Autonomous Drones Take Flight

The future of drones is autonomous flight. While the technology to make autonomous flight a reality is almost there, the willingness of many aviation authorities has not advanced as quickly.

However, authorities are starting to adjust. While the FAA still prohibits beyond-line-of-sight flying (something which is key to autonomous flight), it has granted waivers to companies like PrecisionHawk for such operations. This week two important development also happened overseas.

In Switzerland the American company Matternet successfully delivered laboratory samples between two hospitals via autonomous drones. Matternet was given permission to test autonomous flight by the Swiss Aviation Authority with plans by Swiss authorities to make such deliveries more common place by next year. Matternet’s M2 drone which was used for this test is, “Designed to operate around people and infrastructure within urban, suburban and industrial environments.”

Then in Israel, home-grown Israeli company Airobotics, was authorized by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones without a pilot. Airobotic’s fully automated Optimus drone has its own little drone house. It self deploys, self lands and can autonomously do tasks like monitoring a facility, which makes it ideal for industrial applications.

Airobotics Optimus system is already in use and the company is now eyeing moving into helping with traffic analysis and emergency response using autonomous drones.

Reports: Snapchat is Making a Drone?

Yes, you read the headline correctly, Snap the parent company Snapchat is reportedly looking into offering its own drone. Everyone from the New York Times to Mashable has jumped on this story, but it looks like it’s not possible to confirm at this point and even if Snap is working on a drone, it doesn’t mean they will actually end up bringing one to market themselves.

But given the fact that Snap has already extended its brand with its Spectacles wearable tech it is a good possibility they are trying to do something. A Snapchat drone would provide a new way for users to interact with each other. But if Snap does go the drone route, they better make the drone small enough to fit in your pocket. Snapchat is all about sharing experiences at a moments notice. Even a medium-sized drones that weight a few pounds (like the Phantom) will not be conducive to this kind of usage.

DJI Stakes a Claim In the Commercial Drone Market

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Drone-powerhouse DJI just took aim at dominating the commercial drone market with the launch of its new Matrice 200 (M200) drone at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The new drone offers a few firsts for DJI and has a lot of customization options which makes it a versatile choice to tackle a wide range of commercial applications.

New features include a dual forward-facing gimble set up. This allows the operator to attached both a HD video camera and a sensor apparatus like a FLIR thermal camera (or whatever combo you want!). The drone also has an upward facing gimble that is placed on the top of the drone—also a first. This gimble is a much needed addition that will make activities like bridge inspection (where you fly under the bridge!) much easier and safer.

But the new feature the team a Drone Dossier is most interested in is the claim this new drone will be “weather resistant”. This is a key issue when talking about commercial application of drones because if you are outside you are going to run into inclement weather. A drone’s ability to perform well in these conditions will be key in making them a viable option for large scale operations. We will have to see how “weather resistant” the drone is once it hits the market.

The M200 also boasts robust sense and avoid ability. It comes standard with sensors, located to either side of its built-in flying camera, which helps the drone with obstacle avoidance by rending objects in 3D. The M200 also has a built-in ADS-B receiver which will alert the drone and pilot if there is another aircraft nearby.

This new drone is not the first drone aimed at more commercial applications that DJI has built. The larger M600 (6-rotor) drone has been out for a while. But the new M200 has the new features mentioned above and only has a 4-rotor power system. Given the powerful software tools available for DJI drones, the M200 is shaping up to be a versatile and able drone that can tackle many of the commercial uses of drones that are starting to take off nationwide (power line inspection, bridge inspection, search & rescue, etc). The M200 is expected to hit the markets sometime in the second quarter of 2017.

Fly A Drone With A Wave of Your Hand

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A drone that will let you fly a drone with a wearable control device is coming to the market soon. At the New York Toy Fair 2017, KD Interactive revealed its Aura quadcopter prototype that can be flown by a wave of your hand.

The prototype on display is controlled by a glove, but KD Interactive is working to make the end product able to be controlled by a wearable device that resembles a watch.

While this drone is technically a ‘toy drone’ it offers a glimpse into different flight control methods that are out there. And while it might be pretty cool to fly a drone with the wave of a hand, it is, in the end, more of a gimmick that probably won’t see much practical use. After all, drone technology is moving toward more autonomous flight, rather than moving your hands around like a crazy person. Although, hand movements could be used to signal a drone to perform certain predetermined operations.

If you are interested the Aura drone is scheduled to go on sale this fall for around $100.

Karma Drone is Back

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Finally, the GoPro Karma drone is back on sale on GoPro’s website and a few selected retailers nations wide.

Last November GoPro pulled their Karma Drone from shelves over a a mechanical issue on how the battery was stored, which when it malfunctioned caused the drone to lose power and drop from the sky. Of course GoPro has fix this problem and is hope the Karma drone can offer some new competition in the market.

However, the price is still about the same as when it came out in November–$800 for the drone itself and $1,100 for the drone with a GoPro Hero 5 camera (which makes it comparable in price to a Phantom 4).

GoPro reported 4th quarter sales of $541 million, which was $33 million short of Wall Street’s estimate, so they definitely has an uphill battle. They have already closed their entertainment division and let go of 200 employees. Some analysts think that bringing the Karma back is just an attempt to boost sales numbers a little to reduce Wall Street pressure.

Hopefully, GoPro can make things work, so they can reverse the trend of American drone companies failing to properly bring a consumer drone to market. But still if you ask for the advice of the Drone Dossier team, it is still better to spend your money on a DJI drone.

Speaking of DJI drones, the Daily Dot is having a DJI drone giveaway. All you have to do is create an account with them to enter.

Make Way for Passenger Drones

Have you ever dreamed about commuting to work in your very own drone? Well that dream is one step closer to reality. In November, Israeli company Urban Aeronautics conducted the first autonomous flight of its Cormorant passenger drone.

The drones is designed for rescue or military use with internal rotors the company says make it safer to fly and the ability to lift up to 500kg.

This past June, Chinese company Ehang announced it was started to test its ‘184’ personal passenger drone in Nevada. Ehang is working with State agencies in Nevada to make passenger drones a reality. A Nevada official working on the project was even quoted as saying, “I personally look forward to the day when drone taxis are part of Nevada’s transportation system.”

GoPro Offers Free Hero5 to Make Amends for Failed Drone

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GoPro has announced that it will give a free Hero5 camera to the roughly 2,500 customers that bought the camera-maker’s ill fated Karma drone.

To receive the free Hero5 Karma owners must return their drone to GoPro. For more information visit GoPro’s website.

DJI and 3DR: the competition heats up

solo_phantomChinese drone manufacturer DJI is still the undisputed king of the drone market, but American based 3D Robotics (3DR) is trying to change that.

This May 3DR will launch their Solo drone which promises to boast many tools to make flying easier for drone newbies. The drone will also feature the ability to plug your smart phone or tablet into controller to get a live first-person view from the drone.

As cool as this sounds DJI has already beat 3DR to the punch with its recently launched Phantom 3. The Phantom 3 boasts many of the same abilities as the Solo and has a whole month on the market without any real competition from 3DR.

But this is not the biggest problem for 3DR if they plan to be able to gain market share from DJI. Forbes, recently reported from confirmed sources that DJI is seeking to raise money at a $10 billion valuation, giving it the opportunity for a huge capital injection. While the exact amount DJI will raise is still unknown, it should easily surpass the $50 million 3DR raised in February.

When you add in the fact that DJI’s sales were somewhere around $500 million in 2014, and 3DR only did $50 million, it seems like 3DR has quite a mountain to climb. But as mentioned in Wired, one of the Solo’s strongest features is the fact it will be sold as an open system, allowing it to be more like the Android of drones.

But the question is, does that mean DJI is the Apple?