AI News, Flying Selfie Bots: Tag-Along Video Drones Are Here
- On Saturday, February 17, 2018
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Flying Selfie Bots: Tag-Along Video Drones Are Here
In last year’s January tech issue, I focused on the disturbing threat to privacy that unmanned aircraft seemed to pose.
One of those companies is Squadrone System, whose genesis began in 2013, when some hopeful entrepreneurs in Grenoble, France, began thinking about making a camera-equipped drone that could all by itself capture aerial videos of you while you were skiing or snowboarding.
And while the team proposing this idea had no experience building or flying drones of any kind, it included snowboarders andskiers—and programmers, who had a track record developing software for civil aviation.
Almost simultaneously, California-based 3D Robotics, an established manufacturer of small drones, publicly announced the availability of the “Follow Me” mode in its flight-planning software, aimed at those who wanted to use small multicopters to take videos of themselves.
But the idea didn’t gain traction until a year or so ago, propelled by the plummeting prices and widespread adoption of small autopiloted multicopters, compact high-definition video cameras like the ubiquitous GoPro, and inexpensive camera gimbals that keep the shot steady even as the platform pitches and rolls inthe air.
Getting all these components to automatically work together smoothly and reliably is no small undertaking, particularly if you want to keep your robot simple enough for Joe Consumer to operate straight out of the box.
The drone they brought along, though, was not the sleek, six-bladed model the company will be sending to its Kickstarter backers later this year—the actual Hexo+ design was at that point still some months away from being finalized.
After he handed me his phone, I set off on a run, doing my best to dodge the little drone while feeling a bit like Cary Grant in North by Northwest as he tried to outrun a crop duster.
The drone’s motorized camera gimbal counteracted the unwanted pitching, but getting rid of this strange wobble and keeping the drone better targeted both need more work, as Zwiebel acknowledged.
“It’s one of the challenges,” he says, “to have something that is really smooth and to tune the anticipation algorithms for one sport or another.” Even if the drone’s algorithms are substantially improved, the limited precision of satellite navigation makes it hard to keep the craft and camera positioned perfectly.
Even if the FAA technically doesn’t allow the use of self-following drones under the hobby exemption, so long as it doesn’t stop companies from selling them, these gadgets are bound to be hot items this year: Drone’s-eye-view shots are just too popular in television and film for sports enthusiasts not to want to record their own.
It’s also safe to assume that over the next few years their ability to frame the shot will improve and that their owners will be able to program in complex instructions: “I’ll set it to start 100 meters up and back, then swoop down from the rear, zooming past me on my bike just 5 meters overhead, then record a 15-secondpan of the surrounding scenery before hovering 3meters off to my right at shoulder level….” By 2025: The world of personal drones a decade from now is much harder to forecast.
Is Flying a Drone Illegal? A Comprehensive Guide to America’s Drone Laws
There's no really delicate way to say this, so I'm just going to do it: The vast majority of people have no idea what they're talking about when they talk about drone law.
Surely there are more complex areas of law than Federal Aviation Administration drone regulations (hello, copyright law), but few are so intentionally misleading, arbitrarily enforced, or regularly misreported by the press.
After publishing three separate stories about FAA enforcement of drone regulations last week and watching the online conversation about them, it occurred to me that it might be useful to get deep into the weeds on this issue and unpack what the current legal situation actually is.
In fact, Congress passed the FAA Modernization Act of 2012, which required the FAA to 'develop a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.'
By 2015, the FAA was required to write and implement commercial drone regulations, which would be official, standardized, and legally enforceable rules that would allow drone companies to fly for profit in the United States.
We'll cover hobby flights later, but part of the FAA Modernization Act stated that the FAA 'may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.'
The question of whether or not a drone is an aircraft in a strict legal sense is still unanswered The FAA is using manned aircraft regulations to punish drone pilotsBecause the FAA has no drone regulations, it has used a general manned aircraft regulation called 14 CFR Section 91.13(a) to go after drone pilots.
This regulation was first used to fine a drone pilot in 2012, when the FAA told Raphael Pirker he owed $10,000 for videographing the University of Virginia, Charlottesville as part of a 2011 ad shoot for the university's medical school.
Come with me a little deeper into the weeds for a moment, please: A federal administrative law judge initially ruled that drones are not 'aircraft,' which created a few months of chaos for the FAA.
This case was heard by the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent government agency that investigates 'every civil aviation accident the United States and significant accidents in other modes of transportation – railroad, highway, marine and pipeline.'
The FAA has also used related manned aircraft regulations in addition to 91.13(a) that prohibit the use of aircraft in what's known as 'Class B airspace' without permission from an air traffic controller.
For instance: The statute defines one type of 'careless or reckless' flight as the operation of an aircraft below an altitude of 500 feet in populated areas.
It's easy to look at highly publicized incidents of drone idiocy—such as the time an allegedly drunk government employee crashed a drone onto the White House lawn—and think that of course such behavior should be fined.
Take, for instance, the time two men were fined for crashing their drones into ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico, or the time a man in Boston was fined even though the FAA's files show that there was no reported crash or incident.
The agency has fined companies for flying drones that do not have 'transponder' equipment or radios that are able to communicate with air traffic control, but it has left that fine off of most of its enforcements.
One final note on fines: The FAA does have proper regulations in place to fine anyone who flies in Washington DC or within a 15-mile radius of the nation's capital, thanks to special airspace restrictions put into place as a precursor to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
333 exemptions, a get-rich-quick scheme for shady law firms everywhereWhile all of the aforementioned confusion and fining and threats were happening, rich important companies like Amazon and Google as well as industry groups in Hollywood went to Congress and were like, what the hell is the FAA doing?
Drones are big business, and while you could have probably gotten away with being a commercial drone pilot without running afoul of the agency, lots of bigger businesses were willing to jump through regulatory hoops to get official FAA approval to fly, provided that hoop actually existed.
In Section 333 of the 2012 FAA Modernization Act, Congress noted that the 'Secretary of Transportation shall determine if certain unmanned aircraft systems may operate safely in the national airspace system before completion of the plan and rulemaking required by [the rest of the law].'
The FAA now processes individual applications from drone businesses that allow those businesses to fly commercially with express FAA permission, provided the businesses fly under strict altitude, speed, and airspace rules.
To show that the process has major flaws, a lawyer in Connecticut named Peter Sachs managed to get the FAA to approve his request for a 333 for a damn PAPER AIRPLANE, and suddenly there were dozens of companies on the internet willing to do 333 paperwork for a couple hundred bucks.
It also states that the FAA 'may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use.'
If the FAA takes on SkyPan, it will have to again make the legal argument that a drone is an 'aircraft' to which manned aircraft regulations apply (the main argument point in the Raphael Pirker case referenced above).
What about state and local laws and regulations?We're coming close to winding down here, but I'd be remiss not to mention that many states and cities have passed their own laws and regulations to ban or restrict drones.
One major issue that needs to be litigated is whether or not people have a 'personal' or 'private' airspace that extends above their own property State and local governments do have the authority to regulate land and water use, so laws restricting where drones may take off or land seem to have firm legal standing.
The actual definition is much more complicated in the age of drones—in the Pirker case, the FAA claimed that basically anything above your shoelaces is federal airspace, thus shooting at a drone even if it's on your property is potentially a federal offense.
The Supreme Court did not set a specific height limit for what constituted 'public airspace,' and many experts believe courts will eventually decide that there is some sort of personal airspace above private property.
Misinforming the public and using public relations, scare tactics, and potentially unenforceable fines to cover up the failures of the agency aren't going to do anyone any favors in the long run.
How to Ace the FAA’s New Test and Become a Pro Drone Pilot
But here he was at 39 years old, long black beard flecked with grey, sitting in front of a computer at Jacksonville, Florida’s Herlong Air Field, with a proctor peering on from behind a glass door.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, over 3,300 people like Sealock signed up to be the first to take the agency’s new commercial drone pilot test yesterday, when its long-awaited unmanned vehicle systems regulations went into effect.
They require operators be at least 16 years old, keep their drones within sight (bad news, Amazon), stay below 400 feet, and stay out of the air at night.
(There is a waiver process to circumvent each stipulation, evaluated by the FAA on a case-by-case basis.) Earthbound pilots have to pass the aeronautical knowledge test, a background check, and register their drone with the FAA.
For the most part, commentators seem pleased with the rules, which lend legitimacy to those turning drones into their full-time careers: photographers, construction workers, real estate agents, farmers, even oil and gas professionals.
The test covers heavy duty aeronautical know-how, with topics like aviation weather sources and evaluation, maintenance and pre-flight inspections, drone performance, and official radio communication procedures, since pilots will occasionally have to call into air traffic control towers, just like the sky-plying brethren.
A former Army aviator, he posted a photo of his son with a few drones with the caption: “The Sealock aviation story continues.” KC’s certification will come in handy when the drone store where he works runs demonstrations.
The Economics of Drone Delivery
After all, federal law prohibited commercial drones from flying over populated areas, and airplanes were already experiencing close calls with hobbyists’ drones.
Drone deliveries look like the future: unmanned quadcopters rapidly delivering packages to our doors, eliminating both wait times and the cost of human labor.
The current prototypes that companies have unveiled usually carry just one package, and after the drone makes its delivery, it has to fly all the way back to its homebase to recharge its batteries and pick up the next package.
In late November, Amazon released a slick video demo of Prime Air, a drone delivery system designed to “get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.” It comes on the heels of a similar production from Google’s Project Wing, which showed a drone delivering dog food in Queensland, Australia.
If Amazon charged customers $1 per delivery, Keeney estimates, the company could earn a 50% return on its investment in drone infrastructure while offering same-day delivery that is significantly cheaper than current alternatives.
Her analysis ignores depreciation, and questions like: “How will drones avoid airplanes and deliver packages in Manhattan?” And there’s another core issue: $12.92 is the price UPS charges to consumers, but its actual marginal cost of delivering one more package along a route they are delivering to already is probably closer to $2. When push comes to shove, will drones be able to compete? The rest of her analysis incorporates the costs of electricity, backup battery packs, bandwidth, upgrades to facilities, and so on.
Keeney’s assumptions also stick to the middle ground: She presumes that Amazon will gain permission to fly drones out of sight, with each operator responsible for 10-12 drones, but not that Amazon will soon automate the entire process.
Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos says it took their drones 15 minutes to fly 4.4 pounds of cargo 6.2 miles, and that the Maseru network successfully covered an area 1.5 times the size of Manhattan.
The flight demonstrates two aspects of the future of drones and air freight: that technology is not the limiting factor, and that drones’ most obvious appeal is not for personal deliveries.
The FAA has banned all commercial uses of drones in the U.S., and while the agency increasingly grants exemptions, the Flirtey flight is the only freight exemption that allowed a real delivery rather than testing in unpopulated areas.
The FAA currently requires companies with exemptions, like Amazon, to have an operator with a pilot’s license keep each drone within line of sight—a mandate that makes deliveries completely uneconomical.
“We cannot get medicine to them reliably, they cannot get critical supplies, and they cannot get their goods to market in order to create a sustainable income.” For the Matternet team, the most interesting question was not the cost per delivery.
But given that building and maintaining roads is a long and expensive process, drones could offer a quick and cheap way to (imperfectly) connect the billion people identified by Raptopoulos as cut off from most of the world.
“More specialized cases like delivering vaccines that need to be refrigerated to regional hospitals… Niche deliveries where speed is critical.” In these cases, for cargo that is small, light, valuable, and time-sensitive, cost is much less of a factor.
A drone delivery may save a life by getting delicate medicine to a rural patient, or keep an oil rig running by delivering a key piece of machinery.
Despite the current inability of drones to match the efficiency of a delivery truck’s milk run, the economics of delivering air freight by drone seem compelling.
In the meantime, drone deliveries will probably get their start in remote areas like Lesotho, or in use cases like flying vital machine parts to oil rigs and mines, or by collecting data on shipping to make it more efficient.
Unmanned aerial vehicle
UAV is defined as a 'powered, aerial vehicle that does not carry a human operator, uses aerodynamic forces to provide vehicle lift, can fly autonomously or be piloted remotely, can be expendable or recoverable, and can carry a lethal or nonlethal payload'. Therefore, missiles are not considered UAVs because the vehicle itself is a weapon that is not reused, though it is also unmanned and in some cases remotely guided.
For recreational uses, a drone (as apposed to a UAV) is a model aircraft that has first person video, autonomous capabilities or both. In 1849 Austria sent unmanned, bomb-filled balloons to attack Venice. UAV innovations started in the early 1900s and originally focused on providing practice targets for training military personnel.
The War of Attrition (1967–1970) featured the introduction of UAVs with reconnaissance cameras into combat in the Middle East. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War Israel used UAVs as decoys to spur opposing forces into wasting expensive anti-aircraft missiles. In 1973 the U.S. military officially confirmed that they had been using UAVs in Southeast Asia (Vietnam). Over 5,000 U.S. airmen had been killed and over 1,000 more were missing or captured.
As a result, Israel developed the first UAV with real-time surveillance. The images and radar decoys provided by these UAVs helped Israel to completely neutralize the Syrian air defenses at the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, resulting in no pilots downed. The first time UAVs were used as proof-of-concept of super-agility post-stall controlled flight in combat-flight simulations involved tailless, stealth technology-based, three-dimensional thrust vectoring flight control, jet-steering UAVs in Israel in 1987. With the maturing and miniaturization of applicable technologies in the 1980s and 1990s, interest in UAVs grew within the higher echelons of the U.S. military.
China, Iran, Israel and others designed and built their own varieties. UAVs typically fall into one of six functional categories (although multi-role airframe platforms are becoming more prevalent): The U.S. Military UAV tier system is used by military planners to designate the various individual aircraft elements in an overall usage plan.
Exteroceptive sensors deal with external information like distance measurements, while exproprioceptive ones correlate internal and external states. Non-cooperative sensors are able to detect targets autonomously so they are used for separation assurance and collision avoidance. Degrees of freedom (DOF) refer to both the amount and quality of sensors on-board: 6 DOF implies 3-axis gyroscopes and accelerometers (a typical inertial measurement unit – IMU), 9 DOF refers to an IMU plus a compass, 10 DOF adds a barometer and 11 DOF usually adds a GPS receiver. UAV actuators include digital electronic speed controllers (which control the RPM of the motors) linked to motors/engines and propellers, servomotors (for planes and helicopters mostly), weapons, payload actuators, LEDs and speakers.
The most common control mechanism used in these layers is the PID controller which can be used to achieve hover for a quadcopter by using data from the IMU to calculate precise inputs for the electronic speed controllers and motors. Examples of mid-layer algorithms: Evolved UAV hierarchical task planners use methods like state tree searches or genetic algorithms. UAV manufacturers often build in specific autonomous operations, such as: Full autonomy is available for specific tasks, such as airborne refueling or ground-based battery switching;
the CRS report listed air-to-air combat ('a more difficult future task') as possible future undertakings. The Department of Defense's Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap FY2013-2038 foresees a more important place for UAVs in combat. Issues include extended capabilities, human-UAV interaction, managing increased information flux, increased autonomy and developing UAV-specific munitions. DARPA's project of systems of systems, or General Atomics work may augur future warfare scenarios, the latter disclosing Avenger swarms equipped with High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS). Cognitive radio[clarification needed] technology may have UAV applications. UAVs may exploit distributed neural networks. The global military UAV market is dominated by United States and Israel companies.
Chinese drone manufacturer DJI alone has 75% of civilian-market share in 2017 with $11 billion forecast global sales in 2020. Followed by French company Parrot with $110m and US company 3DRobotics with $21.6m in 2014. As of March 2017, more than 770,000 civilian UAVs were registered with the U.S. FAA, though it is estimated more than 1.1 million have been sold in the United States alone. Civilian UAV market is relatively new compare to military.
Many early stage startups have received support and funding from investors like United States and government agencies such as in India. Some universities offer research and training programs or degrees. Private entities also provide online and in-person training programs for both recreational and commercial UAV use. Flapping-wing ornithopters, imitating birds or insects, are a research field in microUAVs.
The Nano Hummingbird is commercially available, while sub-1g microUAVs inspired by flies, albeit using a power tether, can 'land' on vertical surfaces. Other projects include unmanned 'beetles' and other insects. Research is exploring miniature optic-flow sensors, called ocellis, mimicking the compound insect eyes formed from multiple facets, which can transmit data to neuromorphic chips able to treat optic flow as well as light intensity discrepancies.
Hydrogen fuel cells, using hydrogen power, may be able to extend the endurance of small UAVs, up to several hours. Micro air vehicles endurance is so far best achieved with flapping-wing UAVs, followed by planes and multirotors standing last, due to lower Reynolds number. Solar-electric UAVs, a concept originally championed by the AstroFlight Sunrise in 1974, have achieved flight times of several weeks.
Individual reliability covers robustness of flight controllers, to ensure safety without excessive redundancy to minimize cost and weight. Besides, dynamic assessment of flight envelope allows damage-resilient UAVs, using non-linear analysis with ad-hoc designed loops or neural networks. UAV software liability is bending toward the design and certifications of manned avionics software. Swarm resilience involves maintaining operational capabilities and reconfiguring tasks given unita failures. There are numerous civilian, commercial, military, and aerospace applications for UAVs.
Rogers stated in an interview to AT 'There is a big debate out there at the moment about what the best way is to counter these small UAVs, whether they are used by hobbyists causing a bit of a nuisance or in a more sinister manner by a terrorist actor.” By 2017, drones were being used to drop contraband into prisons. The interest in UAVs cyber security has been raised greatly after the Predator UAV video stream hijacking incident in 2009, where Islamic militants used cheap, off-the-shelf equipment to stream video feeds from a UAV.
In recent years several security researchers have made public vulnerabilities for commercial UAVs, in some cases even providing full source code or tools to reproduce their attacks. At a workshop on UAVs and privacy in October 2016, researchers from the Federal Trade Commission showed they were able to hack into three different consumer quadcopters and noted that UAV manufacturers can make their UAVs more secure by the basic security measures of encrypting the Wi-Fi signal and adding password protection. In the United States, flying close to a wildfire is punishable by a maximum $25,000 fine.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) requires all UAVs over 1 kg to be registered with UAVs weighing 4 kg or more requiring a license to be issued by the IAA. As of May 2016[update], the Dutch police are testing trained bald eagles to intercept offending UAVs. In 2016 Transport Canada proposed the implementation of new regulations that would require all UAVs over 250 grams to be registered and insured and that operators would be required to be a minimum age and pass an exam in order to get a license. These regulations are expected to be introduced in 2018.
At this time no ratings for heavier UAS are available. Commercial operation is restricted to daylight, line-of-sight, under 100 mph, under 400 feet, and Class G airspace only, and may not fly over people or be operated from a moving vehicle. Some organizations have obtained a waiver or Certificate of Authorization that allows them to exceed these rules. For example, CNN has obtained a waiver for UAVs modified for injury prevention to fly over people, and other waivers allow night flying with special lighting, or non-line-of-sight operations for agriculture or railroad track inspection. Previous to this announcement, any commercial use required a full pilot's license and an FAA waiver, of which hundreds had been granted.
- On Saturday, February 22, 2020
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