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Question of the week

Manitoba wheat farmer Matt Reimer has turned a tractor into a fully-autonomous drone using a Pixhawk, ArduRover and his own ingenuity. Matt’s innovation has saved him more than $5,000 in labor costs this year, while not eliminating any jobs — instead, it made his workers more productive.

His innovation appeals to neighboring farmers, who already use tractors with autonomous steering, and Matt sees increased autonomy as heralding an enormous change for the agricultural industry. In fact, he figures he’ll soon be able to sell his system to other farmers around him. And who knows, since he’s so far out in front of adoption, he might even be able to quit his day job, or at least hand it over. I’ll soon detail the whole story on the 3DR blog.

We’ve of course known for a while that drones have a bright future in agriculture. And autonomous technology is now making headway in all sorts of practical applications. So my question is: What about your day job? Will drones and autonomy change the way you work? Do you see an opportunity to introduce them into your field? Are you or people you know actively pursuing projects like Matt’s?

Let me know in the comments below — I’d love to follow up on some of these projects to help expand the 3DR story.

And now, the week’s news in drones.


Last week California lawmakers held hearings about a highly restrictive bill that would make it a crime to fly a drone over private property at 350 feet or below. They ended up enacting the bill, and if Governor Jerry Brown signs it, it will not be good for business, as the Guardian points out to us all the way from the UK.

An effort in Britain to develop technology that could integrate drones and manned aircraft was denied government funding this week. The program — called the Astraea Project — is a partnership between industry and government, but still could not secure the money it needed in this most recent round. Simon Jewell, Astraea’s chairman, says, “regulators require an example system to certify [but] industry requires regulations to specify requirements.” (Telegraph)

Airports in New York, New Jersey and Washington have banned drone sales. How much good will it do? Drones aren’t much of a threat to planes — drones are so small and planes travel so fast that the odds of even an intentional collision are extremely low. And the odds of any significant damage are much lower: Planes are designed to withstand strikes from birds weighing many times more than the consumer drones for sale in airport Brookstones. Still, the ban generates headlines that in turn raise awareness: Please don’t fly your drone within five miles of an airport. (Washington Post)

The Department of Homeland Security, the FAA and local law enforcement agencies have been working together for months on a sort of anti-aircraft system that could deactivate consumer drones. Last December, in a secret test that went unreported, the agencies tried to use microwaves to disable and redirect a consumer drone in Times Square. The effort failed due to the noisy signal environment. (Reuters)

Massive protests in Beirut over garbage. The town that’s home to Lebanon’s largest landfill recently refused to accept any more trash, which led to the accretion of giant garbage piles around the country. A drone captures footage that shows the scale of the protests, during which police deployed water cannons and rubber bullets and at least one protestor died. (MarketWatch)


An ammunition company is selling a line of shotgun shells it claims are perfect for taking out drones. But the manufacturers are “responsible drone owners” themselves, “who recognize that the greatest threat to their hobby are those who use these flying machines in a reckless way posing a threat to public privacy.” Surprise: The ammo is also perfect for bird hunting! In other words, basically expensive birdshot — get ready to shell out. Groan. (Tech Malak)

But attention paranoiacs: You don’t need to pay those prices! This California man used his shirt to take down a drone he perceived as violating his privacy on the beach: “I’m a big guy and my t-shirt is huge.” He still went to jail, though, where he posted $10,000 bail. So there goes the money-saving argument. (San Diego Tribune)

Here’s how to notify manned aircraft pilots about your drone flights. Lockheed Martin is using a system established in the 1920s to integrate a new online drone registry that would alert manned aircraft to nearby drones. (Popular Mechanics)

License plates for drones? A project at UC Berkeley called Lightcense (har har guys) is developing a system that uses blinking LEDs to identify individual drones. This could help law enforcement and the public solve problems of tracking and attributing violators of the law. Yep: That’s a Solo gif. (MIT Review)

Here’s a good investigative piece: Can drone racing really make it as a sport? (LA Times)

Drones for good

Remember that story from last week about research drones causing heart rates to spike in bears? Here’s a biologist’s take: “The whole idea of using drones is to alleviate stress in the animals,” says Bird. “The alternative, if you were flying over those bears and you wanted to count them or see how many cubs they had, you would be in a manned helicopter or a manned Cessna (airplane). And you don’t want to tell me those things don’t cause a spike in heart rate. Of course they do!…I don’t see the need to fly a drone over a bear at 60 feet in height. I mean most times we fly them, it’s 200–300 feet and none of the birds that we have studied were spooked at all or flew up.” (RCI)

Here’s an excellent history of Brazil’s large — and booming — drone industry. (Fusion)

The Peruvian Ministry of Culture is using drones to preserve archaeological sites such as Machu Picchu. “Since the program began, the Ministry of Culture’s drone team has mapped more than 600 sites, allowing it to create standardized records of archaeological data at a much faster pace than was possible in the days of ground-based surveying.” (Slate)

The Desert Research Institute says drones can actually be a big help to firefighters: “You may be able to observe sudden shifts in the weather or the wind or sudden extreme fire behavior that represent a danger… If you catch those early, you might be able to move your people or equipment where they’re needed or away from danger.” (Capital Public Radio)


St. Patrick’s Cathedral released this great drone video of the cathedral’s interior. (Irish Times)

Watch Sony’s new drone take flight — it’s VTOL.