either due to lack of awareness or no knowledge of the so many benefits it has to offer.

Benefits of using modern technologies for building inspection

The following benefits of using drones are what I wish I knew a year ago about building inspections.

Provides safe building inspections

The drone roof inspection eliminates most of the risks associated with conventional building inspection methods. The risks arise due to the nature and design of the buildings. Complex designs, great heights, deteriorated roofs, and structures as well as hard to access areas can pose several risks to the workers, occupants of a building and those people around it.

Collecting the data without putting the lives of the workers at risk is one of the major benefits of using the drones to inspect a wide range of properties.

Ability to collect in-depth data

The drones can access almost any part of the building, and collect more useful information using its high-quality image, video, and thermal cameras. Even though there is still a requirement for the human expertise, a drone-based building inspection is faster, more efficient and accurate.

Modern building inspection technologies allow people to get more details about the structures. By accessing the difficult to reach and tight spaces, the drones can capture more information that an inspector would not have managed using the conventional means. In addition, the drone can be used repeatedly, taking the photo or video from the same location over and over. This is helpful if you want to compare the before and after images once a repair is complete.

The drones have inbuilt GPS systems that make it possible to take shots of a location from the exact location at every visit, even if it is after a month or longer period. This means that the drone camera can be able to capture images and videos from the same elevations and angles that are impossible with the manual inspection by a human.

Click to Download a Sample Drone Inspection Report 

The new technologies help you to get the job done faster

A lot of preparation goes into planning and executing a traditional building inspection. It, therefore, takes more time and workers to plan and complete one inspection. In addition, the different data collected using the various means must be combined and analyzed to produce a report. With new technologies, such as drones, it requires only a short time to carry out an inspection once a client makes the request. Since it does not require mounting the climbing and access equipment, the drone- based inspection starts off immediately the team gets to the site. In addition, it performs the examination within a fraction of the time it would take using the conventional methods.

The drones can then transmit the data to the inspection team on the ground or through the Cloud – allowing them to analyze the data and generate reports faster without putting anyone at risk. Using drone inspections software such as BlueVu, will make the process even easier.

Drone-based building inspections are less costly

The drone services can help in reducing the inspection costs significantly. There is no need to acquire and transport costly scaffolding, lifts, ladders and other climbing equipment and gear. In addition, it does not require as many people, hence cutting down on the equipment and labor costs.

Reducing the time and labor means that it is even possible to perform several building inspections in a day. In fact, a building inspector can perform multiple inspections simultaneously as long as there are enough drones and their pilots. The inspector can at the same time monitor all the inspections from a remote office through the internet and Cloud systems.

Drones can reduce the insurance costs

Due to the risks associated with traditional building inspections, the workers and sometimes the equipment and structure are insured against accidents and damages. And since many workers are required, the insurance costs can be high, thus reducing the revenue. The drones reduce the need to pay insure the workers and equipment since there are fewer if any risks.

Less safety and health checks

A drone eliminates the need to follow the numerous regulations on health and safety. These requirements are often required when sending a human worker to perform the structural examinations or roof inspections on a block of flats or similar buildings.

The sites must be checked for any safety issues, which may arise due to height and other potential dangers. To perform such inspections, the regulation requires a check on the workers to confirm that they are in good health. This is also done for insurance purposes. However, the drones eliminate the need for the tests as well as insurance for the workers.

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In December 2016, Pix4D and Parrot announced they would award a climate innovation grant to help foster innovation around the impact of global climate change.  They received over 250 proposals from researchers across a range of disciplines.

Six projects were selected, based on novelty, scientific merit, and team experience. Other factors considered were advanced degrees, formal association with educational organizations or institutions, and a strong record of climate change research.

The grant winners have received a Parrot Disco-Pro AG that embeds a Parrot Sequoia multispectral sensor, a 1- year Pix4D software license, and training to help them move their research forward.

And the winners are …drum roll please…

Robert M. Pringle

Assistant professor

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University


The role of climate in modulating wildlife extinctions in African drylands

“We want to use drone-based ecological monitoring to incorporate regular low-altitude image surveys of our plots into our regular long-term monitoring program.

Specifically, we want to measure woody-plant biomass, phenology, water stress, net aboveground productivity, and canopy architecture.  All of which are impossible to measure with current satellite technology and the best available ground-based methods are exceedingly time-consuming and frustratingly imprecise to boot.” 



Dr. Chris Field

Professor of Biology and Environmental Earth Science

Department of Global Ecology

Stanford University, USA


Drone-based detection of grassland phenology, productivity and composition in relation to climate

“Our goal is to use a drone-mounted camera and multispectral sensor to map and monitor temporal and spatial variation in grassland in order to understand the role of climate variation in driving changes in grassland composition.

Specifically we propose to examine the extent to which changes in grassland composition—such as the balance of grasses vs forbs, annuals vs perennials, and invasive vs native species—are due to weather and microclimate-driven changes in phenology and/or productivity.”


Gillian Maggs-Kölling

Executive Director
Gobabeb Research and Training Centre




Growth dynamics of the lichen fields of the Central Namib Desert

“Lichens are small, highly complex organisms, with thalli ranging between 10–100 mm in diameter. They occur across vast expanses of desert plains and are often difficult to access. Crustose lichens (e.g. Lecidella crystallina and Caloplaca spp.) especially cannot be discerned from the surrounding matrix of desert gravel. This makes conventional RGB-photography, in particular aerial RGB-photography, totally unsuitable for monitoring lichen growth.

The expected ground resolution of about 10 cm will also even out unwanted detail on the gravel plain surface (i.e. pebbles and smaller stone from various geological origins), making it easier to determine a trend in photosynthesising activity rather than confusing detail in the ground surface.

Our long-term goal would be to try and model productivity of the lichen-fields based on the multi-spectral bands (specifically the near-infrared and red edge bands), and in this way monitor the vigour and growth of the lichen fields. These data could inform land management practices in the uranium-rich Central Namib Desert.“



Holly P. Jones

Assistant professor

Department of Biological Sciences
Northern Illinois University



Using drones to monitor grassland responses to shifting climate and restoration

“A multispectral camera will significantly reduce our workload because we would no longer have to overlay these images by hand to calculate NDVI and other measurements.  

This grant will scale our pilot-project and look at how restoration interacts with climate and allow us to help managers forecast what that will mean for future prairie restorations.”




Lluís Brotons

Senior researcher

InForest JRU



Monitoring insect pest impacts in mediterranean forests

“We want to to quantitatively assess the impact of the the pine processionary moth on pine forests at the forest stand scale (10-100 ha). Satellite imagery has strong constraints on the quantity and quality of information. RGB imagery may not be adequate to conduct impact assessment across space and time. Multispectral data (i.e. infrared) allows a much better comparison across images taken in different locations and times.”



Jeffrey Kerby

Neukom Postdoctoral Fellow

Dickey Center Visiting Arctic Fellow

Dartmouth College

Climate-driven greening of the Siberian Arctic: Multispectral sensors on UAVs bridge ground to satellite scaling challenges

“Multispectral data will allow for direct radiometric comparisons with vegetation change patterns captured by satellite data.  This grant offers huge advantages: discrete spectral bands, direct measures of incoming solar radiation, integrated IMU data, integrated GPS data, streamlined workflow.  

This integrated system (camera + software) allows for easier exploration of the relationship between spectral and structural influences on scaling the effects of how vegetation responds to climate change in the Arctic.”

Stay tuned to learn more about each winning project and how drone mapping technology helps study the effects of climate change on this variety of essential global ecosystems.




Previous articleHow to Use Drones to Improve Equipment Reliability in the Oil and Gas Industry
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.