With the recent announcement that Amazon with their Prime Air initiative are looking at using autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver goods in 30 minutes, the rapid advances in technology and with micro Quadcopters fitted with 2MP cameras available at under £50 we can all wonder where all this is leading too.
Camille Goudeseune from the University of Illinois is working on complex algorithms that could turn these low price quad copters into mass market photographic tools. He imagines a future where people will pull out these flying cameras from their pockets, connect them to a smart phone app, fly them close to their intended target and remotely press the shutter button. Goudeseune says that software can be programmed to remove duplicate frames, avoid moiré patterns caused by repeating patterns and fix blockiness caused by jpeg compression.
Popular micro Quadcopter companies Hubsan and Walkera have both released First Person View microquads where the user can remotely fly these vehicles by looking at a panel on the transmitter.
It’s not just the tiny micro quads that are gaining popularity, Chinese company DJI Innovations have recently released the Phantom 2 Vision that can be bought for under £800. This amazing piece of technology boasts features that could only previously be found in Quadcopters costing thousands of pounds. The imminent firmware update will allow users to shoot 14-megapixel still shots, videos and even pilot itself autonomously along a smartphone programmed route.
The Phantom 2 Vision also has built in fail safe features that will return the vehicle to the point at which it took off should the user lose sight of it or the battery charge diminishes.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or ‘Drones’ have many commercial applications beyond aerial photography and are already being using in search and rescue, by police forces and in agriculture to monitor crops. The Japanese are already using them to spray and seed crops.
The Senseable City Laboratory at MIT voted the world’s number one university have developed a drone that can be called up by a smartphone and acts as a campus guide taking students to where they want to go. “Our imaginations of flying sentient vehicles are filled with dystopian notions of surveillance and control, but this technology should be tasked with optimism,” says Yaniv Jacob Turgeman, who heads up R&D for the lab. “The urban UAV will guide us in disorienting situations, support search and rescue efforts, track environmental problems, and even act as digital insects re-introducing natural biodiversity to our man-made environments.” For example, one upcoming Lab project will use UAVs to sample air and water quality around Boston. “They are a way to help us better understand our environment,” Ratti adds. A number of American universities are already offering unmanned aircraft degree programs and many schools are offering courses in unmanned vehicle systems. In a recent industry commissioned report it was predicted that 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after congress loosens restrictions on U.S. skies with an average salary between £60,000 and £80,000. 3DRobotics an American drone company recently received a 30million dollars investment, serious business.
Use of these vehicles throws up many questions regarding safety and privacy. In principle local regulations (Jersey -Channel islands) require anyone with a camera fitted UAV to get prior permission before using it for filming and FPV (First Person View) flying is prohibited; only line of sight flying is allowed. Any vehicle above 7kilos understandably requires separate permissions, pilot qualifications, and an operations manual; you can imagine the carnage that could be caused by inexperienced flyers.