Drones Are Being Used to Check Planes for Lightning Damage

New uses for drone technology are being identified every day, and this month European discount carrier easyJet has begun testing a new way of inspecting its jets: with an automated drone.Commercial planes are occasionally struck by lightning and although planes are built to withstand substantial lightning strikes, sometimes the strikes can cause damage.The easiest way to spot lightning damage is to look for signs on the plane’s exterior, such as burn marks, small holes and missing bits at the plane’s extremities.  Planes are typically pulled from service for a full day for manual inspection for damage.To reduce that downtime, easyJet is exploring the use of drones, which fly around a plane from about three feet away, using lasers to determine the distance.  Operating drones for this task will free up easyJet’s engineering and digital teams to enable them to perform more skilled tasks.  The drones complete the work in a few hours instead of a full day.EasyJet is hoping to put the drones into service across Europe within a year, and thinks they could be used for other aviation maintenance-related tasks such as transporting spare...

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Drones and Dogs Save the Guac

Since one of Valmie’s focus areas is agriculture, I read with great interest a news story about a devastating fungal disease that is threatening the half-billion dollar U.S. avocado market. On subtropical farmland in south Florida, researchers are dong battle with a deadly fungus, laurel wilt. The fungus has killed an estimated 6,000 avocado trees in Florida, the second largest avocado producer in the nation, and is putting that state’s entire $64 million industry at risk.The microscopic ambrosia beetle, an invasive species from Asia, produces the fungal disease. Once infected, the fungus travels quickly to the tree’s interior and the tree can be dead within six weeks. It is invisible to the naked eye and cannot be detected during the early stages. The disease can spread quickly, infecting surrounding trees and turning lush groves into areas of devastation.Enter the dynamic duo of drones and dogs!Scientists from Florida International University and the University of Florida, along with the owners of a drone company and a canine detection team joined forces to help stop the spread of laurel wilt. Drones cover large expanses and can pinpoint infested areas using thermal digital imaging cameras. Researchers analyze the images and videos to identify the stressed trees. Once drones narrow the search area, trained dogs get to work. Although the infestation is invisible to the human eye, it is inescapable to the noses of the trained dogs that can sniff out the fungus deep inside the tree.Farmers can then treat the tree with an IV fungicide so it doesn’t infect the rest of the grove. Early detection means early treatment, the same as with...

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Wider Use of Drones by Law Enforcement and Fire Departments Anticipated Soon

Since November 2014, the FAA’s UAV integration office has experienced a surge of applications for the use of drones from law enforcement, fire department and first responder agencies.The FAA recently approved the use of UAV’s by the Michigan State Police. State police applications are significant because they are authorized for statewide operation rather than being limited to a county or city.Another major application nearing approval is a request to fly UAV’s from the New York City Fire Department. They want to acquire a UAS for each of their five rescue battalions for aerial surveillance of major structure fires or disasters. Other large cities are expected to seek approval for their fire departments to fly UAS.Meanwhile, the U.S. Secret Service announced it has begun testing drones in the closely guarded Washington, D.C. area. Even more noteworthy is the expected approval of a memorandum of understanding allowing the FBI to operate unmanned aerial systems in “defined incident perimeters” nationwide.The main uses of UAS by law enforcement at this time are for post-crime scene surveillance, post-crash forensics, support of SWAT teams and ongoing critical situations such as bomb threats or active shooters.The FAA is now proposing to add a new Part 107 to the Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) to allow for routine civil operation of small UAS in the national airspace and to provide safety rules for those operations. One of the provisions that will need to be revised is the one precluding nighttime operations, since most crimes occur at night. Unfortunately, due to public concerns for invasion of privacy and physical threats, deployment of UAS for law...

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Drone Helps Save Texans from a Flash Flood

Several people may have been swept away by raging floodwaters in Johnson County, Texas last week, were it not for drone operator Garrett Bryl and his quadcopter. Bryl and his drone, which he dubbed “Valkyrie,” is modified to carry a camera and searchlight for rescue operations.Bryl spotted a pickup truck swept off the road by the reflection of the searchlight off the truck’s taillight. Once located, the fire department then sent over a rescue hovercraft to save the people inside the truck.In a second drone-assisted rescue a few hours later, Valkyrie transported a “leader line” rope to a family trapped in their mobile home, which was surrounded by fast-flowing water. The house was inaccessible by boat or hovercraft. With the rope attached to the house, rescue workers sent the family life preservers and a rescue line. A helicopter was then able to lift them out of danger.Bryl has been flying in cooperation with the Joshua Fire Department for about six months. This department does not have an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) although it has applied for one, so in the meantime Bryl flies as an enthusiast with an emergency scanner, showing up for emergencies to see if help is needed.Stories such as this are great examples of why the FAA needs to make it easier for people like Bryl to fly. We need to develop a lightly regulated framework for smaller drones that are less than 4.4 pounds, with regulations separate from those for larger systems.Valmie is currently exploring how it can play a role in these public-spirited efforts and last month signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)...

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Investors are Targeting Drone Stocks

Small wonder interest in drone stocks is on the rise. Experts predict the market for commercial UAV’s is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 20% over the coming years. A report released by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) forecasts the total domestic economic impact of drones will exceed $82 billion within the decade.There is little doubt the commercial drone industry is on the verge of exploding. UAV tech has been compared to cell phone technology. And to top it all off, we’re seeing huge investments coming from major tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon, as FAA restrictions are expected to ease. Some of the focus areas in the sector are:SemiconductorsFor drones to work effectively, they need a wide range of internal components. This includes micro-electro-mechanical systems or MEMS sensors, which is the technology of very small devices. This includes accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetometers, or pressure sensors), GPS modules, powerful processors and a range of digital radios. Together, these components tell a drone where to go, how to orient itself and how to avoid collisions, among other functions.ImagingDrones provide a level of insight that’s invaluable to industries like agriculture, construction, mining, land and resource management, or for gathering data for any area that needs to be looked at closely and often. They allow you to get this data cheaply, easily and quickly, with less risk and more frequency and detail than manned flight or satellite imagery.For example, extensive consolidation of farmland has led to massive fields that cannot easily be traversed by land in a timely manner. Farmers now need to view their land from the sky.This point of view can be...

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Drones Becoming an Essential Part of Search and Rescue

Last year I read a news story about an 82-year-old Virginia man with dementia and hearing loss who had gone missing. Police and hundreds of volunteers, a chopper and search dogs began combing dense woods around the man’s home.After three days, many thought the rescue operation would turn into a search for a body.When amateur drone pilot David Lesh heard about the search, he took to the skies using a first-person-view (FPV) controller. Flying about 200 feet above a nearby soybean field, he combed the enormous area for signs of life. In what would have taken hours for searchers to accomplish on foot, he covered the entire area in minutes. As he was completing the last segment of the survey, he found the man, dehydrated and dizzy from lack of food and water, but still alive.Now that Valmie’s drone technology has reached several milestones in its development, we are pleased to begin exploring how Valmie can play a role in this essential humanitarian service. Valmie is currently in talks with a local search and rescue (SAR) organization.This SAR is a highly qualified group of volunteers dedicated to finding the missing. Some of the members work with canines. They train every week to ensure they are at the top of their game when the need arises.We seldom think it will happen to us, but if a loved one goes missing or a disaster strikes, organizations such as this SAR are at the front lines. When minutes count, drones and their trained operators can provide situational awareness quickly over a large area, reducing the time and the number of searchers needed...

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AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2015 – Post Show Comments

The Valmie team and I had an amazing time at Unmanned Systems 2015. After meeting thought leaders and viewing the endless possibilities in the industry, we agree with a session speaker who stated that this industry can’t be held back: drones and robotics are poised to transform the way we live.There was no lack of inspiration. We heard keynoter Prof. Hugh Herr who discussed his work on melding biological and mechanical research in his new lab at MIT. After losing both legs to frostbite during a climbing mission, he was told he would never climb again and his disability would prevent him from daily life activities such as driving a car.Herr renounced the diagnosis and went on to fashion a new set of legs that allow him not only to drive but also to climb again. This kind of “wearable robotics” could mean the end of many “disabilities.”From the standpoint of drones the market is set to explode. Among the high points of the conference was the opening of a dialogue between industry and the FAA, which we expect will be the beginning of expanding UAV operations in the national airspace. I’ll talk more about this in a future post.Additional examples of drones in action (from countless others):Google X’s Google Wing UAS delivery program, which is being tested in Australia for package delivery.Breathtaking drone-shot footage of the White Cliffs of Dover in the U.K. and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The network is working with researchers at Georgia Tech to use small UAS for news imagery.The Atlas All Terrain Land and Air Sphere – it looks like...

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UAV’s Set to Alter Almost Every Business Model on the Planet

In a previous post I talked about some of the ways UAV’s make it easier, faster and more economical to get vital information even from places where human beings can’t or shouldn’t go. And although collectively those applications are going to have an impact on all of us and how we perceive and understand the world, there is another revolution just around the corner that is going to revamp nearly every business model in every sector. That is the revolution in logistics.When Jeff Bezos announced in 2013 that Amazon was developing drone based delivery systems, many people thought he was crazy, but a few sharp investors sat up and took notice because whether or not they believed the project was feasible, they knew that Amazon’s interest made any promising startup a potential target for a lucrative acquisition. Today it’s clear that drone logistics is not only feasible, but also practically inevitable. The applications are being tested all over the world.Have you noticed that a lot of UAV projects are being developed overseas? There’s a reason for that and we’ll talk about in a future post.Google X’s Project Wing also started as a flying defibrillator, but broadened into a general method of delivering relief supplies and packages. The implications for commercial application are enormous. A fully developed drone logistics network could give retailers like Amazon a same day delivery option that they could not only use themselves but also sell to other businesses, including local retailers. The convenience of online shopping is merging with the immediate gratification of brick­and­mortar “retail therapy” to create a nearly irresistible “one click” shopping experience.In...

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Rapid Expansion of Investments in UAV’s

Do you remember the days before everyone had a cell phone? Before everyone had an Internet connection? Can you imagine what it would have been like to get in on the ground floor of those technologies as an investor? As I mentioned before, last year alone saw investments in drone technology more than double, and right now several relevant factors are converging to launch a boom in UAV development and deployment.The first is the wide range of projects already underway and just waiting for a chance to show how they can improve our lives in fields as diverse as geological exploration, environmental science, property and casualty insurance, public health and safety, and logistics.Second, Jeff Bezos’ interest in drone technology marked a shift in industry thinking, particularly because Amazon is in a position to make very lucrative offers to startups with potential, which makes even smaller operations extremely attractive to investors. And though you might associate today’s functioning UAV programs more with military applications, the biggest suppliers are in fact private sector companies like General Atomics and Northrop Grumman.Third, the technology required to build viable advanced UAV’s is rapidly becoming accessible to companies of all sizes as materials get lighter and stronger, engines get smaller and more efficient, sensor arrays deliver increased range and resolution, and the computing power to make it all work together fits onto cheaper, faster chips — or even into your smartphone.None of this matters, however, if drones can’t fly or fly safely. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently working on regulations to keep U.S. airspace safe and smoothly operating. The agency recently announced proposed...

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AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2015

Join me and hone your knowledge about the exciting unmanned vehicle sector! Unmanned systems, including the drone sector, are evolving at an astonishing rate. Did you know that just two weeks ago, the FAA cleared Amazon to start testing its drone delivery service? Are you aware that this year the U.S. Navy plans to deploy unmanned underwater vehicles, or UUV’s from submarines for the first time ever?Stay up-to-date on this emerging technology and the regulatory changes that will impact your business by attending the exciting Unmanned Systems 2015 May 4 through 7 in Atlanta, Georgia. Powered by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, the event will feature more than 150 sessions where you can access industry-wide and topic-specific interactive education led by the best minds in the business.Valmie Resources is pleased to be a member of AUVSI, the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. We congratulate them for organizing this massive event, which fosters, develops and promotes unmanned systems and robotic technologies.Join me and 8,000 innovators and industry leaders and learn how unmanned systems technology is altering the global commercial landscape. I know there are many events competing for your time and energy. In my opinion, there is only one that is a must to attend if you are interested in the future of artificial intelligence.Here is a link to the full program:Click Here to View Full ProgramSee you...

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