• LA Times: Drones are providing film and TV viewers a new perspective on the action

    A dazed and bloodied student who had just been mugged stumbled down a darkened alleyway in a slum. He lifted his shirt, revealing a gaping wound, before collapsing on the ground as curious onlookers gathered around…

  • Aerial MOB: An Offer We Cannot Refuse

    Aerial MOB: An Offer We Cannot Refuse

    In late September 2014, Aerial MOB became one of the first six American film production companies selected by the FAA to receive a Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to use UASs for movies, television and commercials.
    Much has changed since then. Being the godfather of the drone industry has turned out to be a goldmine for Aerial MOB. Still, in the world of media, plot-lines, personalities and silicone enhancements don’t last beyond the pilot, and it’s no different in the burgeoning drone industry. The company would not have been able to grow so fast without being able to deliver on a golden narrative. The cream always rises to the top and Aerial MOB is one of the masters of visual drone storytelling.
    “Pre-certification, we were working, on average, once every six weeks. We were doing much smaller jobs with much smaller production companies. After, we average seven to eight jobs a month,” said Tony Carmean, Aerial MOB’s co-founder and chief marketing officer.
    With golden quality comes top companies with big budgets to spend showcasing their products. Aerial MOB’s client list now includes some of the biggest entertainment and media companies in the world, including BBC, HBO, MTV, and Warner Brothers, among many others. Car companies and consumer brands like NIKE, KIA, BMW and American Express have also gravitated to the MOB for its talent to create stunning visuals.

    Tony Carmean said drones allow directors to be more efficient and more creative.
    “UASs get shots in close spaces in 20 minutes. Before you would need a half to full day just to set up,” said Carmean.
    “UASs also give cinematographers (the opportunity)…to get single continuous shots and long pans over (a landscape) that you couldn’t easily get before.”

    Aerial MOB uses about five different cameras, ranging from a low-end UAS similar to a GoPro in which the camera is built into the aircraft, to the mid-range Panasonic Lumix G DMC GH4, to the high-end Arri ALEXA Mini. The ALEXA Mini retails for $60,000.
    “All of our pilots are FAA certified and are professional cinematographers. They’re members of the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600,” Carmean continued.

    As it is commercially known, the highest the devices can fly is 400 feet. Most shots are done at 100 feet and under, eliminating the need for a van full of movie production equipment like dollies, jibs, trams, and cranes. Drones save industry money, but they have also help productions to remain lean, and mean.
    Carmean said when the pilots send a $100,000 machine up to film fireworks, “there’s a lot of pressure on the pilots.”
    The UASs are covered by insurance, but must be treated carefully because many are leased. A complex shoot for a stunt and explosion-filled car commercial can last three 10 to 12 hour days in the hot, dry Southern California chaparral.
    A tight crew of UAS pilots, directors and assistants, and contracted stuntmen work closely and tirelessly to get the shots just right. They are obligated to operate under FAA guidelines, but since Aerial MOB is part of the entertainment production industry, different and stringent rules apply providing another layer of protection and safety. Governing bodies such as local and regional permit offices have assumed jurisdiction when it comes to profession drone shoots in the Golden State.
    Aerial MOB does about 60 percent of its work in Southern California. Its crew has traveled as far north as Vancouver and south as Mexico City.
    Carmean said filming in another country requires a lot of preparation.
    “You list everything you’re bringing in, and everything you’re bringing out. We still have to file paperwork with the FAA for every job. The client has to go their permitting agency (where the shoot will take place) and file with them too,” he said. It’s not an easy process.
    UAS shots are not greatly affected by air pollution. Cameras can be outfitted with different filters to give a specific tone to footage.
    “We do a lot of car commercials where the UASs chase cars on mountain roads. We filmed a guy who got mugged with a reveal shot 20 feet above his head. For the CBS show The Mentalist, we had a very cool continuous shot, with a police officer and a detective out in the woods. The camera pans over the woods and heads in a certain direction,” said Carmean.
    Carmean said his job is coordination. He is on set often.
    “We do everything from the more laid-back plate shots (background landscape shots which do not contain actors or specific set pieces) to action scenes for TV shows,” said Carmean.

    Since Aerial MOB was among the first companies to receive certification from the FAA, it is also getting attention from politicians.
    In late April 2015, Aerial MOB’s partners were guests of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) at the 3rd annual Creativity Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference brings together policy makers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists to explain how the expansion of the creative community encourages economic development.
    “We were in front of U.S. Senators and Congressmen and the news media, and met with U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA). We sat with the FAA for three hours afterward. The FAA listened and made some changes,” said Carmean.
    Carmean said he and other partners explained certification for every location shoot is a little onerous. They also offered suggestions for how to streamline the FAA’s paperwork processes.
    In the coming years, Ariel MOB is looking to expand beyond show business into transportation, building, and utilities inspection.

    “We (the company) made a conscious decision three years ago (to start UAS filming) last year when the FAA was set to grant certification. It was good timing. We have four partner owners, three full-time employees, and about 15 independent contractors. We haven’t lost anybody (since we started). We want to grow,” said Carmean.

  • LA Great Place for Drone Industry

    LA Great Place for Drone Industry

    On Thursday night at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, I spoke about the drone ecosystem and how LA is a great place to be building a drone company. Los Angeles was the center of aerospace innovation in the 20th century. Together with our friends across industry, we’re making it the 21st century home for the next frontier of aerospace technology.
    Donald Douglas founded his aircraft company in Santa Monica in 1921. In 1924, the first ever flight around the world was made by the Douglas World Cruisers, which took off from Clover Field, the present-day site of Santa Monica Airport.

    Douglas World Cruisers, prior to departure from Santa Monica, CA on the first circumnavigation of the world by airplane in 1924.
    The first commercially viable airliner was the Douglas DC-3, every copy of which was built at the Santa Monica factory.

    Delta Air Lines Douglas DC-3

    The Douglas aircraft factory at Santa Monica Airport employed more than 44,000 people in the 1940s.
    As Douglas developed heavier airplanes and eventually jets like the DC-8, the runway at Santa Monica became too short and the company moved to nearby Long Beach. Just south of Santa Monica in Culver City and El Segundo, innovators like Hughes developed airplanes, helicopters, and satellites.
    Today, SpaceX is forging new ground from their Hawthorne, CA headquarters, and companies like Virgin Galactic and XCOR have joined Scaled Composites in the nearby Mojave desert.

    Ben speaking at Cross Campus in Santa Monica on September 24, 2015.
    But what does the future hold for aviation technology? Since the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903, aviation technology has been about connecting people across borders. When Charles Lindbergh made his record-setting solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, he couldn’t have possibly imagined that only 40 years later people would be getting on Boeing 747s in Los Angeles and arriving in London just 10 hours later. Air travel has become a natural part of our lives.
    The next frontier of aerospace technology won’t be about connecting people across borders, it’ll be about connecting one street corner to the next, it’ll be about collecting data to help us understand our communities better. It’s all about local. We’re already seeing drones being use for all kinds of inspiring applications, like aerial photography and cinematography, much of which is driven by Hollywood (also part of LA). Aerial Mob and CTRL.ME Robotics, both LA-based companies, create awesome aerial art. Santa Monica-based Dronebase helps connect real-estate, construction, and other industrial customers with the aerial images and data they need.
    In ten years, the ways in which we’ll most be enjoying drones haven’t even been dreamt up yet. There are myriad opportunities for innovators to jump into this exciting emerging ecosystem and build great businesses. It feels great to be a part of this new community of collaborators.
    For my team and me at AirMap, our calling is to provide access to the world’s low altitude airspace information so that drones and their operators can understand where it’s safe to fly. Without this information, innovation cannot take flight. And our job isn’t easy. Gathering, scrubbing, curating, and maintaining a global, precise, dynamic airspace dataset is hard. Serving that information up in ways that are simple to use is even harder. That’s why our team is dedicated entirely to this specific contribution to our new industry.
    One example of how AirMap makes its airspace information useful is through the Know Before You Fly campaign. Together with industry and government collaborators, we’re helping to keep people who are new to drones as safe as possible.

    AirMap airspace information integrated into the Know Before You Fly campaign.
    Another example is the integration of AirMap’s airspace information into the popular app for recreational drone pilots called Hover, which provides weather information, a news feed, flight logging capabilities, and other information, in addition to an airspace map.

    Download Hover from the Apple Store or Google Play today!
    Next week, AirMap will be releasing its map SDK to a limited number of beta tester app developers in preparation for a mainstream release by the end of the year. The SDK allows developers building apps for drones to easily incorporate airspace information into their products. Sign up for early access to the SDK by visiting AirMap’s website at www.airmap.io.
    AirMap is hiring! If you love drones, you like the idea of working with a bunch of smart, passionate, executers four blocks from the beach in Santa Monica, and you want to build a foundational element of the aeronautical infrastructure of the future, we want to talk with you! Learn more by clicking here.

  • NASA Developing Drone Tracking

    NASA Developing Drone Tracking

    UK lawmakers want to track the consumer and commercial use of drones and they’re turning to NASA for help, reports the New York Times. Under Secretary of State for Transport Lord Ahmad Tariq confirmed that the country is discussing the idea of a drone traffic management system with the US space agency. The idea for a civilian drone traffic management system is part of a larger initiative in the UK to regulate drone usage, which is poised to explode in the coming years.
    The UK is interested in developing and testing a tracking system that would allow officials to monitor all civilian drones flying at low altitudes (under 500 feet). The system may require drone operators to register their flight plans and follow a set of rules similar to those already in place for managing automobile traffic. Once in flight, the drone would be tracked possibly using the existing cell phone infrastructure as it moved along its route. Drone operators concerned about major changes to their hobby can rest easy for now as NASA is not expected to have a working prototype traffic management system in place until 2019.

    Though a traffic system is still a few years away, UK lawmakers are pushing forward with other strategies to ensure safety as drones begin to clog the skies. Earlier this year, lawmakers published a report proposing a wide range of safety rules that would oversee the growing number of UAVs taking to the skies for both personal and professional use. The proposal includes a licensing or registration system that would require all drone operators to register their drones before they would be allowed to fly them. This database would be available online and possibly even tied to a smartphone app that would enable citizens to identify the owner of a drone flying overhead. Other proposals include the expanded use of geo-fencing to keep drones away from certain locations, such as airports and jails, where drone presence is not permitted.

    The UK is not the only country concerned about the explosion in drone operation that is predicted for the next decade. NASA also is working with US government and companies like Verizon, Google, and Amazon on a similar traffic management system in the US. Both government and industry entities are exploring whether cell phone towers could be used for the surveillance of unmanned aerial vehicles. Besides surveillance, the plan would provide geo-fencing for no-fly zones, navigation guidance to avoid mid-air collisions, and even a grounding system that would halt drone traffic in severe weather conditions. Similar to the UK proposal, NASA expects to have prototype system in place by 2019.
    Read more: http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/nasa-drone-traffic-uk/#ixzz3mC6Vf8Lf
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  • FAA Approves Drone Companies

    FAA Approves Drone Companies

    WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration has granted regulatory exemptions to six aerial photo and video production companies, the first step to allowing the film and television industry the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System. Secretary Foxx made the announcement on a conference call with FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Chris Dodd, chairman and chief executive officer of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.
    Secretary Anthony Foxx also determined that the UAS to be used in the proposed operations do not need an FAA-issued certificate of airworthiness based on a finding they do not pose a threat to national airspace users or national security. Those findings are permitted under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.
    “Today’s announcement is a significant milestone in broadening commercial UAS use while ensuring we maintain our world-class safety record in all forms of flight,” said Secretary Foxx. “These companies are blazing a trail that others are already following, offering the promise of new advances in agriculture and utility safety and maintenance.”
    The firms asked the agency to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. To receive the exemptions, the firms had to show their UAS operations would not adversely affect safety, or would provide at least an equal level of safety to the rules from which they seek the exemptions.
    In their applications, the firms said the operators will hold private pilot certificates, keep the UAS within line of sight at all times and restrict flights to the “sterile area” on the set. In granting the exemption, FAA accepted these safety conditions, adding an inspection of the aircraft before each flight, and prohibiting operations at night. The agency also will issue Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COAs) that mandate flight rules and timely reports of any accident or incidents.
    “The applicants submitted UAS flight manuals with detailed safety procedures that were a key factor in our approval of their requests,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “We are thoroughly satisfied these operations will not pose a hazard to other aircraft or to people and property on the ground.”
    The Motion Picture Association of America facilitated the exemption requests on behalf of these six members: Astraeus Aerial, Aerial MOB, LLC, HeliVideo Productions, LLC, Pictorvision Inc, RC Pro Productions Consulting, LLC dba Vortex Aerial, and Snaproll Media, LLC. The FAA has asked for additional information from Flying-Cam, Inc., a seventh aerial video company that filed for exemptions with this group in June. The agency is working closely with the company to obtain the required information.
    The FAA encourages other industry associations to work with interested parties to develop safety manuals and standard operating procedures that will help facilitate similar petitions.
    As of today, the agency is considering 40 requests for exemptions from other commercial entities.

  • Alton Native Blazing Path with Drones

    Alton Native Blazing Path with Drones in Film Production

    That was the day he and his partners became the first cinematography company granted Federal Aviation Administration approval to use unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones, for filmmaking and commercial productions.
    “Three or four years ago, my friend was really into remote-controlled aircraft as a hobby,” said Carmean, who grew up in Alton and has family in the area. “He was always trying to get me into them … now he’s one of my business partners at Aerial Mob.”
    Aerial Mob is a San Diego-based company known as an innovator in unmanned cinematography and unmanned aerial systems technology. Aerial Mob has a partnership with the Motion Picture Association of America, which has endorsed applications for the use of drones on movie sets.
    “Most people think of the word drone and get a bad image in their mind,” Carmean said. “Actually, they are just really sophisticated remote-controlled planes or aircraft — they’re one and the same. To be able to use them to film commercials and movies will be a lot safer than using a helicopter and a lot less expensive as well.”
    The biggest concerns for the FAA are safety and privacy, which resulted in a ban on the use of drones for commercial purposes, but under a law passed by Congress in 2012, the FAA is developing rules that ultimately will allow drones to operate in national airspace.
    “The FAA has leaned on us for knowledge of the technology,” Carmean said. “Now that they’re (FAA) setting up new guidelines, we’ve been able to help them with the technical aspect of robotics technology and the satellite-guided navigation.”
    Under the FAA’s guidelines, the unmanned aerial vehicles must stay at least 100 feet from people who are not part of the production crew. The vehicle must weigh less than 55 pounds, including the camera and lens, and cannot fly more than 57 miles per hour. Another concern for the FAA is airspace safety. Drones cannot operate higher than 400 feet and must stay at least five miles from an airport to ensure they do not interfere with other aircraft.
    “Using the UAS will save costs for film production companies as well as cut down on the time it takes to film scenes,” Carmean said. “With cameras that are run on tracks, if the camera had to swing around in all directions, the track would be visible in the shot and would have to be digitally edited. With the drones, you don’t have that problem. It also can take up to a day to set up the needed equipment to film; with the UAS, it takes us about 30 minutes and we’re ready to shoot.”
    The drones come in several sizes but have to maintain the FAA’s weight limit. Aerial Mob has drones ranging in size from 2 feet wide to 5 1/2 feet wide with four to eight propellers.
    “We’re talking about being ready to go on set in two to three weeks,” Carmean said. “Right now we have over a dozen UAVs. I think around the first of November will be the target date.”
    The use of drones is being considered for applications other than filming for Hollywood. In May, the FAA said it would allow companies to apply on a case-by-case basis for exemptions to the commercial drone ban and indicated it would look favorably on bids to use drones to inspect pipelines and monitor crops. Real estate agencies and oil production companies are interested in the technology.
    “To use drones to check on maintenance on wind turbines or other areas that are difficult to access would be safer than sending a worker out,” Carmean said. “News media would greatly benefit from the use of UAVs in the field in unsafe environments such as weather or dangerous locations. I believe you’ll see the day when pizza will be delivered by a drone.”
    To date, six companies have been given approval from the FAA for the use of drones, including Astraeus Aerial, Aerial Mob, Snaproll Media, Vortex Aerial, Pictorvision and HeliVideo Productions.
    – See more at: http://advantagenews.com/features/alton-native%E2%80%99s-company-blazes-path-for-unmanned-filmmaking/#sthash.6FQHQEWn.dpuf

  • Drone Nation

    Drone Nation

    In demand by Fortune 500 companies and heavily funded by Silicon Valley, unmanned aircraft are rapidly invading the world of business.

    We’re taking the drone out for a spin. It’s a sun-drenched Friday in Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple neighborhood, and though it’s late afternoon the wind hasn’t picked up. Perfect flying conditions. T.J. Johnson, 29, co-founder and chief engineer of a local consumer drone startup called AirDroids, kneels on the untrimmed grass in the middle of a city park. He unzips a small black carrying case no bigger than a regulation football and extracts an almost-final version of his company’s sole product.

    The Pocket Drone—a collapsible, three-rotor aerial vehicle—folds up small enough to fit in a backpack easily, but its three independent propeller motors are powerful enough to carry a GoPro camera. Johnson and his partners think it could be the first in a huge, new category of personal electronics—the small, easily portable flying robot that goes everywhere with you to capture overhead imagery on demand.

    In a few swift motions, Johnson snaps the rotors into place and connects the battery. Stepping back a few paces to give the machine clear passage to the airspace above, he taps in some guidance “waypoints” onto the satellite image of the park displayed on his Android tablet. Then he gives the command to fly. The propellers whir to life, and the drone zips into the air with startling speed, hovering for just a moment directly overhead before streaking off to autonomously execute its flight plan. As we watch it soar, we’re updated on the drone’s progress via a female robotic voice emanating from Johnson’s tablet: “Waypoint one … waypoint two …”

    Johnson’s company has achieved liftoff almost as quickly as his invention. Along with co-founders Timothy Reuter, 37, and Chance Roth, 40, Johnson developed a rough prototype of the Pocket Drone and put it on Kickstarter in January. The partners were hoping to raise $35,000. But they ended up getting $929,212 in just 60 days to produce roughly 1,800 drones. Pre-orders on the AirDroids site have pushed sales still higher, to some $1.2 million. “To do a million? We felt like we really had something here, but we were definitely surprised,” says Johnson, an engineering major in college who has a day job as an intellectual-property attorney. “None of us were expecting that kind of demand.”
    AirDroids is just the tip of the propeller. Think of this as a Model T moment—when a new industry finds its commercial footing, and thereafter the world is never the same. The idea of unmanned aircraft as consumer devices or commercial tools is a relatively new one in the U.S. Drones, as they are more commonly known, own a place in the American public consciousness right next to the war on terrorism and America’s shadow conflicts in places like Pakistan and Yemen. Predator and Reaper drones—the hulking, matte-gray unmanned aircraft now synonymous with “drone strikes”—have loitered in foreign skies for decades. But five years ago consumer drones didn’t exist. Even two years ago, low-cost and easy-to-use commercial drones were largely the subject of futurism. Today the business world is on the verge of being swarmed by unmanned aircraft.

    The global market for nonmilitary drones has already ballooned into a $2.5 billion industry, one that’s growing 15% to 20% annually. And that’s under the current law. One of the biggest potential markets for commercial drones—the U.S.—isn’t even open for business yet. At least not officially. While the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for commercial purposes is soaring in countries like Japan, Australia, France, and the U.K., the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has yet to institute regulations governing the operation of commercial drones, and in the meantime it has issued a blanket ban prohibiting their use in nearly all endeavors. Further complicating things is the gray area in defining the difference between “recreational” drones (which aren’t restricted by the FAA) and commercial drones (which are). In September the FAA issued exceptions to six film companies to use drones, and it has approved their use to monitor oil operations in Alaska. Regulators aren’t expected to issue a full set of guidelines for at least another year.

    But the buildout of the drone industry is racing along even as Washington dithers. Everyone from Fortune 500 companies to venture capitalists to startups is pouring vast amounts of money into the technology. Amazon, Google, and German shipping giant DHL have made headlines by experimenting with drones for deliveries. Facebook says it is developing a drone the size of a 747 that could fly for months at a time, beaming down wireless signals. Meanwhile, unmanned aircraft have already begun to gain traction in big businesses, ranging from agriculture to mining (see box below on “Five Industries Where Drones Are Taking Off”). The industry has even recently retained a Washington, D.C., lobbyist—funded in part by Google and Amazon—to make the case for drones on Capitol Hill. So, strictly legal or not, America’s drone revolution is already well underway. The question is not whether drones will have a real impact someday. Rather it’s, Which businesses will be the most disrupted? And which entrepreneurs and investors will make the biggest windfalls in the process?

    Mark Heynen wants to make one thing perfectly clear: “We’re a data company, not a drone company,” he declares moments after we meet.

    Heynen is the senior vice president of client operations for San Francisco commercial-drone startup Skycatch, a company whose business model is based on the manufacture and sale of drone hardware and software to commercial customers. So in that sense, his comment may seem counterintuitive. But it’s a refrain I heard repeatedly over several days while exploring the Bay Area’s burgeoning drone corridor.

    Over the past 18 months, a host of drone startups have sprung up amid the region’s more traditional software companies. Many, like Skycatch, have recently closed major funding rounds and are starting to take on the sheen of proper Silicon Valley tech startups, moving into modern, open workspaces accented with reclaimed wood and high, exposed ceilings beneath which platoons of twenty-something coders perched at adjustable sitting/standing desks hammer away at their keyboards.

    This UAV boom in the heart of techland makes a lot of sense once you realize that America’s drone industry is tied up inextricably with the ongoing explosions in data analytics and the so-called Internet of things—areas that Silicon Valley and the larger technology sector have a vested interest in developing. “For us, this is just another increase in step function in the sources of information we can work with,” says Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO of enterprise cloud company Box, of the proliferation of commercial drones. “Where will the next trillion files be created? Broadly: the Internet of things. But UAVs in particular are going to be a massive source of that information.”

    Drones have the unique ability to fly lower than manned aircraft and higher than cranes and other ground-based vehicles can reach. They offer everyone from film producers to civil engineers to open-air mining operations to individual photographers a wholly new perspective on the world below. Using multispectral sensors, they can capture data impossible for the human eye to see—like gas leaking from a pipeline and food crops suffering from lack of nitrogen—faster and at greater volume than has ever been possible in the past. Tapping into the ever-increasing power of the cloud, they can quickly produce high-resolution 3-D maps of vast geographic areas. It’s the data that many companies are after. Drones are just the means of getting it. “If we could get this data some other way, we would,” says Curt Smith, technology director for the information technology and systems office at BP, one of the only companies currently cleared by the FAA to use drones for commercial purposes in the U.S. “We do this because it allows us to do things that we couldn’t do before.”

    Skycatch founder and CEO Christian Sanz launched his company last year after he spent two weeks using a drone he had built himself to shoot aerial photographs of a construction site. Sanz had approached the builders hoping to make a business case for drone photography, and it turned out they had a voracious appetite for images to track the project’s progress. Sanz walked away overwhelmed by the demand for affordable, high-quality aerial images. “Two weeks into it I couldn’t keep up,” says Sanz, chuckling at the memory. “I was disappointing people, and I was doing it for free.”

    He decided to build a company around the idea of automating the process. So Sanz developed an industrial system that includes GPS-guided drones to capture imagery and automated ground stations that can charge and swap the drones’ batteries between flights. By the end of 2013, Skycatch had 10 clients buying the units at $100,000 apiece. The company closed a $13 million funding round in May—investors include Google ­Ventures—and Sanz says he is already working on a far more substantial Series B round.

    Skycatch’s customers include construction industry giants like Clayco, DPR, Bechtel, and France’s Bouygues. But it also quickly found data-hungry customers in other industries such as mining (Rio Tinto) and energy (Chevron, First Solar) who are eager to exploit efficiencies made possible by regular and accessible overhead imagery and 3-D mapping. Skycatch says that it’s doubling the number of systems it sells each month. Drones are no longer just an experimental extravagance to many enterprises; increasingly they’re viewed as an operational necessity.

    “There’s an ongoing shift from a focus on cost to a focus on the value of data,” says Jonathan Downey, founder and CEO of Airware, another San Francisco–based drone technology startup. Downey started Airware in 2011 to develop what amounts to a common operating system for drones—a set of software tools interfacing with an ecosystem of sensors that can be installed to make any unmanned aircraft interface-friendly with other drones within a company’s fleet.

    “There’s this gray area with the rules,” says one entrepreneur. “But people are going ahead and using these things.”

    Like Skycatch, Airware has gained a lot of momentum over the past year, raising $11.7 million in Series A funding in 2013 from backers including Andreessen Horowitz and Google Ventures and an additional $25 million in July. Also like Skycatch, Airware just moved into nice new digs in San Francisco’s SoMA neighborhood. And Airware also works with customers to apply drone technology to commercial ends. Which means, like Skycatch and almost every other company trying to develop the commercial-drone industry, Airware has a problem. As Downey says: “A [U.S.] customer can’t buy our product today and be legally compliant.”

    In the 2012 FAA Reauthorization and Reform Act, Congress gave the FAA a mandate: Develop a process for integrating small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace as well as a set of regulations to govern their use. The FAA plans to release a proposed set of rules by the end of this year, and after a period of review by industry and lawmakers the agency will issue finalized regulations sometime in the second half of next year. Drone makers are obviously eager for a resolution. Meanwhile, because the FAA lacks the manpower to police the entire national airspace at all times, many companies get away with flying their commercial drones until someone brings it to the agency’s attention, at which point a cease-and-desist letter goes out.

    Over the past year the status quo has changed somewhat as money and commercial interests have aligned themselves behind the commercial-drone business. In August consumer-drone makers DJI, 3D Robotics, and Parrot teamed up with Amazon to form the Small UAV Coalition, hiring D.C. lobbying group Akin Gump to represent the industry on Capitol Hill (Airware, GoPro, and GoogleX have since joined the group). Elsewhere in Washington, D.C., a consortium of institutional investors and aerospace companies has assembled a $2.2 billion fund to invest in infrastructure critical to the safe integration of commercial drones into the national airspace and to advocate for commercial drones. The UAS America Fund, as the group is known, has already filed a lawsuit challenging the FAA’s blanket ban on small commercial drones with the hopes of creating some legal headroom for companies that simply want to conduct small-drone R&D flights while the FAA works on its broader regulations.

    “The big paradox is that this is all about safety, but in order to make this safe, companies have to test,” says Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition and senior policy adviser at Akin Gump in Washington, D.C.  “We don’t want to cede the opportunities to other nations when we have such a base of companies and innovators that are already at the cutting edge in this space. Let’s move forward responsibly, but let’s move forward.”

    We can solve most of these problems with technology,” Jono Millin says of the FAA’s safety concerns. “We personally have the capability to solve so many of their problems.”

    From a hill overlooking an expanse of salt flats in Menlo Park, Calif., Millin can see the future of commercial drones. Drones of all stripes will be extremely easy to use, he believes. They’ll be accessible from anywhere, no matter where they are flying. They’ll be extremely safe; both the authorities and the companies that specialize in helping their customers deploy their drones will be able to monitor what drones are doing in real time. And absolutely everyone will use them. No one will be able to afford not to.

    Millin is the 28-year-old co-founder and chief of product at DroneDeploy, and along with co-founder Nick Pilkington he’s brought me to the very heart of Silicon Valley—Facebook’s sprawling headquarters are visible on the far side of the cracked, chalk-white flats—to see this future in action. The company flies almost weekly, Millin says, typically to give the team back in the office the chance to debug software and address issues brought up by the company’s two-dozen beta customers scattered across 10 U.S. states.

    Those customers are mostly companies trying to figure out how best to integrate drone technology into their operations, Millin says. Nobody wants to be left behind. “People are going ahead and doing this,” he says. “There’s this gray area with the rules—and it is a messy gray area—but people are going ahead and using these things.”

    With just nine full-time employees, DroneDeploy is still in its lean-and-scrappy phase. Its three founders launched the company out of a shared one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. Its current office more closely resembles a loft in Bushwick, Brooklyn, than the flashy, polished workspaces that dot the surrounding area. There’s no reclaimed wood to be seen, no brightly painted conference rooms full of beanbag chairs, nothing in the way of Silicon Valley swagger—just a group of twenty-somethings intensely focused on their computer screens.Drone Nation

  • Warner Bros Uses Drone on The Mentalist

    Warner Bros Uses Drone on The Mentalist

    The weekend before Warner Bros. studios planned to make television history, the weather was not cooperating. In normally sunny California, there had been days of rain. Luckily, mother nature played ball. On December 15, 2014 the production team of “The Mentalist” was able to fly a drone on set for the first time in Motion Picture Association history.

    In September 2014, the Federal Aviation Administration gave permission to a handful of drone companies to begin operating in Hollywood. The industry lauded it as a huge step forward. Drones are a cheaper and easier way to get aerial footage than, say, a helicopter. Hollywood has been using them to film memorable movie sequences for years (remember the flying car scene in “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”?). The only catch was, because of a ban on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAS) in the U.S., production companies had to go to Europe, Canada or Asia to shoot those scenes.

    Related: FAA approves drone use in Hollywood

    Now a small number of companies are allowed to operate in the U.S. including AerialMob, the company operating the drone camera for “The Mentalist” scene. CEO Treggon Owens says his company has made a point of working with the FAA on things like safety rules.

    “[The September decision] means we can work legally and most importantly it means that the studio types, people like this group, will legally allow us to operate. Nobody on the studio level and above would ever allow drones to operate on our sets without drones being legal,” he said.

    What Owens is hinting at here is a major grey industry for drones in this country. He estimates that thousands of flights take place each day. There are a number of industries clamoring to legally be able to use drones. Take farmers, for instance, who hope to use the unmanned vehicles to regularly survey hard-to-reach areas of their fields in order to detect problems early and improve harvests. Owens explains further:

    A grey market drone is doing everything from doing real estate shots today to construction management to power line inspection. Those things are happening on a day-to-day basis across the nation. There’s also a heck of a lot of video being generated and used. I mean any car commercial you see on TV there’s generally going to be an aerial and I’m going to guarantee you, since there’s only been eight legal jobs done, none of those car commercials were done in a legal framework but every single car commercial you see on TV has this.

    It’s not just Hollywood. Dozens of industries have lobbied the FAA to use drones. In fact, the FAA’s very first exemption to the UAS flight ban went to oil giant BP (BP) who used a drone to monitor remote oilfields in Alaska.

    It’s no wonder these businesses are anxious – the drone industry estimates it will be worth some $82 billion by 2025.

    The FAA was supposed to have a final decision on UAV use by the end of 2015, but there’s growing speculation that, despite the pressure, the FAA may not meet its deadline. The reason, perhaps not surprisingly, is logistics.

    There are a number of different types and sizes of drones, and people like Owens think not all drones should be treated equally. “[In the] United States, no matter what, if it’s a paper airplane or that large drone behind me, it’s the same thing. So I think that’s the biggest distinction between foreign governments and us is the non-tiered system.”

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    Owens, though, is hopeful that when the final FAA rules are in place there will be a tiered system, with fewer restrictions on small drones that you would use in, say, your backyard, to the major $30,000 crafts that he’s using on set. That said, if the FAA has to craft several different sets of rules depending on vehicle size, that could take longer. According to a recent Fortune article, “By their own admission regulators have had a hard time developing a set of regulations that reasonably apply across all sizes and classes of unmanned aircraft.”

    Once the FAA comes up with a set of rules, the shadow industry, including the 100 plus companies Owens estimates are operating in it, will be subject to a unified code of safety standards across all the interested industries. Until then, a blanket ban remains in effect…with the exception of Hollywood.

    The drone footage shot in the above video will be featured in the season finale of “The Mentalist” airing February 18th on CBS

  • Drones Coming to Hollywood

    Drones Coming to Hollywood

    The FAA will approve Hollywood’s request to use drones for filming, government and industry sources familiar with the process have told Forbes. On Thursday afternoon the FAA will announce its decision, and explain the procedures under which production companies will operate and the aviation rules which they are exempted from, the sources say.

    In May, seven aerial photo and video production companies asked for regulatory exemptions (known as a 333 exemption) that would allow the film and television industry to use drones with FAA approval. Those seven companies and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), were asked by the FAA to develop the guidelines and safety procedures under which they planned to operate. The FAA reviewed those procedures and is expected to approve the drone-specific rules and standards that will enable Hollywood to be exempt from existing aviation regulations.

    The process was an onerous one that began more than four years ago with aerial cinematography companies working to develop internal guidelines. After filing their request for an exemption, the industry began drafting rules and guidelines, with the participation of pilots, lawyers, consultants, unmanned aviation experts, cinematographers, representatives from the studios, and experienced cinematography companies including Aerial Mob, Astraeus Aerial Cinema Systems, Flying-Cam Aerial Systems, Heli Video Productions, PictorVision, Snaproll Media and Vortex Aerial.

    A representative from Vortex Aerial, one of the companies involved in the exemption process, said, “We are very proud to be a part of this monumentally historical event. Being the result of over 4 years of industry leader collaboration we can only hope that this most daunting and financially taxing of tasks will finally come to fruition and not be yet another false start for our industry.”

    Aerial Mob, one of the aerial cinematography companies involved in the exemption process features this image on their website.
    Aerial Mob, one of the aerial cinematography companies involved in the exemption process features this image on their website.

    The exemption is expected to specify detailed procedures under which companies may operate. The companies involved expect to release clear safety rules and guidelines that will set the standard for other companies to follow. The exemption allows the companies to fly pursuant to specific rules for the types of flights film productions plan to conduct. By definition, the exemption means that Hollywood will not need to to comply with some of the general flight rules covering pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates and certain airworthiness certification requirements.

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    Hollywood is an appropriate industry to be granted one of the first exemptions, said Tony Carmean of Aerial Mob, because it can address the FAA’s two major concerns: safety and privacy. “Most studio productions take place on closed sites with an established perimeter, ensuring that personnel on those sites are affiliated with the production and are aware of inbound aircraft,” he said. Aerial Mob has worked with clients such as the BBC, Nike, Harvard University and MTV. The company suspended all operations inside the United States while awaiting FAA approval, oftentimes filming in Mexico, which has a more permissive environment for aerial cinematography.

    The companies involved in the exemption process have extensive flight experience with both manned and unmanned aircraft, suggesting that certification as a pilot of manned aircraft may be a criteria that the FAA believes is important for the operation of unmanned aircraft. To date, the FAA has received 45 requests for exemptions from large and small companies across a range of industries including agriculture, oil and gas, pipeline inspectors and surveyors. “We have even received an exemption request from a realtor, and a person asking for permission to use a UAS for news gathering,” said FAA spokesman Les Dorr.

    Currently, Certificates of Waiver or Authorization are available to public entities that want to fly drones in civil airspace. The FAA says that commercial operations are authorized on a case-by-case basis. Such operations require a certified aircraft, a licensed pilot and operating approval. The exemption process under Section 333 provides an additional avenue for commercial UAS operations.Drones Coming to Hollywood

  • Drone World Expo – Interview with Tony Carmean

    Drone World Expo

    To find out what inspires their interest in UAS and attracts the Advisory Board Members to support Drone World Expo, we scheduled a series of exclusive interviews.

    Our second interviewee is Tony Carmean, CMO & Founding Partner, Aerial MOB, LLC. Tony oversees all aspects of marketing and overall business development for the rapidly growing company. Before forming Aerial MOB with his Partners in early 2013, Tony’s career included a 19 years in the media industry with a successful track record in business development and sports marketing. Tony has a key role in developing the unmanned aerial cinematography side of the Aerial MOB business model and has been instrumental in the company’s successful bid to become one of the first companies to receive am FAA exemption for use of unmanned aircraft on scripted closed set film productions.

    Question: Your background is in media, advertising, and sports marketing. What got you interested in UAS and aerial photography ?

    Answer: A friend of mine who is now one of my business partners got involved with flying drones as a hobby about 7 or 8 years ago. He began showing me some of the aerial footage he was getting, and about 4 years ago, we began discussing business opportunities around the commercial use of drones.

    Question: Tell us about Aerial Mob : When was it founded ? Was it doing aerial photography by helicopter before drones, or did it start out with drones

    Answer: We were founded in early 2013 so we have been in business about 2 1/2 years. Our business model has always been and will continue to be 100% drone centric. Although we are known as the first company to get a 333 exemption for use of drones in film production, our company really is “all things drones”. We work in other industries like utilities and agriculture, and we also have a product development side of our business. If it has to do with drones, Aerial MOB is involved!

    Question: What do you see as being the advantage(s) of using drones for aerial photography ?

    Answer: Perspectives that you cannot capture with any other film production tools. Most people think we replace full size aircraft in film production. We can accomplish dollie, jib, crane, Russian Arm Car, and full size aircraft shots, and not only combine them into one continuous shot that cannot be achieved any other way, but we can do it quicker, more efficiently, and for an overall lower cost.

    Question: Some people complain that the FAA is dragging its feet – others point out that they have a massive responsibility for air safety and that can’t be rushed. How do you see the FAA’s approach…?

    Answer: We lean towards the latter. The FAA has a daunting task to integrate UAS (drones) into national airspace, and they have to take a measured, methodical approach to this integration. Safety is #1, so it is just going to take time to roll out the commercial use of drones in a safe manner.

    Question: What do you see as being the main hurdles to be overcome on the path towards liberating the use of drones by aerial photographers…?

    Answer: Technology that is currently being developed by companies like us that will make it safer to operate drones commercially. Technology like seek and avoid technology and geo fencing will help greatly.

    Question: There’s been an explosion of interest in organising exhibitions and conferences about drones in the USA this year. Why did you choose to put your weight behind Drone World Expo ?

    Answer: We have been and will continually be involved with a good number of events and conferences, but the Drone World Expo stands out given it’s emerging position as THE leading conference in the US that addresses all issues related to the business of drones.