Tag Archives: UAVs

Mayday is like an airbag system for your drones

Mayday is a standalone machine learning device that can detect when your quadcopter is crashing and deploy a parachute.

Truth be told, the failure rate associated with drones is extremely high, no matter your skill level. Like the airbag in your car that will deploy when it senses a collision, the North UAV team has taken a similar concept and applied it to the world of unmanned aerial vehicles. Not only is having to repair your ‘copter after it plunges into the water or shatters upon hitting the ground quite pricey, the people and property below it are at risk as well.


Designed with this in mind, Mayday is a standalone machine learning device that detects when your UAV is about to crash and deploys a parachute to guide it to safety. The smart on-board computer monitors a multi-rotor’s flight patterns and intervenes if something goes wrong by activating a range of servo-based countermeasures.

What’s nice is that Mayday is fully programmable. Using the two buttons on the front of the instrument, you can guide each servo head to the waypoint you want to go to in a failure event. You can even configure the Mayday to do an assortment of servo release motions to safeguard it against a crash. This allows it to be used with almost any recovery system on the market. And unlike many other RC products, the Mayday is completely input protected.

Easy to use, just as easy to install! That’s because Mayday features a two-cable interface and simple mounting, and seamlessly works with pretty much every quadcopter setup. Because it uses machine learning to determine your normal flight pattern, you can employ Mayday without having to enter in a ton of data or define certain perimeters for it to be triggered by.

Beyond that, it can also be used all by itself without any connections to a flight controller. Attach the parachute release servo to the Mayday board, throw on a small battery, and you’re good to go.

“For example, you are about to do something totally unexpected and new, like a flip, and you want to make sure Mayday doesn’t fire on accident. Simply adjust your RC servo input to the lower PWM range to tell Mayday not to fire and to try learning this new motion. Or adjust your RC servo input to the upper PWM range to override Mayday and to fire a recovery system,” says creator Kyle O’Rourke.


In terms of size, the unit measures roughly one-square-inch and weighs a half of an ounce. With an ATmega328P at its core, Mayday is equipped with handful of sensors, including an altimeter to detect relative altitude, a gyroscope for rotation speed, an accelerometer for angle and gravity, and a magnetometer for heading to relative magnetic north. Additionally, the device can be powered by a variety of sources, whether that’s a regular Li-Po to a couple of AA batteries.

Still reluctant? Mayday boasts a manual override and suppression input for those who still want some autonomous protection but need more control.

“We’re not saying that a recovery system can completely remove these risks, but we believe that having one can help reduce the total damage by a substantial amount (sort of like an airbag in a car),” O’Rourke explains.

Currently live on Kickstarter, the North UAV crew has flown right by its $12,000 goal. Delivery is expected to get underway in November 2015.

These palm-sized drones can unfold and deploy in half a second

Dude, is that a drone in your pocket?

Disaster relief efforts are among the top use cases that drone advocates have been petitioning in recent years, and rightfully so. Their unmatched ability to be released over a dangerous or inaccessible area to snap photographs and make contact with survivors far exceeds other methods being implemented today. With this in mind, researchers at EPFL and NCCR Robotics have developed an origami-inspired UAV that not only folds down into a pocketable square, but actually opens itself up and takes flight in a fraction of a second.


“You can take it out of the box, switch on the motor, and it’s ready to fly,” explained Dr. Stefano Mintchev, a professor of bio-inspired robotics at EPFL in Switzerland.

The current prototype, which was recently unveiled at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, features a set of arms comprised of fiberglass and inelastic polyester with propellers at their ends. When activated, the force of the rotors pulls each foldable arm out into its extended position where it’s held in place by magnets. In order for this to work, the rotors must turn in the same direction, causing the arms to rotate out the opposite way and open around two vertical folds. When the arms are fully extended, their upper section moves horizontally and locks the segment open. Otherwise, when not in use, the arms fold up in the shape of a trapezoid for easy stowing.

To maintain stability, two of the quadcopters rotors must turn clockwise, with the other two turning counter-clockwise. A sensor detects when the rotors are fully extended, then reverses the spinning direction within 50 milliseconds.


Impressively, the neatly folded drone measures 6.3″ x 6.3″ by 1.4” in size and weighs just over an ounce. When opened, it spans to roughly 2.3” x 2.3” x 1.4”.

“This quick-starting drone, while simple in appearance, is made up of a number of well-thought-out parts. The stiffness of the arms, for example, is critical to the quadrotor’s manoeuvrability. If these parts were flexible, they could bend and vibrate while in flight, causing instability and reducing the quadrotor’s response time to external commands,” the researchers explain. “Stiffness in the arms is a key factor for folding, and by spreading out horizontally the arms avoid imbalances caused by the laws of gravity. There is no need for an additional reinforcing mechanism, which would add to the weight of the device.”

At the moment, the drone must still be folded manually, but it takes less than 10 seconds for someone with practice. The team reveals that this process will be automated in future iterations along with a lighter body and stronger arms to withstand crashes. The principle of origami folding could also be applied to other types of flying devices in the form of wings, a protective cage or other innovations, the researchers claim.

Interested? Read all about the project here.

Lily Camera is the first autonomous, throw-and-shoot camera

Sorry selfie sticks, you’ve got nothing on this drone.

Tired of taking selfies with your smartphone or recording memorable occasions with a handheld video camera? As the quest for using quadcopters to capture beautiful bird’s-eye view shots continues, one Menlo Park-based startup has debuted a rather impressive throw-and-shoot drone that flies itself — no remote controls! While UAVs have been used by Hollywood directors and tourism groups to obtain otherwise unobtainable scenes, it’s only a matter of time before consumers adopt these reasonably-priced gadgets as well. And Lily Robotics hopes to be the company that spearheads that movement.


Initiated with a throw in the air by a user with a strapped on GPS wristband, the aptly named Lily Camera automatically follows its owner like a loyal dog, recording stunning footage and high definition images while hovering in place at heights of 10 to 30 feet and flying at speeds up to 25 mph. The camera, completely engineered for rugged aerial and water environments, is built for outdoor sports enthusiasts and those looking for a simple, fun way to share their everyday activities. After all, it’s not too far-fetched to envision a family purchasing a drone to snap photos at picnics and get-togethers so no one has to be left out by holding the camera.

“Point-and-shoot devices, action cameras, camcorders, and DSLRs have served us well on the ground and attached to drones, but we’ve always wanted a richer, more contextual point-of-view,” explained Antoine Balaresque, Lily co-founder and CEO. “Lily automatically creates exciting close range photos and wide, cinematic shots previously reserved for professional filmmakers.”


Leveraging advanced computer vision algorithms, this new drone intelligently tracks its user, following every move and so much more. With autonomous flight, Lily expands creative shooting opportunities well beyond handheld and action cameras with a single point-of-view. The flying apparatus is equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope, barometer and GPS, as well as front and bottom-facing high-def cameras capable of 1080p at 60 fps and 720p with 120 fps slow motion footage, or 12-megapixel still photos.

As eluded to above, Lily requires connects to a tiny tracking device via Wi-Fi that can be easily slipped into a pocket or adorned on a wrist, which the drone uses to relay position, distance and speed information to the built-in camera. This unit boasts a few control buttons (to launch/land, up/down and angle in relation to the operator), an accelerometer, a barometer, GPS, a vibration motor, as well as a USB port for easy charging. It even has a microphone for picking up nearby sounds.


“We want to be in the GoPro space, not the drone space,” Balaresque recently told Forbes. “We don’t see this as a drone. This is robotics technology applied to cameras… To me, a drone is a military device that just flies around and shoots people. The only thing I see with Lily is camera that flies. I guess it’s a matter of wording.”

With these aspirations, its creators have designed the disc-shaped drone to be entirely waterproof (no need to fear use around pools and ponds) and portable (bring it anywhere), while its Lithium-Ion battery allows it to last for about 20 minutes before needing to be recharged. Lily is also programmable so that users can receive directions through its tracking device or accompanying mobile app.

Intrigued? Fly over its official page to find out more. Pre-orders for the Lily Camera are now underway at $499, with shipment slated for February 2016. At that time, the price tag will rise to $999.

Ares is a drone that everyone can fly

This drone gets rid of confusing controls and complicated cameras. Instead, it does it all for you.

As drones become increasingly affordable and accessible, the power of flight is being put into the hands of more and more hobbyists. However, ongoing legal battles and compliance issues could take the controls away from them before even launching into the sky. Though a number of companies have already created software to automate the process of checking for TSA no-fly updates and have implemented GPS and other wireless technologies to keep drones flying legally, a new startup out of State College, PA is hoping that its solution Ares will provide a more effective option to maximize safety by minimizing human error.


That’s because the company has developed a program that prohibits its UAVs from entering no-fly zones and limits their altitude to 400 feet — the height ceiling imposed by the FAA. “At Ares, we take safety very seriously.  Since our drones are driven by an app, we can visualize nearby flight restrictions right on the map. This gives users the ability to make more informed flight decisions even before they take off,” the team writes. “If a flight path is accidentally drawn through a no-fly zone, the app will alert you. Our app also keeps an eye on the weather by providing recommendations based on current wind speed and other factors.”


Using a touchscreen interface, the Ares app enables users to trace a designated flight plan directly onto their map. Restricted airspace zones, such as government properties, airports and hospitals, will automatically appear in red circles. Once a flight plan is approved, the drone flies along that path autonomously without any manual interference.

Beyond its safety capabilities to ensure responsible droning, Ares offers one-of-a-kind aerial footage. The UAV makes it easier than ever before to fly and capture high-resolution photos and videos from above. With just three simple steps, practically anyone can plan their own flight and launch the UAV. Designed to be a true “out-of-the-box” solution, each of the drone’s components come already assembled — the propellers are pre-attached, camera system fully integrated, and battery pre-charged. Meanwhile, like a number of other drones on the market today, the Ares is based on both ATmega2560 and ATmega32U2 microcontrollers.


How it works is like this: A user draws their flight path, tells Ares where to point the camera, and sets the altitude. From there, the drone takes off autonomously. While the drone is landing itself, the app will automatically download the captured content and will be ready to share as soon as it hits the ground — all from one device. It’s as easy as that.

Intrigued? Fly on over to its official Kickstarter page, where the team is currently seeking $50,000. Ares will come in three different models: Ares One (for GoPro owners only), HD and 4K. Shipment of the One is expected to begin in October 2015, while you’ll have to wait until February 2016 for both the HD and 4K versions.

This drone attachment can save your life

Ryptide is a drone accessory that can deliver an automatically-inflating life preserver to a swimmer in trouble in seconds.

While the mere thought of drones still tends to conjure up negative images of things like spying and war, there are countless new ways that the unmanned apparatuses are being used to help improve our world, whether that’s combatiting wildlife pouching in Africa, monitoring bridge safety, transporting defibrillators, or better yet, saving you from drowning. The speed that drones can be deployed makes them ideal for delivering items in times of emergency, particularly those where every second counts.


That’s why a group of Connecticut high school students have launched a new project on Kickstarter, which can deliver life-rings to swimmers in distress by way of drones. As its name would suggest, Ryptide aspires to provide real-time aid to those who are pulled away from shore, as well as those who find themselves dangerously submerged in a frozen lake or pond. The solution consists of a small, lightweight accessory that can send an automatically-inflating life preserver to a swimmer in trouble in less than a minute. This simple mechanism can easily be attached to any drone and triggered via a RC transmitter, all while weighing less than the typical GoPro camera and gimbal commonly used by UAV operators.

The system itself was designed to carry a SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea) approved life-ring approximately 24″ in diameter that uses a CO2 cartridge to instantly inflate upon contact with water. Once the drone is overhead, a button on its controller can be pressed to remotely release the life-ring. As soon as it hits the ocean, a CO2 cartridge dispenses its contents and the preserver fills with air in just five seconds. These lifelines are reusable and can be recharged using a kit available with the project.


While the basic version of the Ryptide affixes to most DJI Phantom series drones, the team has also devised a larger version of the system that is capable of carrying multiple life-rings and a small first person view (FPV) camera. The drop mechanism uses the same radio channel responsible for controlling a camera gimbal on a number of today’s most popular drones. As its creators reveal, if you fly a drone that can lug 450 grams, then you can operate one of their devices.

The more advanced models are powered by an 
Arduino Pro (ATmega328) tasked with dropping up to 
four life-rings using a single 
channel on a radio. Each press of the radio switch will drop a single ring. Additionally, Ryptide is comprised of 3D-printed parts, most notably a mounting platform that has been designed to accommodate all Phantom models. The team has included a kit that will adapt to a wider range of camera mounting systems for other drone types as well.


And when it’s not saving lives in the deep blue sea like David Hasselhoff, Ryptide can also be utilized to help rescue drones that find themselves in the water after an unintended landing. The recently-revealed system can be attached to most larger UAVs using looped webbing along with some heavy-duty zip ties that will keep them afloat should such misfortune occur.

Keep in mind, this mechanism isn’t meant to replace lifeguards altogether, but will help assist in time-sensitive missions. Ready to help them help others? Head over to its official Kickstarter page, where the team is currently seeking has successfully garnered $10,000. Shipment is slated to begin in July 2015, just in time to help save lives this summer. We can’t help but wonder if the team will submit this idea as an entry in The Hackaday Prize.

Video: Pop-up Crocs store brings you shoes by drone

UAV? Try Shoe-A-V. 

It’s a good thing Al Bundy is retired because it looks like we may inching closer to a future filled with in-store sneaker-delivering drones. As to whether or not you actually wear Crocs is an entirely different story, however the shoemaker recently replaced its salespeople with a quadcopter at a Tokyo pop-up store on March 5th.


In celebration of 10 years in Japan, the company’s “Flying Norlin Project” enables shoppers to choose a pair of shoes using a touchscreen kiosk. With a press of the “take off” button, a UAV is prompted to go grab the selected item and bring it to the customer. The drone itself is equipped with clip that holds the footwear with the help of a magnet and transports it over to a waiting basket.

While not every pair made it successfully into shoppers’ baskets on the first go-around, it was pretty darn cool nevertheless. The ‘copters have been specially adapted from commercially available products for the temporary store, which is open until March 8th. Just think, you may never have to tirelessly wait for a staff member to locate and bring out a pair of sneakers from the back ever again!

This isn’t the first brand in Japan to launch a pretty impressive PR stunt using Maker-friendly technology in recent weeks. If you recall, Dole unveiled the world’s first edible wearable, while juice company Kagome built a robotic tomato dispenser for runners.

Video: Maker builds a TIE Interceptor drone

Watch this awesome TIE Interceptor drone fly around and then build your own.

As a followup to his recent Millenium Falcon project, French RC hobbyist “Olivier C” has built another quadcopter — this one inspired by the TIE Interceptor from Return of the Jedi. The Maker says it took just about 15 hours to finish the project.

Now with both builds complete, perhaps a battle scene between the Millennium Falcon and the TIE Interceptor is next. Interested in creating your own? You can find a step-by-step log here. This could very well be the coolest Hollywood-inspired drone since this Back to the Future DeLorean.

FAA releases proposed drone laws

Newly-announced FAA rules might allow thousands of business drones in the next few years. 

Following latest reports of a leaked document, the FAA has announced the regulations that will allow routine use of small drones in the United States. Before becoming finalized, the rules must go through a comment period, during which the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the rules. Those of you who may recall, back in 2012, Congress had required the FAA to create rules around the integration of small drones by 2015.


Once the order is finalized, the Washington Post shares that the FAA estimates that more than 7,000 businesses will obtain drone permits within three years. Furthermore, based on the recently-revealed document, companies would not be permitted to fly drones over long distances which would effectively preclude expedited delivery efforts ranging from pizza makers to Amazon. The rules, however, are expected to be modified and loosened over the coming decade as drone technology advances. For the time being, the long-awaited draft also limits speed to 100 miles per hour as well as altitude of flight to 500 feet above ground level.

These regulations follow in the footsteps of other countries, such as Canada and the UK, who have already made tremendous progress in devising rulings around commercial drone operation.

Meanwhile, the proposed FAA rules for small drones would not apply to people who fly drones for fun or for recreational purposes, the Washington Post adds. Small hobby drones — many of which are powered by AVR microcontrollers —  have become increasingly popular throughout the United States, thanks in part to the burgeoning Maker Movement. But, under a law passed by Congress in 2012, the FAA is largely prohibited from regulating them as long as they do not interfere with air traffic.

Operational Limitations

  • Unmanned aircraft must weigh less than 55 lbs. (25 kg).
  • Visual line-of-sight (VLOS) only; the unmanned aircraft must remain within VLOS of the operator or visual observer.
  • At all times the small unmanned aircraft must remain close enough to the operator for the operator to be capable of seeing the aircraft with vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses.
  • Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.
  • Daylight-only operations (official sunrise to official sunset, local time).
  • Must yield right-of-way to other aircraft, manned or unmanned.
  • May use visual observer (VO) but not required.
  • First-person view camera cannot satisfy “see-and-avoid” requirement but can be used as long as requirement is satisfied in other ways.
  • Maximum airspeed of 100 mph (87 knots).
  • Maximum altitude of 500 feet above ground level.
  • Minimum weather visibility of 3 miles from control station.
  • No operations are allowed in Class A (18,000 feet & above) airspace.
  • Operations in Class B, C, D and E airspace are allowed with the required ATC permission.
  • Operations in Class G airspace are allowed without ATC permission
  • No person may act as an operator or VO for more than one unmanned aircraft operation at one time.
  • No careless or reckless operations.
  • Requires preflight inspection by the operator.
  • A person may not operate a small unmanned aircraft if he or she knows or has reason to know of any physical or mental condition that would interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.
  • Proposes a microUAS option that would allow operations in Class G airspace, over people not involved in the operation, provided the operator certifies he or she has the requisite aeronautical knowledge to perform the operation.

Operator Certification and Responsibilities

  • Pilots of a small UAS would be considered “operators”.
  • Operators would be required to:
    • Pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved knowledge testing center.
    • Be vetted by the Transportation Security Administration.
    • Obtain an unmanned aircraft operator certificate with a small UAS rating (like existing pilot airman certificates, never expires).
    • Pass a recurrent aeronautical knowledge test every 24 months. o Be at least 17 years old.
    • Make available to the FAA, upon request, the small UAS for inspection or testing, and any associated documents/records required to be kept under the proposed rule.
    • Report an accident to the FAA within 10 days of any operation that results in injury or property damage.
    • Conduct a preflight inspection, to include specific aircraft and control station systems checks, to ensure the small UAS is safe for operation.

Aircraft Requirements

  • FAA airworthiness certification not required. However, operator must maintain a small UAS in condition for safe operation and prior to flight must inspect the UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation. Aircraft Registration required (same requirements that apply to all other aircraft).
  • Aircraft markings required (same requirements that apply to all other aircraft). If aircraft is too small to display markings in standard size, then the aircraft simply needs to display markings in the largest practicable manner.

Model Aircraft

  • Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft that satisfy all of the criteria specified in Section 336 of Public Law 112-95.
  • The proposed rule would codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in part 101 by prohibiting model aircraft operators from endangering the safety of the NAS.

Interested in reading more? You can find the entire FAA draft here.

CNN gets FAA clearance for drone journalism

Looks like Back to the Future II was right again, drones may soon be used for news-gathering. 

CNN has announced that in a first program of its kind, the news giant is working with the FAA to advance its efforts in launching camera-equipped drones for journalism and reporting purposes.


Since last year, the cable news network has been studying the use of drones for news-gathering by teaming up with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has played an integral role in collecting data. The FAA said it will analyze that information to develop rules and acceptable regulations around these unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Our aim is to get beyond hobby-grade equipment and to establish what options are available and workable to produce high quality video journalism,” urged David Vigilante, CNN’s Senior Vice President of Legal.

While earlier efforts have been in the works, CNN’s new announcement signifies that the media company has made substantial progress and that the FAA will seek to accelerate the work required to commercialize the technology.

Most recently, FAA had allocated a couple of largely uninhabited regions across the U.S. to test the commercial use of drones. At the moment, the federal agency only allows certain lightweight drones for flights of up to 400 feet. However, as CNN reports, the FAA is expected to downgrade a few of the laws this year, as drone tech is becoming more ubiquitous — which was clearly evident at CES 2015.


Aside from journalism, drones offer a number of advantageous real-world applications, ranging from disaster relief and farming to filmmaking and real estate. Several other companies are also making significant investments in UAVs as well, including Facebook, Amazon and Google, which will surely help spur the movement.

“Unmanned aircraft offer news organizations significant opportunities. We hope this agreement with CNN and the work we are doing with other news organizations and associations will help safely integrate unmanned news gathering technology and operating procedures into the National Airspace System,” explained FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.

Rewind: 30 breathtaking drone videos of 2014

For many, the term “drone” seems to conjure images of military use and war weaponry. As a result, the mere thought of these futuristic flying devices tend to pose security and privacy concerns to several people. When, however, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for defense purposes and those that may one day may buzz around the skies are quite different, and indeed, may change the world — for the better.

Amid recent security concerns, bans throughout U.S. national parks and ongoing regulation woes, these gadgets — some of which powered by Atmel 8 and 32-bit AVR microcontrollers —  have managed to capture stunning birds-eye views that would’ve otherwise been inconceivable a few years ago. Before the days of drone videos, filmmakers had to rely upon helicopters for such aerial shots; however, these ‘copters aren’t nearly as agile and inexpensive as UAVs. That said, there’s certainly no shortage of UAV footage.

Below, we’ve compiled just some of the most breathtaking videos taken over the last 12 months.

Christmas Spectacle

Necker Island

Alaskan Ice Cave

4th of July Fireworks

San Diego Yacht Fire

Lima, Peru

Erupting Volcano at Tanna Island

Burning Man

Seattle Space Needle

Above the Clouds in the Netherlands

Apple 2 Campus

Catching Waves in the Mentawai Islands

Dolphins at Dana Point

Niagara Falls

Beijing, China

Scaling the World’s Tallest Building in Dubai

Rockfall in Northern Italy

OK Go’s Music Video

Whale Watching in Maui

The Beauty of Baltimore

LA Love

Hong Kong Protests

The High Arctic

Serengeti Safari

The Big Apple


Winter Wonderland


Aerial Cape Town, South Africa

The Northern Roads of Oregon

Koh Yao Noi