Here at the Roswell Flight Test Crew, we pride ourselves on coming up with and testing novel applications for home-made drone aircraft - FPV multirotors in particular. However, our friend Steven in Lakemoor, Illinois - who recently won a shoulder patch in our first-ever Pop Quiz - sent me an e-mail this morning that highlighted an application that we had never even considered...
Specifically, delivering contraband (in the form of tobacco products) to inmates in the exercise yard at the Calhoun State Prison in Georgia. For dreaming up a completely novel application for this technology, the four-person crew that pulled off this caper gets solid "10" for ingenuity - but a zero for execution and foresight.
Unsurprisingly, officials noticed their DJI F-550 hexacopter loitering over the prison and immediately began a search of the area. They found the crew taking shelter in some nearby woods and arrested them on charges of attempting to deliver contraband - which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, presumably in the Calhoun State Prison.
Guys... Next time, use a fixed-wing platform equipped with LRS. Of course, by the time you get to play with RC toys again, we'll be flying around nano-swarms by means of mental telepathy, so it's probably a moot point.
You can read the original report for yourself in the Washington Times by following this link.
To our friends here in the United States, have a very happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday... And, stay out of trouble!
This video once again comes courtesy of our good friends at MediaFX Video Production, who captured this lecture, which we gave at the Portland Mini Maker Faire. Then, they paired it down to this concise, logically arranged talk which we failed to deliver to our live audience, but which is available for you to enjoy now.
We'd be remiss if we didn't give a special shout-out to MediaFX intern Steven, who provided the first cut of our talk, as well as the bouncy opening montage. Thanks, Steven!
In addition, I want to apologize right up front for Techinstein's muddy audio in the second half of this presentation. We had a lapel microphone fail on us, and this was about the most non-permissive audio environment imaginable: we were speaking directly underneath an interstate freeway bridge. Still, I thought that what he had to contribute to the discussion was worth hearing, so we went with it in spite of the bad sound.
For this talk, we wanted to do something a little different: start poking holes in the whole “all drones are evil” narrative that is so prevalent in our society today. I understand the misgivings that people have about them – airborne killing machines and surveillance platforms give me chills, too.
However, we simply can't afford to write off this whole technology because we don't like one tiny fraction of its application. It would be the same as arguing that because knives are used to kill people, we should ban all knives – but then we would be missing out on surgery and carved meats, two things I'm very glad that we have available to us.
Our goal with this video was to provide some facts and some arguments for the “pro-drone” side of the debate. In the future, these tools are going to do a lot of good for society. In fact, as I very recently learned, they are already being widely used overseas in applications like agriculture, as we here in the United States fumble around year after year, waiting for regulations to be put in place to allow that to happen.
Paraguay is out ahead of the US on this one and, for a nation that likes to fancy itself as the world leader in aviation, that's just pathetic. There really isn't any other word to describe this situation, except maybe “very pathetic.”
Anyway, after an exploration of the positive applications of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (SUAS), we launch into a general how-to discussion with the very savvy Maker Faire crowd – so savvy, in fact, that they asked questions about all of the thorny regulatory issues that I took out of our PowerPoint because Techinstein told me they were boring. Ha!
We've been wanting to do a viewer response video for a while now... We hear from so many great folks all over the world who have questions, and we do our best to respond to their e-mails and YouTube comments, but it just made sense to put together a video that addresses some of the most common ones.
In addition, we had some really exciting news that we wanted to share, and this just seemed like the right format. First and foremost, we're announcing the winner of our first “Pop Quiz,” which we included at the end of our Portland Mini Maker Faire Video.
And the winner is... Steve, from Lakemoor, Illinois! For being the first person out there on the Internets to spot an obscure phrase that I used in the November 2013 issue of RC Sport Flyer magazine, he is now the proud owner of a Roswell Flight Test Crew shoulder patch. Well done, Steve! Congratulations!
Steve is an FPV pilot himself, who has selected a mascot for his YouTube channel that seems every bit as appropriate as our own. In his most recent video, he documents the search for his FPV rig that went down in a soybean field. After an 8-man search team came up empty handed, he resorted to renting a full-sized, manned aircraft to find it.
Spoiler alert: he finds it! Given the severe damage to the LiPo battery, I'm surprised that they didn't get a smoke signal that would have led them to the crash site immediately after impact. Anyway, check it out:
The other really big news in this video is that we're now writing a monthly column for RC Sport Flyer magazine. We first became acquainted with this publication entirely by accident. The editor, Wil Byer, put together nice piece about the First Annual Multirotor Challenge in Fallbrook, California, earlier this year, which mentioned us.
I never even saw it on the newsstand, but happened across it while surfing the web. I contacted Wil to see about ordering a few copies of that issue and made an off-hand comment about would he be interested in maybe receiving the occasional submission about FPV flying.
As it turns out, Wil is very interested in this new facet of model aviation, and especially the potential for this technology to help support the public safety community. Obviously, that's an abiding interest of ours, as well, so faster than you can shout “Stop the presses!” we were writing for him.
So far, we have just the one article in print – The Dark Art of FPV Flying – but owing to the long lag in magazine publishing, we've got two more already in the hopper that will appear in the December and January issues of the magazine – and I'll be putting together another one for February next month.
Check it out, and let us know what you think!
And, finally... Click on this link to download a print-resolution .PDF of the FPV multirotor handout that we were distributing at the Portland Mini Maker Faire. Let us know if you end up using it anywhere!
If you own a smart phone and you've been thinking about getting into FPV - and you share a computer with a generous person who hasn't settled on a holiday gift for you yet - be sure to leave your browser window open to this video:
Thanks to our friends at Aerial Technology International, we got an early peek at the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, the latest evolution of the Chinese manufacturer's famed line of RTF quadcopters. It's an impressive piece of technology that comes complete with a high-definition video camera capable of capturing 14-megapixel still images, flying for 25 minutes on a single charge and transmitting live video and telemetry to your Android or iOS device.
Now, I don't believe that the Vision is going to replace conventional FPV systems – they can have RQCX-3 “Raven” when they pry her from my cold, dead fingers – but I think that this product will come to define a moment in the history of privately owned drones. In a couple of years, we'll talk about things that happened before the Vision was released, and after the Vision was released.
It's not the ultimate evolution of the personal sUAS: the camera doesn't quite measure up to earlier generations of GoPro Heroes, the gimbal only controls for aircraft pitch and seems antiquated compared to current brushless systems and, most importantly, there is noticeable lag in the Wi-Fi video and telemetry stream – making advanced FPV flight operations a dicey proposition.
However, as Joseph Stalin once observed, “Quantity has a quality all its own” – and Phantoms are arriving on the shores of these United States at the rate of 13,000 to 15,000 per month. The Vision and its cousins are going to make multirotor aerial camera platforms a consumer product, no longer exclusively the domain of wonky hobbyists with modest followings on YouTube. Indeed, DJI's marketing for the Vision makes this quite explicit.
Ready or not, the drone revolution is about to begin... Until we know for sure that everybody who can afford one of these things actually knows how to fly it, you might want to wear a helmet when you're outside.
For some folks in the FPV and amateur drone community, the Academy of Model Aeronautics has not always been viewed as a friend. I've been arguing for a while that this is changing, but now I've got video evidence, straight from the mouth of AMA President Bob Brown:
Techinstein and I have been members of the AMA almost from the beginning of our madcap adventure, but apart from writing checks and receiving a copy of Model Aviation magazine in the mail, we really had no contact with the organization.
That changed abruptly earlier this year, when Oregon Senate Bill 71 emerged as a serious threat to FPV flying and all other forms of RC flying. I happened to remember that the AMA had a Government Affairs section and having some modest understanding of the legislative process from my days as a newspaperman, I knew we needed professional help.
I contacted the AMA and in short order I was talking to Rich Hanson, the organization's government affairs representative. He gave us some good advice and addressed a packed meeting of PDXDrones via Skype, answering questions from the community.
Working together, we eventually managed to kill SB 71 and ensure that House Bill 2710, which ultimately passed, held all hobby RC flying harmless and limited the damage it caused to the professional UAS industry in Oregon.
Following that victory, we stayed in touch with the AMA. It was immediately clear to us that these were not the monsters that we'd heard other FPVers railing about in online forums. In fact, Rich and his colleagues wanted to learn about FPV and what we thought the community would want from an organization like the AMA.
Then, one day, we received a letter on AMA stationery, formally inviting us to join the organization's sUAS Advisory Group. We were honored and, truth be told, a little shocked – especially given the caliber of the other folks who were on the list.
The group began meeting by teleconference once every two weeks. Now we're talking every week and I can tell you based on those conversations at the very highest level of the AMA that the organization is 100 percent committed to supporting FPV.
Need some additional evidence? Check out the December issue of Model Aviation – we got a sneak peak earlier today. You will see several articles (including one by yours truly) on the subject, as well as a strong letter from President Bob Brown, re-stating the position he offered in our video.
This doesn't mean we get to go crazy and start flying multirotors all over Manhattan 30 stories above the pavement. It means that we have been given our rightful place in a fellowship that stretches back 77 years and laid the groundwork for everything that we are doing today.
Now, we become the beneficiaries – and the stewards – of that legacy. Having been invited to sit at the grown-up table, we can't start flicking peas at people.
This is the moment to show our true character as responsible, safe and generous members of a larger community. Besides, someday we'll be the old cranks sitting in the folding chairs out at the flying field, complaining about these crazy kids and their Rubidium-polymer battery powered nano ornithopter swarms – we might as well start paying it forward right now.
We captured the content for these three videos over two days in early August. The first installment dealt with using a drone, a small unmanned aircraft system – whatever – to assist firefighters in a hazardous material spill situation. Here is another look at that effort:
As it happens, this new water rescue video was actually the first one we shot, on the morning of our first day in Eugene. The HazMat video was recorded that afternoon, and the following day we participated in a structure fire training exercise in Eugene Fire's massive, three-story burn house.
All of this was possible thanks to our good friends at Rising Tide Innovations, a Portland start-up dedicated to using drones to provide solutions to real-world problems across a range of fields that include agriculture, public safety and scientific research.
We also owe our thanks to the men and women of Eugene Fire & EMS, and most especially Chief Randy Groves, who allowed us to share the results of these exercises with all of you out there in Internetland.
I anticipate that you'll be seeing a few more new videos from us in fairly short order, so be sure to stay tuned!
This is it: the big one! The Portland Mini Maker Faire at OMSI was by far the largest public event we've ever had the privilege to participate in: more than 6,000 attendees over two full days – and we had the opportunity to introduce hundreds of them to multirotor aircraft and FPV flying. Check it out:
Everything about this event was big, including the press we got ahead of it. The week beforehand, a chain of local newspapers ran a story about our project, inviting folks to come out and see us. You can read it for yourself by following this link.
This event also included the largest turnout of folks affiliated with the Roswell Flight Test Crew ever to be assembled in one place. There were a total of four of us on hand, which was really crucial to being able to put on a safe presentation that provided a meaningful experience for the participants.
At a previous OMSI event called “Drive Revolution,” Techinstein and I tried to do it all ourselves, and we were overwhelmed – we couldn't safely operate the aircraft and manage the crowd simultaneously. So, we were very fortunate to have some accomplished volunteers turn out to help us: Scott, who organizes PDXDrones here in town as well as Ben, who goes by “Carbon” over on the FPVLab forum.
Thanks also goes to OMSI for organizing this great event and for inviting us to participate, to all of our fellow makers who showed off some truly remarkable projects during the festival and especially PDXYar for their contributions, both musical and pyrotechnic.
And, finally... The video ends with a pop quiz for our hard-core fans. If you're the first one to come up with the correct answer and e-mail me from our “Contact Us” page, we'll send you out out a Roswell Flight Test Crew shoulder patch.
Thanks for watching – we'll see you next year!
Tired of seeing drones portrayed as soulless killing machines? Interested in supporting a local Oregon start-up? Want to see RQCX-3 “Raven” in a Super Bowl ad?
They are one of only 20 competitors vying for the grand prize: a television commercial during the Super Bowl, universally acknowledged as the Super Bowl of television advertising.
That means, all things being equal, RTI has a five percent chance of victory. However, with the legion (okay, maybe the platoon) of Roswell Flight Test Crew fans behind them, they cannot fail!
So, get out there are and start voting! Tell your friends, your family – anybody with a pulse and an IP address. Let's push them over the top!
You can see a 90-second preview ad that they put together on Intuit's site, but here is a preview they put up on YouTube. Dedicated fans will see a lot of familiar footage:
Thanks for voting! Remember, you can vote once per day!
Apparently, the need for new Roswell Flight Test Crew videos has reached the crisis point. More on that in a moment, but first, our latest offering:
We partnered with Aerial Technology International, located in nearby Clackamas, to produce this video. As an active DJI distributor, ATI was given early access to the new A2 flight control system, which we greedily exploited to provide you this early look.
Throughout the course of this video, you saw pretty much their entire shop – except for the shipping department and the bathroom. As you saw for yourself, they have a pretty big operation, selling primarily sophisticated multirotor platforms for aerial video capture. It was a playground for Techinstein and me, and we're looking forward to doing more projects with them in the coming months.
Now, regarding the “crisis” I mentioned above... I'll freely admit that we do not put out new videos on a regular basis. Since we both have full-time jobs (that are occasionally more than full time), we can't always make our FPV multirotor work our top priority – much as we might wish that we could.
As a result, we occasionally get e-mails and comments on our YouTube channel asking when we'll be putting out our next video. Now, one of our fans who we know only as “515brightcat” has become a little more aggressive, posting this comment to our FPV HazMat episode: “Upload a new video!!!”
Three exclamation points... This is serious.
I'm sure that in his or her own defense “515brightcat” would point out that it's been over a month since we've released a new video. That's a long lull – even for us.
So, I wanted to let you in on what's been happening: the past few months have seen an operational tempo unlike anything we've experienced since we launched this project more than two years ago. We've flown more missions than ever before in such a short period of time.
In addition, we've been working on a number of other initiatives that have not been in public view (yet), but that is set to start changing in October.
Far from fading away, we've confronted such a rush of new contacts and opportunities that we simply haven't had time to share all of them with you. Stay tuned – we've got plenty more on the way.
The Roswell Flight Test Crew will be out in force at OMSI this weekend – September 14 and 15 – for the Portland Mini Maker Faire. This event is taking over the whole north parking lot. Look for us in the back, lurking beneath the Marquam Bridge. We requested this location specifically, to give us space to launch birds out over the river.
Come by and get a first-hand look at our aircraft, ask questions about setting up your own FPV rigs and try on a pair of goggles for yourself.
At 11 a.m. on Saturday, we'll be giving a talk on the Innovation Stage entitled, “Dr. Strangebird; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Drones.” We'll take a look at all of the good things drones can do for society then explain how you can get in on the fun by building one of your own.
Then, once it's finished, you can go around taking cool pictures, like this:
The Mini Maker Faire will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. It should be a pretty amazing gathering: there are going to be robots, pirates from PDXYar firing cannons out over the Willamette, a giant Van der Graaff generator and a knitted car.
I think I heard right on that last one, but come out and see for yourself! All told, there are going to be over 100 exhibitors, so even if home-made drones aren't your thing, you're sure to find something that is...
Having been literally overwhelmed with interest at other recent public appearances, we've called on some stalwart companions to help us through what is no doubt going to be a very busy weekend. We've got Scott, the organizer of PDXDrones as well as Carbon – a frequent contributor to the FPVLab forums.
It's going to be a great weekend – we're looking forward to seeing you there!