California: Drones Stitch Helpful Aerial Maps in Wake of Deadly Camp Fire

California: Drones Stitch Helpful Aerial Maps in Wake of Deadly Camp Fire

While California’s Camp Fire has earned the infamous title of costliest world disaster of 2018, the aftermath could have been worse, say fire experts, had it not been for drones.

The series of wildfires claimed more than 80 lives and destroyed thousands of buildings across Butte County. However, thanks to UAV companies DJI and DroneDeploy, county and state agencies were able to maximize both disaster response and damage assessment over some 17,000 acres of ravaged landscape.

A cadre of 16 drone teams, led by Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, Stockton Police, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies, launched 516 flights using DJI Phantom 4 platforms coupled with software analysis by DroneDeploy to collect 70,000 images resulting in 1.4 trillion pixels of data over a two-day period.

Following collection, the data was transported to DroneDeploy’s San Francisco headquarters office for processing. Given the lack of cell and data networks at the fire sites, teams delivered the data via old-school physical disk.  DroneDeploy’s team created a detailed, interactive map within a day after receiving the drone images and data.

After the imagery was georeferenced and stitched into a map format, Butte County officials posted a public fire map to help residents and officials assess the damage.

The detailed footage and maps help determine the condition of homes, which in turn can expedite insurance claims. The data also assists recovery crews, demolition crews, city planners, scientists and researchers, and the general public, to get a better understanding of the situation.

“We’re hoping that one, it will help people understand the devastation that we’re dealing with, understand the very difficult task that we have,” said Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea. “We’re hoping it’ll provide them information that will help them get their insurance claims started.”

“Wildfire victims also made good use of the maps. With entire neighborhoods mapped, homeowners were able to submit the imagery to insurance providers to process claims immediately — a process that traditionally can take days or weeks. Many have used the imagery to gain access to FEMA relief funds for the families affected by the fires.”

Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.

Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.

Email Jason
TWITTER:@JasonPReagan

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State Farm Granted First National FAA Waiver for Damage Assessment Drone Flights

State Farm Granted First National FAA Waiver for Damage Assessment Drone Flights

American insurance giant State Farm is flying into uncharted skies today after the company received the first-ever national drone-flight waiver granted to a corporation by the FAA.

The waiver will allow State Farm to fly drones over people and beyond visual line of sight through November 2022.

Last year, the FAA granted a similar – albeit temporary – waiver to deploy UAS in four states affected by Hurricane Florence, allowing the company to assess damage and provide faster claims processing for victims of the storm.

“It’s been a team effort to make drone technology a reality,” says Senior Vice President for Property and Casualty Claims Robert Yi. “The waiver will provide our claims specialists with another way to efficiently help customers. We can use drones to assess on-the-ground damage and deploy resources. This is a huge win for our customers and demonstrates we’re recognized as a leader in drone technology.”

State Farm launched its drone program two years ago, collaborating with the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech on drone safety research.

“There are many possibilities for the use of drones, but FAA regulators need to be assured that operations can be conducted safely” said Partnership director Mark Blanks.

“State Farm had a compelling proposal for how drones could improve their customer experience and an unwavering commitment to safety. MAAP had the operational expertise and the research experience to help them navigate the approval process and collect supporting data. This success shows how powerful it can be when industry and academia collaborate to break new ground.”

Seeing a potential competitive edge, insurers worldwide have upped investment in drone technology:

  • New Jersey-based Everest Insurance has partnered with drone-analytics provider Airware, allowing the insurer to optimize and expedite claims during hurricane season via aerial data investigation.
  • In 2016, insurance giants Allstate and Travelers deployed several drones over parts of South Carolina and Georgia in the wake of Hurricane Matthew to assess damage, expediting claims for stricken policyholders more rapidly. Allstate’s quadcopters can capture 4K-resolution images and the company says this allows adjusters to zoom in for extreme detail on any individual shingle on a roof or a crack in a building. Travelers launched a UAV training program and deployed 60 FAA-certified adjusters to pilot drones that year alone.

Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.

Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.

Email Jason
TWITTER:@JasonPReagan

Subscribe to DroneLife here.

Drone Company AEE Announces AI-fueled Product Launch at CES 2019

Drone Company AEE Announces AI-fueled Product Launch at CES 2019

During CES 2019, drone-tech company AEE Aviation announced the expansion of their partnership with AI start-up ModalAI with the goal of empowering “drones to navigate environments more safely and efficiently for drone operators.”

“Specifically, this unique partnership will allow AEE to integrate advanced AI perception into its core line of drones and UAVs, bringing unprecedented, state-of-the-art safety and autonomy to AEE drones.”

A company statement notes the first product in the new line will be called the AEE Mach 2 and it is expected to onboard the Qualcomm Flight Pro platform featuring the Qualcomm APQ8096SG processor.

“The Mach 2 will be a direct result of a partnership between two industry leaders and a talented group of robotics engineers who are dedicated to making drones safer, easier to fly and more inclusive to the consumer,” said Mike Kahn, AEE’s Chief Marketing Officer.

“The advanced programming offered by ModalAI puts a brain behind standard obstacle avoidance, thus easing two primary concerns among new navigators – crashing their products and injuring others, both of which become far less likely with this new technology.”

When integrated with ModalAI’s features into the Qualcomm Flight Pro Platform, AEE’s Mach 2 is expected to be equipped with the Simultaneous Location And Mapping (SLAM) system, which allows the drone to become aware of its surroundings by creating a virtual map in “its brain” as it flies.

Utilizing visual inertial odometry allows the Mach 2 to better understand its flying environment and allows the drone to hold its position in GPS denied areas. The Mach 2 will also feature GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning systems, an external joystick for easy flying, a 22-minute battery life along with high-quality Sony sensor camera capable of producing 4k videos and 13 mega-pixels still images.

The announcement cements Qualcomm’s higher flight path into the drone sector. In 2017, security company Alarm.com unveiled plans to create an autonomous drone application to strengthen home and business security systems by combining the company’s multi-sensor awareness software with the Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Flight platform.

Earlier, Qualcomm and AT&T launched a research project to determine how drones can effectively operate on wireless networks. The project will address issues related to coverage, signal strength and mobility across network cells to assist in drone functions such as Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS).

Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.

Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.

Email Jason
TWITTER:@JasonPReagan

Subscribe to DroneLife here.

UK Government Releases Report on Drone Regulation Consultation, DJI Responds

UK Government Releases Report on Drone Regulation Consultation, DJI Responds

The UK Government has announced its intention to move forward with plans to extend existing regulations around drone use. The report, published in response to a consultation with various industry stakeholders in 2018, outlines new police powers to tackle drones misuse and more.

You can read the consultation report in full, here.

The main headlines from the report are as follows:

  • UK police are set to be given additional powers to land, seize and search drones
  • The UK government will work on expanded use of technology to detect and repel drones at sites such as airports and prisons
  • The exclusion zone around UK airports is to be extended
  • From November 2019, UK drone operators will be required by law to register and pass an online safety test

It’s important to emphasize that these proposals do not come as a result of what happened at Gatwick Aiport before Christmas. They are the result of a consultation process after the UK government made its initial proposals last year.

Unsurprisingly, the issue of drone legislation has been heavily politicized in the UK, with the Labour party in opposition using the fiasco at Gatwick to attack a Conservative government already under pressure and busy dealing with another fiasco. That is perhaps the reason that this report has been so heavily linked to what happened at Gatwick.

Read more: What Can We Learn From The Drone Disruption at Gatwick Airport?

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Read more: Apparent Drone Sighting Halts Departures at London Heathrow

A lack of input from commercial UK drone pilots?

There were 3,957 responses received via the consultation online survey, and a further 1,104 replies which were received by other means by the Department for Transport. The total number of responses was 5,061.

Of those who responded to the online survey, 3813 represented individuals and 144 represented organisations.

Of those individuals, 2310 used drones for leisure; 1947 were model aircraft flyers; 165 were general aviation pilots; 265 flew drones for commercial reasons and 187 classified themselves as “other”.

Of the organisations, 73 were businesses that use drones; 22 were membership or representative organisations; 12 were airports or airlines; 4 were drone manufacturers or vendors; 4 were research institutions or universities; 10 were local authorities or statutory bodies; 2 were businesses considering using drones and 17 were in other groups.

The fact that fewer than 300 commercial drone pilots took part is surprising to say the least, particularly as they stand to be most affected by any changes. Model aircraft pilots were able to mobilize and respond in force.

Liv Sugg, the UK’s Aviation Minister, said:

We received over 5000 responses, a substantial increase from our last consultation, indicating the increasing interest in this emerging technology.

Responses reflected a broad range of views and positions on drones, but a common feeling shared by respondents was that the communication and enforcement of regulations to guarantee safety is of paramount importance. The Government shares this view and continues to work with the CAA to build on the ‘Drone safe’ campaign particularly in the run up to registration and competency testing becoming legal requirements in November
2019.

The vast majority of drone users fly safely and responsibly, and adhere to the rules and regulations that are in place. However, if a drone is used illegally we must ensure that the police have the powers to enforce the law, and that the most up to date technology is available to detect, track and potentially disrupt the drone.

The new measures proposed in the consultation, such as giving the police the power to request evidence from drone users where there is reasonable suspicion of an offence being committed, were met with strong support from respondents. These new powers will also include giving the police the option to issue fixed penalty notices for minor drone offences, to ensure effective enforcement and an immediate deterrent to those who may misuse drones or attempt to break the law.

The Government is finalising a Draft Drones Bill which will give the police these powers and we intend to bring this Bill forward in 2019.

DJI Responds to UK Government’s New Measures

Given the infamy now associated with drone technology in the wake of whatever the hell happened at Gatwick and the media response, you might expect that usually-vocal industry stakeholders would be eager to point to the possibility that there may never have been a drone disrupting London’s second airport.

However, comment of that sort hasn’t been forthcoming. There are a few reasons why that might be. First of all, it’s not a good look for a PR team to publicly go against conclusions drawn by police and airport security, particularly over an incident that’s made international headlines.

What is disappointing is that a middle ground wasn’t found. There is certainly room for doubt in scenarios like Gatwick and, just yesterday, Heathrow. Particularly given past confusion: plastic bags, bats and everything but have been mistaken for drones in recent times.

Instead of wading into those admittedly murky waters, DJI welcomed the UK Department for Transport’s new regulatory measures.

“The amendments to the Air Navigation Order strike a sensible balance between protecting critical infrastructure such as airports and allowing British businesses and the public at large to enjoy the benefits of drone technology,” said a company statement.

The new rules thoughtfully reflect input on the government’s prior proposals that were provided by many stakeholders, including DJI.

The vast majority of drone pilots fly safely and responsibly, and isolated drone incidents, such as the one at Gatwick, must not be the basis for unnecessarily restricting the legitimate use of this emerging technology. – DJI

“We are pleased to see that the new rectangular restriction zones around airport runway approach paths address the risk at airports in a way similar to the latest version of DJI’s geofencing technology,” said Christian Struwe, Head of Policy at DJI EMEA. “This will provide smarter protection for airplanes in critical areas during takeoff and landing and is in line with established aviation practices.”

DJI also responded positively to the UK government’s decision not go forward with previously proposed age restrictions on remote pilots.

“As an advocate of education in Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) fields, DJI appreciates that the UK government does not propose an age restriction for pilots of unmanned aircraft as it supports young people’s early use of technology that can build vital skills for later life,” said DJI.

Malek Murison is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for tech trends and innovation. He handles product reviews, major releases and keeps an eye on the enthusiast market for DroneLife.
Email Malek
Twitter:@malekmurison

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