Drones and garbage fights and license plates and microwaves and tractors and t-shirts and Machu Picchu

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Question of the week

Manitoba wheat farmer Matt Reimer has turned a tractor into a fully-autonomous drone using a Pixhawk, ArduRover and his own ingenuity. Matt’s innovation has saved him more than $5,000 in labor costs this year, while not eliminating any jobs—instead, it made his workers more productive.

His innovation appeals to neighboring farmers, who already use tractors with autonomous steering, and Matt sees increased autonomy as heralding an enormous change for the agricultural industry. In fact, he figures he’ll soon be able to sell his system to other farmers around him. And who knows, since he’s so far out in front of adoption, he might even be able to quit his day job, or at least hand it over. I’ll soon detail the whole story on the 3DR blog.

We’ve of course known for a while that drones have a bright future in agriculture. And autonomous technology is now making headway in all sorts of practical applications. So my question is: What about your day job? Will drones and autonomy change the way you work? Do you see an opportunity to introduce them into your field? Are you or people you know actively pursuing projects like Matt’s?

Let me know in the comments below—I’d love to follow up on some of these projects to help expand the 3DR story.

And now, the week’s news in drones.



Last week California lawmakers held hearings about a highly restrictive bill that would make it a crime to fly a drone over private property at 350 feet or below. They ended up enacting the bill, and if Governor Jerry Brown signs it, it will not be good for business, as the Guardian points out to us all the way from the UK.

An effort in Britain to develop technology that could integrate drones and manned aircraft was denied government funding this week. The program—called the Astraea Project—is a partnership between industry and government, but still could not secure the money it needed in this most recent round. Simon Jewell, Astraea’s chairman, says, “regulators require an example system to certify [but] industry requires regulations to specify requirements.” (Telegraph)

Airports in New York, New Jersey and Washington have banned drone sales. How much good will it do? Drones aren’t much of a threat to planes—drones are so small and planes travel so fast that the odds of even an intentional collision are extremely low. And the odds of any significant damage are much lower: Planes are designed to withstand strikes from birds weighing many times more than the consumer drones for sale in airport Brookstones. Still, the ban generates headlines that in turn raise awareness: Please don’t fly your drone within five miles of an airport. (Washington Post)

The Department of Homeland Security, the FAA and local law enforcement agencies have been working together for months on a sort of anti-aircraft system that could deactivate consumer drones. Last December, in a secret test that went unreported, the agencies tried to use microwaves to disable and redirect a consumer drone in Times Square. The effort failed due to the noisy signal environment. (Reuters)

Massive protests in Beirut over garbage. The town that’s home to Lebanon’s largest landfill recently refused to accept any more trash, which led to the accretion of giant garbage piles around the country. A drone captures footage that shows the scale of the protests, during which police deployed water cannons and rubber bullets and at least one protestor died. (MarketWatch)



An ammunition company is selling a line of shotgun shells it claims are perfect for taking out drones. But the manufacturers are “responsible drone owners” themselves, “who recognize that the greatest threat to their hobby are those who use these flying machines in a reckless way posing a threat to public privacy.” Surprise: The ammo is also perfect for bird hunting! In other words, basically expensive birdshot—get ready to shell out. Groan. (Tech Malak)

But attention paranoiacs: You don’t need to pay those prices! This California man used his shirt to take down a drone he perceived as violating his privacy on the beach: “I’m a big guy and my t-shirt is huge.” He still went to jail, though, where he posted $10,000 bail. So there goes the money-saving argument. (San Diego Tribune)

Here’s how to notify manned aircraft pilots about your drone flights. Lockheed Martin is using a system established in the 1920s to integrate a new online drone registry that would alert manned aircraft to nearby drones. (Popular Mechanics)

License plates for drones? A project at UC Berkeley called Lightcense (har har guys) is developing a system that uses blinking LEDs to identify individual drones. This could help law enforcement and the public solve problems of tracking and attributing violators of the law. Yep: That’s a Solo gif. (MIT Review)

Here’s a good investigative piece: Can drone racing really make it as a sport? (LA Times)


Drones for good

Remember that story from last week about research drones causing heart rates to spike in bears? Here’s a biologist’s take: “The whole idea of using drones is to alleviate stress in the animals,” says Bird. “The alternative, if you were flying over those bears and you wanted to count them or see how many cubs they had, you would be in a manned helicopter or a manned Cessna (airplane). And you don’t want to tell me those things don’t cause a spike in heart rate. Of course they do!…I don’t see the need to fly a drone over a bear at 60 feet in height. I mean most times we fly them, it’s 200-300 feet and none of the birds that we have studied were spooked at all or flew up.” (RCI)

Here’s an excellent history of Brazil’s large—and booming—drone industry. (Fusion)

The Peruvian Ministry of Culture is using drones to preserve archaeological sites such as Machu Picchu. “Since the program began, the Ministry of Culture’s drone team has mapped more than 600 sites, allowing it to create standardized records of archaeological data at a much faster pace than was possible in the days of ground-based surveying.” (Slate)

The Desert Research Institute says drones can actually be a big help to firefighters: “You may be able to observe sudden shifts in the weather or the wind or sudden extreme fire behavior that represent a danger… If you catch those early, you might be able to move your people or equipment where they’re needed or away from danger.” (Capital Public Radio)



St. Patrick’s Cathedral released this great drone video of the cathedral’s interior. (Irish Times)

Watch Sony’s new drone take flight—it’s VTOL.


The post Drones and garbage fights and license plates and microwaves and tractors and t-shirts and Machu Picchu appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

via Drones and garbage fights and license plates and microwaves and tractors and t-shirts and Machu Picchu

Robots With Smooth Moves Are Up to 40% More Efficient

Slight tweaks to acceleration and deceleration can make a huge difference to robot energy consumption
via Robots With Smooth Moves Are Up to 40% More Efficient

Hitachi Developing Dual-Armed Robot for Warehouse Picking

This is one of the most confidently brisk picking robots we've ever seen
via Hitachi Developing Dual-Armed Robot for Warehouse Picking

Self-driving ‘crash’ trucks to hit Florida highways this year

Autonomous vehicles capable of driving using GPS waypoints or following human-driven vehicles will be part of roadworkers’ fleet

The first autonomous vehicles to hit US highways will not be Google or Apple cars, but self-driving trucks – and they will be riding roads in Florida by the end of the year.

The self-driving construction vehicles, fitted with special rear-end crash barriers and lights, have been successfully demonstrated, driving using GPS waypoints and following a lead car, mimicking its path, braking and speed.

Continue reading...
via Self-driving ‘crash’ trucks to hit Florida highways this year

The Solo Gimbal: Turn moments into movies

For the former settlement in California, see Gimbal, California. 

Gimbals are by no means a new technology: The gyroscopic device has been in use since ancient times to keep objects stable in turbulent environments. Today they’re deployed in endeavors from aeronautics to filmmaking to submarines. Cupholders on ships, for example, employ gimbals. As do many drones—a gimbal on a drone is like a Steadicam in the sky, ensuring your footage stays stable and smooth while you fly.

For a pretty good visual of how a gimbal works, imagine holding up a chicken (yes, a chicken)—now move its body all around as its head stays in one place. A gimbal does sort of the same job as that chicken’s neck: It keeps your camera stable and in one position, making sure you get smooth video even as the drone moves, turns and vibrates in flight.

So that’s traditionally been the task and test of a good gimbal: stable video. But with Solo, that was just our starting point.

And yes: First and foremost, the 3-axis Solo Gimbal nails its prime directive. It keeps your GoPro rock steady as you fly, delivering professionally smooth and fluid “jello-free” HD video to your mobile device, stabilizing the camera to within 0.1 degrees of pointing accuracy. But many of us at 3DR have spent several years as professional cinema pilots, and we knew from this experience that gimbals promised much more than stability: They could actually control the camera.

In making the Solo Gimbal, we decided to work closely with GoPro, the world’s most popular action camera company, to make the first gimbal capable of fully controlling the GoPro in the air. The Solo Gimbal accesses the GoPro through the HeroBus port, and gives you the exclusive ability to snap photos and start and stop recording video while in flight, which means that when you land you now have “fat free” footage—just the shots you want. On HERO3+ and HERO4 cameras you’ll also be able change FOV, FPS, shutter speed, exposure compensation and more. (These functionalities aren’t available at the time of this writing, but will be available with a coming firmware update.) The Solo Gimbal even charges the GoPro so your camera battery doesn’t die during flight.

When you combine the Solo Gimbal with Solo’s controller and computer intelligence, you also get fine-grain tilt control of your GoPro. This includes saving and toggling between camera angle presets and instant sweep speed adjustment: Set and save start and end points for your camera tilt and the gimbal will automatically shift camera position between them more smoothly than any cinema pilot could, even slowing to ease in and out of the first and last frames so you don’t get any hard, jerky movements. And a wheel on the right paddle of the controller lets you adjust the speed at which the gimbal executes these automatic tilts. You don’t have to try time and again to execute that perfect camera move—just set up the shot you want, press a button and let the computer do the mechanical work.


Gimbal blog

Turn moments into movies

Here’s Solo’s killer app: Smart Shots. The Solo Gimbal does what no other consumer drone can: It taps Solo’s intelligence to help you get perfect shots automatically. These are the one-touch, one-take cinematic modes that we call Smart Shots, and with the Solo Gimbal they come into their own.

We’ve synched the gimbal’s communication with the autopilot and Solo’s onboard computer so they all work together to keep your camera pointed where you tell it to point, so your shots are framed exactly how you want them. For instance, use Cable cam to set the frames at the beginning and end of your cable, and Solo will remember the exact camera position for each. Then you can just hit “play” and Solo’s computer will fully control the gimbal, including camera pointing, while Solo flies itself along the cable for the automatic perfect shot. Truthfully, not even seasoned cinema pilots can execute such sophisticated shots this smoothly and consistently.

The Solo Gimbal also allows users to engage with Solo in different ways, which you can think of as “layers of autonomy.” Solo can do all the work (handling both the flying and the camerawork) or you can do all the work—or you can split the workload with Solo, effectively turning Solo into a two-operator system. Let Solo execute controlled flight so you can focus on working the camera—panning and tilting to get the exact shots you want. Alternatively you can control the flight while Solo controls the camera. Worried about the landing gear getting in your shot? The gimbal communicates with the computer and autopilot so Solo always knows where the camera is pointing in relationship to its legs—as long as you don’t swing it around too aggressively, Solo will automatically keep the landing gear out of the shot. It’s a virtual 360-degree gimbal.

The Solo Gimbal delivers all of these advanced capabilities while providing a painless and tool-free method of installing and removing your GoPro. It’s available from our store, as well as through our resellers, for $399—and shipping now.

The post The Solo Gimbal: Turn moments into movies appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

via The Solo Gimbal: Turn moments into movies

Profile: KSI Data Sciences Defies the Coming Drone Data Deluge

User-friendly interfaces give operators critical context
via Profile: KSI Data Sciences Defies the Coming Drone Data Deluge

Sony's New Drone: a Modern Take on a Familiar Design

A fixed-wing drone that can lift off vertically has its advantages, but who needs one?
via Sony's New Drone: a Modern Take on a Familiar Design
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