Farmers Insurance Uses Drones in North Texas to Assess Hail Damage

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Insurance companies across the nation are looking into using drones to assess insurance claims. One area where the benefit of drones is immediately obvious is in inspecting property and rooftops for damage after a major storm.

Before drones a claims inspector would have to climb a ladder unto a potentially dangerous roof to assess damage. It was an arduous process that could take hours. Now drones can perform the same task in as little as 20 minutes without putting a claims inspector in any danger.

This week, Farmers Insurance was testing the use of drones to assess hail damage on selected houses in the Denton, Texas area. According to Farmers Insurance spokesman Chris Pilcic, “We’ve been engaged in numerous test flights in a number of states to better understand how UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] technology might serve as an additional tool to our claim teams. So far we are pleased with the progression of our research and development.”

Farmers Insurance has been looking into using drones for a while, but this test in Denton marks the first time that have put that plan into action. The Insurance Council of Texas is following such testing and their spokesman Mark Hanna perfectly summed up the impact drones could have on the insurance industry when he said, “For a lot of insurance adjusters, the ladder might soon be a thing of the past.”

Ornithopter Drones Are Cool, But Have a Ways to Go

Ornithopter (aircraft that fly by flapping their wings) drones are a very cool idea. In fact, copying the natural flight of birds and insects has been a human interest since Da Vinci, who famously drew designs of ornithopter machines. While there is probably some corner of DARPA that has made a fully functioning ornithopter drone, that tech in not available to the masses and in the meantime we have to settle for “attempts” at ornithopter drones.

Recent news highlighted the work of researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK who tried to replicate the landing motion of birds in a fixed-wing aircraft. The researchers noticed that birds come in at low altitude and preform a “deep stall”, meaning they sweep their wings forward at an upward angle to effectively kill their airspeed, and then plop down unto the ground. It took the team of researchers at Bristol over 5,000 attempts but they finally got the ornithopter-like drone to land.

This reminds the team at Drone Dossier of another ornithopter-like drone that was developed last year in Switzerland. This drone mimicked how birds retract and extend their wings with flexible carbon fiber enforced nylon wings. It appears to operate much better than the the work of the Bristol researchers.

In early February, there was reports of a fully functioning  bat ornithopter made by students from the University of Illinois and Cal Tech. This one looks legit, but if you watch video of its performance it’s pathetic, for lack of a better word.

We are not trying to bad mouth the idea of ornithopters, in fact we think they are cool. Maybe someday it can be done right. In the meantime, quadcopters and VTOL fixed-wing drones fill the void just fine.

An Unbreakable Drone?

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Swiss researchers at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, or EPFL, have made virtually crash-resistant drone. The highly flexible drone uses an unique body structure made of of elastic bands, visco-elastic foam and magnet to absorb and dissipate the force of an impact. See the video below (although it is admittedly a little bit of a let down!)

The drone is functional, but is still in an experimental state. But this kind of engineering awesomeness offers a lot of possibilities for the future of drone structure. The team here at Drone Dossier sees this as something the drone racing world will be quick to pick up on.

China Developing Massive Solar-Powered Drone

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Chinese web portal China.org.cn reported that the Chinese Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics’s (CAAA) Caihong (Rainbow) drone will be finished by the middle of the year. The massive solar-powered drone has wingspan of over 40 meters making it similar in size to Google’s Aquila drone.

A Chinese engineer is quoted as saying the drone will be the largest solar-powered drone in the world. But this is an inaccurate claim (NASA’s Helios drone has a wingspan of roughly 75.3 meters), although if put into mass production, it would be the largest solar-powered drone being produced at such levels.

Ideally, just like the Aquila drone, it could be airborne for months at a time. The CAAA sees it doing tasks like aerial reconnaissance, disaster monitoring and communication relay.

Besides using the Rainbow drones at home, China is also looking to sell the drone. According to the article, the CAAA started work on the Rainbow drone to break the monopoly of US drones in the global arms market. Already the Chinese have reached an agreement with Saudi Arabia to build the drone.

UPS Unveils New Drone Delivery Test

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UPS conducted its latest drone delivery test on Monday, but unlike others in the past this drone was launched from a refitted van with a retractable roof that doubles as a launch platform. The idea of refitting an UPS van as a drone launch platform is resourceful and awesome.

The test took place in a suburb of Tampa Bay, Florida. In the end, UPS wants drivers to  launch drones to deliver a package and then drive to another location a few miles away, where the drone can rendezvous with the truck. UPS believes drones could have a viable use in rural deliveries where distances between drop-off locations makes it cost effective to operate a drone instead of driving.

While many hurdles still exist—battery technology and regulatory are two big ones that come to mind—this test could be an import step forward for viable drone delivery in rural areas.

Nevada is Seeding Clouds With Drones

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Nevada is not a State that is known for rain, but local officials are looking to change that. Earlier this week State officials said they are within weeks of making a major breakthrough on their efforts to use drones to seed clouds.

Last April the Nevada Institute of Autonomous Systems worked with the Governors Office of Economic development to be the first to successfully test a cloud-seeding payload with a fixed-wing drone.

Ever since the State has been getting interest from authorities and companies all around the world. Using drones to seed clouds has a lot of potential benefits, but in the end it really is about getting drones that are big enough to carry bigger payloads to make this a more feasible project on a large scale.

Keep a look out for any upcoming news, the team here at Drone Dossier is curious what this ‘major breakthrough’ will be.