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Nov 01 2011

Personal remote sensing goes live: Mapping with Ardupilot

Folks all over are waking up to the fact that remote sensing is now something you really should try at home!  Today DIYDrones published a fine example of homebrew 3D mapping using an RC plane, a regular camera, and a computer vision software: hypr3d (one I’ve never heard of).  Hello Jonathan!


PS: I’d be glad to pay for a 3D print of our best Ecosynth- hypr3D can do it, so can landprint.com

Jul 29 2011

Introducing "Vanga"

I work for REBIOMA - a joint project of UC Berkeley's Kremen Lab and the Wildlife Conservation Society, Madagascar. We develop and apply spatial tools for biodiversity conservation in Madagascar. For example, we work with a wide array of individuals and institutions to publish high-quality biodiversity occurrence data and species distribution models on our data portal - work that has helped to identify 4 million hectares of new protected areas.

Last week, I visited the Ecosynth team to build and practice flying what we're calling "Vanga" - a Hexacopter that we will take to Madagascar in late 2011 to map forest cover and forest disturbance in the Makira and Masoala protected areas. 

We're excited about the potential for low-cost, high-frequency forest monitoring in two and three dimensions. We will start by testing the capacity of the system for producing high-resolution 2D ortho-mosaics of selected field sites. We also hope to explore the 3D modeling capabilities - this has real potential for contributing to ongoing biomass measurements, and contributing to forest carbon inventories. Finally, we plan to evaluate the potential of this system as a tool to help communities adjacent to protected areas measure and monitor their forest resources.

Jul 29 2011

Multirotors on the Colbert Report

Check out multirotors on the Colbert Report!!!  The clip starts at about 15 minutes into the program.

The researcher, Missy Cummings Associate Professor from MIT, is developing better human multirotor interfaces to help people steer the units using only a smart phone, which makes me wonder how different it is from the Parrot AR.Drone.



Seeing this video reminded me of something I noticed when flying the Hexakopters on campus with Tom Allnutt last week, see his post here.  Many people stopped and asked, ‘What is that?’, as usual, while we were out practicing in the Quad at UMBC.  But almost everyone asked if we had put a camera on it, as if that was the obvious thing to do with such a cool device.  I explained to them our research and that we do usually fly with cameras and thought to myself that something is different now then when we were practicing last year.  In September 2010 when people asked us what we were doing they never asked if we were putting cameras on the devices and thought it was an odd thing to do when we told them about our work.  Now it seems that the practice is even expected.  I hope this signals a shift in perception about autonomous vehicles as useful tools for research and for recreational aerial photography and not just greater public awareness about the other uses of such devices.

UPDATE: I've been thinking about this post and in all fairness, the researcher is discussing the use of multirotors by the armed forces.  I posted for the sake of noting the signifcance of the devices in pop-culture.

Apr 22 2011

MAV (Micro Air Vehicle) enters Fukushima

Yet another use for a small drone!  The main thing I Iiked about this article is the use of a new term (new to me at least): “MAV” = Micro Air Vehicle or Micro Aerial Vehicle, to describe small drones similar to those we are using for Ecosynth.  

Should we start using this term?  Does it apply to the Mikrokopter Hexakopter and/or Ardupilot drones?

Link: http://www.engadget.com/2011/04/21/t-hawk-uav-enters-fukushima-danger-zone-returns-with-video/

Apr 05 2011

Mention of unmanned aircraft in new FAA Act

The Dayton Business Journal provides a short review of the language in the new FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act of 2011 that would lead to official FAA Unmanned Aerial Vehicle regulations and classifications, along with official test sites in Dayton.  You can have fun with the text of the legislation from the Library of Congress, here.  The section on unmanned aircraft is brief, but a few key points should be noted. 

  • Aircraft are classified as public ('...an unmanned aircraft system that meets the qualifications and conditions required for operation of a public aircraft...') or small ('...an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds...')
  • The FAA will make the determination "...which types of unmanned aircraft systems, if any, as a result of their size, weight, speed, operational capability, proximity to airports and population areas, and operation within visual line-of-sight do not create a hazard to users of the national airspace system or the public or pose a threat to national security..."
  • That the determination of these aircraft types is to occur within 180 days from the enactment of the Act
  • The FAA has 270 days from the time of approval of the Act to issue a plan for developing regulations
  • The plan must be in effect by September 30, 2015.

In summary, it looks like we might get a word on regulations of particular size, weight, range classes of aircraft this summer, but that the full regulatory system is still years away.  I think that the language I highlighted in the second bullet is particularly important, it tells us that determinations are going to made based on whether the craft poses a threat to users of the national airspace and to national security.  Arguably, working with small, light-weight aircraft (< 4 lbs) at altitudes below the national airspace (< 400 ft) will make sure that our research stays within the safezone.  

As a side note, I think there is also some language in the Act about the popular passenger bill of rights, but I didn't take the time to look!


UPDATE: The AMA just sent out a post about this as well:

Mar 17 2011

Microdrones on NPR

NPR just posted an interesting piece on drones- It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's A Drone!  The piece highlights their growing popularity, the challenges of gaining FAA approval and interviews Chris Anderson of DIYDrones (and founder of Wired).

Hopefully this will stimulate the FAA to finally unleash the microdrone revolution!

Feb 18 2011

Nano Hummingbird boggles the mind

This is a live video streaming aircraft.  Need I say anymore?!

AeroViroment develops operational unmanned aircraft for DARPA that looks like a hummingbird: http://bit.ly/eVVTM2

Jan 24 2011

DC police using drones

A disturbing headline at the Washington Post: “Privacy issues hover over police drone use”.

Alas, it appears that this very small “WASP” drone is giving people another reason to dislike drones.


And just when drones are getting to be more fun then ever!  Will the AR.Drone be banned?