Dubai airport briefly halts flights after drone spotted

Earlier today, Dubai’s International airport shut down flights for roughly half an hour, owing to the sighting a drone flying nearby. Departures were halted from 10:13 a.m. and 10:45 a.m over  “suspected drone activity,” those arriving flights were still able to land.  The airport’s social team took to Twitter to update the situation, while noting, […]

Earlier today, Dubai’s International airport shut down flights for roughly half an hour, owing to the sighting a drone flying nearby. Departures were halted from 10:13 a.m. and 10:45 a.m over  “suspected drone activity,” those arriving flights were still able to land. 

The airport’s social team took to Twitter to update the situation, while noting, “Authorities warned that flying drones without obtaining permission is subject to legal liability as per UAE laws.”

DXB consistently ranks among the top three busiest airlines by passenger volume. In 2018, the airport saw more than 88 million passengers. It’s the latest in a recent string of scares involving personal drones flying too close to commercial airport. At the height of the holiday season last year, London’s Gatwick airport was closed for a day and a half over similar concerns.

An increase in such activity has lead to more action from drone manufacturers and increased calls for legislation around the products.

DXB says it is working with local authorities to address the incident. “Dubai Airports has worked closely with the appropriate authorities to ensure that the safety of airport operations is maintained at all times and to minimize any inconvenience to our customers,” the airport said in a statement to The New York Times. 

DJI is updating its geofencing system across Europe after Gatwick drone debacle

Following the pre-Christmas drone debacle in the UK — which plunged thousands of people into travel misery after repeated drone sightings closed the runway at Gatwick, and later also briefly suspended departures at Heathrow — consumer drone maker DJI has announced it’s upgrading its geofencing system across Europe. It says its Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) 2.0 system […]

Following the pre-Christmas drone debacle in the UK — which plunged thousands of people into travel misery after repeated drone sightings closed the runway at Gatwick, and later also briefly suspended departures at Heathrow — consumer drone maker DJI has announced it’s upgrading its geofencing system across Europe.

It says its Geospatial Environment Online (GEO) 2.0 system will be rolled out to the 19 European countries that did not already have the GEO system in phases — “starting later this month”.

“GEO 2.0 creates detailed three-dimensional “bow tie” safety zones surrounding runway flight paths and uses complex polygon shapes around other sensitive facilities, rather than just simple circles used in earlier geofencing versions,” it writes.

We’ve asked how long it will take for the update to be fully rolled out across the region.

A further 13 local markets that had the GEO system already will also now get the 2.0 update.

In all, 32 European countries will be covered by GEO 2.0 — which DJI bills as offering “enhance protection of European airports and facilities”.

Here’s how it explains the new geofencing approach in Europe:

GEO 2.0 applies the strictest geofencing restrictions to a 1.2 kilometer (3/4 mile) wide rectangle around each runway and the three-dimensional flight paths at either end, where airplanes ascend and descend. More flexible geofencing restrictions apply to an oval area within 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) of each runway. This bow tie shape opens more areas on the sides of runways to beneficial drone uses, as well as low-altitude areas more than 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the end of a runway, while increasing protection in the locations where traditional aircraft actually fly.

DJI’s new boundary areas around airport runways are based on the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Annex 14 standard for airspace safety near runways. DJI also consulted with aviation organizations on ways to enhance geofencing features near airport facilities. DJI’s categorisation of airports is based on airport types, numbers of passengers, operations and other factors, influencing the sensitivity of the airspace around a given location.

The countries getting GEO for the first time are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden.

While those countries set for an upgrade to GEO 2.0 are: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

Update: A spokesman confirmed it will be live in all 32 countries later this month. He also confirmed that DJI drones operating in the nineteen European countries that are getting GEO for the first time had no geoblocks at all prior to this roll out.

It’s not clear what took DJI so long to implement stricter and more detailed geofencing — and, well, any geofencing at all in most regional markets — around critical infrastructure sites like airports. We asked and it didn’t respond to the question.

But it has also announced a change of data provider — from California-based AirMap to Altitude Angel — in Europe. So appears to have needed to source better European mapping data. (Although the latter company launched its unmanned traffic management platform back in 2016.)

Altitude Angel, a UK-based startup which was founded in 2014, says its GuardianUTM platform is being used by DJI to extend the functionality of GEO 2.0 so it “more accurately reflects the highest safety risks around particular facilities”.

DJI claims the upgrade not only better reflects actual safety risks around airports but describes it as “more flexible in lower-risk areas” — saying, for example, that it would permit “authorized users to conduct drone activities in locations parallel to runways”. (Albeit UK airports might not be in a huge rush to permit any kind of nearby drone flights given the recent chaos… )

Another difference for the platform flagged by Altitude Angel itself is the claim it better maps other “sensitive facilities” too, such as prisons and nuclear power stations — which it says are represented by “more accurate ‘polygon’ shapes, rather than large, static cylinders”.

“By more accurately mapping the highest risk zones, DJI can improve safety while opening up more of the airspace to drone pilots,” is its claim.

Another change coming via the GEO update is that DJI’s geofencing system will also include Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) imposed during major events or natural disasters.

“The TFRs will be based on authoritative data from Eurocontrol,” it says.

When the drone maker announced the launch of its GEO geofencing system in Europe and North America, back in 2015, its VP of policy and legal affairs wrote: “Our years of actual user experience have shown that in most instances, strict geofencing is the wrong approach for this technology, and instead we are helping operators make informed, accountable decisions.”

As it turned out there’s rather more work to be done to ensure human nature combined with affordable, powerful drone tech doesn’t turn a consumer gadget into a weapon of mass disruption.

Another wrinkle, vis-a-vis geofencing as a mechanism for regulating drone use, is that individual (DJI) drone owners must update their DJIGO 4 flight control app and aircraft firmware for the new geoblocks to apply. So a push button fix for drone misuse this most definitely is not.

Add to that, modded/hacked drones can and do circumvent baked in geoblocks. And of course other drone brands, with different geofencing systems, are available.

Regulators have been caught on the hop around drone safety but aren’t likely to stand still for too much longer.

Last month the UK government announced new powers for police to tackle illegal use of drone technology — including powers to land, seize and search drones.

It also said it would beef up stop-gap flight restriction rules on drones by expanding a 1km flight exclusion zone around airports to circa 5km.

A full drone bill is still pending but the Gatwick drone chaos will have concentrated ministerial minds on the expeditious need to better regulate the tech.

SeeTree raises $11.5M to help farmers manage their orchards

SeeTree, a Tel Aviv-based startup that uses drones and artificial intelligence to bring precision agriculture to their groves, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A funding round led by Hanaco Ventures, with participation from previous investors Canaan Partners Israel, Uri Levine and his investors group, iAngel and Mindset. This brings the […]

SeeTree, a Tel Aviv-based startup that uses drones and artificial intelligence to bring precision agriculture to their groves, today announced that it has raised an $11.5 million Series A funding round led by Hanaco Ventures, with participation from previous investors Canaan Partners Israel, Uri Levine and his investors group, iAngel and Mindset. This brings the company’s total funding to $15 million.

The idea behind the company, which also has offices in California and Brazil, is that in the past, drone-based precision agriculture hasn’t really lived up to its promise and didn’t work all that well for permanent crops like fruit trees. “In the past two decades, since the concept was born, the application of it, as well as measuring techniques, has seen limited success — especially in the permanent-crop sector,” said SeeTree CEO Israel Talpaz. “They failed to reach the full potential of precision agriculture as it is meant to be.”

He argues that the future of precision agriculture has to take a more holistic view of the entire farm. He also believes that past efforts didn’t quite offer the quality of data necessary to give permanent crop farmers the actionable recommendations they need to manage their groves.

SeeTree is obviously trying to tackle these issues and it does so by offering granular per-tree data based on the imagery gathered from drones and the company’s machine learning algorithms that then analyze this imagery. Using this data, farmers can then decide to replace trees that underperform, for example, or map out a plan to selectively harvest based on the size of a tree’s fruits and its development stages. They can then also correlate all of this data with their irrigation and fertilization infrastructure to determine the ROI of those efforts.

“Traditionally, farmers made large-scale business decisions based on intuitions that would come from limited (and often unreliable) small-scale testing done by the naked eye,” said Talpaz. “With SeeTree, farmers can now make critical decisions based on accurate and consistent small and large-scale data, connecting their actions to actual results in the field.”

SeeTree was founded by Talpaz, who like so many Israeli entrepreneurs previously worked for the country’s intelligence services, as well as Barak Hachamov (who you may remember from his early personalized news startup my6sense) and Guy Morgenstern, who has extensive experience as an R&D executive with a background in image processing and communications systems.

DJI drones can fly over crowds if it wears this certified parachute

Most of the time, commercial and personal drones are not allowed to fly over groups of people. For safety, obviously. Indemnis’ drone parachute changes that. The company’s product was just certified to allow operators to legally fly drones over small groups of people. This is the first time such a device received the certification. Indemnis […]

Most of the time, commercial and personal drones are not allowed to fly over groups of people. For safety, obviously. Indemnis’ drone parachute changes that. The company’s product was just certified to allow operators to legally fly drones over small groups of people. This is the first time such a device received the certification.

Indemnis Parachute For DJI Drones straps onto DJI’s large drones and features a launcher that deploys a parachute when sensor detect flight anomalies.

To become certified, the Alaska-based company’s product had to pass a series of obstacles that included 45 functionality tests across 5 different failure scenarios. The tests were designed to ensure the parachute deploys at the right time, every time.

According to a press release, this product works like this:

“Nexus is a ballistic parachute launcher, triggered automatically if the drone suddenly begins tilting abnormally or falling. It deploys the parachute within 30 milliseconds at 90 mph, through a tube that rapidly inflates to keep the parachute lines away from the drone body and propellers. Indemnis offers the Nexus package today for the Inspire 2, and intends to offer it for Matrice 200 series and Matrice 600 series drones by late 2019.”

A handful of companies are attempting to address drone safety and parachutes are one solution. Often, the products are designed to protect bystanders and the drone itself. DJI has yet to build a parachute into one of its products, though.

DJI Launches Mavic 2 Controller With Android, 5.5-Inch 1080p Display

While some people enjoy using their phones as the method of flying their drone, others want something altogether more standalone. So far, that hasn’t been possible with the Mavic 2, but DJI has now finally taken the wraps off the Smart Controller, an A…

While some people enjoy using their phones as the method of flying their drone, others want something altogether more standalone. So far, that hasn't been possible with the Mavic 2, but DJI has now finally taken the wraps off the Smart Controller, an Android-powered controller that incorporates its own display.


[ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

Heathrow flights disrupted by yet another drone

Just weeks after Christmas droning at Gatwick, Heathrow gets shut down for an hour.

Now that every US carrier has retired its 747s, if you want to fly one, your best bet is with British Airways, which still operates 36 of them, many on routes to the US. Here are 11, seen at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in 2013.

Enlarge / Now that every US carrier has retired its 747s, if you want to fly one, your best bet is with British Airways, which still operates 36 of them, many on routes to the US. Here are 11, seen at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in 2013. (credit: Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images)

Just a few weeks after London's Gatwick Airport was shut down by repeated drone sightings within the airport's airspace, Heathrow Airport had to suspend flights due to its own drone air traffic. A spokesperson for Heathrow said in a statement to the press, "As a precautionary measure, we have stopped departures while we investigate. We apologize to passengers for any inconvenience this may cause."

As of 1pm Eastern US time, flights coming into Heathrow were in a holding pattern around the airport, based on data from the flight tracking site FlightRadar24.com. Departures were suspended for about an hour but have now resumed. Police were called in to investigate. Via the airport's Twitter account, a spokesperson said, "We continue to work with the Met Police on reports of drones at Heathrow. We are working with Air Traffic Control and the Met Police and have resumed departures out of Heathrow after a short suspension. We will continue to monitor this and apologize to anyone that were affected.'

Ars will update this story as more details become available.

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We Took The Affordable EACHINE E58, E010 Drones For A Spin, Here’s What We Think [Review]

I took EACHINE’s E58 and E010 budget quadcopter drones for a spin and while I couldn’t get a handle on the latter, I’d recommend the E58 to anyone, especially drone novices. [ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

I took EACHINE's E58 and E010 budget quadcopter drones for a spin and while I couldn't get a handle on the latter, I'd recommend the E58 to anyone, especially drone novices.


[ Continue reading this over at RedmondPie.com ]

I’ll be drone for Christmas: London airport closed for day by drone harassment

Gatwick CEO says drone flights designed to “bring maximum disruption” for Christmas.

Enlarge / LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: A Police helicopter flies over Gatwick Airport as they search for the Drone operator causing closure of the airport on December 20, 2018. (credit: Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

In what appears to be the first intentional use of drones to disrupt civil aviation, continued sightings of two remotely piloted aircraft flying over and around the airfield at London's Gatwick Airport starting the evening of December 19 have forced the airport to remain closed to flights for over a day. In a letter posted to Gatwick's website, Gatwick Airport's CEO called the continued drone activity "a highly targeted activity which has been designed to close the airport and bring maximum disruption in the run up to Christmas." He also said the airport is cooperating with law enforcement to end the "criminal activity."

As of 7:00pm London time on Thursday, Gatwick's runway was still unavailable for takeoffs and landings "because of continued drone sightings," the airport announced, and some airlines have cancelled all flights until further notice. "We apologize to all of our passengers who are impacted today, but the safety of our passengers and all staff is our priority," an airport spokesperson said.

Drone sightings have been a safety concern around London's airports for some time. In 2016, a British Airways flight landing at London's Heathrow Airport apparently struck a drone while on approach for landing. Earlier that year, the United Kingdom's Airprox air safety board issued an incident report on a near-miss in which a quadcopter drone passed within 20 feet of a landing Airbus A319 at Heathrow. And just a month ago, a drone came within 32 feet of a commuter aircraft landing at Edinburgh Airport. In the US, there have been hundreds of such incidents reported in recent years.

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Drones ground flights at UK’s second largest airport

Mystery drone operator/s have grounded flights at the U.K.’s second largest airport, disrupting the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people hoping to get away over the festive period. The BBC reports that Gatwick Airport’s runway has been shut since Wednesday night on safety grounds, after drones were spotted being flown repeatedly over the […]

Mystery drone operator/s have grounded flights at the U.K.’s second largest airport, disrupting the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of people hoping to get away over the festive period.

The BBC reports that Gatwick Airport’s runway has been shut since Wednesday night on safety grounds, after drones were spotted being flown repeatedly over the airfield.

It says airlines have been advised to cancel all flights up to at least 16:00 GMT, with the airport saying the runway would not open “until it was safe to do so.”

More than 20 police units are reported to be searching for the drone operator/s.

The U.K. made amendments to existing legislation this year to make illegal flying a drone within 1km of an airport after a planned drone bill got delayed.

The safety focused tweak to the law five months ago also restricted drone flight height to 400 ft. A registration scheme for drone owners is also set to be introduced next year.

Under current U.K. law, a drone operator who is charged with recklessly or negligently acting in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft or a person in an aircraft can face a penalty of up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine, or both.

Although, in the Gatwick incident case, it’s not clear whether simply flying a drone near a runway would constitute an attempt to endanger an aircraft under the law. Even though the incident has clearly caused major disruption to travelers as the safety-conscious airport takes no chances.

Further adding to the misery of disrupted passengers today, the Civil Aviation Authority told the BBC it considered the event to be an “extraordinary circumstance” — meaning airlines aren’t obligated to pay financial compensation.

There’s been a marked rise in U.K. aircraft incidents involving drones over the past five years, with more than 100 recorded so far this year, according to data from the U.K. Airprox Board.

Aviation minister Baroness Sugg faced a barrage of questions about the Gatwick disruption in the House of Lords today, including accusations the government has dragged its feet on bringing in technical specifications that might have avoided the disruption.

“These drones are being operated illegally… It seems that the drones are being used intentionally to disrupt the airport, but, as I said, this is an ongoing investigation,” she told peers, adding: “We changed the law earlier this year, bringing in an exclusion zone around airports. We are working with manufactures and retailers to ensure that the new rules are communicated to those who purchase drones.

“From November next year, people will need to register their drone and take an online safety test. We have also recently consulted on extending police powers and will make an announcement on next steps shortly.”

The minister was also pressed on what the government had done to explore counterdrone technology, which could be used to disable drones, with one peer noting they’d raised the very issue two years ago.

“My Lords, technology is rapidly advancing in this area,” responded Sugg. “That is absolutely something that we are looking at. As I said, part of the consultation we did earlier this year was on counterdrone technology and we will be announcing our next steps on that very soon.”

Another peer wondered whether techniques he said had been developed by the U.K. military and spy agency GCHQ — to rapidly identify the frequency a drone is operating on, and either jam it or take control and land it — will be “given more broadly to various airports”?

“All relevant parts of the Government, including the Ministry of Defence, are working on this issue today to try to resolve it as quickly as possible,” the minister replied. “We are working on the new technology that is available to ensure that such an incident does not happen again. It is not acceptable that passengers have faced such disruption ahead of Christmas and we are doing all we can to resolve it as quickly as possible.”

This drone shrinks to fit

Researchers at the University of Zurich and EPFL have created a robot that shrinks to fit through gaps, a feature that could make it perfect for search and rescue missions. The researchers initially created a drone that could assess man-made gaps and squeeze through in seconds using only one camera. This extra feature – a […]

Researchers at the University of Zurich and EPFL have created a robot that shrinks to fit through gaps, a feature that could make it perfect for search and rescue missions. The researchers initially created a drone that could assess man-made gaps and squeeze through in seconds using only one camera. This extra feature – a scissor like system to shrink the drone in flight – makes it even more versatile and allows these drones to react to larger or smaller gaps in nature.

“The idea came up after we worked on quadrotor flight through narrow gaps,” said PhD candidate Davide Falanga. “The goal of our lab is to develop drones which can be in the future used in the aftermath of a disaster, as for example an earthquake, in order to enter building through small cracks or apertures in a collapsed building to look for survivors. Our previous approach required a very aggressive maneuver, therefore we looked into alternative solutions to accomplish a task as passing through a very narrow gap without having to fly at high speed. The solution we came up with is the foldable drone, a quadrotor which can change its shape to adapt to the task.”

The system measures the gap and changes its shape without outside processing, a feat that is quite exciting. All of the processing is done on board and it could be turned into an autonomous system if necessary. The team build the drone with off the shelf and 3D-printed parts.

“The main difference between conventional drones and our foldable drone is in the way the arms are connected to the body: each arm is connected through a servo motor, which can change the relative position between the main body and the arm. This allows the robot to literally fold the arms around the body, which means that potentially any morphology can be obtained. An adaptive controller is aware of the drone’s morphology and adapts to it in order to guarantee stable flight at all times, independently of the configuration,” said Falanga.

The team published a report on their findings in Robotics and Automation Letters. As IEEE notes, this is no flying drone dragon but it is a far simpler, cooler, and more effective product.