Top Drone Industry News 8 May 2017 Skytango

Top drone industry news, hand-picked for you by the Skytango team with comments from Steve Flynn, Skytango’s CEO. Edition: May 8 2017.

Hi there, I’m just back from sunny and warm Silicon Valley, where I was speaking at TiEcon in the Drones track alongside influencers like Gretchen West (Hogan Lovells US), Jonathan Downey (Airware) and Parimal Koperdekar PK (NASA). Great event and sharing of knowledge.

I’m excited to announce that Drone Industry Insights, a leading drone market research and consulting company, will now collaborate with our weekly news roundup, providing specific industry insights, in particular on mergers, funding rounds, and partnerships, to complement Skytango‘s picks. For you, it means you will get even more great news in one place to help keep you up to date with this booming industry!

Hot topics this week: EU Drone Rules, FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee, Drone R&D Labs, Aerial Filming For Planet Earth II.

Drone Industry News

It seems a good period for drone manufacturers. Last week we reported about 3DR raising $53 million in a series D funding round. I’m now reading on Reuters that GoPro reported smaller-than-expected quarterly loss thanks to strong sales of its flagship cameras and Karma drones.

Unmanned Aerial Online reports that Seattle-based WiBotic Inc. raised $2.5 million in a seed round led by Tsing Capital to enable wireless drone charging. WiBotic‘s wireless power and battery intelligence solutions for the robotics industry sound promising. Their wireless charging platform can detect a drone landing nearby, and wirelessly charge the battery, with a recharge time equal to a standard plug-in charger.

TechCrunch reports that Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics startup, raised $50M in Series C round from Sequoia Capital to leverage satellite and UAV data. Orbital Insight provides large-scale analysis of satellite and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) imagery, applying machine learning and computer vision to imagery acquired from companies like Airbus, DigitalGlobe, ImageSat, MDA, Planet and Urthecast.

Silent Falcon UAS Technologies, a manufacturer of long range solar-electric powered unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), has partnered with Ascent Visionspecialists in precision-imaging Gimbal Sensor Technology. Ascent Vision will become Silent Falcon’s preferred supplier of gimbaled payloads, as reported on Unmanned Systems Technology.

What could happen if a drone hit a person on the ground? The FAA have been conducting a major study on this of late. ASSURE, which includes 23 academic institutions working alongside the FAA, have been researching the effects of drone crashes on humans. The results are available in the “UAS Ground Severity Evaluation Final Report” released at the end of April. The main purpose of the research was to evaluate the risks of flying drones over people and crowds. By dropping a drone onto the head of a crash test dummy, researchers found that the drone’s impact is on average less than steel debris or a wood block that weighs about the same. The fall might cause serious injuries or even death in rare cases, depending on kinetic factors.

Other interesting reading this week (thanks to Christopher Korody for the shoutout): Unmanned Aircraft: Defining Private Airspace is a white paper written by Tom Karol, general counsel of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC). The paper analyzes the current state of the legislation on drones and their use in “private” airspace. NAMIC criticizes the approach the FAA adopted in setting the rules that today do not recognize private airspace. The paper also highlights privacy issues raised by this approach and the confusing regulatory landscape caused by it. Here is their press release if you are in a hurry.

Again on the topic of regulation, and crossing the ocean, the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) is proposing new rules on the use of small drones. This is an important step forward in the rule-making process in Europe. EASA’s proposal include, among the others, requirements for drones to be remotely identifiable and to be fitted with geo-fencing technology. Also, people operating drones weighing more than 250 grams will have to register. Published in a document called a Notice of Proposed Amendment (NPA), the proposal allows a high degree of flexibility for EASA Member States, which will be able to define zones in their territory where either drones operations are prohibited or restricted, or where certain requirements are alleviated. The proposed rules, which will be submitted to the EU’s executive Commission by end of year, should help uniform the currently fragmented EU regulatory framework. Drone Industry Insights offers a great visual to recap the drone rule-making progress both in EASA and USA.

Drones in mining: Colin Snow of Skylogic Research offers, via Interdrone, “5 Valuable Lessons Learned About Drones in Mining and Aggregates”, the third white paper in a series focused on drones in specific industries.

Drone Technologies/New Products & Ideas

AUVSI reports that GRIFF Aviation North America will soon begin building its heavy-lift UAS at a new assembly plant in Florida, USA. The UAS manufactured there promise to be very powerful, capable of lifting hundreds of pounds. The company is also working on a larger unit that will carry nearly a ton. If you are attending Xponential, you will be able to admire the prototypes.

News Atlas made us aware that IBM has filed a new patent detailing a process for UAS to make “mid-air hand-offs to one another”. The process, which combines machine learning capabilities and UAS technology, is aimed at making shipping networks easier to manage through an aerial relay race. A UAS would depart a warehouse with a package at the same time another UAS would depart one’s home. The two would meet halfway and transfer cargo, then return to their individual docks. IBM‘s Sarbajit Rakshit sees a lot of potential for e-commerce and deliveries for this patent.

On the consumer side, Curtis Silver reviews on Forbes, the AirSelfie, a tiny drone recently fully funded on Kickstarter. It is reported that AirSelfie can fly up to 20 feet for 3 minutes, even in semi-automated flight mode, and take 5-megapixel images, for around $279.

This week I read 2 articles about new research labs focused on drone technologies.

Betsy Lillian on Unmanned Aerial Online reports that Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a global IT services, consulting and business solutions organization based out of India and part of the industrial conglomerate Tata group, has opened a Drones Research Lab in Cincinnati, Ohio (USA). The lab will represent a rapid experimentation and co-innovation environment for customers to build solutions for specific industry problems. Technologies used in the lab will include advanced computer vision, machine learning, and deep learning algorithms, with the goal to fully automate processing of drone-captured images.

Amazon announced the opening of a new 60,000 square foot R&D center later this year in Cambridge, U.K. focused on artificial intelligence (A.I.) and drone delivery research, writes the Financial Times. The center will expand Amazon’s commitment to R&D in the UK, where they already have a few innovation centers active.

Renee Knight on Inside Unmanned Systems dedicates an interesting article to the recent progress in building and testing autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV). The drones mentioned in the article are used by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) and some of the technologies developed for them could be transferred to UAVs too.

Qualcomm Technologies released the results of over 1,000 drone test flights where drones used existing 4G LTE commercial mobile network connections. The results are good and show that drones can already rely on this type of connection, even at 400 feet and even beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS), and that 4G networks could even perform better than currently used standard radio links.

Industry Stat

The economic research firm Skylark Services has released the report “Forecast of the Commercial UAS Package Delivery Market“. According to the report, Amazon’s purported cost of last-mile delivery via ground delivery is $2.50, while the cost via commercial drone would be $1.74 per trip. Large retailers using commercial UAS to deliver to a customer’s home would therefore save $0.76 per delivery.

“The economic annual savings to logistics companies will be at least $2 billion, for our pessimistic forecast,” according to the report’s authors Darryl Jenkins, Bijan Vasigh, Clint Oster, and Tulinda Larsen. “For our midrange forecast (of 50 million daily operations), savings are projected at $10 billion.” Thanks to Sally French for the shoutout, check her great recap article on Skylark’s report.

Drone Journalism

A great piece on RTDNA (Radio Television Digital News Association) explores the status of drone journalism in the US. The authors Henry H. Perritt, Jr. and Eliot O. Sprague show a very good knowledge of what’s happening to television stations around the country incorporating drones and drone footage to cover news and reportages, and the article covers different sides, from public perception to the average cost of the equipment a television would need to operate.

CNN‘s photojournalist Gabriel Chaim has produced dramatic drone footage of Mosul, an Iraqi town devastated by the war between Iraqi forces and ISIS’s groups. He used a DJI Mavic covered with tinfoil to fool the GPS, just a week after DJI had geofenced no-fly zones for war-torn areas in Iraq and other Middle-East countries, as Gary Mortimer reports on sUAS News.

Aerial Filming & Photography

Have you ever wondered how they captured the incredible wildlife aerial shots in BBC’s Planet Earth II? Michael J. Sanderson, cinematographer and drone operator, who filmed the “Jungles” episode of the popular series, answers your questions in a really interesting interview with Skytango. Michael talks about the drones and the gear he used during filming, the technical and logistic challenges of flying drones in wild environments, his approach to filming wildlife and more. You will get a lot from it – even if you have no immediate plans to go canopy tree climbing to film monkeys in the jungle!

Are you a producer or a director planning to use drones for your storytelling? Don’t miss my latest guest post on Audio Network Media‘s popular blog: 10 tips on how to tell a story with drones.

Paul Strauss on Technabob interviews award-winning travel aerial photographer and Instagram star Chase Guttman.


Popular Science are reporting that a researcher at Oklahoma State University wants to use drones to detect whether a thunderstorm will become a tornado. Jamey Jacob, a mechanical engineer at the university, is developing rugged drones that can withstand rain, hail and winds up to 120 miles per hour. Using these drones, he wants to measure the temperature, pressure and wind velocity at specific points throughout the storm, which can then indicate whether the storm will turn into a tornado. Some real life Twister action!

ODFW (Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) will be testing drones to count elk in Oregon’s forests. Preliminary results of field trials conducted on the North Coast have shown good results, with the drones being relatively inexpensive and much safer than the helicopters usually used for this type of survey. ODFW has already used drones to survey salmon spawning in rivers and cormorant abundance along the Oregon coast.

The University of Toronto – UAV Division won the 9th Unmanned Systems Canada UAS Student Competition, competing with 12 other university student teams from across Canada. The UAVs designed by the participants had to locate and census nests of three different types of geese in the remote Canadian wilderness, and then extract eggs from the nests to allow wildlife biologists to test the eggs for levels of pesticides.

Ian Smith (Commercial Podcast) interviews DroneSeed, emerging company working with timber companies and non-profits to plant tree seeds, spray herbicides to protect them, and monitor their growth through drones. They were the first company approved by the FAA to deliver agricultural payloads by drone swarms. In the podcast, DroneSeed CEO Grant Canary explains how their drone company has been built to help the planet maintain sustainable growth in the forestry industry and offset carbon emissions.

One video that caught our attention this week showed drones used in Tanzania where conflict can arise between humans and elephants that graze on their crops. The U.S.-based non-profit Resolve is testing a new way to reduce these clashes by operating drones in localities where the problem arises. So far the elephants’ reactions are similar to cattle with a herding dog.

Drone Events

Last week was an intense week from a drone events point of view!

The third FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee took place on May 3, 2017 in Herndon, Virginia (USA). The notes from the Committee are available here. Some initial reports are coming out. I read Miriam McNabb’s neat recap on DroneLife, Bill Carey’s piece on AIN Online, and S.L. Fuller’s one on Rotor & Wingfocused on the work of the Task Group 1, dedicated to roles and responsibilities of state and local governments in regulating specific aspects of drone operations.

May 6, 2017 was the third International Drone Day, with over 150 simultaneous events happening around the world. Skytango interviewed David and Sarah O’Neal, who launched this event 3 years ago.

Did you miss NAB in Vegas? Scott Simmie of Digital Circuit offers a video recap on the drone ecosystem which emerged in the show.

Also, Randy Goers talked to Lisa Murray on the upcoming Commercial UAV Expo in Brussel, Belgium in the latest episode of the (great!) Drone Radio Show podcast.

Upcoming B2B events:

Drone Film/Photo Festivals

Now open for submissions:

Video of the Week

My pick of the week is the project created for the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg‘s building, designed by Swiss architects Herzog & Meuron. The interactive video shot with drones shows the inside of the building and is visible on the website of the opera house. It was produced by Simon & Paul in collaboration with the creative agency Jung von Matt.

Thanks for reading and for sharing and as ever, safe flying.