Steve Flynn pre-launch at Aer Arann aerodrome, Connemara
JANUARY 2019 |Month 1
Hello, Can you please give me a call to discuss the logistics of sending a 50g payload to the Arann Islands via drone. Best Regards Derek
This was the brief email I received from Professor Derek O’Keeffe of NUI Galway back in January 2019 which gave birth to the #DiabetesDrone BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) historic event which took place in the middle of Connemara – ironically 9 months later! The project was led by NUI Galway, project managed by Skytango with partners Survey Drones Ireland, Wingcopter, Vodafone and global healthcare company Novo Nordisk.
Prof. Derek O’Keefe, NUI Galway | Photo: Andrew Downes @xposure101
Derek, a Professor of Medical Device Technology, NUI Galway and Consultant Physician at Galway University Hospitals, asked me to meet with his group after he’d read about our work with the national postal service here in Ireland in 2018. He asked if we could deliver a batch of diabetes medicine (insulin) via a drone from the mainland near Galway to the Aran Islands.
Following Hurricane Ophelia in 2017 and the flooding that ensued, Derek noticed that his diabetes patients were unable to make it into his clinic. Storm Emma the following year had similar results when patients were snowed in on farms. All patients with Type 1 diabetes require a supply of both insulin and glucagon for disease management and 40% of patients with Type 2 diabetes require insulin therapy. These medications are usually available from local pharmacies, however in remote geographic regions, communities and individuals can become isolated for days and a situation may arise where patients can run out of their lifesaving diabetes medication.
This gave him pause for thought. Climate change meant that these severe weather events would not be isolated and would become more commonplace in the future which would put his patients at greater and greater risk. He felt it was incumbent on him to look for a solution.
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right!
My initial reaction was that not only was this a worthwhile #DronesForGood project but it was an opportunity to explore what is real and what is hype when it comes to drone deliveries. Because of advances that have already been made in the industry, I explained that the act of simply delivering something by drone was no longer news, but a BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) delivery that tracked operational and regulatory compliance – vital for the delivery of medicines – and kept all stakeholders informed in real-time; the drone pilot, the hospital, the drug manufacturer, the patient, even the doctor and community under the drone, would be a project worth doing.
This was a terrific opportunity to work with NUIG (Galway University) but I knew we needed a cross-discipline team to pull it off.
The question was, what kind of drone did we need?
The first drone suggested was the DJI Mavic Pro. I heard from several quarters that ‘the specs say it will fly 8km’.
That’s the first bit of hype I needed to overcome. Just because a drone might say on the label that it can fly the distance, doesn’t mean it can really do it. Secondly, you can’t just throw a drone up in the air with something strapped to it and expect it to perform as it would without a payload. Thirdly, the distance we needed to cover was well over 8 km!
A traditional quad or octocopter wasn’t the best choice either to cover the almost 20km we needed it to. I knew we needed a fixed-wing system. I figured if we’re flying a parcel the size of an Epi-Pen, a foam wing with a small area for the payload might be the craft for the job. However, many of the pilots I know who fly foam wings were sceptical about this being reliable enough and on further investigation, the payload would need to be kept at a constant temperature which meant different technology and a larger payload.
As I was searching for the right machine, I was introduced to Sam Barraclough and Wayne Floyd of Survey Drones Ireland.
Back in April of this year, they were preparing to receive a new fixed-wing VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) from a German startup called Wingcopter. I looked at the specs on this machine and it seemed perfect. It was midsized, had set a Guinness speed record (with an average of 240.6 km/h) and could land virtually anywhere.
Wingcopter VTOL Drone flying in Connemara, Galway | Photo: Andrew Downes/@exposure101
I arranged a meeting with Survey Drone’s chief pilot Wayne Floyd, who has a long history of flying drones including for the Irish military. He’s a quick-witted fast-talking drone pilot and certified trainer whose energy, enthusiasm and ‘can do’ attitude was a plus, and I knew he had the experience to follow through and actually do what he said he could do. We talked at length about how important transparency throughout the process would be and if we thought we could wade through the regulatory hurdles with the Irish Aviation Authority to make this flight a reality.
At the time we talked, there had not been a BVLOS delivery in Ireland. Wayne brought me in to meet his colleague Sam Barraclough. Sam’s expertise came from GIS services and traditional survey technology, but recently he and Wayne had been developing and growing the services at Survey Drones Ireland (a division of SISIrl). When we began to explore using their new Wingcopter drone to execute the delivery, Sam explained that their system was designed for carrying a large Lidar survey unit, and as such, was not really equipped with the necessary redundant systems that would be required by the IAA if we were going to get permission to execute this BVLOS flight. So it was back to the drawing board to find the right rig.
It looked like it wasn’t going to happen in the allotted timeframe.
I gave the bad news to Derek at NUIG but said we shouldn’t throw the towel in yet. As it turned out, it was the first of many ups and downs on this 9-month rollercoaster. A few weeks after my initial meeting with Wayne & Sam, they contacted me again and told me that they had spoken to the engineering team at Wingcopter and that they offered to join the efforts by supplying a drone specifically designed for drone deliveries. As it turned out, Wingcopter had been working with Unicef in Malawi doing long-distance deliveries for the past 3 months. We were back in the game!
Unicef.org with the Wingcopter drone used for vaccine delivery
April 2019 | Month 4
In mid-April, we began to get a better sense of what the IAA would require from us to allow us to attempt this #DiabetesDrone BVLOS flight. Wayne Floyd led the effort to plan the RAM’s (Risk Assessments and Mitigation Statements). These are the documents that explain in detail what the risks of the operation are, followed by our efforts to mitigate those risks. You can never reduce risk to zero, but you can work through how to reduce the chance of anything happening to such a point where it is acceptable to execute the operation. Creating these documents is an extensive effort and includes everything from how to prevent collisions with other aircraft, the safety of the public, landowner permissions, solar flare and GPS signal limits, and anything else you might imagine could happen.
Also, how would we assure connectivity with the drone over such long distance?
The Irish Aviation Authority required us to have constant data connectivity including very low latency for live video downlinks and telemetry over the 20km. Using satellite links was possible, but also very costly. So our second option was to leverage a mobile data LTE network if possible as our primary link, leaving the sat links as redundant backups. This meant we needed an additional partner.
Over the last four years, Skytango has developed a close working relationship with Dublin Smart Cities and I knew they had made great inroads into developing IoT networks. So I asked them if they could make any introductions at Vodafone Ireland. Once we explained the #DiabetesDrone project and goals, Vodafone stepped right up and agreed to support our efforts with their 4G LTE network. We arranged a group meeting and my thoughts were that now we could finally move forward.
Wayne, Sam, my co-founder Susan Talbot and I went into Vodafone to discuss how it would all work and we were met with our second obstacle on this journey to break new ground with drones. It was not a given that the signal strength we needed would work! The signal towers are focused on putting that signal on the ground, and nobody really knew how they would work with a drone flying as high as 1300 feet. Vodafone couldn’t guarantee their involvement until we could prove the drone had signal strength along its flight path.
So… more testing! Sam, Wayne, and the Vodafone technician Rob Kennedy began working with the IAA to find a place in the country where they could put a Wingcopter up in the air near a tower and actually test signal strengths at various heights. Vodafone fitted special equipment to sense signal strength within the drone and determined that the optimum height would be from 130 Meters to 300 meters.
JULY 2019 | Month 7
It was mid-July before we had confirmation that we could meet the stringent IAA standards for connectivity across the entire flight path.
AUGUST 2019 | Month 8
By August 10th everything was in alignment. We finally had positive tests thanks to Wayne, Sam and Vodafone’s engineer, Rob. We had the drone hardware (WIngcopter), the pilots (Wayne and co.), the network (Vodafone), our compliance and drone management software (Skytango), and the final piece of the puzzle was waiting for the IAA to say yes.
If you push the regulator, they’ll push back!
Regulators in Ireland actively resist responding to commercial pressure or deadlines when they are charged with ensuring public safety, as it should be. So no amount of phonecalls will hasten the process. A BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) flight is something that, as yet, has no clear process in place here, so there were no simple forms to fill out. No way to just apply and get a sign-off. We were in new territory. Wayne led the charge throughout the summer months through many meetings and many revisions of RAM’s to get the approval.
We chose to believe that the IAA was on our side and wanted to champion innovation, so in early August we took a chance and began to book flights and accommodation to bring over the crew from Wingcopter for the week-long testing scheduled before the actual delivery flight to Inis Mór.
We only had a provisional sign off from the IAA and this wouldn’t change until two days before the scheduled flight which put everyone under pressure.
Flying in the face of superstition, we scheduled the delivery for Friday the 13th September.
MONDAY | Sept 9th 2019
Our Wingcopter crew arrived on Monday, 9th September. Drone Pilots Santiago Montenegro, Christoph Zechner, and Wingcopter engineer Julius Boes arrived in Dublin with their cases and their drones and in the case of Christoph – a healthy dose of jet lag as he flew in from Japan. This was a big deal for us all. We drove our caravan of vehicles across Ireland to the Gaeltacht area of Connemara, just west of Galway. Our first view of Galway Bay was sunny and full of promise. We drove to our accommodation in Carraroe, about 15 minutes west of the aerodrome in Inverin where we would be spending the week, and got ready for our first flight tests on Tuesday. We still had no final approvals from the IAA but hoped they were close.
TUESDAY | Sept 10th 2019
L to R: Santiago Montenegro (WC), Wayne Floyd (SD), Christoph Zechner (WC), Martin Osborne (Camera).
After a hearty breakfast on Tuesday morning, we began setting up our launch area in the empty parking lot adjacent to the Connemara airport. One of the big issues at an airport is who is allowed to be “airside” or on their runways. Because we didn’t know how many people we’d have on a given day, we didn’t want to have to negotiate that paperwork, so we positioned our area in an unused section of the parking lot behind some ropes. This would become our exclusion area for launching and landing.
The gravel was much more packed than we’d expected. This prohibited the crew from securing to the ground the tarp that would prevent stones and dust kicking back up into the drone on launch. So we needed another solution. Utilizing our local fixer’s contacts, we found a fish processing factory nearby that was willing to supply us with some large pallets to build an elevated platform.
But the weather began to close in and the rain and wind we associate with the west of Ireland began punishing us. We abandoned testing when winds of 35 mph and heavy rain pushed us home early.
WEDNESDAY | Sept 11th 2019
As an American, September 11th is always a little poignant for me. It felt good for us all to be involved in an aviation project that has the potential to benefit others in a really useful and practical way and ultimately, save lives. Our plans for the day included getting the final approval and clearances from the IAA and initiating flight tests to check connectivity on the drone over the channel. But again, the weather was not cooperating. We continued finalizing the landing zone, and the Wingcopter team did a detailed inspection of the drone after its shipping from Germany. They discovered one propeller showed small abrasions and needed replacing, which they did and proceeded to test the spares. When a drone is flying BVLOS, everything needs to be in perfect condition. There can be no surprises and the margin for error is extremely small. This flight was primarily over water. I don’t need to spell out the consequences of a malfunction in a congested area – on this of all days.
We spoke to the IAA, and their senior drone regulator committed to attending our Thursday tests and the Friday delivery. However, while we had mission approval, we were still missing approval to close the airspace. We needed a TRA (Temporary Restricted Airspace) issued, and a NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) which was to come from another department within the IAA. These are what other pilots use to plan their flights and we needed to be listed to be safe. With only two days to go before we lost our team and the drone, we had still not completed a flight test and had no idea if the #DiabetesDrone project would go ahead.
Before we shut down for the day and in an effort to get some preparation done, the Wingcopter team executed an 18km flight by flying a 1.8km circuit 10 times. It took 15 minutes from launch to landing.
Photo: Andrew Downes @xposure101
The Wingcopter is one of the most graceful drones I’ve seen in action. It fed not only the engineer in me with its function, but the artist in me with its form.
The first time I saw the drone fly, I was mesmerized. It launched and sounded like most large hovering drones. But when it transitioned into forward flight, it went almost silent. And it moved fast! The wind was blowing at 25 to 30 mph and had zero effect on the drone. My old octocopter would be working so hard in that wind it would fry the batteries. Actually – I wouldn’t be able to fly it in 30 mph winds.
THURSDAY | Sept 12th 2019
On Thursday the weather began to break. The drone regulator from the IAA arrived on site and we were finally able to begin putting the Wingcopter through its paces. Half of our team, Sam, Julius and Christoph, took the 10.30am ferry over to the Island of Inish Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, to act as the secondary safety team. They would be on the landing site in the event someone needed to manually land the drone and would remain there until their return ferry at 5 pm.
The first flight was more exciting than it needed to be!
It seemed as though there was some interference with the GPS signal and the drone wasn’t as stable as it had been the day before – except in manual mode – which seemed to be perfect. The team determined that the most likely source of the problem was a video transmitter being used by the film crew. Every time the cameraman ventured near the drone and control stations, their transmitter seemed to cause problems. It was probably a poorly tuned or out of spec transmitter but the lesson learned is… if you’re going to fly a drone BVLOS, keep everything else away from it as you just don’t need the mystery of things like radio interference.
By 3 pm, the weather had cleared and the team were able to show solid stabilization modes, clear signal and good GPS. Wayne was able to execute a few VLOS (Visual line of sight) test flights out over the water near the airport simulating the crossing. Again, they flew 20km each time by flying a circuit with a 1km radius, each loop running nearly 4km in circumference. This was the first day I got a look at the payload pod. Even this was impressive. Inside this pod there is a temperature regulated box to hold medicine and samples.
By the time the second team returned from the island, we had still not received our NOTAM for Friday. Without it, there would be no delivery the following day and all the efforts and money spent would be for nothing. While we were confident we would get it based on all the feedback we were getting from the IAA, there was still a chance it could be denied and there would be no #DiabetesDrone project to speak of.
There are many departments within an organization like the IAA, and they all have a responsibility to ensure decisions are based on safety and merit and not any external pressure. We all understood that and have a deep respect for their role, but it’s easy to lose that perspective when you know you have all the ‘T’s crossed and the ‘I’s dotted and with failure dangling in your face. We really wanted that NOTAM!
We had been working with Connemara airport all week. Our flight path was over the sea and in some of the quietest airspace in the country. The emergency recovery boat (an IAA prerequisite) was ready to go.
“Who’d know if we went ahead and launched anyway“? Without proper permissions, as a team, we’d rather walk away empty handed than push through because we could. If you’re doing this for a living, it’s not only about doing the right thing, but the correct thing.
Compliance of every aspect was the lynchpin of the entire project, from a medical regulatory standpoint as well as from an aviation regulatory standpoint and doing anything other than adhering to that would have defeated the purpose.
The weather forecast for Friday looked like the best of the week, but we’d all go to bed not knowing if the #DiabetesDrone project would materialize.
FRIDAY | Sept 13, 2019 | D-DAY
Unlucky for some…but not for us!
The morning was clear with bright sun, blue skies and low winds. The final word came back from the IAA that our NOTAM was approved and issued the night before at 20:17. We had finally cleared all the regulatory hurdles and run multiple technical tests. Now, it all had to come together with the medicine on board.
I chose to go to the landing zone on Inis Mór with Derek. I’d seen the drone fly the day before, and I was excited to be present on the receiving end of this historic event. I joined the team on the 10.30am ferry and arrived at the Inish Mór airport around 11:50 am.
Ferry leaving Rosaveel en route to Inis Mór | Photo: Andrew Downes @xposure101
The safety team set up their workstation and opened radio comms to the shoreside station.
Listening to the team on the shore run through their checklists using the Skytango App and prep the drone was terrific. We could hear the drone power up and launch, and then we watched it on the telemetry as it began its journey across the sea. There were 10 people waiting in anticipation at the airport, Derek, Owen Treacy, the country manager of Novo Nordisk (the manufacturer of the medicine being shipped), the local doctor, a diabetic patient, and the airport staff. Everyone had the same niggling fear in the back of their minds that was never voiced for fear of making it a reality.
What would happen if the drone went down? Would there be anything to recover for the recovery vessel?
Thankfully, we never had to find out. About 8 minutes in, we got the word the drone had crossed the midpoint of the channel. This meant that any emergency or ‘return to home’ maneuvre would bring the drone to us, and not back to its launch point.
At 14 minutes, we were warned to watch for the drone. You could hear it just before you could see it, and at 13:30, the drone was identified inbound over the centerline of the runway, just as expected. It swooped in over our heads and did a large smooth arc to enter a landing pattern. It flew downwind and came around flying into the gentle 4mph breeze. When it transitioned to hover mode it made a loud pitching sound, and then went into a perfect hover.
As it began to descend on autopilot, I couldn’t help but notice it was the best landing of any drone I’ve ever seen. It was like it was on an elevator, one smooth movement all the way to the ground.
It touched down, powered down, and we’d done it!
I honestly couldn’t believe after 9 months of finding the right team members and working with everyone to help get over the challenge of the day, we’d done it. We’d flown the first autonomous BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line Of Sight) delivery of diabetes medicine in a regulated space in Ireland and possibly in the world!
The halfway mark or the moment ‘Home’ became Inis Mór
As if that wasn’t enough when the doctor took the medicine off the drone, the team placed a blood sample to be returned to the mainland for testing into the pod. The nose cone was mounted and the drone launched itself back into the air, yawed northward and flew like a seagull back to the mainland, landing where it began an hour earlier.
The battery still had 70% power remaining and could have done the mission over again – twice.
This was (and is) a seriously efficient drone managed by a very talented group of people and the whole project, while it didn’t go smoothly from beginning to end, was an absolute pleasure to work on and will hopefully pave the way for other worthy BVLOS projects in Ireland.
About #DiabetesDrone Partners
NUIG NUI Galway is one of Ireland’s foremost centres of academic excellence. Over 18,000 students undertake an extensive range of studies at the University, which is renowned for the quality of its graduates.
NUI Galway is a research-led University with internationally recognised expertise in areas including Biomedical Science and Engineering, Web Science, Human Rights, Marine Science, Energy and Environmental Science, Applied Social Sciences and Public Policy, and Humanities, in particular literature, theatre and Irish Studies. For more information visit www.nuigalway.ie Further information on the #DiabetesDrone will be available soon on www.diabetesdrone.com
Vodafone Vodafone is Ireland’s leading total communications provider with 2.3 million customers and employs over 2,000 people directly and indirectly in Ireland.
Vodafone provides a total range of communications solutions including voice, messaging, data and fixed communications to consumers and to small, medium and large businesses. Since 2011, Vodafone has expanded its enterprise division, offering integrated next-generation fixed and mobile solutions in addition to cloud-based platforms, IoT machine to machine services and professional ICT support.
Vodafone Group is one of the world’s leading international mobile communications groups with mobile operations in 25 countries, partners with mobile networks in 44 more, and fixed broadband operations in 18 markets. For more information, visit www.vodafone.ie
Skytango Skytango is a drone operations management platform that was founded in 2015 by Steven Flynn and Susan Talbot. Steve was one of the earliest drone pilots to hold a commercial license in Ireland and quickly realised the problems when working with drones, clients and the communities they fly over. Skytango helps manage the Health & Safety aspects of drone operations across industries such as construction, utilities and media as well as improving transparency with real-time communication between stakeholders. Skytango streamlines the business workflow for organisations that want to embrace drone technology while maintaining regulatory compliance. For more information, visit https://skytango.com/about-us/
Survey Drones Ireland Survey Drones Ireland is a division of Survey Instrument Services (SIS). Survey Drones Ireland was created in April of 2018 to provide specialist training in the use of drones for surveying & construction purposes. SIS has specialized in the supply of high end Surveying Equipment since 1973. Shortly after its inception, Survey Drones Ireland became an approved IAA registered training facility, providing training across all types of drone operations, it rapidly expanded far beyond the surveying & construction industries
To date, we are proud to have trained hundreds of pilots in achieving their IAA licensing certificates, implementing drone workflows within some of Ireland’s largest surveying and construction companies as well as a number of state agencies. Our success has allowed us to invest in the very latest drone technology, software and training which has played a significant role in our level of involvement in this project and ensuring its success. For more information, visit www.surveydrones.ie
Novo Nordisk Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company with more than 95 years of innovation and leadership in diabetes care. This heritage has given us experience and capabilities that also enable us to help people defeat obesity, haemophilia, growth disorders and other serious chronic diseases. Headquartered in Denmark, Novo Nordisk employs approximately 41,600 people in 80 countries and markets its products in more than 170 countries. For more information, visit novonordisk.com, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube. For more information, visit: www.novonordisk.com/
Wingcopter Starting a company in a small workshop and developing a cutting edge drone, this self-funded startup wants to inspire the world by aiming high and starting vertically. Following the German tradition of focus on quality, they use lightweight glass fibre and carbon airframes to create benchmark platforms that aims to get the best ratio between payload and take-off weight. For more information, visit: https://wingcopter.com/
All five of the key areas of regulations and government measures discussed in this article will remain in focus in the coming year. What changes and what remains the same in the DRI ranking will largely depend on the headway that governments are able to make in cooperating with private stakeholders to create the drone regulations that best help stimulate and facilitate a healthy drone industry. The global health pandemic will likely to continue to impact the industry, as demand for automation increases and consequently special permissions for various drone operations increase in number.
However, while special permissions go a long way to open the door towards more complex missions, they are ultimately only a small step compared to the standardisation of those complex missions through comprehensive regulations. Therefore, the true impact of COVID-19 will remain to be seen in the long term as the industry awaits further integration of drones into airspace, especially urban and suburban areas that are currently heavily restricted.
DRONEII’s token social scientist, Millie Radovic has a BA in International Relations from King’s College London and an MSc from the University of Oxford. Earlier, she amongst other things researched Science & Tech policy for the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels. At DRONEII she particularly looks at drones and international development & global health projects.
I talked with Michael Izquierdo to learn more about his work as a drone operator in his stunning 24 Hours in Los Angeles Drone Timelapse.
Michael Izquierdo is a drone pilot for Beverly Hills Aerials, a fully licensed, insured FAA 333 exempt, part 61 and 107 day/night certificate holding aerial cinematography company based in Beverly Hills, California.
They specialize in filming in closed motion picture and television sets creating dynamic, highly difficult aerial drone shots with superior precision. Their clients portfolio include top brands of the likes of Audi, Nike, and Ralph Lauren Polo and media companies of the likes of The Wall Street Journal, NBC and CBS.
What I most appreciate about this stunning video, shot entirely in Los Angeles, is that it combines advanced aerial filming skills with local regulation. A shining example of drone operation compliance.
Capturing an urban environment with drones can be tough when dealing with drone regulation and safety requirements, but 24 Hours In Los Angeles Drone Timelapse demonstrates how amazing results and compliance are not mutually exclusive!
“This video is the result of a 3 month drone journey throughout Los Angeles. We used every waking free moment to scout, plan, and shoot a variation of iconic locations and inspiring architecture. We shot approximately 50 different locations and only selected the absolute best shots. Our focus was on precision, speed, proper time of day, and most importantly, safety.”
1. Tell me a little about your background and how you got into using drones?
I grew up building model airplanes and I remember my dad obtaining his pilot’s license purely for recreational use. He took me on one of his lessons where they practiced stalling and I remember loving it. During the beginning of my drone career, I quickly realized that getting a pilot’s license was mandatory.
4. How big was the team filming in the field for your sequences of 24 hours in Los Angeles, and what roles did they play? We were at least 3 people: a drone pilot, a camera operator, and one or more spotters.
7. Did you experiment with exposures to get the right look?
Oh yeah, the exposure experimenting was a really fun game, especially for the time lapse clips. Most time lapses would run through an entire battery. We sometimes came home with nothing but terrible and in our opinion unusable footage.
8. You say on some occasions you had to return several times to the same location to get the best shot. Tell me a little about that.
Flying through the CAA (Creative Artists Agency) building was literally a drone dream of mine for years. I live down the street and always drove by. After finally getting our Century City delta airspace waiver approved we drove by to shoot it one evening around sunset. The roads were packed with cars and filled with people. After a quick conversation ending in the realization there was no way we could hold the pedestrian traffic safely, we put it off.
We returned, I don’t even remember how many more times, only to leave without flying. One Sunday morning which coincided with some sort of holiday I can’t remember which one, Caleb pushed me to go back. I had pretty much given up on the ability to do it safely with no people around. We got there around 6am and there was literally not a car or person in sight. It was beautiful. I flew through it twice at full throttle in attitude mode which resulted in one of the shots you saw in the video.
13. How important is drone regulation and compliance to you?
Incredibly important. I’m one of the first guys to have got a 333 exemption and pilot license. Now, all you need is a part 107. I feel that, before, with the stricter requirements, it helped to maintain a certain level of professionalism with the drone pilots. Now, someone can buy a Phantom and has an aerial business the next day.
A good example of our respect for the regulations and compliance that I remember is when we discussed openly the Hollywood sign shot and everyone kept telling us to just do it because it’s been shot by drones a million times before. But we waited until we got the waiver, and literally shot it the day after we got our waiver. It literally changed nothing about how we did the job other than the fact we did it the right way with FAA approval.
14. 24 hours in Los Angeles is shot in a busy urban environment. How did you ensure that you always complied with the regulations when filming for this project? What kind of safety measures did you put in place when shooting?
We planned most our locations in G airspace (i.e. below 14,500 feet) which requires no additional waiver. We made sure we could see the entire environment well. We never flew over any people and sometimes used spotters to monitor the road we were flying over and tell us when it was clear. We also monitored radio frequencies in order to hear what was going on in the sky. We held and/or ruined a lot of shots when we saw/heard low-flying helicopters.
16. If you were to do another 24 hours project, what city would you choose and why?
We have this written on our dry erase board in the office… We are not sure but we have discussed San Francisco and San Diego. Possibly international… We really need help figuring that part out, if you have a good suggestion. Please do share.
Women and Drones and Drone360 recently announced the 9 most influential women in the drone/UAS industry, winners of the 2017 Women To Watch in the UAS initiative.
Tuesday, August 29th was the date that the 2017 Women To Watch in UAS honourees were announced by Women and Drones and Drone 360 Magazine.
Women to Watch in the UAS Industry is promoted by the Women and Drones organization and Drone360 magazine. This initiative aims to raise the profile of women doing great work in the drone industry and to encourage more women to embrace UAS technology by supporting a group that remains underrepresented thus far.
Those considered for the honours included trailblazers, innovators, mentors, and business leaders in the drone and UAS industry with 110 nominations being received from seven countries worldwide.
Our Skytango co-Founder Susan Talbot was on the judging panel.
The nine women selected for these honours have made astonishing strides in areas ranging from mapping to racing, education to entertainment. Inspiring women to get involved is the prime objective of Women and Drones. It’s no wonder the industry is growing so steadily with more and more female influencers getting on board to share their ideas.
Now that the dust has settled and we have all gotten busy with other things, we thought it was worth reminding you of the honourees and their extraordinary work. They fall under 9 different categories: Champion, Business, Education, Emerging, Entertainment & Culture, Global Trailblazer, Humanitarian, Influencer and Technology
The nine women honoured for the ‘Women To Watch in UAS’ are:
Mary Wohnrade (President/Owner of Wohnrade Civil Engineers) – Champion
Mary is heavily involved in the UAS industry in Colorado. She has developed a proprietary workflow to incorporate UAS and engineering while working on other ways to expand their possibilities. She is extremely passionate about everything UAS so watch this space!
Natalie Cheung (UAV project manager, Intel) – Entertainment & Culture
Holly is appealing to the next generation of drone users with Flybrix, a crash-friendly, rebuildable drone kit made from LEGO bricks. Launched in 2016, Kasun raised $1.7million in funding in just 45 days. Go Flybrix! AndChristmas is coming.
Gretchen West (Director at the Commercial Drone Alliance & Co-Founder of Women of Commercial Drones) – Influencer
Karen Joyce (Co-Founder of She Flies, Senior Lecturer in James Cook University) – Education
Karen co-founded She Flies, a drone training academy whose mission is to engage more girls and women with science and technology through the world of drones. She Flies hopes to expand their camps and educational programs beyond Australia very soon!
Catherine Ball (Co-Founder of World of Drones Congress & She Flies) – Global Trailblazer
Catherine is a start-up specialist working hard to build bridges, convene the UAS community, and advance innovative solutions in the UAS environment. The World Drone Congress, which debuted in Brisbane this August and at which our CEO Steven Flynn attended as a speaker, is the first major drone event to focus on the Asia-Pacific region. She Flies, which Catherine also cofounded, works to bring UAS and STEM learning to girls and women.
Through her tenacity and her sheer love of flying, Lexie has become a high profile racer and is working to raise the profile of drone racing. Dubbed “The First Lady of FPV in Poland” after a TV interview about drone technology, she travels the world to race, and actively encourages others to explore the sport.
Helena Samsioe (Founder and CEO of GLOBHE) – Humanitarian
As the boss of a humanitarian drone services company, Helena is leveraging drone capabilities to solve global problems, in particular, public health. She has worked on a UNICEF initiative to develop a humanitarian air corridor to deliver medical supplies in Malawi, and collaborates with other organizations to help heal through UAS tech.
Leah LaSalla (Technical Founder and CEO at Astral AR) – Technology
Intrigued with the combination of technologies that can deliver this experience, Leah started patenting and envisioning. She plans to apply this technology to wide-area search-and-rescue, disaster management, environmental remediation, public safety, and other drones-for-good activities. An added bonus: five of her company’s eight executives are women.
The judging panel was made up of three drone industry experts:
Wendy Erikson – Host of Women & Drones Podcast & Emmy award winning journalist & Part-107 certified pilot.
Sally French – The Drone Girl blog, named top 4 women shaping the drone industry by Forture magazine.
Susan Talbot – Skytango Co-Founder & COO & Emmy award winner with 25 years experience in film and TV production.
Congratulations to all involved and good luck with upcoming projects. You are incredible role models for our daughters (and sons!).
Looking at the increase in the number of drone fines charged against illegal behavior by aviation authorities over the world, I see an emerging trend: more and more authorities are starting to prosecute unlawful drone operations.
While this is good news, many in the industry – as well as myself – feel that the authorities have been slow in enforcing. Why is that?
Well, most of the focus of the regulators to date has been on defining the legal framework of this new industry. How can you enforce if you don’t have a clear set of rules in place first?
Drones represent a revolutionary technology which is booming and being adopted across several verticals with new uses discovered almost every day. While the technology is ready and progresses at an amazing pace, regulators are chasing rather than anticipating this changing industry
The problem was (and still is), setting the rules isn’t an easy task.
Even in countries where considerable efforts have been made so far in building a legal framework for safely integrating drones into airspace, regulators had to conciliate two different interests – sometimes conflicting: promoting safety and compliance and supporting the needs of the fast-growing drone industry.
Another factor complicating the regulatory efforts is that increased drone use raises several issues from a legal perspective.
Operating a drone involves different areas of law: privacy law, tort law, insurance law, civil aviation regulations, in particular, safety for people and manned aircraft. On top of that, privacy is a trending topic in the past few months.
The complexity of this task increases in countries where multiple authorities have input and control over some of the legal aspects related to hobbyist and commercial flying.
For example, in the U.S.,a confusing crossover of federal, state and local regulations – the so-called patchwork quilt – is negatively impacting the industry’s development and the capacity of the authorities to focus on enforcement, as a recent research by the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College highlights. One of their key insights was that in several cases local drone laws contravene the FAA’s drone rules, resulting in legal conflicts.
Another problem the aviation authorities have been struggling to deal with is the lack of resources specifically dedicated to managing drone registrations, complaints and reports of illegal or reckless operations.
Despite these difficulties, during the last couple of years, several countries managed to put a drone regulatory framework in place, and are switching their attention from setting the rules to enforcing them.
Moreover, drone regulation is not the concern of drone operators only. Their clients are requiring compliance as well to protect their own brands.
Content buyers have begun to understand that drone content must be acquired legally – like any other type of content such as music – if they don’t want to face the risks associated with illegal operations.
In some countries, regulators are enforcing on the buyers’ side too. For example, in the US, if you hire a drone operatorwho doesn’t hold a Part 107 allowing commercial operations, you could be facing federal charges as well.
Grab your coupon to submit your drone film for free to CinéDrones, a festival showcasing the best of aerial cinematographers worldwide.
As the popularity of drone film festivals grows with events popping up globally, there is one drone film festival that owns the ‘first in Europe’ title – CinéDrones International Film Festival.
Debuting in 2015, the CinéDrones International Film Festival has gone from strength to strength with the first two editions receiving in excess of 1000 recorded films from 30 countries worldwide!
CinéDrones is now in its third edition and will take place on November 17th & 18th, 2017 in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles, a lovely town close to Bordeaux, France. We are proud sponsors of this great initiative, providing the winners of CinéDrones with Pro memberships to Skytango.
Organized by Bordeaux Technowest and Athenium Films, CinéDrones shines a light on the best creations from around the globe that have enriched their work with the use of flying cameras!
This year the event is planning to keep up the momentum with participants having 11 different categories to choose from including special categories specifically for submissions in Japanese and from women.
Honorary President of CinéDrones International Film Festival is César Award winner and French actor and producer, Christopher Lambert who starred in over 70 movies including the blockbuster Highlander.
Cinema star Christopher Lambert is also passionate about aviation and about new technologies. He has been Honorary President of CinéDrones since the first edition of the festival in 2015.
Aerials captured with the use of a UAV must account for at least 30% of the completed video submitted. The categories are as follows:
Feature Film, TV & Series
News & Documentary
Sports & Adventure
Heritage & Nature
Musical Video & Performing Arts
FPV & Freestyle
Worldwide Showreels Screening
CinéDrones by Fukuoka (Japanese Section)
CinéDrones by Women
The jury, which includes our own Susan Talbot, will host Orelsan, popular French rapper, songwriter, record producer, actor and film director as Jury President.
There are cash prizes up for grabs for the winners of each category with winners’ films also being screened throughout the festival. Companies of the likes of Parrot, GDF SUEZ group, and the French Professionnelle Federation Du Drone Civil have partnered with CinéDrones in the past editions of the event providing support and prizes.
Deadline for submissions is October 10, 2017. Fees for submissions received before Oct. 10th are $20 ($10 for students), while submissions received after the 10th but before the late deadline (October 30, 2017) are $30, but you can use the coupon code:
The festival itself takes place in Cinéma l’Etoile in the municipality of Saint-Médard-en-Jalles that lies about 12.5 kilometres north west of Bordeaux city centre.
Apart from the screening and the award ceremony, the 2-days event schedule also includes side activities. Practical masterclasses for drone operators and filmmakers interested in using drones, and panels debating different aspects of the drone industry will be held in different locations in Saint-Médard-en-Jalles. Check the CinéDrones websitefor details.
“Given that more than a million drones have been sold in the U.S., the fact that only two dozen fines have been levied is surprising and likely reflects the FAA’s lack of resources, rather than a lack of desire.”
said Craig Thompson, a Dallas-based aerial photographer, when asked about this data by drone regulation expert Jonathan Rupprecht who agreed and added:
“As time goes on, we can expect to see many more of these enforcement actions to be more fully prosecuted.”
It’s interesting to note that even where enforcement efforts have been put in place, FAA’s focus up to 2016 has been on punishing reckless behaviours, rather than illegal commercial operations, as the 2016 Motherboard analysis of the 24 prosecutions found out.
Lawyer Loretta Alkalay, who was in charge of the FAA’s legal operations for the eastern region for more than 20 years, has her opinion on why the FAA didn’t prosecute illegal commercial drone operations much until 2016:
“I think it’s pretty obvious the FAA doesn’t think it can win a case on this whole commercial issue, which is why they haven’t really pushed it.”
Let’s check a few significant drone fines in the U.S.
SkyPan – $200,000
This is the largest of all drone fines ever issued by the FAA to date. The initially proposed fine in October 2015 to SkyPan International, Inc., of Chicago, amounted to an impressive $1.9 million for conducting 43 illegal drone flights in congested airspace over Chicago and New York City between 2012 and 2014.
SkyPan was further accused of operating 65 aircraft without proper communication tools and without receiving an airworthiness certificate and registration.
The company eventually settled with the FAA in January 2017 for $200,000.
Besides the $200,000 civil penalty the company also agreed to pay an additional $150,000 if it violates federal aviation regulations again in the next year, and $150,000 more if it fails to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.
Mical Caterina – $55,000
What drone pilot Caterina considered a hobby has landed him in trouble with the FAA, which in 2016 levied $55,000 in fines against him for violating five aviation regulations.
The FAA claims Caterina flew his drone for commercial use at an event in August 2015, though the Minnesota man has never charged anyone for his aerial photography and contends he’s only honing his skills.
“If you’re a recreational or hobby flyer and don’t know where the divider is between commercial and recreational activity, you’re likely to engage in neither if you know the FAA can come after you after the fact. Since the FAA has failed to provide a clear and adequate definition of what these entail, the risk is real and costly.”
said Jason Snead, a FAA policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.
Xizmo Media Productions – $5,000
XizmoMedia, a New York video production company, was hired by Fordham University to shoot footage of its 2015 commencement ceremony.
His videos on YouTube showed views from heights of at least 100 meters of Premier League, Champions League and Championship football matches. Other videos showed views of Big Ben from close range, the Queen Victoria Memorial next to Buckingham Palace, HMS Belfast at its mooring on the Thames and the Shard, Europe’s tallest skyscraper, all accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack.
Richard was fined £1,125 in October 2015 for illegally flying his drone over Hyde Park without permission during a shoot for a promotional video. The drone flew in controlled airspaces without consent from the Civil Aviation Authority. He was also charged for flying the drone 10 metres away from traffic and pedestrians.
Mark Spencer – £300
On 9 November 2013, staff at Alton Towers Resort observed a quadcopter flying over the X Sector of the resort. Mark later posted video clips on YouTube which showed that he had launched the quadcopter some way from the resort, beyond visual line of sight.
Australian drone laws are established by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). Drone regulation for both recreational and commercial use are extensively explained on their website. The CASA has started to prosecute illegal behavior of drone pilots seriously in the last few months.
TV presenter Sylvia Jeffreys and her journalist partner Peter Stefanovic thought it would be a good idea to ask one of their friends to catch images of them popping champagne at their wedding using a drone.
Their friend now faces a $900 AUD fine for “hazardous flying at and near guests” after the drone footage uploaded on Instagram got CASA’s attention. CASA’s director, Shane Carmody, made no apology for the fine.
“The rules protect people, property and aircraft from drones,” Mr Carmody said.
“While each individual breach was not major in itself, the number of breaches has caused me concern”,
said the CASA investigator.
Each of his uploaded clips could have been charged between $850 and $8,000 AUD. The $850 fine was large enough to scare the flights out of this pilot as the drone in question quickly appeared for sale online.
Since the legislation went into effect in 2012, around 30 legal cases involving drones have given way to criminal punishment by the French Aviation Administration.
Almost all of the offenders were slapped with small drone fines, but one person earned a one-year suspended prison sentence. In this case, he had flown a civilian drone dangerously close to a helicopter.
Tristan Redman – €1,000
British reporter Tristan Redman was charged a €1,000 drone fine in February 2015 by Paris Court for flying a drone several times over central Paris. The journalist, who was compiling a piece for Al-Jazeera news, also had his drone confiscated.
The drone was flown above the city center (which is forbidden by current Netherlands drone regulation), at night, in a CTR zone (Maastricht has a busy regional airport), in close proximity to the 12,000 people attending the concert, and without a permit.
The amount of the fine was not divulged but the Dutch newspaper De Limburgerestimates it around €8,000, the largest fine for illegal drone operations given by the Netherlands authorities to date.
The FAA has granted a waiver to CNN allowing the media company to fly drones over crowds, covering public assemblies to a height of 150 feet (45 meters).
The first of its kind to allow untethered flight to this degree, this waiver is the product of two years of research by CNN and its partner Vantage Robotics who established their case for safety with the FAA.
The “Reasonableness Approach” developed by CNN and Vantage Robotics established conditions whereby a number of factors were taken into account before the FAA granted the waiver. These factors include the operators safe history of use, safety features of the craft and exhaustive test data, as CNN explains in their press release.
“We are pleased that Vantage was able to work with CNN to present and establish the safety case for the Snap to the FAA”,
said Tobin Fisher, CEO of Vantage Robotics.
The waiver to Part 107 (Small Unmanned Aircraft Regulations) applies to the use of the Vantage Snap UAS, a frangible, 1.37-pound aircraft designed specifically with crowd safety in mind.
Here is sample footage in 4K shot with the Vantage Snap:
While the Vantage Snap is limited in its use at the moment, this decision could spell the beginning of a new regulatory trend within the industry.
Former US presidential advisor and attorney Lisa Ellman of Hogan Lovells, the firm that represented CNN in the waiver application process, has been working hard in the last few years to develop legislation allowing commercial use of drones.
She believes this new legislation could have broader implications within the industry:
“CNN’s new waiver represents a very important development for the commercial drone industry at large. The FAA’s willingness to approve reasonable waiver requests is a strong step in the right direction as we seek to bring the benefits of commercial drones to the American people.”,
Ellman is a strong advocate of commercial drone use in the U.S. and feels U.S. legislation still has a way to go before the industry can catch up with countries like Japan, which has allowed the commercial use of drones for the past 20 years already.
In a broader sense, this regulatory step has the potential to bring the plans of companies such as Amazon, eBay and even regular delivery companies closer to fruition.
So what might thismean for the smaller, independent drone pilots? Well, probably not a whole lot just yet as this reasonableness approach puts a lot of weight on the user’s track record.
However, with the stock industry and other end users of drone footage increasingly demanding the footage they purchase be accompanied by full documentation and legal permissions, it won’t be long before pilots will earn their reputations for safety and compliance.
Drones are being used increasingly for emergency services, but how can emergency services leverage and safely deploy such technology?
This week Skytango hosts a special guest post by Anna Jackman, Lecturer at Royal Holloway University, on the reasons why drones are increasingly being employed as tools by emergency service responders.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, as the platforms are more commonly known, are the technology of the moment.
Drones are increasingly being employed in a growing range of hobbyist, commercial, and civilian roles, with their potential domestic applications considered “as diverse as the platforms themselves”.
Furthermore, in a recent report, professional services giant Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC), proposed that the global market for the commercial applications of drones, spanning: infrastructure, transport, insurance, media, telecommunication, agriculture and mining industries, could be valued at over $127 billion by 2020.
Lastly, drones are increasingly being enrolled in a range of civilian applications. Referring to those applications which are neither commercial nor recreational, drones have been employed as tools for humanitarian, disaster, and emergency service response.
The latter will be the focus of this piece.
DJI’s report on lifesaving drone operations
In profiling the ways in which drones have been employed as tools to both “save and protect human life” in emergency situations to-date, leading drone manufacturer DJIthis yearreleased a report entitled ‘Lives Saved: A Survey of Drones in Action’.
Opening with the assertion that drones allow first responders to
“accomplish tasks faster, more efficiently, at a lower cost, and in many cases more safely than in the past,”
the report reviews 18 incidents in which drones were deployed by emergency services professionals or members of the public in assistance of such operations.
Together, these actions were associated with saving 59 lives.
Drawing upon the results of 60 call-outs in which the drone was deployed (those spanning: missing persons, fire, possible suicide, crowd safety, bomb threats, fuel and/or chemical spillages, fishing vessels adrift, animal rescue, and light aircraft crashes), the research concluded that whilst often not designed explicitly for such roles, drones have been used to:
The Skybound Rescuer Project, then, has stepped up – seeking to provide resources and action plans to get SAR drones airborne. In highlighting the importance of this goal, The Skybound Rescuer team released this video, demonstrating their vision of the drone as a rescue tool.
Running their first course on 6th April 2017 at Popham Airfield in Hampshire, I was lucky enough to be in attendance.
Bringing together participants from UK Fire and Rescue, Search and Rescue, and the Police, this training course was billed as “a one-day workshop for managers and tacticians to gain an understanding of this rapidly emerging new technology “.
It aimed at equipping participants with an understanding of how to evaluate or plan for the purchase of a small drone and the associated equipment, what questions to ask manufacturers ahead of purchase or lease, and what training and regulatory requirements are applicable therein.
The course was a fast-paced and intensive foray through the contemporary civilian drone landscape, covering: terminology, drone categorisation, tailored capability reviews, a technical overview of payload features and capabilities, regulatory requirements, best practice and risk mitigation, factors impacting and limiting operations, and key questions for practitioners to pose to manufacturers ahead of purchasing or leasing a drone.
As pictured, the course also included a live-flying demonstration, allowing participants to see the drone in action, as well as understanding the necessary steps prior to becoming airborne.
As such, there remains an ongoing tension between the drone as both, simultaneously, an operational resource and a potentially recklessly or maliciously-employed commercially-available device.
In an environment in which the drone can be viewed negatively then, it remains particularly important for emergency services seeking to leverage and safely deploy such technology to adhere to and challenge the limits of relevant regulation, develop and implement best practice protocol, conduct risk assessment and mitigation, clearly demarcate their platforms and operational sites, and engage with the community and public more widely in showcasing this potentially lifesaving technology.
Dr Anna Jackman, the author of the above article, is a Lecturer at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her research has involved fieldwork with a range of drone users, regulators, and industry practitioners. Anna is interested in understanding both how and why different operational communities deploy drones, as well as the mechanisms through which the platforms are governed and sold more widely. She can be contacted via Twitter @ahjackman.
The idea for the scholarship first came from Alan Perlman, CEO and founder of Drone Pilot Ground School, and Matt Ernst, founder of the Taft Drone Club at the Robert A.Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
The Taft Drone Club uses drones for education, and has recently received a grant for $100,000 from the state of Ohio to support his efforts in STEM education using drones.
This new, first of its kind scholarship for high school students aims at supporting young people trying to break into the drone industry while also helping spread the use of drones in STEM education.
“We know the drone industry has the potential for creating new jobs for young people, and can help students get excited about STEM subjects. Providing a scholarship to interested, qualified high school students just seemed like a natural outgrowth of the support we’ve given the students at Taft High.”
More and more, drones are being used to help students learn – and get excited about – STEM subjects in middle, high, and even elementary school
Across the U.S. drones have become a part of robotics classes, coding classes, and even lessons on longitude and latitude. New platforms like DroneBlocks actually provide curricula materials for educators who want to use drones in the classroom, and drone manufacturers like Parrot have launched specialized educational programmes based on drones.
The drone industry itself is growing, and there promises to be new jobs on the horizon for drone pilots who hold a remote pilot license, from aerial cinematography to work in agriculture, forestry, mapping, and much more (even if a recent survey by Skylogic Research debunked the media hype about drones, showing for example that 75% of aerial business providers in the U.S. perform one to five projects only per month).
About the Scholarship
The High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots was launched to support high school students ages 16 and up who are serious about becoming certified drone pilots by helping them prepare for the FAA’s Part 107 test.
An additional goal is to help further the use of drones in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education.
Scholarship recipients get free access to Drone Pilot Ground School‘s remote test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 test (value of $299), and the first 100 students to take the test will have their test fee covered (up to $150), for a total value of approximately $450.
Eligible students must:
Be at least 16 years old
Be currently enrolled in high school
Live in the U.S.
How many students can apply?
There is an unlimited number of scholarships available, but only the first 100 students accepted will also have their Part 107 testing fee covered.
What is the deadline?
There is no deadline – applicants will be accepted on a rolling, case-by-case basis.