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Intel and Cyberhawk use drones to inspect a Scottish gas terminal

November 16, 2017 - 9:00am

Drones can make the world more efficient and safer, something Intel and Cyberhawk are demonstrating through a case study in which they used drones to inspect a gas terminal in St. Fergus, Scotland.

This is another example of how using drones can extend the reach of humans and simplify tasks that are time-consuming or dangerous. Intel and Cyberhawk used the Intel Falcon 8+ drone to inspect the facility, reducing risks for employees and saving an estimated $1 million to $5 million per day in potential production losses.

Traditional inspections of this scale require facility shutdowns, which could keep the plant offline for days to weeks. Workers have to use harnesses and cables to hang in mid-air while manually collecting data on the structure.

Above: Intel Falcon drone can inspect a facility like this in a day or two.

Image Credit: Intel

“In the last 20 years that I’ve worked in the inspection industry, drones are the biggest single change we’ve seen to date,” said Chris Fleming, Cyberhawk CEO, in a statement.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), can be used to remotely inspect large and complex facilities while they’re in operation, capturing accurate and precise data to better inform business decisions about asset maintenance.

“Flying in Scotland, the devices have to withstand strong winds,” said Fleming. “The Intel Falcon is perfect for that because it has the highest wind tolerance and the best power-to-weight ratio of any platform on the market.”

Above: Intel Falcon in action.

Image Credit: Intel

The Intel Falcon 8+ drone deployed for this mission captured 1,100 images, which translated to 12GB of data. It did so over the span of a couple of days. Normally, it would have taken three workers about three days to complete the inspection.

“The way we conduct inspections is changing,” said Anil Nanduri, vice president and general manager within Intel’s New Technology Group, in a statement. “Drones make inspection workflows faster, cheaper, and safer. The technology is mature enough to be adopted into the workflows of our customers.”

China’s tighter drone rules send enthusiasts flocking to school

September 4, 2017 - 9:35pm

(Reuters) — A buzz fills the sky above a flight base in northern Beijing, as pilots practise take-offs and landings ahead of tests to qualify for a license – to fly drones.

Drone enthusiasts in China, the world’s top maker of consumer unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are scrambling for licenses after the government adopted strict rules this year to tackle incidents of drones straying into aircraft flight paths.

“A drone is not a toy,” said Yang Nuo, the principal of the drone training school in the Chinese capital, who expects more students to sign up in a drive to boost flying skills. “It involves complicated aerial theoretical knowledge.”

Gao Huiqiang, 32, said his construction company told him to seek a license.

“Since the laws on drones are tightening and a legal framework is being built, they told me to come and get the license first,” he added.

In June, China set an end-August deadline for owners of civilian drones to register crafts up to a certain weight under their real names. Last week, a test-flight base opened in the commercial hub of Shanghai, which requires civilian drones to fly below 150 m (492 ft), the official news agency’s Xinhuanet website said.

Others have balked at the idea of spending around 10,000 yuan ($1,534) for an official qualification, particularly as uncertainty surrounds future regulations.

“They don’t know when the next regulation will be introduced,” said Hao Jiale, the manager at a DJI drone store. “Some people want to wait and see.”

Privately-held SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd, based in the southeastern city of Shenzen, had a roughly 70 percent share of the global commercial and consumer drone market, according to a 2016 estimate by Goldman Sachs and Oppenheimer analysts.

Despite the curbs, prospects for growth look bright.

China’s camera drone market will see a compound annual growth rate of 68 percent in five years, with shipments reaching 3 million units by 2019, up from 40,000 in the third quarter of 2015, tech research firm IDC said last year.

More than 120,000 drones have been registered in China, Xinhuanet said, compared to just 77,000 registered users in the United States.

Tech tourism: Proposed Cupertino hotel may include skydeck with ‘unparalleled views of Apple Park’

September 1, 2017 - 6:47am

As construction on Apple Park has progressed, the best views have been delivered by pesky drone operators — despite the company’s attempts to halt the practice. But even if the drones are shut down, a hotel company is hoping to capitalize on interest in the new corporate campus.

Kimco Realty has submitted plans to the City of Cupertino to build a 185-room, five-story boutique hotel on the west side of Apple Park. The hotel would be just south of a shopping area known as Cupertino Village.

“The hotel is designed to create an attractive new gateway into the City of Cupertino, and to complement the iconic Apple Park facility located directly across Wolfe Road,” the company wrote in its proposal.

But to capitalize even more on the public’s curiosity about the new corporate HQ, the proposal notes: “Kimco is also investigating the feasibility of including a viewing platform or rooftop lounge, which could offer the community another gathering spot and unparalleled views of Apple Park.”

Except for planes and drones, views of Apple Park will remain limited, as far as the general public is concerned. Apple itself is building a visitor center across the street from Apple Park (on the east side). This will include a rooftop terrace that allows the public to see part of the main building. But while the main building is an estimated 48 feet high, the visitors’ center will only be 23 feet high.

The Kimco hotel would be 60 feet in height, which means its rooftop terrace would offer better views of Apple Park than the visitors’ center, though it’s hardly the birds-eye view we get from drones.

It will be interesting to see if Apple weighs in. After all, it designed the campus to offer a high degree of security and privacy to employees. A gaggle of tourists sipping cocktails and gazing down on Apple Park may not thrill the tech giant.

The proposal is in the early stages and faces many months of scrutiny before it can be approved.

DJI reveals a new drone, a facelift, and ‘sphere mode’ at IFA 2017

August 31, 2017 - 8:15am

High-end drone company DJI has revealed two products at IFA 2017 in Berlin today. But it is the addition of a new “sphere mode” for the current Spark drone that has (ahem) sparked interest.

First up is a new and improved Mavic Pro Platinum, which DJI says is quieter than the previous model, as well as offering a longer flight time. Eleven percent longer, in fact, which takes it up to 30 minutes per flight.

The increased flight time comes courtesy of new electronic speed controllers and redesigned propellers. Otherwise, it is very much the same Mavic Pro you’ve seen flying above your back yard.

The Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian is less exciting since it is effectively the Phantom 4 Pro in a different livery. DJI describes this as “a sleek matte-gray Obsidian color shell featuring a magnesium, electroplated and anti-fingerprint coated gimbal, which requires a higher standard manufacturing technique.” I call it “gray.”

The new “sphere mode” announced today — coming to the Spark drone — is set to offer a new way of sharing drone-created content. Spark pilots (yes — I called them pilots) can now produce a panoramic photo that features a fisheye lens effect. The resulting “sphere” can be shared directly to social media sites, where viewers can interact with the output — assuming the social network supports interactive images.

While the new mode isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, it is — by definition — revolutionary. Just not that kind of revolution.

You can soon expect your Facebook timeline to be chock-full of interactive panoramas, thanks to your DJI-toting friends. The new feature will be included in the forthcoming DJI GO 4 mobile app and via Spark firmware updates.

With a retail price of £1,119/€1,299/$1,099 the Mavic Pro Platinum is available for preorder immediately at DJI’s website and will begin shipping in September. The Phantom 4 Pro Obsidian will retail for £1,589/€1,699/$1,499 and will also be available in September at DJI’s website and at DJI Flagship Stores, as well as through authorized dealers worldwide.

Despite crackdown, there’s a new Apple Park drone video

August 17, 2017 - 9:26am

A new drone video shows work continuing on Apple Park, including progress on landscaping, despite reports that the company was attempting to prevent such flyovers.

Over the summer, several drone operators said that Apple had hired security guards for adjacent sites to warn them not to fly their drones over the company’s new headquarters. At the time, it did not appear Apple Park had been declared a no-fly zone by the Federal Aviation Administration. Still, some drone operators who had been posting construction progress videos said they would stop.

But today, Matthew Roberts of Maverick Media posted a new video update:

The video doesn’t look remarkably different from others shot in recent months, though it appears more trees have been planted and that construction crews continue to put the finishing touches on some buildings. It’s not clear what day of the week the video was actually shot, but there is no visual evidence of Apple employees on the site, so perhaps it was made over a weekend.

Read more: A look at Apple’s insanely ambitious tree-planting plans for its new spaceship campus

No doubt, the drones would be an annoyance for Apple. From the beginning, Apple Park was intended to offer a high degree of security and privacy for employees, more so than the current open campus on Infinite Loop where the public can walk right up to the buildings.

Of course, Apple Park was designed before consumer drones became so popular. For years now, drone operators have been charting the progress of the campus’ construction.

With employees reportedly moving in, it wouldn’t be surprising if Apple wanted to halt the practice.

DJI beefs up drone security after U.S. Army ban

August 14, 2017 - 9:48pm

(Reuters) — Chinese drone maker SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd is tightening data security on its drones after the U.S. Army ordered its members to stop using DJI drones because of “cyber vulnerabilities,” a company official told Reuters on Monday.

The privately held Shenzhen-based company is speeding deployment of a system that allows users to disconnect from the internet during flights, making it impossible for flight logs, photos or videos to reach DJI’s computer servers, Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI, said in an interview.

The security measure had been in the works for several months but DJI said it is bringing it out sooner than planned because of an Army memo earlier this month that barred service members from using DJI drones.

DJI said it has not had any communication with the Army about the issue. The Army had no immediate comment. The other branches of the military have not banned the use of drones by DJI, the largest consumer drone maker with millions of the devices sold.

“The Army memo caused customers to express renewed concern about data security” and prompted DJI to speed up data security changes, Schulman said.

Some drone pilots choose to share images and video with DJI, which makes them visible on its SkyPixel website. But many businesses and government customers have raised concerns about sensitive video and pictures – such as movie footage or images of critical infrastructure – and want to ensure it is never sent to DJI, he said.

DJI said it does not collect images, video or flight logs from users unless they share them. But turning on the new “local data mode” will prevent accidental syncing with DJI’s servers. Its drones do not rely on an internet connection to fly.

Cutting the link between the internet and DJI’s controller apps that run on tablets and mobile phones will disable updates of maps, flight restrictions and other data that the controller application receives from the internet while the drone is in use, he said.

Schulman said DJI plans to make updates to its controller applications available by the end of September, earlier than previously planned. The new apps with local data mode may not be available in all countries if there are regulations that require pilots to have the most updated maps and information.

DJI had about 70 percent share of the global commercial and consumer drone market, analysts at Goldman Sachs and Oppenheimer estimated in 2016.

Goldman analysts estimated the market, including military, to be worth more than $100 billion over the next five years.

U.S. Army halts use of DJI drones due to concerns over ‘cyber vulnerabilities’

August 8, 2017 - 1:38am
DJI drone

(Reuters) — The U.S. Army has ordered its members to stop using drones made by Chinese manufacturer DJI because of “cyber vulnerabilities” in the products.

An Aug. 2 Army memo posted by sUAS News and verified by Reuters applies to all DJI drones and systems that use DJI components or software. It requires service members to “cease all use, uninstall all DJI applications, remove all batteries/storage media and secure equipment for follow-on direction.”

The memo says DJI drones are the most widely used by the Army among off-the-shelf equipment of that type.

DJI said in a statement that it was “surprised and disappointed” at the Army’s “unprompted restriction on DJI drones as we were not consulted during their decision.”

The privately held company said it would contact the Army to determine what it means by “cyber vulnerabilities” and was willing to work with the Pentagon to address concerns.

Analysts at Goldman Sachs and Oppenheimer estimated in 2016 that DJI had about 70 percent share of the global commercial and consumer drone market. Goldman analysts estimated the market, including military, to be worth more than $100 billion over the next five years.

The Army was considering issuing a statement about the policy, said Army spokesman Dov Schwartz.

The move appears to follow studies conducted by the Army Research Laboratory and the Navy that said there were risks and vulnerabilities in DJI products.

The memo cites a classified Army Research Laboratory report and a Navy memo, both from May as references for the order to cease use of DJI drones and related equipment.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)