Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have quickly gained popularity with the public. And as is so often the case with rapidly advancing technologies, it can be hard for the public to know legally what they can and can't do with the technology – or in the case of drones, where they can and can't fly. To help dispel confusion surrounding drone flights, the US FAA is beta testing its B4UFLY smartphone app, which tells users about any restrictions on unmanned aircraft they might want to fly in a particular area.
In the drone photography world, names like Parrot and DJI (maker of the Phantom
series) are the closest things to a gold standard at the moment.
However, a Latvian startup is promising to deliver a
smartphone-controlled, lightweight carbon fiber drone that improves on
battery life by as much as 40 percent.
The United States boasts some of the most advanced multi-mission combat aircraft in the world, but this can be a liability as well as an asset. True, each aircraft can outperform an entire squadron of a few decades ago, but they're also very expensive, incredibly complex, and not exactly expendable. For these reasons DARPA has launched the Gremlins program, which aims to develop swarms of cheaper, smarter aircraft that can be deployed and collected in midair.
Radio tags have made things easier for environmental scientists tracking animal movements, but they still involve spending a lot of time and money traipsing over land by foot in search of a signal. This is particularly pertinent for Australian National University's (ANU) Debbie Saunders, who has spent years trying to track small, evasive birds. But work is set to become easier for Saunders and her team, who have developed the first radio-tracking drone that locates radio-tagged wildlife in a fraction of the time of previous methods.
Last month, Sony Mobile announced a joint drone venture with Japanese robotics company ZMP. The first images and videos of the Aerosense quadcopter, fitted with Sony's QX30 lens/camera module, and VTOL UAV prototypes have been released.
Boeing has been given a patent for a new kind of amphibious drone that's like something straight out of a classic spy movie. The aeronautics giant has a novel design for an unmanned aerial drone that can spontaneously convert into an unmanned submarine and go for a dive.
Earlier this year, DJI unveiled two new quadcopters – the Phantom 3 Advanced and Phantom 3 Professional.
With respective price tags of US$1,259 and $999, however, they're
perhaps "more drone" than the average user needs. That's why DJI has now
announced the less expensive, more basic Phantom 3 Standard.
While there are already some truly tiny consumer drones out there, their protruding propellers still make them difficult to stuff into one’s pocket. AeriCam had been developing a model called the Anura, which featured props that folded into its sides – as a result, the whole aircraft became a pocketable rectangle. While we haven’t heard much about that one lately, Droidworx is now promising something similar in the form of its Blu quadcopter.
Sony Mobile, the wholly owned Sony subsidiary formerly known as Sony Ericsson, is going upwardly mobile by teaming up with Japanese robotics firm ZMP to launch a drone company. Aerosense Inc. will launch next month and target enterprise customers with a focus on the internet of things applications.
The California State Fair played host to an unconventional but increasingly popular type of sporting event last week. The first international drone racing contest invited budding pilots from all around the globe to battle it out for the inaugural US National Championship and a slice of US$25,000 in cash prizes.