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.

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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

Appliances of science: the synthetic body parts used to reconstruct humans

A robotic arm and a bionic penis both made headlines this week. Here are eight other prosthetic innovations that could revolutionise surgery

“There’s a pump in my testicles. When I want to have sex, I pump it up, inflate it … And then, when I’m done, I deflate it again.” So said Edinburgh’s Mohammed Abad about the “bionic penis” he has been given by doctors at University College London, after a childhood car accident robbed him of his genitals.

The pneumatic phallus is the first in a long line of organ innovations that promise to one day send us in to the world of body disposability. This week, 25-year-old Joel Gibbard from Bristol won the James Dyson award for engineering innovation by designing an artificial hand that uses 3D printing to match the owner’s real hand, while also slashing component costs from £25,000 to about £3,000.

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via Appliances of science: the synthetic body parts used to reconstruct humans

Sony’s new camera drone flies like a plane with vertical takeoff

Japanese joint venture, called Aerosense, with robotics startup ZMP shows off new prototype for aerial surveillance and reconnaissance for businesses

Sony has unveiled its latest camera drone prototype which is capable of taking off vertically and flying like an aeroplane.

The drone, which resembles the short takeoff and landing variant of the Lockheed Martin F35 fighter jet made famous by a brief appearance in the film Die Hard 4.0, is the product of Sony’s joint venture with robotics startup ZMP.

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via Sony’s new camera drone flies like a plane with vertical takeoff

How to teach … robotics

Design a mechanical arm, explore robots in space and debate whether machines can be creative. Here’s how to give your robotics lessons the kick of life

Students making mechanical arms and watching motorised vehicles whiz across the surface of distant planets can mean only one thing: robotics lessons.

The topic, a relatively new addition to the design and technology curriculum, was introduced last year to prepare more young people for jobs in engineering and to combat a major skills shortage in this area.

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via How to teach … robotics

Video Friday: Giant Fighting Robots, Glass 3D Printer, and 10 New Robots from Fetch

Watch the week's best robot videos
via Video Friday: Giant Fighting Robots, Glass 3D Printer, and 10 New Robots from Fetch

Solo App Update: About the new 1.1.0 release

We’re happy to announce the release of the latest and greatest update of the Solo app, for both iOS and Android—release 1.1.0. While this update isn’t necessary for Solo to work, it is necessary for the Solo Gimbal to work. And don’t forget: In order to unlock full access to your GoPro through the gimbal, you’ll need to update your GoPro; instructions on how to do that can be found right in the Solo app. Plus this new release offers some other significant improvements, so we highly recommend you update all components of your Solo system.

The new release is available in the App store today, and will be available on Google Play this weekend. Here’s a quick rundown.


Solo Gimbal

As you’ve likely heard by now, Solo Gimbals are shipping this week! Please note: Your gimbal will not work unless you make this update. Here’s what you’ll get from your gimbal with this update:

  • Smart Shots are tightly integrated with the gimbal. This unlocks automated camera pointing, an exclusive Solo feature that delivers perfect framing even with complex and dynamic shots. For example, in Orbit, Selfie and Follow the gimbal automatically keeps the subject in frame as Solo moves up and down and in and out—whether moving under your control or automatically. In Cable cam, the gimbal works with Solo’s onboard computer and the autopilot to move the camera smoothly and precisely from your first frame to the last on your cable—just push “play” in the app, and Solo will handle all of it. But because Cable cam locks Solo onto a track, you’re also free to control the gimbal yourself—use the left stick to pan and tilt the camera as you fly up and down the cable.
  • The gimbal also unlocks access to GoPro camera control and settings. You can now even start and stop recording on the GoPro straight from the app.
  • Support for updating your gimbal’s firmware as more new features and improvements roll out.

Return Home

By popular request, we’ve now made it possible for you to adjust the altitude that Solo will climb to when it returns home. If you set a high enough altitude, Solo will be more likely to fly over any obstacles (within reason—not the Burj Khalifa or anything) on its way home. We also increased the default return home altitude from 15m to 25m and added a new safety measure—now Solo will always pop up 10m when you hit return home, even if you’re above your specified return home altitude.

Major App UI overhaul

We’ve also made some pretty substantial aesthetic and functional updates to the app itself.

  • The Smart Shots menu is easier to find (on the bottom left now)
  • In setting up an Orbit, you can now use the map to choose the object you want to focus on. If a data connection isn’t available where you’re shooting, remember that you can pre-load the map of your flying area before you get there by opening the map while connected to the internet. This will “cache” the map so it will be available if you’re flying without a data connection.
  • There’s a new Follow feature called “Look At Me,” where Solo stays still but moves the camera to keep you in the frame.
  • New home screen offers easier access to settings, support, etc., and displays your local weather to help you decide if the conditions are good for flying.
  • Smart Shots UI update
  • French and Spanish language support
  • FAQs available in app (find these in the support section).

Battery Failsafes

We’ve changed some of the low battery alerts with this update, giving you a little more heads-up when you’re running out of juice. In the older versions, the battery alerts you at 25% capacity, then again at 10% and then returns home around 6%. Now it sends alerts at 25% and 15%, returning home at 10% capacity or if the voltage drops below 14 V, whichever happens first. Solo will beep loudly to warn you of a low battery. You also have the option to cancel the return home battery failsafe by pressing the FLY button; however, if you let the battery get to zero, Solo won’t fly and you’ll permanently damage your battery.

Be aware of your location: If Solo’s flying really far from your home point, it won’t be able to Return Home if you’ve only got 10% battery remaining.

Miscellaneous Updates

  • Sololink now supports the PAL video format on GoPro
  • Crash detector
    • If Solo detects that it is upside down on the ground for two seconds, the motors will stop
    • Reminder: You can always activate emergency shutoff by holding A+B+Pause. Be careful not to do this in the air because the motors will stop.
  • Controller alerts
    • When motion is detected on startup
    • When controller battery runs low
    • Battery failsafe (see above)
    • If the stick calibration on the gimbal control paddle is bad, the controller will prompt you to contact Tech Support for instructions on how to calibrate it. This alert will say “Controller Stick Error.”
  • Behind the scenes
    • GPS alarm: If your GPS cable is not plugged in, Solo plays an alarm to let you know
    • Logging improvements
    • More power: The maximum continuous current the Solo is allowed to draw was increased to 42A to improve altitude-hold performance when flying fast upwind
    • App Security: A prompt to change your Sololink password, and other under-the-hood improvements
    • iOS App is optimized for version 8.4.1. To get 8.4.1 on your device, go to Settings -> General -> Software Update
    • In a few weeks, we’ll offer support for iOS 9 beta.

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via Solo App Update: About the new 1.1.0 release

Cyborg man, who sees colour as sound, calls for cyborg rights – video

Neil Harbisson, the world’s first certified cyborg, speaks to the media in Brisbane. Harbisson, who is completely colour blind, has an antenna with a camera at its end permanently implanted in his head that allows him to perceive colour as sound. He also gives his verdict on the black-and-blue or white-and-gold dress picture that was posted on Tumblr in February and went viral

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via Cyborg man, who sees colour as sound, calls for cyborg rights – video

Robots Discover How Cooperative Behavior Evolved in Insects

Leafcutter ants and other insects have evolved specialized cooperative behaviors, and now robots have too
via Robots Discover How Cooperative Behavior Evolved in Insects

Don’t Play with Fire: Ground your drone so firefighters can do their job

This summer has been one of the worst wildfires seasons for much of the U.S.: California, Hawaii, Texas, North Carolina and half a dozen other states have seen blazes. Five million acres have burned this year in Alaska alone, a record pace for the state. Our national firefighting resources are tapped: We’re flying in help from Canada and Australia (where it is now winter and firefighters are mostly idle), and over 30% of the people on the front lines fighting those headline-making fires in California—that’s over 4,000 people—are prison inmates.

Bottom line: Their work is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder.

As many of you may know, drones have made headlines along with these fires: There have been multiple reported drone sightings in California that interfered with aerial firefighting operations; firefighters had to ground planes that were scheduled to drop retardant on advancing fire lines. Cal Fire sums their position up neatly: “If you fly, we can’t.” We’d like to echo that sentiment.

3DR customers are thoughtful and responsible pilots who consider the safety of others first. So please, use your common sense and respect the unthinkably difficult work that these men and women have undertaken on our behalf.

Don’t play with fire: Ground your drone so they can do their job.

The post Don’t Play with Fire: Ground your drone so firefighters can do their job appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

via Don’t Play with Fire: Ground your drone so firefighters can do their job

Another Solo Gimbal Update: Now Shipping!

Hi everyone—here’s a big (and good!) status update on the Solo Gimbal.

The gimbal production pilot is finished and mass production has begun! This means units will be leaving the factory this week. A software update will be timed to go out soon with a variety of updates, and more software updates will follow quickly on the heels of gimbals getting into customers’ hands. In all likelihood these first customers will have gimbals in hand the week of 8/24. (Why can’t we predict this in-hand date exactly? Gimbals are released on a rolling basis, and as they leave the kitting facility in China they enter various modes of transport, including UPS, FedEx, etc., that all have variability in their delivery dates. Customers who have pre-ordered units from both 3DR and our partners should start seeing them next week, but it will take a couple of weeks to get to everyone. Retail shelves will likely see stock in a few weeks, mid-September or so.)

Here’s some sample video from the latest software build (there will be one more build before gimbals arrive with customers early next week). This is the baseline—it’s only going to get better from here!

Of course, there is much more to the story than having gimbals shipping out of the factory.

Our software team is cranking and there’s a lot of performance we have gained recently. This also means that we’ll continue to release updates that improve performance over time.

Our life test data continues to look strong. That means the gimbals should last a long, long time.

User testing continues to go well. Regular people are able to set up the gimbal and get it flying quickly and easily.

Our customer support team is trained up and ready. The how-to videos are shot and ready to go into the Flight School portion of the app. We have refreshed the app to incorporate the gimbal and improve overall usability. The app UI has been made more elegant; Solo will automatically turn itself off if it has a wonky landing or crash (which should happen rarely!)—stay tuned for a number of updates.

We’re excited for everyone who has preordered to get their hands on their gimbal in the coming weeks! We deeply appreciate your patience throughout continued development, and we can’t wait to see the amazing videos you create.

For those of you who have preordered in the initial months with directly with us, Vu, who heads customer support at 3DR, will be sending out a reauthorization email with some final instructions. It’s important you follow them; we won’t be able to ship your gimbal without it! Please be on the look out for it.

Thanks, and happy flying and filming!

The post Another Solo Gimbal Update: Now Shipping! appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

via Another Solo Gimbal Update: Now Shipping!

This Robot Submarine Inspects the Worst Pools Ever

Reactor pools are where no humans want to go for a swim, so we're sending robots instead
via This Robot Submarine Inspects the Worst Pools Ever

This Week: Drones and bears and eagles and dolphins and mosquitos and birdstrike and Google and cyanide

Question of the week

This week the California state legislature is holding hearings on drone safety. The hearings are in conjunction with the introduction of a new drone trespass bill, a bill crafted in part out of concern following the reported drone sightings that grounded aerial firefighting operations earlier this summer. Industry leaders along with emergency responders and representatives from the AMA will speak to the legislature about the bill and about drone safety in general.

This, however, is the second incarnation of this drone bill. The first version required that plaintiffs prove the drone pilot violated a series of four conditions to uphold the charge of trespass. In the new bill those narrow conditions have been replaced by one extremely broad one: It’s trespassing if a drone simply flies below 350 feet over someone’s property.

This isn’t very reasonable, and could also have some First Amendment implications. The question of the week is addressed to our California community: Do you think this bill is reasonable and proactive? If not, can we as a community take steps now to articulate to the state just what’s wrong with this bill, and what could be made right?

Leave your comments here, or better yet, with your state representative.

And now, the news that mattered last week.



The California state legislature is holding a hearing on drone safety this week. The state is considering a new law that would severely restrict drone use, in response to reported sightings of drones interfering with aerial firefighting operations. (San Bernadino Sun)

This is weird: Until now, Google has apparently been operating its Project Wing drone program strictly by using NASA’s FAA permit. Unlike Amazon, Google opted not to apply for a Section 333 exemption, instead conducting its research “in partnership” with NASA. This research includes flight tests as well as signal and software tests in pursuit of an effective air traffic control system for drones. Google claims all is legal, but just to be safe the company applied for its own Section 333 exemption last week. (The Guardian)

The FAA released a report claiming that drone sightings by pilots this year have already more than doubled the total sightings last year—650 to 238. (FAA)

In response, the FAA will begin developing tests for studying drones’ impact on airplanes starting October 1. The agency currently mandates manufacturers test engines against bird strikes—for which they use a chicken cannon. For some context: The flock of geese that infamously brought down “Sully” Sullenberger’s (no relation) flight over the Hudson a few years ago comprised birds weighing 20 pounds, and the minimum weight of the birds involved in current engine tests is four pounds; most drones in the U.S. weigh about three pounds. (NBC)

And for some more context, despite this seemingly large number of drone sightings, birds pose a much bigger threat to planes—except this is no longer news. “In 2014, planes hit 13,759 animals, most of which, according to its list of species, are birds.” (Newsweek)

But doesn’t the FAA itself have the power to do more to educate these new or errant pilots? The agency currently bans drone training, unless it’s done for free as hobbyist or recreational use. “This means that local drone dealers who have years of experience flying drones cannot legally teach their customers to fly their newly purchased drones, even if the lesson is done for free… By the same token, experienced drone operators cannot legally sell their training knowledge to new and inexperienced operators. Even the recent holders of 333 exemptions for commercial training cannot legally allow their students to manipulate the controls of the drones they are learning to fly.” (Forbes)

This week an aerial filming company called Aerobo carried out the first FAA-approved commercial flight over New York City. (New York Business Journal)

The FAA has granted the official North Dakota test site permission to conduct night flights. “The addition of night flying opens up the opportunities for industry partners to test sensor payloads in all lighting conditions,” said Robert Becklund, executive director of the test site. (GovTech)


Culture and commentary

Miami Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, is investing $1 million to fund the Drone Racing League. (Tech Times)

San Francisco will host the world’s first international drone film festival in November (the Flying Robot international Film Festival—friff.co for info and submissions). The categories go beyond the aesthetic to include stories about drones. For instance there’s a “Drones for Good” category, for short films that showcase the best uses of drones in humanitarian, environmental and social contexts. “These stories of good don’t get much attention,” says event organizer Eddi Codel. “So many people just assume the worst. With Drones for Good, I hope to offer another narrative as to why we should carefully consider drones as lawmakers start banning them everywhere.” (Wired)

A great critique of that new California bill, modified to be more broad than the original, which now seems extreme and might encourage frivolous and groundless lawsuits: “The proposed legislation makes it a trespass if a drone merely flies below 350 feet altitude above someone’s property. There’s no need to prove that the operator knowingly did so, there’s no need to prove that any privacy harm occurred, or that any image or video was gathered, and there’s no requirement that reasonable people find the action offensive. Taking those proof elements out creates a piece of legislation that effectively prohibits overflights, without any showing that any harm has occurred.” (Forbes)

The number of Indian drone startups has perhaps tripled in the past year, in spite of that country’s muddled drone laws. Uses range from agriculture to medical response and gas leak detection. (Economic Times)

And flying flags: A student-made drone hoisted the Indian flag in honor of the 69th anniversary of the country’s independence.


Drones for good

In Louisiana, contractors are using drones to identify mosquito breeding grounds so they can control the insect population and the diseases they currently spread into chickens. (KTAC)

In Ottawa, drones are being used to chase Canada geese off of Ottawa ponds . Goose control has long been a challenge, with the drones seeming to succeed where dogs, decoys and chemicals have not. One goose can drop a prodigious two pounds of poop per day. However, many Canadians are currently lobbying to name the species the national bird. (Wall Street Journal)

Across a much larger pond, authorities in the U.K. are considering using drones to control the ice cream-stealing seagull population. (The Mirror)

A recent study in Minnesota used drones to monitor bears in their natural habitat. However, the study also showed that the drones flying overhead caused over a 400% increase in the heart rates of bears. This is of interest to biologists, who expect that drones will soon be used regularly to monitor wildlife and environmental conditions. How did they know the heart rates, you ask? By implanting the bears with GPS trackers and heart monitors, which, I speculate, might also cause a little stress. (NPR)


See your world from above

Here’s dramatic drone’s-eye-view of the scale and context of last week’s terrible explosions at a Tianjin warehouse. Reportedly the warehouse housed some serious chemicals, including cyanide. (The Guardian)

Check out this great aerial love letter to Los Angeles. (LAist)

Drone vs. Eagle. Now that’s talonted! (Please don’t unsubscribe now.) (The Guardian)

The post This Week: Drones and bears and eagles and dolphins and mosquitos and birdstrike and Google and cyanide appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

via This Week: Drones and bears and eagles and dolphins and mosquitos and birdstrike and Google and cyanide

Alphabet-owned company aims to build robots that rival humans and animals

Boston Dynamics, the robot company owned by Alphabet (formerly known as Google), has invented robots that can go ‘anywhere a soldier might go’

Boston Dynamics, the robot company owned by Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google, has taken on a new challenge: the great outdoors.

In a video released this week Mark Raibert, founder of the company, showed the latest iteration of its Atlas robot going for a walk – more of a stomp, really – through the woods.

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Humanoid robot takes a run through the woods – video

Atlas, a humanoid robot, can run on natural terrains such as soil and rocks. Here it is seen navigating through woodland and jogging along a nature trail. This promotional film from Atlas’s maker Boston Dynamics, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, is narrated by company founder Marc Railbert and formed part of the FAB 11 conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data

Study of census results in England and Wales since 1871 finds rise of machines has been a job creator rather than making working humans obsolete

In the 1800s it was the Luddites smashing weaving machines. These days retail staff worry about automatic checkouts. Sooner or later taxi drivers will be fretting over self-driving cars.

The battle between man and machines goes back centuries. Are they taking our jobs? Or are they merely easing our workload?

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via Technology has created more jobs than it has destroyed, says 140 years of data

What Boston Dynamics Is Working on Next

Spot gets a face-arm, and ATLAS goes jogging outside
via What Boston Dynamics Is Working on Next

Will the kebab robot invade our high streets?

Doner kebabs have been sliced by hand from rotating spits for centuries. Now, technology could change the Saturday-night staple forever

For years, the Super Kebab takeaway in north London has – like all kebab shops employed a man with a big knife to slice doner meat off of a rotating skewer. Despite its award-winning pedigree – it was named the best takeaway in London earlier this year – manual kebab slicing has been given the elbow, supplanted by a futuristic robot arm. The Atalay doner robot, which, guided by sensors, glides up and down the tower of meat, slicing off perfect cuts of lamb to be stuffed into a pitta bread (salad remains optional).

The unusual piece of equipment – the first to be installed in a UK kebab shop, according to owner/manager Hakan Gorenli – had been shipped over from Turkey – a nation that knows its kebabs – and costs around £5,000. Gorenli says that he is pleased with his investment, adding: “I like it and am very happy with it.” He also thinks other kebab shops will follow his lead. If he is right then Atalay, the Turkish company that makes the equipment could be in for a windfall – research by the British Kebab Awards estimates that a total of 1.3m kebabs are sold across Britain every day by around 17,000 shops.

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Video Friday: Erica the Android, Autonomous Drifting, and Birds Don't Like Drones

The week's best robot videos are here
via Video Friday: Erica the Android, Autonomous Drifting, and Birds Don't Like Drones

Body-hackers: the people who turn themselves into cyborgs

Not content with their version 1.0 bodies, biohackers are installing USB drives in their fingertips, giving themselves night-vision eyedrops and growing third ears on their arms (that can go online). Welcome to the world of DIY cyborgs

When the director of a research institute called the Alternate Anatomies laboratory says he’s got something up his sleeve, you can safely assume it’s not just a figure of speech.

For Professor Stelarc, an Australian performance artist whose previous party tricks have included using a robotic third arm and letting his muscles be remotely controlled by a computer, growing a human ear on his arm was the obvious next step. Now, he wants to connect it to the internet.

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via Body-hackers: the people who turn themselves into cyborgs

Inside Japan’s first robot-staffed hotel

Henn-na, said to be the world’s first hotel run by robots, turns out to need a surprising amount of human intervention – except where you would most like it

News of the world’s first hotel staffed by robots, which opened last month near Nagasaki, Japan (where else?), immediately went viral, but few of the reports actually involved a visit. I went along last week to see if Henn-na hotel lived up to the hype.

I arrive at 2.55pm. All is quiet. Behind reception is a motionless but lifelike girl robot wearing a cream jacket and a smirk. She has a sign saying “only Japanese”, so I approach another robot, this one designed, bizarrely, to look like a velociraptor and sporting a bow tie and a bellhop hat. I say hello. Nothing. I wave and he stares past me, his arms outstretched but unmoving.

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via Inside Japan’s first robot-staffed hotel

Chinese ‘Unmanned Factory’ Replaces 600 Humans With 60 Robots

One thing's for sure: robots are about to be a big thing in Chinese manufacturing
via Chinese ‘Unmanned Factory’ Replaces 600 Humans With 60 Robots

MIT Finally Does Some Useful Research With Beer Delivering Robots

A multi-robot planning algorithm makes sure that you and your friends get the beer deliveries that you need
via MIT Finally Does Some Useful Research With Beer Delivering Robots

Robo-bop? Jazz-playing robots might one day headline a club near you

A Darpa grant given to Kelland Thomas of the University of Arizona will fund the creation of musical machines that learn to improvise like jazz musicians

The shadowy arm of the US Defense Department devoted to funding cutting-edge technology is building an interactive robotics system powerful enough to perform an incredibly difficult task: a trumpet solo.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the US military’s technology research arm, has handed over its first cheque to Kelland Thomas, associate director of the University of Arizona School of Information (and a jazz musician in his own right) to fund musical machines.

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via Robo-bop? Jazz-playing robots might one day headline a club near you

Why Roboticists Should Join the Trillion-Dollar Driverless Race

We need more robotics engineers starting companies focused on driverless car technology
via Why Roboticists Should Join the Trillion-Dollar Driverless Race

Drones and volcanic eruptions, whale snot, ambulances, sound cannons, Burning Man, and a burning man

Question of the week 

As of last week, the FAA has approved more than 1,000 commercial drone permits. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these permits have gone to small businesses, not huge industrial, corporate or military players. (The first of these went to companies like AeroVironment and Boeing, operating in remote regions.)

But today: Realtors, film and photography outfits, farmers, freelance pilots, surveyors, transportation and delivery companies, inspectors, journalists, security providers, conservationists—drones can be applied to a broad range of commercial activities. AUVSI observed that the first 500 exemptions covered 20 major industries. This is worth noting.

Drones are what can be called an “asymmetrical” technology. They’re relatively cheap, yet incredibly effective and useful. They can give a small group of people—or a single person—an outsized amount of power or information. But what we’re seeing here, with the wide adoption of drones in smaller businesses, is the rapid spread of asymmetry. In other words, we’re seeing an alignment—in other other words, asymmetry is becoming symmetry.

So: These exemptions signal great promise for drones in small businesses. But this also means that more and more people from a variety of places will become advocates for the many positive uses of this technology, and will have an incentive and voice in promoting sensible and proactive legislation.

Drones are clearly good for small businesses. Will small businesses be good for drones? Do you have any personal experience that might relate? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And now, the news of the week.



Milestone: The FAA has now approved more than 1,000 commercial drone permits. (Fortune)

Four commercial airliners reported seeing a drone in their approaches to Newark Airport. None had to take evasive action. Please, don’t fly anywhere near an airport. (NBC New York)

Last month a Kentucky man made headlines when he shot a neighbor’s drone out of the sky. He said the drone was flying ten feet over his property, a claim the drone’s owner disputed, saying the logs show the drone never flying under 200 feet. The drone owner has now released video footage from the drone when it was shot, showing it was flying at an altitude nowhere near ten feet. The shooter will face criminal charges next month. (Popular Mechanics)


Culture and Commentary

Model plane enthusiasts—whose aircraft, due to murky regulatory language, share a classification with drones—are now afraid that drone laws might ground them, as well. (Wall Street Journal)

A commercial pilot with nearly 30 years of experience has come out to say that fears of drones actually downing a commercial airliner are unfounded, citing as evidence the “hundreds” of bird strikes that occur annually and rarely if ever cause any damage. (International Business Times)

But Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (no relation), the pilot who famously made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009, says it’s not a matter of if a drone will cause an airline crash, but when. (Robotics Trends)

Google’s lesser-known drone story: The FAA has required that, by 2020, all aircraft flying in regulated US airspace be outfitted with devices called ADS-B transponders. The transponders periodically squawk the drone’s location—as determined by GPS—so that air traffic controllers and other aircraft will know their location with greater accuracy than radar allows. The catch: ADS-B transponders are expensive—ranging from $4,000-$7,000. So Google, who wants to deliver via drone, is investing in driving down the cost of this technology. Interesting read for sure. (Airspace Magazine)

Fly Fishing: Watch this fisherman on a San Diego pier hook a drone with a single cast—from the drone’s POV. (Time)

Wired takes a skeptical view of a future where drones fill our skies. If anything, though, it’s a magic eight ball glimpse into the technology that drones will adopt to solve these problems.

Elizabeth Spayd, former managing editor of the Washington Post, discusses the future of drones in journalism. (Thirteen.org)

A behind-the-scenes look at that Human Torch drone stunt. They used 10 drones to make the film. Each flew for about 30 seconds before flaming out or crashing into a building. The stunt was conducted in a special, controlled location with firemen monitoring the scene. Also, this story is brought to you by The Blaze.

In more burning man news, Burning Man is cracking down on drones. The famous festival will not allow personal drones, and will strictly limit the use of others. (AP)


High Tech

Drones harvest whale mucus, helping researchers collect valuable data on stress and overall health. Related: Ocean Alliance has launched a Kickstarter for a drone built specially for this application, called Snotbot. (Wired)

Carnegie Mellon researchers are working to deliver cellular reception to drones with old ambulances—cell phone towers won’t do the trick. (Engadget)

Drones could help protect us from volcanoes, detecting eruptions before they happen. (Business Insider)

Volunteers in England are deploying drones to help them monitor and protect the longest archaeological site in that country—5,600 miles of coastline that’s home to over 70,000 sites, threatened by erosion. (The Guardian)


Hack away

At DefCon last week, hackers unveiled a drone that can hack wireless networks—even in a walled compound. The drone was on sale for $2,500. (Defense One)

A Chinese group has demonstrated how easy it is to hack a drone’s GPS using a GNU radio, which can be used to override GPS-based geofencing. (Forbes)

“I hit you with my Resonance Cannon!” “Oh yeah? I block with my Sound Shield!” Researchers in Korea have found out you can knock a drone out of the sky by blasting it with a sound cannon. The technology exploits a natural property of all objects—resonance. The researchers found a frequency above the audible spectrum that can disable a drone’s gyroscopes. But all you need is a shield around the gyros and you’re good. (Techworm)


The view from above

Truly incredible drone stills of Paris, Old Delhi and Amsterdam, from aerial experts AirPano. (Inquisitr)

The post Drones and volcanic eruptions, whale snot, ambulances, sound cannons, Burning Man, and a burning man appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

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Listen to the sex workers – but which ones? | Helen Lewis

The debate about decriminalising the sex trade will never be resolved while opinion is so polarised

There should be a word for an idea that is sensible in moderation, but becomes toxic if taken to extremes. Perhaps we could call it an alcopinion. In the recent debates about Amnesty International changing its policy on prostitution, we’ve heard a lot of one particular alcopinion: to fight our way through the legal, ethical and safety concerns, the answer is simple – we should ignore everyone else and “listen to sex workers”.

Those pushing this line present the current debate as a straightforward dichotomy: on one side are sex workers, an apparently homogenous group who want decriminalisation of both sides of a sexual transaction. On the other side are Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep and assorted actresses who signed a letter to Amnesty saying that decriminalising sex buyers was siding with “pimps and other exploiters”.

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Children Beating Up Robot Inspires New Escape Maneuver System

Japanese researchers show that children can act like horrible little brats towards robots
via Children Beating Up Robot Inspires New Escape Maneuver System

Apocalypse in the land of Starbucks | Emma Brockes

Fears of a major earthquake in the Pacific north-west have thrown the region into panic, and put me off ever climbing Seattle’s Space Needle

For the last couple of weeks, a piece of apocalyptic journalism has been dominating the most read section of the New Yorker website, under the heading “The earthquake that will devastate Pacific Northwest”. It is by the excellent Kathryn Schulz, who, after garnering a huge and terrified response to her piece, was obliged to write a follow-up, calming readers’ fears and offering them some hints on how to survive.

There is a long tradition in journalism of whipping up the disaster-movie-type fear one gets from imagining the worst. In Britain we are accustomed to one newspaper or another (mainly one newspaper) speculating on the likelihood of the south-east disappearing as sea levels rise – “Terrifying new pictures reveal how Britain’s cities could be devastated by flood water” was the Daily Mail headline in 2011 – probably as a result of an illegal immigrant leaving the gate open.

Related: Is it finally possible to predict earthquakes?

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Warfighting Robots Could Reduce Civilian Casualties, So Calling for a Ban Now Is Premature

If autonomous weapons are capable of reducing casualties, there may exist a moral imperative for their use
via Warfighting Robots Could Reduce Civilian Casualties, So Calling for a Ban Now Is Premature

Drones and shotguns, medicine, blood, Mars, wild animals, internet lasers, Pakistan, movies, marijuana, Facebook and bitcoin

Question of the week

Admittedly, the rhetoric of drone rights advocacy sometimes does coincide with Second Amendment rights advocacy—“the responsibility lies with the user,” etc. But recently the two have collided violently. This week a Kentucky man shot down his neighbor’s drone, claiming a trespassing violation. He was quickly arrested and charged with two crimes. It doesn’t appear that the drone was in fact trespassing at the time it was shot down—but you can read more about that in the articles below.

Existing privacy laws are already in place that we can apply to drones: Trespassing is one, as are other torts, such as widely adopted “intrusion upon seclusion” and “nuisance” laws. But because drones represent an apparently radical shift in camera and surveillance technology (a shift that’s actually been happening for quite some time now), and because they’re so nimble and might be hard to track, many think we need drone-specific legislation to regulate them. Such legislation has now been introduced on local, state and federal levels.

But do we need new laws that specifically address drones? (Or for that matter, any aerial or highly mobile camera device.) Is this technology substantially different that it merits a new classification? What would those laws even look like?

I’m honestly curious. I have my opinions, but am ultimately unsure if or where the law should intercede here. I’d like to hear what you think—let’s have a discussion on the blog.

And now, the news.



A Kentucky man faces charges of first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment after shooting down a neighbor’s drone. Mr. Meredith claimed the drone was “trespassing” and he suspected his neighbors were using it to spy on his daughter, who was sunbathing at the time. Beyond local criminal law, the FAA forbids the use of weapons to bring down aircraft in the National Airspace because the uncontrolled descent could endanger people and property. (BBC)

But a journalist has reviewed the logs from that flight and determined that the downed drone was flying nowhere near where Meredith claimed it was. (Ars Technica)

Facebook plans to use its solar-powered Aquila drone to deliver the internet with lasers. Aquila has the wingspan of a Boeing 737 but weighs less than 1,000 pounds. The social network plans to begin test flights this year. (Christian Science Monitor)

Following Pakistan’s claim that it shot down an Indian “spy drone,” which turned out to be a DJI Phantom, China has put strict restrictions on drone exports. Ironically, the restrictions won’t apply to Phantoms, but to larger drones that can fly over an hour and at extremely high altitudes. (BBC)

Pilots reportedly sighted multiple drones flying near JFK Airport this weekend. Please: Don’t fly your drones over 400 feet or near airports. It’s dangerous and it’s illegal. (ABC)

San Bernadino county officials are offering a $75,000 reward for information about anyone flying drones that interfere with firefighting operations. (LA Times)

Police in Georgia may or may not have invested in a drone to help in police and rescue operations. Olaeris, the drone maker, claims they’ve signed a $5.7 million dollar five-year contract; the county says that statement is an error and negotiations have ceased. (Popular Science)


Drones for good

Turns out there’s beauty in asymmetry, too: Indigenous people in remote and poor areas can use drones to establish property rights and prove encroachment from entities like mining and logging companies. Drones, cheap and powerful, are an “asymmetrical” technology that through frequent and accurate data collection can empower communities that previously couldn’t represent themselves legally. And because DIY kits can be assembled by and in the communities themselves, indigenous residents will also have an important sense of ownership and participation, vis a vis an imposition from an outside actor. (Time)

In India, drones may soon be saving people from wild animal attacks. These attacks—from tigers and elephants and the like—have lately been on the rise. (International Business News)

Researchers at Johns Hopkins have been using a 3DR Aero to test drone delivery of blood samples. The tests found that the blood samples weren’t affected by a 40-minute delivery—neither the altitude nor the landing seemed to result in any abnormalities. Drone delivery holds promise for remote areas, especially in developing countries, where the nearest clinics are sometimes 60 miles from villages, over rough terrain. (Business Journal)

In the wake of a successful medicine delivery, Wise County, Virginia, is now eyeing more drone delivery options for its isolated rural residents, including medicine from pharmacies and food from grocery stores. (WDBJ)

NASA is developing drones that could one day fly on Mars and the moon. Mars rovers can only access so much of the variegated terrain, and drones can get data where they can’t. On the moon they’ll fly into lava tubes on the surface and explore extinct volcanoes, features that might one day shelter astronauts. The drones would also serve as prospectors, sniffing out water, minerals and other substances. To fly in the thin atmosphere the drones will use cold-gas jets instead of propellers. (Quartz)


High tech

The Wall Street Journal takes a look at the promise of tethered drones, which could deliver virtually endless flight times: “It’s like having a near-Earth satellite.”

A buggy drone could one day be a good thing: Researchers are experimenting with using miniature artificial eyes inspired by insect vision to help drones navigate congested spaces and avoid collisions. “Flying bugs avoid collisions thanks to tiny eyes that have low spatial resolution but are highly sensitive to changes in the way light is reflected as the insect moves, or due to the movement of an object in its field of view. This new sensor weighs only two milligrams and takes up only two cubic millimeters, and can detect motion in conditions ranging from a poorly lit room to very bright sunlight outdoors—three times faster than fast flying insects.” (MIT Review)

SkyFund, an investment fund managed by DJI and Accel, announced its first investment: DroneBase, a service that plans to rent out drones and pilots to businesses. The amount wasn’t disclosed, but SkyFund was developed to make “$250,000+” investments. (TechCrunch)


Culture and commentary

In a publicity stunt for the upcoming Fantastic 4 movie, a viral video company flew a flaming Human Torch drone in New York. The stunt was carefully planned, and took place at Nassau County’s Fire Service Academy with 10 firefighters on hand with access to trucks and water. (AdWeek) 

Last week NASA hosted a summit on UAS traffic management (UTM), inviting contributions and ideas from a broad range of industries. (NASA)

Insurance companies are backing away from—and not backing—drones, due to concerns about privacy law. “Most companies currently offering insurance policies for commercial drone use exclude privacy claims due to lack of data, uncertainty over how drones work and how legislation protecting privacy from drone surveillance will behave toward violators.” (Insurance Business America)

At NASA’s UTM summit, Amazon proposed that a stratified sky could provide commercial drones with a safe space to navigate. Aside from Amazon and Google, other companies will benefit—here’s an analysis. (Inc)

Google put forth a competing airspace management strategy for drones. The head of the company’s Project Wing drone delivery system proposed last week that the responsibility of regulating the airspace below 500 feet be taken out of the FAA’s hands and put with private entities dubbed “airspace service providers.” (Computerworld)

Bro, you were flying, like, so high. A California company wants to use drones to deliver boxes of weed. And yes, you can pay with bitcoin. (Popular Science)


Photo and video

The Dead Sea—which has the highest salt content of any large body of water on the planet—has been shrinking for years. Check out this great drone footage of the Dali-like wasteland.

Watch the Human Torch drone in action. (Mashable)

A great photo of a family of Orcas off the coast of Vancouver. My mom loves whales, okay? (Gizmodo)

The post Drones and shotguns, medicine, blood, Mars, wild animals, internet lasers, Pakistan, movies, marijuana, Facebook and bitcoin appeared first on 3DR | Drone & UAV Technology.

via Drones and shotguns, medicine, blood, Mars, wild animals, internet lasers, Pakistan, movies, marijuana, Facebook and bitcoin

China Tightens Control on Exports of Supercomputers, Drones

China puts export license restrictions on sales of its supercomputer and drone technologies overseas
via China Tightens Control on Exports of Supercomputers, Drones

Is Drone Racing Legal?

Multicopter racing with first-person view camera systems is an increasingly popular sport—despite the FAA’s uncertain view of the activity
via Is Drone Racing Legal?

Hitchbot's decapitators avoided capture by the hitchhiking android's cameras

‘We have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people’ says the robot’s co-creator after Hitchbot met its demise (ironically) in the City of Brotherly Love

The person or people who decapitated a hitchhiking robot in Philadelphia narrowly escaped having their pictures captured by the android, its co-creator told the Guardian on Monday.

Hitchbot, which was attempting to travel from the east coast of the US to the west coast after setting off from Massachusetts on 17 July, was set upon on Saturday morning and shall hitchhike no more.

I would never harm a robot so please stop asking if I did.

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via Hitchbot's decapitators avoided capture by the hitchhiking android's cameras

Why We Really Should Ban Autonomous Weapons: A Response

Autonomous weapons could lead to low-cost micro-robots that can be deployed to anonymously kill thousands. That's just one reason why they should be banned
via Why We Really Should Ban Autonomous Weapons: A Response

Hitchhiking robot dead as cross-country trip cut short by vandals

  • Beloved Hitchbot damaged beyond repair in Philadelphia
  • The kid-size robot hitchhiked across Canada in 26 days last year

A hitchhiking robot that captured the hearts of fans worldwide has met its demise.

The Canadian researchers who created Hitchbot as a social experiment said someone in Philadelphia damaged the robot beyond repair early on Saturday, ending its first American tour after about two weeks.

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via Hitchhiking robot dead as cross-country trip cut short by vandals

Solo Gimbal Update

For this post, we want to let you inside 3DR by providing a look into the overall management process for a product like the gimbal. In the past we’ve focused mostly on technical matters, so we hope this is an interesting change of pace.

To cut to the chase: we were not happy with the performance of our gimbal over the past month while we’ve been tuning performance. So we decided to make it better, which means starting production this week (first week of August), not in late July as we last promised. This was a tough decision, to be sure – this post explains our logic.

So, first things first. The gimbal performance we were seeing wasn’t bad. In fact, we were right in that gray area where we could have reasonably decided to ship it right now.  Our user tests on “naive users” – people that haven’t seen much aerial video – were uniformly positive. But with a trained eye, you could see movement in yaw in windy conditions.

So, we had a decision to make. Ship the gimbal as-is, or make it better. We decided to make some changes to make our gimbal work great, even if it meant taking a little longer to do so.

Decisions like this are always challenging because they aren’t black and white. At 3DR, one of our guiding principles is to prioritize the user experience (UX) over schedule over cost. We write it this way, as system of inequalities:

UX > schedule > cost

If you ever come to 3DR, you’re likely to see this little equation on whiteboards, in notebooks, in our internal docs.

We know perfection is impossible. Nothing we will do is ever going to be perfect. It’s hard to even write that sentence, because at 3DR, we strive for absolute perfection. Sounds pretty hokey, right? But that’s really the way we work.

And while we know we may not achieve perfection, there is some difficult-to-define point where the team can say, “That looks good. I’d put my name on that. Let’s ship it.” Not all companies have enough synchrony across engineering, design, ops, marketing and every other team such that the whole group hits that point at about the same time. At 3DR, we do have that synchrony. And we just weren’t feeling like the system was ready to go.

So specifically, what weren’t we happy with in the gimbal performance?

Over the past month, we’ve been tuning the performance to get the gimbals to stabilize well across the unavoidable variance of the manufacturing process. In so doing, we pushed our software control system really hard.

At some point in that tuning process, we got together to try and understand how much more performance we could get purely out of software.

Taking a step back: in any hardware/software product, whether it’s a thermostat, fitness tracker or drone, there’s an interplay between hardware and software engineering. The hardware sets the bounds of what software can do. Software can move fast to improve things but cannot operate outside the basic design of the hardware. Hardware is slower to develop, but can open up new territory for software performance and features.

In our case, the weight (or lack thereof) of the top part of the gimbal compared to the bottom part taxed our yaw motor’s ability to correct for disturbances in yaw. Basically, when the copter and gimbal get hit by wind or other disturbances, your video might look like it is vibrating or drifting from left to right. There’s a lot of technical detail here that I will omit, but our decision boiled down to: leave performance as-is, or find a way – a way that would add time to the schedule, no doubt – to address the yaw wandering.

We did find a way. Adding mass to the ends of the spider bracket – the piece that holds the dampers on the gimbal at the very top of the assembly – increases the overall mass of the top part of the gimbal. This allows the yaw motor to react to and correct disturbances hitting the bottom part of the gimbal where the camera lives, resulting in more stable video.

This improvement is relatively straightforward to implement in mass production (as much as anything is straightforward to implement in mass production), so we decided to go for it (after, of course, designing and testing the improvement).

It wasn’t an easy call. We know we could work on the gimbal forever and it would get better each day. We set strict requirements and checklists during our product development process to make that process as efficient and objective as possible. But at the end of the day, it boils down to a subjective, qualitative, ineffable judgment call – “That looks good. I’d put my name on that. Let’s ship it.”

We are very eager to get this gimbal out to you! Solo’s not complete without it. And we know not to let perfect be the enemy of the good. Actually, that’s not quite right – good isn’t good enough. I’ll rephrase: we know not to let perfect be the enemy of the great.

So that’s where we stand. We made some changes and started production. We’ll check our product thoroughly before we ship the units. Fixing yaw wandering is only part of the story – there is so much more work that has gone into the gimbal (and is going into the gimbal, and will continue to go into the gimbal via software updates) that I don’t have room to describe here.

But the decision to improve the product and take the schedule hit vs. shipping as-is seems to me to be the most interesting thing to share with you all.  We hope we’re painting a clear enough picture – perhaps with this information, you could even imagine yourself here at 3DR, doing this work, and making these decisions.

Thanks for your support and patience. We’re continuing to work hard on your behalf.

Finally, most important, here is some video that does not include any of the recent tuning, but has a version of the latest hardware. This was shot by one of the 3DR team, Jon. Link to youtube here.

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