A Skyfront Perimeter drone takes off from the Alyeska trans-Alaska pipeline right of way near Fox for a milestone flight beyond the operator’s visual line of sight. The drone flew 3.87 miles along the pipeline corridor. (University of Alaska Photo / Sean Tevebaugh) A public-private consortium led by the University of Alaska has conducted the first-ever federally authorized test flight of a drone beyond the operator’s line of sight without on-the-ground observers keeping watch – with Echodyne, the radar venture that’s backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and headquartered in Kirkland, Wash., playing a supporting role. Autonomous flight beyond visual line of sight will be key to the kinds of drone delivery operations envisioned by Amazon, Walmart and other retailers. During Wednesday’s flight, a multirotor drone as part of the University of Alaska’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, from the Federal Aviation Administration last year. The big thing about this flight is that the drone made use of , paired up with Echodyne’s ground-based MESA airspace management radar system, without having a human on the route. Current FAA regulations limit drone flights to the operator’s visual line of sight. Pilot projects have been experimenting with technologies that can ensure safe operations beyond the visual line of sight, known as BVLOS. But until now, the FAA’s waivers still required a ground-based observer to look out for non-cooperative aircraft coming into the test area. This week’s flight of a drone totally on its own was authorized after it flew the same route with visual observers. “The test mission designed by the team at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks is an excellent demonstration of the potential for commercial UAS,” Eben Frankenberg, the founder and CEO of Echodyne, . “With Iris Automation and Echodyne sensor technologies, routine commercial missions like linear inspection and medical deliveries to remote communities are both practical and safe.” The radar system developed by Echodyne relies on metamaterials technology, which uses specially structured electronics to bend electromagnetic waves. Circuits based on metamaterials can allow for the construction of flat-panel radar devices that match the performance of larger, more expensive phased array antennas. Echodyne is one of several metamaterials-based startups that have been spun out from Bellevue, Wash.-based Intellectual Ventures with Gates’ financial backing. Its most recently reported funding round from Gates as well as Silicon Valley’s New Enterprise Associates, the Kresge Foundation, Lux Capital, Seattle’s Madrona Venture Group and Vulcan Capital. The company is playing a role in several tests of detect-and-avoid technologies for drones. In March, Echodyne announced that its as part of NASA’s UAS Traffic Management program, in Texas and Nevada. Meanwhile, the tests in Alaska will continue, focusing on pipeline inspection as well as other applications potentially including medical device delivery, search and rescue, road monitoring and surveys of fish and wildlife.
New gear from will equip you with everything you need to become the best first-person drone racer that’s ever graced the Earth – you’ll be the Anakin Skywalker of FPV drone races. The company is launching a new suite of products specifically to make the most of Digital First Person Viewing (FPV) when operating drones, with a wide range of compatibility. The includes a set of FPV goggles, a transmission unit that you attach to your drone of choice, a camera that also attaches to the transmitter unit and the drone body, and an FPV controller. Together, they provide the “first low latency HD video transmission signal” according to DJI, with total end-to-end latency of just 28 milliseconds per the specs, and the ability to transmit 720p footage at 120fps with that low lag transmission. There are a few key ingredients here that are tuned specifically to the needs of drone racers here: low-latency is important because you want the video feed to be as real-time as possible when you’re racing high-speed drones around courses with tight turns and a field of airborne competitors you can potentially run into. And high-quality speed, with a high refresh rate for the video, is important for similar reasons – you need to ‘see’ accurately from the perspective of the drone in order to race it effectively. The system can also transmit at a distance of up to 2.5 miles, and there are eight channels of 5.8GHz wireless frequency supported by the Air Unit so that you can fly as many as eight drones at the same time connected to a single system. Users can even change feeds on the fly when multiple units are in use, letting them take a look at the competition or just watch the race rom an FPV perspective if they don’t actually have a drone in the running. As for the camera, it offers a 150-degree field of view, and while the feed is optimized for action at 720p 120fps as mentioned, you can export video at either 1080p 60 or 720p 120 depending on your editing needs. The live video transmission also optimizes by first pixellating around the edges and keeping the center clear when it needs to increase broadcast efficiency under heavy load and in sub-optimal connection conditions, so that the important part of the action remains in focus for racers. DJI will be selling these in two packages, including a ‘Fly More Combo’ that retails for $929 and an ‘Experience Combo’ that will be $819, with the main difference being that you get the Remote controller in the mix with the ‘Fly More’ version.
A drone sighting caused all flights to be suspended at Frankfurt Airport for around an hour this morning. The airport is Germany’s busiest by passenger numbers, serving almost 14.8 million passengers in the first three months of this year. In a tweet sent after flights had resumed the airport reported that operations were suspended at 07:27, before the suspension was lifted at 08:15, with flights resuming at 08:18. It added that security authorities were investigating the incident. Drohnensichtung am . Flugbetrieb im Zeitraum von 07:27 bis 08:15 Uhr eingestellt. Aufklärungs- und Fahndungsmaßnahmen der Sicherheitsbehörden wurden umgesetzt. Flugbetrieb seit 08:18 Uhr wieder aufgenommen. Unsere Pressemitteilung folgt. — Bundespolizei Flughafen Frankfurt am Main (@bpol_air_fra) A report in suggests more than 100 takeoffs and landings were cancelled as a result of the disruption caused by the drone sighting. All flights to Frankfurt (FRA) are currently holding or diverting due to drone activity near the airport — International Flight Network (@FlightIntl) It’s the second such incident at the airport after a drone sighting at the end of March also caused flights to be suspended for around half an hour. Drone sightings near airports have been on the increase for years as drones have landed in the market at increasingly affordable prices, as have reports of drone near misses with aircraft. The Frankfurt suspension follows far more major disruption caused by repeat drone sightings at the UK’s second largest airport, Gatwick Airport, — which caused a series of flight shutdowns and travel misery for hundreds of thousands of people right before the holiday period. The UK government came in for trenchant criticism immediately afterwards, with experts saying it had failed to listen and warnings about the risks posed by drone misuse. A planned drone bill has also been long delayed, meaning new legislation to comprehensively regulate drones has slipped. In response to the Gatwick debacle the UK government quickly pushed through an around airports after criticism by aviation experts — beefing up the existing 1km exclusion zone to 5km. It also said to tackle drone misuse. In Germany an amendment to air traffic regulations entered into force in 2017 that prohibits drones being flown within 1.5km of an airport. Drones are also banned from being flown in controlled airspace. However with local press reporting , with the country’s Air Traffic Control registering 125 last year (31 of which were around Frankfurt), the 1.5km limit looks similarly inadequate.
Wing Aviation, the drone-based delivery startup born out of X labs, has the first FAA certification in the country for commercial carriage of goods. It might not be long before you’re getting your burritos sent par avion. The company has been performing tests for years, making thousands of flights and supervised deliveries to show that its drones are safe and effective. Many of those flights were in Australia, where in suburban Canberra the company recently . Finland and other countries are also in the works.. Wing’s first operations, starting later this year, will be in Blackburg and Christiansburg, VA; obviously an operation like this requires close coordination with municipal authorities as well as federal ones. You can’t just get a permission slip from the FAA and start flying over everyone’s houses. “Wing plans to reach out to the local community before it begins food delivery, to gather feedback to inform its future operations,” the FAA writes in a press release. Here’s hoping that means you can choose whether or not these loud little aircraft will be able to pass through your airspace. Although the obvious application is getting a meal delivered quick even when traffic is bad, there are plenty of other applications. One imagines quick delivery of medications ahead of EMTs, or blood being transferred quickly between medical centers. I’ve asked Wing for more details on its plans to roll this out elsewhere in the U.S., and will update this story if I hear back.
Wing’s drone makes a delivery. (Wing Photo) Alphabet’s has stolen a march on Amazon’s plans for drone domination by winning air carrier certification from the Federal Aviation Administration. “Air Carrier Certification means that we can begin a commercial service delivering goods from local businesses to homes in the United States,” celebrating the milestone. Wing was from (formerly known as Google X), and has been taking part in an in Southwest Virginia. The company has also conducted a test program in Australia that involved more than 3,000 drone deliveries to doorsteps, backyards and driveways. In all, Wing’s drones have flown more than 70,000 test flights, and is starting up . Wing said the data submitted to the FAA for certification showed that “a delivery by wing carries a lower risk to pedestrians than the same trip made by car.” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao hailed the certification. “This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy. Safety continues to be our No. 1 priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential,” she said in a statement. Wing said its next step will be to further its participation in the Virginia pilot program. “For the next several months, we’ll be reaching out to businesses and community members in the Blacksburg and Christiansburg areas to demonstrate our technology, answer questions, and solicit feedback with the goal of launching a delivery trial later this year,” the company said. Amazon has been conducting its own drone delivery test flights in locations ranging from Israel and France to . The Seattle-based online retailing giant showed off more than two years ago. Amazon missed out on participating in the FAA’s first wave of drone pilot programs, however. We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment, and will update this item with anything we hear back.
The University of North Dakota is testing agricultural aerial imagery applications with drones. (UND Photo) Microsoft has awarded a $100,000 TechSpark grant to support , a brand-new startup that’s partnering with the University of North Dakota Aerospace Foundation to blaze a trail for drone applications in North Dakota’s “Silidrone Valley.” The seed money unlocks nearly $570,000 in additional funding for Airtonomy from local investors, Microsoft . “TechSpark saw the drone innovation in North Dakota’s Red River Valley that is driving exciting advances for the U.S. drone industry and wanted to be a part of it,” said Kate Behncken, general manager of Global Community Engagement at Microsoft. “This cutting-edge project has the potential to increase crop yields and boost the production of renewable energy through safe drone advancements created locally, leading to greater economic opportunities for North Dakotans.” North Dakota is one of the six states targeted by T, a Microsoft civic program created in 2017 to boost economic opportunities in rural areas and small communities. (The other states are Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.) “Microsoft’s TechSpark support represents a significant opportunity for a startup like ours that wants to innovate and create jobs here in our community,” said Airtonomy CEO Josh Riedy. “It gives confidence to others to back our work, providing the jump-start for us to develop a platform that can drive the next evolution in how drones are used commercially.” Airtonomy is combining drone technology and artificial intelligence to help clients in agriculture, energy and public safety realize the benefits of aerial imagery provided by multi-drone systems. The venture take advantage of North Dakota’s leading role as a testbed for drone operations. The Red River Valley has been dubbed the Silicon Valley of unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, thanks to the region’s open spaces, clear skies and the leading roles played by the University of North Dakota and the “UND Aerospace has a long history of providing leadership in aerospace innovation and economic diversification by supporting projects that advance the UAS sector and increase high-tech services in the Grand Forks region,” said UND Aerospace Foundation CEO Chuck Pineo. North Dakota’s Department of Transportation is for extended drone operations, including flying drones after dark and beyond an operator’s line of sight. A estimated the drone industry’s annual economic impact at more than a billion dollars, and said that figure could rise to as much as $46 billion by 2026.
Drones are great. But they are also flying machines that can do lots of stupid and dangerous things. Like, for instance, fly over a major league baseball game packed with spectators. It happened at Fenway Park last night, and the FAA is not happy. The illegal flight took place last night during a Red Sox-Blue Jays game at Fenway; the drone, a conspicuously white DJI Phantom, reportedly first showed up around 9:30 PM, coming and going over the next hour. One of the many fans who of the drone, Chris O’Brien, that “it would kind of drop fast then go back up then drop and spin. It was getting really low and close to the players. At one point it was getting really low and I was wondering are they going to pause the game and whatever, but they never did. Places where flying is regularly prohibited, like airports and major landmarks like stadiums, often have no-fly rules baked into the GPS systems of drones — and that’s the case with DJI. In a statement, however, the company said that “whoever flew this drone over the stadium apparently overrode our geofencing system and deliberately violated the FAA temporary flight restriction in place over the game.” The FAA said that it (and Boston PD) is investigating both to local news and in a tweet explaining why it is illegal. FAA Statement: The FAA is investigating a report that a flew over during the baseball game last night. Flying drones in/around stadiums is prohibited starting 1hr before & ending 1hr after the scheduled game & prohibited within a radius of 3 nm of the stadium. — The FAA (@FAANews) That’s three nautical miles, which is quite a distance, covering much of central Boston. You don’t really take chances when there are tens of thousands of people all gathered in one spot on a regular basis like that. Drones open up some pretty ugly security scenarios. Of course, this wasn’t a mile and a half from Fenway, which might have earned a slap on the wrist, but directly over the park, which as the FAA notes above could lead to hundreds of thousands in fines and actual prison time. It’s not hard to imagine why: If that drone had lost power or caught a gust (or been hit by a fly ball, at that altitude), it could have hurt or killed someone in the crowd. It’s especially concerning when the FAA is working on establishing . You should leave a comment there if you feel strongly about this, by the way. Here’s hoping they catch the idiot who did this. It just goes to show that you can’t trust people to follow the rules, even when they’re coded into a craft’s OS. It’s things like this that make mandatory registration of drones sound like a pretty good idea. (Red Sox won, by the way. But the season’s off to a rough start.) The Inning: Bottom 9The Score: TiedThe Bases: Loaded The Result: — Boston Red Sox (@RedSox)
Vtrus’ ABI Zero drone is designed to conduct indoor inspections autonomously. (Vtrus via YouTube) Seattle startup has raised investment for a different kind of drone — one that’s designed to conduct precision inspections of industrial facilities. A published today shows a $2.9 million cash infusion for Vtrus. , the company’s CEO and co-founder, declined to comment on the new funding when contacted by GeekWire. Salas-Moreno was previously the co-founder of Surreal Vision, a computer vision startup that was , Facebook’s VR subsidiary. He went on to work at Oculus VR for more than a year as a research scientist in Redmond, Wash., then helped lay the groundwork for Vtrus, which he launched in 2017 with chief technology officer and chief design officer . The company, based near Fishermen’s Terminal in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood, has developed an indoor autonomous drone known as the ABI Zero that can navigate its way around the tricky surroundings of a warehouse environment without the need for a remote operator or GPS waypoints. ABI Zero can conduct an aerial survey for as long as 10 minutes, and then return to its base station for charging. The base also serves as a WiFi-enabled link for receiving streaming data from the drone and relaying it to Vtrus’ cloud service. Because Vtrus’ platform is designed exclusively for indoor use, it doesn’t have to satisfy the Federal Aviation Administration restrictions on outdoor flights of unmanned aerial systems. The company has been demonstrating its technology in a “pilotless” pilot program, and the newly-reported funding round should help Vtrus get further down the path to commercialization. Vtrus takes advantage of a computer vision technique called SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping), which enables drones to build a high-fidelity map of their surroundings. Thirty times a second, the SLAM software keeps track of 300,000 depth points captured by an array of cameras and sensors. The drone market is expected to reach $100 billion by 2020, according to research from . Vtrus showed off its technology and said it was seeking investment. The startup has put together a variety of videos showing how the drone does its work. Check ’em out … and watch the (indoor) skies:
It’s obviously important to Australians to make sure their koala population is closely tracked — but how can you do so when the suckers live in forests and climb trees all the time? With drones and AI, of course. A new project from Queensland University of Technology combines some well-known techniques in a new way to help keep an eye on wild populations of the famous and soft marsupials. They used a drone equipped with a heat-sensing camera, then ran the footage through a deep learning model trained to look for koala-like heat signatures. It’s similar in some ways to an earlier project from QUT in which were counted along the shore via aerial imagery and machine learning. But this is considerably harder. A koala “A seal on a beach is a very different thing to a koala in a tree,” , perhaps choosing not to use dugongs as an example because comparatively few know what one is. “The complexity is part of the science here, which is really exciting,” he continued. “This is not just somebody counting animals with a drone, we’ve managed to do it in a very complex environment.” The team sent their drone out in the early morning, when they expected to see the greatest contrast between the temperature of the air (cool) and tree-bound koalas (warm and furry). It traveled as if it was a lawnmower trimming the tops of the trees, collecting data from a large area. Infrared image, left, and output of the neural network highlighting areas of interest This footage was then put through a deep learning system trained to recognize the size and intensity of the heat put out by a koala, while ignoring other objects and animals like cars and kangaroos. For these initial tests, the accuracy of the system was checked by comparing the inferred koala locations with ground truth measurements provided by GPS units on some animals and radio tags on others. Turns out the system found about 86 percent of the koalas in a given area, considerably better than an “expert koala spotter,” who rates about a 70. Not only that, but it’s a whole lot quicker. “We cover in a couple of hours what it would take a human all day to do,” Hamilton said. But it won’t replace human spotters or ground teams. “There are places that people can’t go and there are places that drones can’t go. There are advantages and downsides to each one of these techniques, and we need to figure out the best way to put them all together. Koalas are facing extinction in large areas, and so are many other species, and there is no silver bullet.” Having tested the system in one area of Queensland, the team is now going to head out and try it in other areas of the coast. Other classifiers are planned to be added as well, so other endangered or invasive species can be identified with similar ease. .
The UK’s Department for Transport has that an expansion of drone ‘no-fly’ zones to 5km around airport runways will come into force on March 13. Anyone caught and convicted of flying a drone inside the restricted zones could face a fine and years in prison. the government said it would tighten restrictions on drones flights around airports, after the existing 1km limit was criticized for being inadequate — saying it believes expanded no-fly zones will help protect airports from drone misuse. The 1km drone exclusion zone around airports, and a 400ft drone flight height restriction rule, only came into force last . But ministers came in for sharp criticism following the when a spate of drone sightings near the UK’s second busiest airport caused a temporary shutdown of the runway and travel disruption for thousands of people right before Christmas. Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, also after further sightings of drones last month. “The law is clear that flying a drone near an airport is a serious criminal act. We’re now going even further and extending the no-fly zone to help keep our airports secure and our skies safe,” said transport secretary, Chris Grayling, in a statement today. “We are also working to raise awareness of the rules in place. Anyone flying their drone within the vicinity of an airport should know they are not only acting irresponsibly, but criminally, and could face imprisonment.” The government and the Civil Aviation Authority have announced a partnership with online retailer Jessops to help raise public awareness about the new drone rules — and encourage what they dub “responsible drone use” — as part of a national awareness campaign. The government also said work is continuing on a new Drones Bill. Although the planned legislation is already almost a year behind schedule — and is still only slated for introduction “in due course”. The bill will give police officers powers to stop and search people suspected of using drones maliciously above when the drone bill was first floated by the government. It re-announced its intention to beef up police powers to tackle drone misuse following the Gatwick fiasco. The government added today that the Home Office is still reviewing the UK’s approach to countering the malicious use of drones, writing that it will “consider how best to protect the full range of the , drone maker DJI announced upgrades to its geofencing systems across Europe — applying stricter and more detailed restrictions around airports and other sensitive sites after switching its mapping data provider from US based AirMap to UK based Altitude Angel.