Previously, I looked at this year’s most popular reasons people are buying or building drones. While this concept gives a good glimpse into why people want drones and what they are/will be using them for, it’s only half of the equation. The trick with any revolutionary technology is to give consumers something they didn’t know they wanted, so you have to look at what is going on in the development stage. Here are the most interesting drone technologies of 2014.
Nothing says innovation like merging two technologies together. Combining the rise of the MP3 players and the popularity of cell phones gave us the iPhone and iTunes. Frankensteining a blanket and pajamas together gave us the Snuggie.
2014 saw UAV technology get paired up with some similarly compatible counterparts.
Drones and Wearables have been two of the buzziest words in the tech sector for the better part of two years, so it’s only logical that someone would eventually come along and combine these concepts. The Nixie, a small quadcopter with a camera, is worn around the wrist and launches from the palm of your hand. While it is still a long ways off from its debut on the market, the Nixie won Intel’s Make it Wearable contest and an initial investment of $500,000 in prize money.
In keeping with drones that marry buzzwords is Phenox, the motion and voice controlled, autonomous, open source micro drone. The team behind Phenox ran a successful Kickstarter campaign this spring and shipped the first units in July. All the software is based in Linux and the code library is available online so anyone can hack together an app for Phenox. Check it out in action below and stay tuned for the reveal of the latest model, slated to debut at SXSW in March according to Chief Engineer Ryo Konomura.
Looking Toward Our Drone Filled Future
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, flying cars existed and flew around in an orderly fashion… until an iconic figure tore through the scene leaving an utter mess in his wake.
The picture above may look like science fiction, but it does depict an elegant solution to a problem that is just over the horizon.
Dr. Kopardekar is the Principal Investigator of NASA’s Airspace Program and he is creating a solution to handle the crowded skies of tomorrow. The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Traffic Management System (UTM) will create a literal highway in the sky so drones can avoid obstacles (including other drones) and navigate safely through our world.
“We are basically creating this UAS traffic management system that allows you to accommodate the number of vehicles that will operate in the low altitude airspace,” Kopardekar explained to Dronelife in July. “The analogy is ‘just because we have a car, whether it’s an autonomous car or someone is driving, does not negate the need for a road or stop signs or rules of the road.’ The same thing happens in the airspace. We need to have a structure.”
Completion of the UTM is going to take many years and cooperation from both regulating bodies (i.e. the FAA) and the companies that want to use the airspace (i.e. Amazon). But, because NASA has an early jump on this issue, and with a little luck, there will be a system in place when commercial drones take off in earnest.
Bump and Run
Until the UTM is in place and, really, even once it is, there is still the need to eliminate drone crashes when flying in close quarters. Would you trust a drone flying at your face to stop before it hit you?
That is, until you have seen the Panoptes eBumper.
The eBumper is a 3D printed outer shell with integrated sonar sensors that prevents a drone pilot from crashing into an obstacle. The sensors use echolocation to detect walls/trees/people and “bump” your drone away from the obstacle.
To demonstrate, I told Panoptes’ Systems Integration Lead, Donnie Rogers, to try and hit me with his DJI Phantom, and I recorded it so you can see what it looks like to have a drone flown directly at your face:
Rogers emphasizes that the eBumper is not a sense-and-avoid solution, but rather is akin to aerial training wheels for first time fliers. Indeed, there are still limitations to the eBumper (it’s only available for DJI’s Phantom 2 and Phantom 2 Vision), but it demonstrates a very real first step toward reactionary UAV technology.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com