November 12th, 2014

DJI One-Ups Phantom With More Powerful, 4K-Recording Inspire 1 Photo Drone

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DJI has a new flying camera in its growing air force of drones.

Billed as a step-up for the Phantom 2 but smaller and more approachable than the Spreading Wings line, the Inspire 1 quadcopter will have more lift and stability than the Phantom thanks to its 13-inch propellers. It also sports something no other drone in its class currently does: an integrated 4K camera.

The camera uses a 12-megapixel Sony sensor and is capable of 4k/30p video recording and RAW still photo capture. In addition to 4K, the Inspire 1′s camera can record 1080p HD video with varying frame rates between 24 and 60 fps in either MOV or MP4 formats. It’s capable of burst shooting up to 7 fps.

There’s a fixed focus lens that’s threaded so you can screw in ND filters before you take flight. The camera rests on a 3-axis gimbal to maintain stability while airborne.

While the Inspire 1 won’t accept third party cameras, DJI’s Director of Aerial Imaging Eric Cheng tells us that the system is modular so that you can replace the camera in the future if and when DJI makes a new camera available for this platform.

The new drone features a design that transforms into a v-shape as it takes flight, allowing the camera to drop down below the landing gear giving it an unobstructed 360 degree field of view.

647A2339The Inspire 1 is stabilized using an optical flow package with a dedicated camera and ultrasonic sensors that helps orient the drone in the air indoors or without GPS, a first for UAVs in this category, Cheng says. The system is for use at low altitudes (under 5 meters) with plenty of light and a varied surface patter. Cheng said it would be particularly useful in cities where GPS’s 2-meter margin for error may be too wide to avoid obstructions.

You’ll also find built-in Lightbridge, DJI’s technology for wirelessly transmitting 1080p video to mobile devices up to 1.7 km away to aid in composition while in flight.

The Inspire 1 has enough bandwidth to not only accommodate an HD signal but also full metadata, analog video for pilot steering and 16 channels of RC control. A single, technically adept operator could thus not only steer the drone but operate the camera too, all from a single controller, Cheng said. You will, however, still have the option for dual control (one pilot, one camera operator).

The on-board battery can keep the Inspire 1 aloft for up to 18 minutes and you’ll be able to monitor the battery’s life throughout your flight. The total platform (including battery, gimbal and camera) weighs roughly 6.5 pounds.

DJI has also revamped its app, allowing for a live map with flight route and flight telemetry data, plus remaining battery life and manual camera controls.

It will cost $2,899 with one controller or $3,399 with two.

In addition to the new drone, DJI is also releasing an SDK today so that third party developers can create Android and iOS apps for the company’s Phantom 2 Vision series of drones. Many users are interested in industrial mapping applications, Cheng says, but a few photo and video-centric apps are in the works as well that will allow users to edit and share videos from mobile devices and ensure flights comply with regulations.

App developers will have access to the drone’s camera, including video transmission, positioning, settings and image storage. They’ll also have access to live telemetry (flight speed, latitude, longitude, distance travelled, etc.) and flight control.

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July 23rd, 2014

Court Refuses to Hear Challenge to FAA’s Drone Cease-and-Desist Orders

A Federal appeals court in Washington, DC, has dismissed a lawsuit against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by a search-and-rescue group in Texas that uses drones in its work, but both sides in the case are declaring victory.

Texas EquuSearch had tried to overturn an email from the FAA ordering the group to stop operating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, in its search-and-rescue operations, the AP reports.

The three-judge panel said it could not review the case because the warning notice the FAA sent to did not represent the agency’s final policy on drone use, “nor did it give rise to any legal consequences.” The FAA is expected to finalize its policy on piloting drones for non-recreational use next year. The policy could affect photographers who  use drones to carry cameras on assignment.

The court’s ruling fails to clarify what authority the FAA has currently to regulate the use of drones.  In March, a federal administrative court judge overturned a $10,000 fine the FAA had imposed on photographer Raphael Pirker for using a drone to shoot a video for the University of Virginia, because the FAA still has no regulations on the books regarding the use of drones.

Brendan Schulman, the lawyer for Texas EquuSearch, told the site Motherboard that the appeals court ruling last week  “achieves the desired result of clarifying that Texas EquuSearch is not legally required to halt these humanitarian operations.” Texas EquuSearch has resumed piloting drones, AP reports.

In a statement, the FAA said, “The court’s decision in favor of the FAA regarding the Texas EquuSearch matter has no bearing on the FAA’s authority to regulate” unmanned aircraft vehicles. The FAA also said it reviews the use of drones “that are not for hobby or recreation on a case-by-case basis.”

Related Article
Commercial Drones are Legal, Federal Court Says

http://pdnpulse.pdnonline.com/2014/03/commercial-drones-are-legal-federal-court-says.html

July 9th, 2012

How Sean Hemmerle Photographed Drones

© The New York Times Magazine/photo: Sean Hemmerle

To accompany an article in the latest issue of The New York Times Magazine about how the Air Force trains its pilots to control unmanned drones used for deadly strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, the magazine assigned architecture and portrait photographer Sean Hemmerle to photograph the aircraft at Holloman Air Force Base, a training facility in New Mexico. His images, shot with a Mamiya 7, make the drones look stark and strange—“They’re blind moles in the sky,” says Hemmerle—and also technologically astonishing. That, says Hemmerle, was his intent. “When I got there I thought: Wow, these are strangely beautiful,” he says. “They’re curious to look at. I was hoping the pictures would sort of lull you in with beauty, and then hopefully an hour later you’ll say:  ‘What did I just see?’”

Stacey Baker, the photo editor at The New York Times Magazine who produced the shoot, says she gave Hemmerle a wish list of shots to take. Despite—or perhaps because of—the increasing criticism of the CIA’s use of remotely piloted drones to carry out assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, Hemmerle was allowed to shoot everything on Baker’s list. “They basically threw open the doors to us,” explains Hemmerle, who was accompanied throughout the two-day shoot by First Lt. Logan Clark of the public affairs office. “They only asked that we not show the last names of the pilots.”

He photographed both types of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), the Predator  and the Reaper, take offs and landings, a flight simulator, and rows of ground control stations (GCS): the windowless, antenna-studded containers from which pilots control the aircraft while watching video monitors. At Holloman, which is located near the White Sands Missile Range south of Albuquerque, trainees learn to hone in on targets by tracking cars driving along local highways.

Captain Emily Chilson, chief of public affairs at the base, tells PDN that Holloman is a training facility “so there’s nothing classified here.” The facility had hosted a “media day” for photographers and reporters in February; another media event is scheduled for later this month, Chilson says. Wanting something different for The Magazine, Baker secured permission to send a photographer when other press weren’t around. She contacted Hemmerle on May 11, and on May 15 he and Ari Burling, a photographer friend who acted as his assistant, flew from New York to New Mexico.

© The New York Times/photo by Sean Hemmerle

Hemmerle spent two 16-hour days, shooting from dawn to dusk, hoping to get the best light possible. Shooting in a World War II-era hanger, “They were long exposures, of 15 or 30 seconds, to make dawn look like day.” Baker had asked him to shoot film, and he backed up everything he shot on the Mamiya RZ by shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II. Once his film was processed, he looked through about 60 contact sheets and about 100 digital frames before sending a selection of his 20 favorites to Baker. Four images appeared in yesterday’s print edition; nine images appear online.

Hemmerle, who has shot in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, has photographed other centers of power.  Kathy Ryan, The Magazine’s director of photography, had recently seen Hemmerle’s photo of a meeting at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, which he shot for the MIT Technology Review. Ryan and her husband, editor and curator Scott Thode, are co-curating an upcoming exhibition of work by School of Visual Arts alumni, and had visited Hemmerle’s studio two weeks before he got the call from Baker.

Hemmerle served in the US Army from 1984 to 1988, and believes mentioning this experience on his bio has helped him when he’s photographed the military. “The commanders are always respectful.” Of the Air Force personnel he met at Holloman, he says, “Everyone’s so accommodating, so professional, and smart, too.”

He didn’t know other photographers had visited at Holloman, and didn’t know why he was given so much access.  “I was thinking that if they’ll let me see that and they’ll let The New York Times publish it, it’s the cherry picked tip of the iceberg. When I see that we can photograph that, I’m like,  ‘What else you really got going on?’” He adds, “There’s a touch of Dr. Strangelove there,” referring to the Cold War movie about military hardware run amok, “but the experience of actually photographing them was fantastic.”