Until this past year, consumer drones carried tiny ultralight cameras, but they just didn’t have the energy or the reserve to carry much else. They certainly could not deliver much of a product or payload. They flew for 15 minutes, lacked the capacity to carry excess weight, and had short range.
But market demand sparks innovation. Amazon and Domino’s Pizza are experimenting with drone delivery. The improvements needed to serve these needs are quickly bubbling down to unlicensed weekend pilots. Hexacopters with 4K cameras, gimbals and retracting landing gear are available for under $400. Tiny foldable drones with 720p cameras are available for $35. Some models don’t even need a pilot on a joystick. You can preprogram the flight path to reach any target using GPS, or you can guide them by making gestures with your hand. The drone actually looks back over its shoulder and responds to your hand-waving commands.
Lance Ulanoff is a cartoonist and robotics fantech expert. But he shares a lot in common with Wild Ducks. He is an eclectic journalist and social media commentator.
This month he began publishing at Medium.com, and I’m glad he did! Lance has a knack for going beyond the Who, What, Why. Even in a short article, he explains the social implications. He provokes us to recognize why it matters.
Lance breaks down the recent attempt to assassinate Venezuela’s president with a drone delivered explosive and raises our social antennae. This news event ushers in a grim technology era. Ulanoff points out that in a short time, it has become inexpensive and fairly easy to send an explosive directly into a national monument like the Statue of Liberty.
Please don’t call Lily a “drone”. That’s the pitch from Lily Robotics, maker of an an aerial selfie-camera. Rather than a flying toy for hobbyists, they market it to outdoor sports enthusiasts, as a competitor to the GoPro wearable camera.
Lily is different than other drones, because she has no remote control, manual control or Smartphone app to guide it. Instead, it operates differently…
It simply follows and films the user. (It can also film from the front or side).
There is no flight control. Simply throw it into the area (in an open space). The propellers automatically unfold and it begins following a waterproof tracker in a user’s pocket or on his wrist.
The microphone is not on the drone. Instead, it is located in the tracking device carried by the user. In fact, the tracker has several functions:
It guides the drone to follow and film the user
The user can tell Lili take hi-res snapshots
The user can change video mode: Follow, lead, or fly along side
The user can recall Lily to land on an outstretched hand
Coolest feature that is not immediately obvious
Lily is waterproof. She can be thrown into a pool or lake. In the crowd funding video below, it films a whitewater kyack adventure both from behind and even from the front.
Lily has a 20 minute flight time (far more than less expensive, recreational ‘toy’ drones).
Lily cannot sense trees, buildings, power lines or obstacles. It can be used only in wide open areas. For this reason, it is useful for outdoor open-area sports only, such as skiing, soccer or rafting. It’s a safe bet that the makers will eventually address this shortcoming and introduce a version that can navigate around obstacles and film in tight quarters.
This slick video makes the benefits and fun of Lily very clear
For details and an interesting perspective of the design philosophy, see this interview with an officer of the start up that makes Lily.
Crowd funding started in May 2015. Participants can purchase Lily for $499. The company plans to introduce it in February 2016 for $999.
Website: lily.camera (that’s the full URL: “.camera” is a top level domain)
From time to time, AWildDuck offers previews or reviews of new products and services. Ellery and AWildDuck received no money or consideration for this article—and has had no contact with the company as of the publishing date. We have not tested this product, which had not been released as of the publishing date.
Look! Up in the sky…Is it a bird? a plane? No! It’s an unmanned Predator drone, hijacked by students! That’s right. Whiz kids from University of Texas at Austin took control of an aerial drone by altering its course.
The task was shockingly simple. Instead of hacking the primary control firmware, they fed its GPS mechanism a false signal, tricking the flying Al Qaeda hunter into heading wherever they wished, perhaps into the 3rd floor showers of the sorority. This was no fly-by-night operation (pardon the pun). The Department of Homeland asked students to try hacking the drone and gaining control. Was it expensive? It required only $1000 worth of equipment to seize control of a multi-million dollar piece of technology used by the US military and CIA.
The government became concerned about the vulnerability of drone aircraft after it became apparent that Iran had most likely taken control of a US drone and crashed it in Iranian territory several months ago. The Austin students, led by professor Todd Humphreys, used the GPS equipment to spoof the GPS signal being sent to the drone. Spoofing the signal means the students were able to trick the drone into mistaking their signal for the real one, allowing them to lead the drone astray. The aircraft being used employs the same unencrypted GPS signals used by government vehicles.
This hack presents a serious problem for proponents of using domestic drones. If any kid with $1000 and a little know-how can crash a drone into things or perhaps drop a payload!), well–that’s just not cricket. It is currently illegal to use drone aircraft in US airspace without special clearance from the FAA, and now it might take a little longer than expected for that to change.