One of the new products unveiled at CES this year is a new kind of home security system – one that includes drones to patrol your property, along with sensors designed to mimic garden light and a central processor to bring it all together.
Sunflower Labs debuted their new Sunflower Home Awareness System, which includes the eponymous Sunflowers (motion and vibration sensors that look like simple garden lights but can populate a map to show you cars, people and animals on or near you property in real time); the Bee (a fully autonomous drone that deploys and flies on its own, with cameras on board to live stream video); and the Hive (a charging station for the Bee, which also houses the brains of the operation for crunching all the data gathered by the component parts.)
Roving aerial robots keeping tabs on your property might seem a tad dystopian, and perhaps even unnecessary, when you could maybe equip your estate with multiple fixed cameras and sensors for less money and with less complexity. But Sunflower Labs thinks its security system is an evolution of more standard fare because it “learns and reacts to its surroundings,” improving over time.
The Bee is also designed basically to supplement more traditional passive monitoring, and can be deployed on demand to provide more detailed information and live views of any untoward activity detected on your property. So it’s a bit like having someone always at the ready to go check out that weird noise you heard in the night – without the risk to the brave checker-upper.
Sunflower Labs was founded in 2016, and has backing from General Catalyst, among others, with offices in both San Francisco and Zurich. The system doesn’t come cheap, which shouldn’t be a surprise given what it promises to do on paper – it starts at $ 9,950 and can range up depending on your specific property’s custom needs. The company is accepting pre-orders now, with a deposit of $ 999 required, and intends to start delivering the first orders to customers beginning sometime in the middle of this year.
Modern agriculture involves fields of mind-boggling size, and spraying them efficiently is a serious operational challenge. Pyka is taking on the largely human-powered spray business with an autonomous winged craft and, crucially, regulatory approval.
Just as we’ve seen with DroneSeed, this type of flying is risky for pilots, who must fly very close to the ground and other obstacles, yet also highly susceptible to automation; That’s because it involves lots of repetitive flight patterns that must be executed perfectly, over and over.
Pyka’s approach is unlike that of many in the drone industry, which has tended to use multirotor craft for their maneuverability and easy take-off and landing. But those drones can’t carry the weight and volume of pesticides and other chemicals that (unfortunately) need to be deployed at large scales.
The craft Pyka has built is more traditional, resembling a traditional one-seater crop dusting plane but lacking the cockpit. It’s driven by a trio of propellers, and most of the interior is given over to payload (it can carry about 450 pounds) and batteries. Of course there is also a sensing suite and onboard computer to handle the immediate demands of automated flight.
Pyka can take off or land on a 150-foot stretch of flat land, so you don’t have to worry about setting up a runway and wasting energy getting to the target area. Of course, it’ll eventually need to swap out batteries, which is part of the ground crew’s responsibilities. They’ll also be designing the overall course for the craft, though the actual flight path and moment-to-moment decisions are handled by the flight computer.
Example of a flight path accounting for obstacles without human input.
All this means the plane, apparently called the Egret, can spray about a hundred acres per hour, about the same as a helicopter. But the autonomous craft provides improved precision (it flies lower) and safety (no human pulling difficult maneuvers every minute or two).
Perhaps more importantly, the feds don’t mind it. Pyka claims to be the only company in the world with a commercially approved large autonomous electric aircraft. Small ones like drones have been approved left and right, but the Egret is approaching the size of a traditional “small aircraft” like a Piper Cub.
Of course, that’s just the craft — other regulatory hurdles hinder wide deployment, like communicating with air traffic management and other craft; certification of the craft in other ways; a more robust long-range sense and avoid system, and so on. But Pyka’s Egret has already flown thousands of miles at test farms that paying for the privilege. (Pyka declined to comment on its business model, customers, or revenues.)
The company’s founding team — Michael Norcia, Chuma Ogunwole, Kyle Moore, and Nathan White — comes from a variety of well-known companies working in adjacent spaces: Cora, Kittyhawk, Joby Aviation, Google X, Waymo, and Morgan Stanley (that’s the COO).
The $ 11M seed round was led by Prime Movers Lab, with participation from Y Combinator, Greycroft, Data Collective, and Bold Capital Partners.
A UK drone registration scheme has opened ahead of the deadline for owners to register their devices coming into force at the end of this month.
The UK government announced its intention to introduce a drone registration scheme two years ago.
The rules apply to drones or model aircraft weighting between 250g and 20kg.
Owners of drones wanting to fly the device themselves must also take and pass a theory test to gain a flyer ID by November 30. Anyone who wishes to fly a drone owned by someone else must also first obtain a flyer ID by passing the theory test.
UK ministers have come in for serious criticism for lagging on drone regulations in recent years after a spate of drone sightings at the country’s busiest airport grounded flights last December, disrupting thousands of travellers. In January flights were also briefly halted at Heathrow airport after another unidentified drone sighting.
This fall the police investigation into the Gatwick drone shutdown found that at least two drones had been involved. In September police also said they had been unable to identify any suspects — ruling out 96 people of interest.
Following the Gatwick disruption the government tightened existing laws around drone flights near airports — extending a no-fly zone from 1km to 5km. But a full drone bill, originally slated for introduction this year, has yet to take off.
As well as introducing a legal requirement for drone owners to register their craft via the Civil Aviation Authority’s website by November 30, the new stop-gap rules require organizations that use drones to register for an operator ID too, also at a cost of £9 per year.
All drones must also be labeled with the operator ID. This must be clearly visible on the main body of the craft, and easy to read when it’s on the ground, written in block capital letters taller than 3mm high.
The registered person who obtains the operator ID must be aged 18 or older and is accountable for managing drones to ensure only individuals with a flyer ID fly them.
Individuals must be aged 13 or older to obtain a flyer ID.
The online test for obtaining the flyer ID involves answering 20 multiple choice questions. The pass mark for the test is set at 16. There’s no limit on how many times the test can be taken.
The Civil Aviation Authority says everything needed to pass the test can be found in The Drone and Model Aircraft Code. There’s no charge for taking the test or obtaining the flyer ID.
The $ 399 Mavic Mini lives in a sweet spot of core features and a low price. It packs everything critical to be a quality drone. It has a good camera, good range, and a good controller. It holds up well in the wind and is quick enough to be fun. And it’s so small that you’re more likely to throw it in your bag and take it on Instagram adventures.
The small size is the Mavic Mini’s main selling point. It weighs 249 grams, and that odd number isn’t an accident. Drones that weight 250 grams and above have to be registered to fly. And yet, even though the Mavic Mini is lightweight and foldable, it’s packed with core features: 30 minute flight time, 4 km HD video transmission, 3-axis gimbal holding a 2.7K camera, and a physical controller that works with Android and iOS devices. At $ 399, it’s a lot of drone for the money even though it’s missing features found in DJI’s other drones.
There are more expensive drones packed with a lot of features. I own most of those drones. They’re fun, but several years ago, feature creep started sneaking into DJI’s products. Now, with a convoluted product line, a spreadsheet is needed to deceiver DJI’s drones. Most come loaded with countless features owners will likely never use. The Mavic Mini is something different. It’s basic, and I dig it.
Here’s what’s missing: collision detection, ultra-long-range connection, 4k camera, gesture control, and advanced camera features like trackable follow, panoramic, timelapse, and optical zoom.
The Mavic Mini is quick enough to be fun, but it won’t win any races. It’s responsive and fast enough. Light and easy. Compared to a Mavic 2, it feels smaller and less powerful — because it is — and yet it never feels too small or underpowered. The Mavic Mini is well balanced, and owners should find it enjoyable to fly.
Despite its tiny size, the Mavic Mini holds up well in high wind. I took it up to 200m on a windy fall day in the Midwest. The wind was clearing leaves off the trees, and I was bundled up in hat and gloves. It was gusty. The Mavic Mini didn’t care. It took off like a drone much larger and stood tall against the wind. What’s more, the video didn’t suffer. The gimbal held the camera steady as it recorded the autumn landscape.
The drone uses DJI’s new app, and I’m using a beta version to test the drone. Called DJI Fly, it’s a streamlined version of DJI Go and packs several enhancements. Safe fly zones are better integrated into the app and have an additional level of detail over the older app. DJI also better built-in support for its social community app, SkyPixel. However, as this version is streamlined, it lacks a lot of information standard on the Go version, most notable, a mini-map in the bottom corner of the screen. I’m hoping DJI adds more features to this app after it launches.
The camera is good for the price. The pictures here were taken from the drone and not altered or adjusted. They were taken on cloudy and sunny days. The range is surprisingly good as the drone can capture blue skies and dark highlights. Occasionally in direct sunlight, the camera colors become washed out.
They say the best camera is the one you have with you. That’s where the Mavic Mini comes in. The best drone is the one you have with you. For years, I lugged around a massive Pelican case containing Phantom 2 and later a Phantom 3. I thought I was the coolest. At a moment’s notice, I could go to my car’s trunk and retrieve a suitcase containing a flying camera. A few minutes later, after my phone synced to the drone, and the controller joined the drone’s network, I had 15 minutes of flight time. Then came the foldable Mavic, which fit alongside my camera gear like a large telephoto lens. Other drones came and went. I liked the GoPro Karma for a time.
The tiny Mavic Mini is a game-changer. It’s small enough that I’ll bring it everywhere. It’s small and light enough that it feels like a large point and shoot in my computer bag.
Want more features and a better camera but keep the portable size? Earlier this year DJI announced the $ 919 foldable Mavic Air that has a 4k camera and 5 mile video transmission.
The Mavic Mini gets everything right. It’s small, comes with a lovely case, and in a $ 499 bundle, two extra batteries with a clever charging pack. The camera is surprisingly good though admittedly less powerful than DJI’s more expensive drones. The Mavic Mini is the perfect drone for a first-timer or experienced drone enthusiast. DJI stuff enough features into the 249 gram body to make this a fantastic drone for anyone.