Safety Fears Over Amazon’s Parcel-Delivery Testing In Cambridge



Amazon’s plans to deliver parcels by drone and run flight tests in Cambridge have been called “barking mad”.

Safety fears have been raised about having unmanned aircraft flying above the city and dropping off goods to homes – with the drones likely to be a tempting target for yobs with airguns.

But the world’s largest online retailer is serious about the plan and is expanding its research and development team in Cambridge to make the vision a reality.

Terry Holloway, managing director of Cambridge Aero Club, which is based at the city’s airport, said he had to check his calendar to check it wasn’t April 1..

He said: “It makes no sense to me, a barking mad idea. From a legislative point of view the Civil Aviation Authority rules as they currently exist means it’s just totally unfeasible to even consider doing this.

“Maybe the CAA will relax the rules, but then that begs all sorts of questions from the everyday man on the street. I have real concerns about how they will deliver parcels safely and then you might have yobs who will see them as targets and throw turnips at them and whatever else.”

He added: “What strikes me is you can post a letter or a parcel and within 12 hours it can be delivered to other end of the country. It’s a fantastic system that is fast, cheap and safe. Why would you want to do this instead?”

Amazon bought Cambridge start-up Evi Technologies, which is based in Castle Park, off Castle Hill, two years ago. The firm would not reveal if aerial tests would be performed in Cambridge or any more details on the programme.

But Amazon said it has been looking to bolster its teams at development centres in Cambridge and Seattle in the USA for Prime Air, the name it has given to its drone programme.

Listed on its website are jobs in Cambridge for roles including flight operations engineer. Part of the job description reads: “You can expect to collaborate on test plans, plan the test evolution, and execute the flights while working closely with our flight engineering and flight test teams in Seattle.”

A spokesman for Amazon Prime Air said: “We have multiple Prime Air development centers, including R&D labs in Seattle and Cambridge. We’re always looking to add great talent to the team. The Cambridge-based Prime Air positions we have open are a reflection of that.”

The rules covering flying small unmanned aircraft are governed by Articles 166-167 of the CAA’s 2009 regulations.

They bar bar small unmanned aircraft from flying beyond the normal unaided line of sight of the person operated and, if fitted with a camera, must not be flown within 150m of a congested area.

Camera-fitted drones must always be flown at least 50m away from a person, vehicle, building or structure.

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Need Eyes in the Sky? This ‘Uber for Drones’ Will Send You a Pilot


Christian Sanz calls it “Uber for drone pilots.”

The founder of the San Francisco drone startup SkyCatch wants to bring the “sharing economy” ethos to drones, offering a new service called Workmode, which helps companies find and hire unmanned aerial vehicles for mapping jobs, surveying, and other work.

Aerial drones make it far easier and faster to make good maps, as they provide a view of the landscape below. What once took days of surveying can be done in hours. That’s a boon to construction companies and mining operations that need maps of quickly changing terrain, but not every company can spend $10,000 on a drone for a one-off project—and even fewer have qualified drone pilots on staff.

That’s why SkyCatch is launching Workmode, which helps companies find third-party drone pilots—much like Uber lets you hire a car ride or AirBnb lets you rent a room. The goal is to make it easier for companies to afford the expensive technology of unmanned aerial vehicles and, in the process, help independent pilots make money from their drones. But it’ll need some help from regulators.

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Drones could be used to send Eliction Leaflets


Drones could be used to deliver political leaflets in future, the House of Lords has heard.


Conservative Lord Lee of Trafford said the unmanned aircraft were creating a “revolution” for consumers and companies in the UK.

Business minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said she “very much” liked his suggestion and the government was investing in the technologies involved.

Issues of privacy and safety were also being dealt with, she added.

Lord Lee, a supporter of drone technology, predicted a “revolution in the way we shop, observe and are observed”.

He cited industries such as farming and archaeology, joking: “It may even be possible to develop a delivery system that delivers focus leaflets which I would have thought would be very much appreciated by these benches.”

Missing people

This prompted cries of “hear, hear” from peers, many of whom deliver literature on foot on behalf of their parties during election campaigns

Lady Neville-Rolfe replied: “I very much like the examples that that my noble friend has given.”

Peers also discussed the potential use of drones in police work, including searches for missing people.

Lady Neville-Rolfe agreed there was a huge potential to develop the UK industry but she faced a series of questions about the risks involved, such as overcrowding of the UK’s airspace.

She said: “I take great comfort that they are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority They need to be safe to be flown and flown safely.”

Labour’s Lord Davies raised worries about the use of drones for what he described as “reprehensible activity”. He said people could buy unmanned aircraft for less than £1,000 and urged the government to step up regulation to protect the “privacy and safety of the individual”.

Lady Neville-Rolfe reassured the Lords that “privacy and taking great care in relation to terrorists” would be on the minds of those developing this technology.


Stillwater Conference Focuses On Drones


The Ufro drone, developed by Weng Kheong Loh, resembled a sphere covered in colorful lights and OSU logos.

Thanks to a propeller on the inside, it took off and glided across the auditorium of the Wes Watkins Center at OSU in Stillwater. The Ufro was able to bump off the walls and keep flying, and when it landed, it rolled around for a while before taking off again.

Loh, a Ph.D. student in Aerospace at OSU and the founder of Unmanned Cowboy, said the Ufro – which stands for unmanned flight and rolling orb — is perfect for firefighters hoping to maintain control in relatively tight spaces.

“Helicopter (drones) are popular, but if you fly it indoors, you could hurt the propeller or other people.

Loh’s presentation was part of the inaugural World’s Best Technologies (WBT) Open Innovation Forum on Unmanned Aerial Systems, held Wednesday and Thursday at OSU Stillwater.

The forum, organized by Development Capital Services and hosted by OSU, the city of Stillwater and the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce, was designed to boost the development of experimental unmanned flight technology in the state, said Robert Heard, managing director of Development Capital Services.

“If you bring in unmanned aerial system professionals from around the country, you’ll be thought of as a leader,” he said.


A Glossary of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Terms


Here is a glossary of terms for unmanned aerial vehicles.

2.4 Ghz: The frequency used by digital (spread spectrum) radio communications in our applications, including 2.4Ghz RC, bluetooth and some video transmission equipment. This is a different band than the older 72 Mhz band that is used for analog RC communications. To avoid radio frequency conflict is it often a good idea to use 72 Mhz radio equipment when you are using 2.4 Ghz onboard video transmitters, or use 900 Mhz video when using 2.4 Ghz RC equipment.

AHRS: Attitude and Heading Reference System.

AMA: Academy of Model Aeronautics. The main US model aircraft association. Generally hostile to amateur UAVs, which are banned on AMA fields. But each AMA chapter and field may have slightly different policies, and it’s possible to test airframes and some technology on AMA fields without violating the association’s rules.

APMArduPilotMega autopilot electronics

  • ArduCopter: Rotary-wing autopilot software for the APM and Pixhawk electronics
  • ArduPlane: Fixed-wing autopilot software for the APM and Pixhawk electronics.
  • ArduPilot: The overall autopilot project that ArduCopter, ArduPlane, and ArduRover live within
  • ArduRover: Ground and water autopilot software for the APM and Pixhawk electronics

Arduino: An open source embedded processor project. Includes a hardware standard originally based on the Atmel Atmega (and other 8-bit) microprocessor microcontroller and necessary supporting hardware, and a software programming environment based on the C-like Processing language. See the official website.

BEC:  Battery Elimination Circuit. A voltage regulator found in ESCs (see below) and as a stand-alone product. Designed to provide constant 5v voltage for RC equipment, autopilots and other onboard electronics.

BASIC Stamp: A simple embedded processor controller and programming environment created and sold by Parallax. Often used to teach basic embedded computing and the basis of our autopilot tutorial project. Parallax also makes the very capable Propeller chip.

Bluetooth: A wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using UHF radio waves in the ISM band from 2.4 to 2.485 GHz) from fixed and mobile devices, and building Personal AreaNetworks (PANs). Originally conceived as a wireless alternative to RS-232 data cables. It can connect several concurrent devices.

Bootloader:  Special code stored in non-volatile memory in a microprocessor that can interface with a PC to download a user’s program.

COA:  Certificate of Authorization. A FAA approval for a UAV flight (More information [PDF]).

Eagle file:  The schematic and PCB design files (and related files that tell PCB fabricators how to create the boards) generated by the free Cadsoft Eagle program. This is the most common standard used in the open source hardware world, although, ironically, it’s not open source software itself. Needless to say, this is not optimal, and the Eagle software is clumsy and hard to learn. One hopes that an open source alternative will someday emerge.

DCM:  Direction Cosine Matrix. A algorithm that is a less processing intensive equivalent of the Kalman Filter. More information.

DSM / DSM2 / DSMX: Spektrum, an RC equipment maker, refers to their proprietary technology as “Digital Spectrum Modulation.” Each transmitter has a globally unique identifier (GUID), to which receivers can be bound, ensuring that no transmitter will interfere with other nearby Spektrum DSM systems. DSM uses Direct-Sequence Spread Spectrum (DSSS) technology.

DSSS: Direct-Sequence Spread Spectrum is a modulation technique. As with other spread spectrum technologies, the transmitted signal takes up more bandwidth than the information signal that modulates the carrier or broadcast frequency. The name ‘spread spectrum’ comes from the fact that the carrier signals occur over the full bandwidth (spectrum) of a device’s transmitting frequency..

EEPROM:  Electonically Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory. A type of non-volatile memory used in computers and other electronic devices to store small amounts of data that must be saved when power is removed, e.g.,static calibration/reference tables.  Unlike bytes in most other kinds of non-volatile memory, individual bytes in a traditional EEPROM can be independently read, erased, and re-written.

ESC:  Electronic Speed Control. Device to control the motor in an electric aircraft. Serves as the connection between the main battery and the RC receiver. Usually includes a BEC, or Battery Elimination Circuit (BEC), which provides power for the RC system and other onboard electronics, such as an autopilot.

FHSS  Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum is a method of transmitting radio signals by rapidly switching a carrier among many frequency channels, using a pseudorandom sequence known to both transmitter and receiver.advantages over a fixed-frequency transmission: Advantages: 1. Spread-spectrum signals are highly resistant to narrowband interference. The process of re-collecting a spread signal spreads out the interfering signal, causing it to recede into the background. 2. Spread-spectrum signals are difficult to intercept. A spread-spectrum signal may simply appear as an increase in the background noise to a narrowband receiver. An eavesdropper may have difficulty intercepting a transmission in real time if the pseudorandom sequence is not known. 3. Spread-spectrum transmissions can share a frequency band with many types of conventional transmissions with minimal interference. The spread-spectrum signals add minimal noise to the narrow-frequency communications, and vice versa. As a result,bandwidth can be used more efficiently.

FPV: First-Person View. A technique that uses an onboard video camera and wireless connection to the ground allow a pilot on the ground with video goggles to fly with a cockpit view.

FTDI: Future Technology Devices International, which is the name of the company that makes the chips. A standard to convert USB to serial communications. Available as a chip for boards that have a USB connector, or in a cable to connected to breakout pins.

GCS: Ground Control Station. Software running on a computer on the ground that receives telemetry information from an airborne UAV and displays its progress and status, often including video and other sensor data. Can also be used to transmit in-flight commands to the UAV.

GIT: A version control system for software developers. The DIY Drones team use a Git-based service called GitHub.

 Hardware-in-the-loop simulation: Doing a simulation where software running on another computer generates data that simulates the data that would be coming from an autopilot’’s sensors. The autopilot is running and doesn’t “know” that the data is simulated, so it responds just as it would to real sensor data. Hardware-in-the-loop uses the physical autopilot hardware connected to a simulator, as opposed to simulating the autopilot in software, too.

I2C: Inter-Integrated Circuit. A serial bus that allows multiple low speed peripherals, such as sensors, to be connected to a microprocessor. More information.

IDE: An integrated Integrated development Development Environment, such as the Arduino editor/downloader/serial monitor software. Often includes a debugger.

IMU: An inertial Inertial measurement Measurement Unit. Usually has at least three accelerometers (measuring the gravity vector in the x, ,y and z dimensions) and two gyros (measuring rotation around the tilt and pitch axis). Neither are sufficient by themselves, since accelerometers are thrown off by movement (ie, they are ““noisy”” over short periods of time), while gyros drift over time. The data from both types of sensors must be combined in software to determine true aircraft attitude and movement. One technique for doing this is the Kalman filter (see below).

Inner loop/Outer loop: Usually used to refer to the stabilization and navigation functions of an autopilot. The stabilization function must run in real-time and as often as 100 times a second (“inner loop”), while the navigation function can run as infrequently as once per second and can tolerate delays and interruptions (“outer loop”).

INS: Inertial Navigation System. A way to calculate position based on an initial GPS reading followed by readings from motion and speed sensors. Useful when GPS is not available or has temporarily lost its signal.

ICSP: In Circuit Serial Progammer. A way to load code to a microprocessormicrocontoller. Usually seen as a six-pin (two rows of three) connector on a PCB. To use this, you need a programmer, such as this one, that uses the SPI (Serial Peripheral Interface) standard.

Kalman Filter: A relatively complicated algorithm that, in our applications, is primarily used to combine accelerometer and gyro data to provide an accurate description of aircraft attitude and movement in real time.More information for more.

LOS: Line of Sight. Refers to a FAA requirement that UAVs stay within a pilot’s direct visual control if they are flying under the recreational exemption to COA approval.

LiPo:  Lithium Polymer battery, aka LiPoly. Varients include Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) battery. This battery chemistry offers more power and lighter weight than NiMh and NiCad batteries.

MAV: Micro Air Vehicle. A small UAV. More information.

MAVLink: The Micro Air Vehicle communications Link protocol used by the ArduCopter and ArduPlane line of autopilots. More informaiton on MAVLink.

Microprocessor: A microprocessor incorporates the functions of a computer’s central processing unit (CPU) on a single integrated circuit or at most, a few integrated circuits (system clock, memory, peripheral device drivers).

Microcontroller: A microcontroller (sometimes abbreviated µC, uC or MCU) is a small computer on a single integrated circuit containing a processor core, memory, and programmable input/output peripherals. Program memory in the form flash or EEPROM is included on the chip, as well as a typically small amount of RAM. Microcontrollers are designed for embedded applications, in contrast to the microprocessors used in personal computers or other general purpose applications.

NMEA:  National Marine Electronics Association standard for GPS information. When we refer to “NMEA sentences”, we’re talking about ASCII strings from a GPS module that look like this:$GPGGA,123519,4807.038,N,01131.000,E,1,08,0.9,545.4,M,46.9,M,,*47

OSD: On-screen Screen Display. A way to integrate data (often telemetry information) into the real-time video stream the aircraft is sending to the ground.

PCB: Printed Circuit Board. In our use, a specialized board designed and “fabricated” for a dedicated purpose, as opposed to a breadboard or prototype board, which can be used and resused re-used for many projects.

PCM: Pulse Coded Modulation. A method used to digitally represent sampled analog signals. It is the standard form of digital audio in computers, Compact Discs, digital telephony and other digital audio applications. In a PCM stream, the amplitude of the analog signal is sampled regularly at uniform intervals, and each sample is quantized to the nearest value within a range of digital steps. Primarily useful for optical communications systems, where there tends to be little or no multipath interference

PIC: Pilot In Command. Refers to a FAA requirement that UAVs stay under a pilot’s direct control if they are flying under the recreational exemption to COA approval. See Line of Sight above.

PID:  Proportional/Integral/Deriviative control method. A machine control algorithm that allows for more accurate sensor-motion control loops and less over-control. More information.

Pixhawk: The next-gen 32-bit autopilot, which succeeded APM. A collaboration between 3D Robotics and the PX4 team at ETH, the technical university in Zurich

POI: Point of Of Interest, also known as Region of Interest. Designates a spot that a UAV should keep a camera pointed towards.

PPM: Pulse Position Modulation. Signal modulation in which a set number of message bits are encoded by transmitting a single pulse in one of possible 2(number if message bits) time-shifts.

PWM: Pulse Width Modulation. The square-wave signals used in RC control to drive servos and speed controllers.

ROI: Region of Interest. Also known as Point of Interest (see above)

RTL: Return To Launch. Return the aircraft to the “home” position where it took off.

Shield: a specialized board that fits on top of an Arduino to add a specific function, such as wireless data or GPS

SiRF III: The SiRF is a technology company that has developed a standard used by most modern GPS modules. Includes SiRF III binary mode, which is an alternative to the ASCII-based NMEA standard described above.

Sketch: The program files, drivers and other code generated by the Arduinio IDE for a single project.

SVN: Short for the Subversion Version-control Number repository used by the DIY Drones (in the past) and other teams for source code.

Thermopile: An infrared detector. Often used in pairs in UAVs to measure tilt and pitch by looking at differences in the infrared signature of the horizon fore and aft and on both sides. This is based on the fact that there is always an infrared gradient between earth and sky, and that you can keep a plane flying level by ensuring that the readings are the same from both sensors in each pair, each looking in opposite directions.

UAV: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. In the military, these are increasingly called Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), to reflect that the aircraft is just part of a complex system in the air and on the ground. Ground-based autonomous robots are called Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) and robot submersibles are called Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs). Robot boats are called Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs).

WAAS: Wide Area Augmentation System. A system of satellites and ground stations that provide GPS signal corrections, giving up to five times better position accuracy than uncorrected GPS. More information.

ZigBee(related: Xbee): A wireless communications standard, which has longer range than bluetooth but lower power consumption than WiFi.


Martha Stewart: Why I Love My Drone

Because it’s a useful tool. And imagine what Louis XIV could have accomplished at Versailles if he’d had one

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There’s been a lot of discussion and a tremendous amount of speculation lately about the nature of drones and their role in our society as useful tools and hobbyist toys.
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Last year, while celebrating my birthday in Maine, I was given a drone fitted with a high-definition camera. After a quick introduction to the mechanics of operating the contraption and a few words about its idiosyncrasies, I loaded the appropriate app on my iPad and went down to the beach.
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In just a few minutes I was hooked. In near silence, the drone rose, hovered, and dove, silently and surreptitiously photographing us and the landscape around us. The photos and video were stunning. By assuming unusual vantage points, the drone allowed me to “see” so much more of my surroundings than usual. The view I was “seeing” on my iPad with the help of the drone would have otherwise been impossible without the use of a private plane, helicopter, or balloon. With any of those vehicles, I would have needed a telephoto lens, and all of them would have made an unacceptable commotion on the beach. What’s more, I would not have been in the photos!

So much has been done in the past without drones, airplanes, hot air balloons, or even extension ladders. It is hard to imagine André Le Nôtre laying out the exquisite landscape designs for Vaux-le-Vicomte, and later the magnificent Château de Versailles, with no high hill to stand on, no helicopter to fly in, and no drone to show him the complexities of the terrain. Yet he did, and with extreme precision, accuracy, and high style.

Earlier, Henri IV drew up complicated plans for the immense and elegant redesign of Paris, capital of France. In England, Capability Brown somehow had the innate vision and perspicacity to reconfigure thousands of acres into country estates fit for royalty. He and Sir Humphry Repton invented an entirely new style of landscape design that had little to do with the grand châteaux of France. It became all about the “axis of vision” — relaxed, looming views of the distance that, without an aerial view, required the utmost in fertile imagination.

In the late 1800s, more people wanted the bird’s eye view of city and country and went to extreme lengths to rig up guy-wired telescoping towers, build extension ladders of dangerous lengths, and man hot air balloons, from which intrepid photographers could capture remarkable images—such as those of the Chicago Union Stock Yards and the U.S. Steel Corporation—from heights of 2,000 feet.

What about the Great Wall of China, or the Nazca Lines in southern Peru? I began reflecting on how the engineers and architects of the past accomplished so much without the modern tools we have at our disposal.

My mind started racing and I imagined all the different applications for my drone. I knew that every type of use had already been thought of by others (governmental agencies, businesses,, Google Maps), and I knew I could not even begin to fathom even a fraction of the social, ethical, and political challenges the widespread use of drones would create.

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McPherson, KS: Drones may soon take flight for commercial uses


By Teri L. Hansen, Staff Writer, McPherson Sentinel, KS
Posted Jul. 21, 2014 @ 2:54 pm 

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or the more common term, drones, are no longer just for the military.

Today drones have a multitude of functions in the civilian world from cinematography to agriculture.

In June, D.D. Studios, an arts and entertainment company, acquired a photography and videography drone that they are using in their studio. DJ1 Phantom 2 Vision Drone carries a 4GB secure digital card and can shoot video in high definition 1080p 30/60i, and photos with a 46mm lens at 14 megapixels. Diana Rose, owner of D.D. Studios, has affectionately named the drone “Mobius.”

“Until the [Federal Aviation Administration] releases its stipulations for the use of drone commercially, we are only using it as a type of hobby,” Rose said. “Farmers have asked for footage of the crops for harvest time, which we did, but we didn’t charge for them.”

Mobius is capable of flying for 25 minutes and can be programmed via GPS auto pilot that has a “come home” function that will send the drone home automatically when the battery gets low. Mobius’ tilt control and zoom functions can be remotely accessed through a smart phone or iPad. It can fly up to 900 feet high, but the FAA has regulation dictates drones can only go up to 400 feet.

Many people have inquired about hiring the company for use of its drone for sporting events, aerial shots of homesteads and weddings, and they can’t wait to be able to use Mobius to make money, Rose said.


California Hotel Offers Bottle Service by Drone

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Imagine there was a champagne drone delivery service that flies in bottles of bubbly at just the right time for celebrating life’s biggest moments.

The fantasy can become a reality for deep-pocketed guests at the The Mansion at Casa Madrona’s Alexandrite Suite in Sausalito, Calif.

The bay side hotel, which re-opened earlier this month after renovations, announced that the $10,000 per night suite would include the cutting edge champagne drone delivery service.

A video posted on the hotel’s Instagram account shows the robotic aircraft safely ferrying two bottles of pricey champagne through the air before making a smooth landing on a patio.