Industry Roundup — Drone News

IQuadcopters in the newsf you applied for a Section 333 Waiver in the past year, you probably had it granted. The FAA has been awarding exemptions — permits to fly — at a surprisingly rapid pace. As of publication, the FAA has granted over 1,700 awards of exemption (up from about 30 just six months ago). If you are among this group of grantees, or expect to join it soon, read on for news about the industry!

New Commercial UAV Services

Draganfly Innovations, a developer and supplier of multi-rotor UAVs, made the news when it announced the launch of a new suite of professionally piloted commercial UAV services. Creators of the first UAS flown by a public safety agency that saved a life, Draganfly Innovations plans to match experienced personnel with the latest UAV technology, including high-res color camera systems, FLIR thermal imaging and multi-spectral data acquisition systems.

CA Governor Vetoes Drone Bills

Governor Jerry Brown of California recently vetoed three drone-related bills that would have prohibited civilians from flying aerial vehicles over wildfires, schools, prisons and jails. Also vetoing six other bills, Governor Brown explained that the bills would have created new crimes, “usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed.” One bill would have allowed fines up to $5,000, six months in jail, and would have given emergency responders immunity from liability for any damage to UAVs caused by electronic signal-jamming devices.

FAA Grants Harsh Penalty

While the FAA has been swiftly granting exemptions, it also announced its harshest civil penalty against a UAS operator for alleged illegal drone flights over a few major US aviation hubs. The penalty — a whopping $1.9 million — is against SkyPan International, a Chicago-based company. The FAA alleges that SkyPan flew 65 illegal flights over Chicago, New York and other locations during a 21 month period, ending in December 2014.

New Guide to Drones for Business

If you are looking to get into the industry, check out this Beginner’s Guide to Starting a Drone-Based Business. Those thinking about starting a business in aerial photography, real estate or aerial surveying will find information about training, getting certified and necessary equipment.

Why Do I Need Zeus Weather?

Easy and Accurate
Drone equipment

Now that our blog is back up and better than ever, we want to take time to remind you what’s so great about Zeus Weather. Perhaps you signed up for the service but haven’t really taken advantage of the benefits. Or maybe you have been waiting while trying to decide if you should subscribe. Read on for some encouragement—stop delaying and sign up!

Cost and Commitment-free

Unless you are a company that operates multiple launch sites at a time, you probably only need a Basic Subscription. Basic is free, and there’s no commitment to sign up. You gain access to system-generated forecasts with current worldwide model data. Just input your own parameters and coordinates to get your unique “GO” / “NO GO” forecast.

looks-red-but-green2Simple and Fast

You’re a busy person—we all are. Zeus Weather is committed to providing you with simple, easy-to-read forecasts so you don’t have to spend time trudging through other complicated models and forecasts. Check Zeus Weather up to seven days before your launch to see if your particular parameters are being met. Check again a few hours—even minutes—before you plan to leave! Instead of researching whether it will be cloudy, hailing or windy and then calculating whether this weather fits your limitations, check your tailored forecast from Zeus Weather. Since Zeus Weather is a one stop shop, all you need to do is tell the tool your parameters to be given a customized report that is made just for you.

I still have questions…

No problem! At Zeus Weather we are open to questions, comments and suggestions. Don’t hesitate to contact us before signing up. If you subscribe and still have questions, we are here to answer them. So go ahead, sign up for a Basic Subscription and try out the Zeus Tool. We think you’ll be pleased!

FAA Exempted UAS Companies

You have probably heard that the industrial plant drone inspectionFAA recently granted more exemptions to UAS companies. You may have heard their names in the news. If you’re like us, though, you want to know more about what the companies do, who is involved, and how they got the FAA to give them the much-desired exemptions. In this week’s blog we’ll survey the companies that comprise the 8% approval rating of the 342 requests.

Who has been exempted?

In order, the FAA has awarded an exemption to: Astraeus Aerial, with summary grants of exemption to Aerial MOBPictorvisionHeliVideo ProductionsSnaproll MediaRC Pro Productions Consulting (Vortex Aerial), and Flying-Cam Inc.. In December 2014 grants of exemption were announced for ClaycoTrimble Navigation, VDOS Global, and Woolpert. In January 2015 grants of exemption were awarded to Tierra Antigua Realty and Advanced Aviation Solutions; later to AeroCine and Burnz Eye View; and then to Shotover, Slugwear (dba LikeonaTree), Team 5, and Total Safety U.S.. In early February 2015 grants of exemption went to Helinet Aviation Services and Alan D. Purwin, with amendments made to the exemptions for Aerial MOB and Pictorvision. The most recent grants of exemption went to Pravia, Viafield, Blue-Chip UAS, and Asymmetric Technologies.

What do they do?

The first round of exemptions—the Astraeus Aerial group, represented by Jonathan B. Hill and John McGraw—occurred in May 2014 and was made up of of seven enterprises in the aerial filming industry. They are now cleared for closed-set filming. The December round of exemptions were for inspection companies: Clayco does aerial imaging and construction, Trimble is precision aerial surveying and agriculture, VDOS does flare stack inspection, and Woolpert does precision aerial surveying. The January exemptions went to a mixed group: Tierra Antigua Realty of course does real estate photography and videography, Advanced Aviation Solutions works in precision agriculture, AeroCine does aerial filming, Burnz Eye View does aerial photography and inspection, LikeOnATree does aerial photography, Total Safety U.S. does flare stack inspections, and Team 5 does aerial filming, motion picture, and television. The next round of exemptions was for aerial filming, motion picture, and television; the amendments were for the closed-set filming companies. The most recent grants made another mixed bag: Pravia does agriculture analysis and high-resolution aerial imagery, Viafield works in precision agriculture, Blue-Chip UAS does aerial photography for a variety of industries, and Asymmetric Technologies does bridge inspections.

Why did the FAA think they were worth it?

The FAA’s analysis of the Astraeus Aerial petition demonstrates what the FAA is looking for from petitioners. This is a 29 page grant of exemption, so we wanted to highlight the parts we thought were most significant.

1. Astraeus showed the FAA that its operations wouldn’t adversely affect safety compared to similar operations conducted with aircraft that have been issued an airworthiness certificate under 14 CFR part 21, Subpart H.

2. The limited weight, size, operating conditions, and design safety features of an unmanned aircraft—versus a helicopter, which is the usual craft used for filming—significantly reduces the potential for harm to participating and nonparticipating individuals or property in the event of an incident or accident. Also, human risk for the pilot or crew is completely eliminated.

3. Unmanned aircraft carry no fuel so the risk of fire (on a film set) following an incident or accident due to fuel spillage is eliminated.

4. Because the exemption doesn’t require transponders or sense and avoid technology, the FAA placed limits on altitude, stand-off distance from clouds, will permit daytime operations only, requires that the aircraft be operated within visual line of sight and yield right of way to all other manned operations, and the operator must request a notice to airman prior to operations to alert other users in the airspace.

5. The FAA found that Astraeus didn’t provide a sufficient safety case or mitigations to fly at night. Although the film sets will have lighting, the company didn’t provide sufficient data and analysis regarding the abilities of the Pilots in Command (PICs) and Visual Observers (VOs) to maintain visual line of sight with the aircraft to avoid collision hazards at night.

6. As you may know, the Air Line Pilots Association and other groups voiced concerns about the UAS pilot possessing a commercial pilot certificate with appropriate category and class rating for the type of aircraft being flown, the corresponding second class medical certificate, and specific and adequate training on the UAS make and model intended to be used. The FAA shares those concerns; however, it decided that the combination of aeronautical knowledge, UAS airmanship skills, and verification through testing was a sufficient method for Astraeus to evaluate a pilot’s qualifications. The upshot: The PIC must possess at least a private pilot certificate and at least a current third-class medical certificate.

7. Public interest: This is always an interesting motive. The FAA found that a grant of exemption was in the public interest here because of the human risk elimination and because UAS provide an additional tool for the filmmaking industry, which adds a greater degree of flexibility, which supplements the current capabilities offered by manned aircraft.

8. The FAA made a few more demands that are pretty standard. These include, but are definitely not limited to: Prior to each flight the PIC must inspect the UAS to ensure it is in a condition for safe flight; the operator must ensure that nobody is allowed within 500 feet of the area except those consenting to be involved and necessary for the filming production; each UAS operation must be completed within 30 minutes flight time or with 25% battery power remaining, whichever occurs first; and the UAS may not be operated by the PIC from any moving device or vehicle.

So what is next?

Astraeus’ exemption terminates on September 30, 2016, unless sooner superseded or rescinded, which we hope doesn’t happen. We are all eager to see more exemptions granted. The FAA seems to be improving on their rate of granting exemptions, and we hope to see even better improvement. Based on the categories of companies that have been given exemptions, we predict we will see more survey/inspection and real estate photography/filming exemptions granted in the near future.

New in Drones: An Unmanned 2015

Firefighting goes unmannedfire firefighting

Here at Zeus Weather we appreciate the use of UAS to fight fires. It’s human risk-free, it offers an overhead view, and IR cameras can determine the hottest areas in a building before firefighters go inside. First responders at a DARTdrones educational seminar learned how unmanned aircraft can help save lives. It’s estimated to cost a fire department $3,000-$7,000 to get started with unmanned firefighting technology. Read more here.

Indiana Jones UAV to survey Italian archaeological site

Archaeologists are using a UAV with LiDAR to map out the Italian town of Cerreto Vecchia. The aircraft, called Indiana Jones, will be exploring this “medieval Pompeii” that was buried by a 1688 earthquake. After the 3D mapping the project will continue with an archeological dig and restoration work, culminating in a 3D reconstruction. Read more at Unmanned Aerial.

UAV Humanitarian group gathers support

UAViators, in association with Air-Vid, aims to connect humanitarian and UAV communities across the world. The organization is a global volunteer network of over 700 vetted professional, civilian, and responsible hobbyists who share and assist in support of various humanitarian efforts. Their mission: provide coordination support, facilitate information sharing, enable safe UAV operations, and establish clear standards for humanitarian use. Check out the discussions already going on here.

In other news, the news!

We’re excited about the announcement that CNN has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with the FAA to help integrate UAVs into news gathering and reporting. Additionally, 10 news media companies will partner with Virginia Tech to conduct tests with UAVs in news scenarios.

Drones Preserving the Environment

camo quadcopter drone smallWe’ve already shared how UAS help humans and animals. This week we are reviewing how drones and RC aircraft can be used to preserve and protect the environment.

Phantom quadcopter used to count cranes

Flying over a farm west of Lodi, CA is a Phantom quadcopter belonging to The Nature Conservancy. The Phantom flies above the working farm, a living laboratory and refuge for migratory birds, to take video and photos of the greater sandhill crane. The aircraft is flown both day and night to count the threatened species. Why at night? Matt Merrifield, director of mapping and design, explains that at night the birds are easiest to count, one by one, because their images are clearly defined against the dark water. How at night? An infrared camera, of course!

Drones used to battle deforestation and protect orangutans in Indonesia

In order to map deforestation and protect orangutans and other endangered species, Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich used seed funding from the National Geographic Society, The Orangutan Conservancy, and the Denver Zoo to develop a nearly-autonomous UAS. This “Conservation Drone” is equipped with cameras, sensors, and GPS. The aircraft captures high-res footage of the devastating impact of illegal palm oil plantations and has already helped bring poachers to justice.

State Agency uses quadcopter to monitor salmon spawning

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to use UAS to collect data on fish and bird populations. Earlier this month the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a plan to use $50,000 for the project to collect better information at less physical risk and at a lower cost. The Department intends to conduct surveys of fall chinook salmon spawning and double-crested cormorant colonies along the Oregon coast, and even document birds’ responses to the aircraft. The Department has already done some survey tests through a partnership with the Oregon State University College of Forestry, as the university has FAA authorization.

Remember to Subscribe to our Blog for more updates like this!

Cold Weather Tips: Frost

When should you expect frost?

Spring snowdrop flowers in snow

Frost is formed from high moisture content in the air with temperatures near to below freezing. Although frost is most likely to form in a moist environment with temperatures around freezing, you can actually see frost at temperatures up to 36º F because temperature sensors are 6 feet off the ground. Ground surface temperatures are often colder than actual air temperature. You’ve probably noticed that on overcast nights cloud cover acts like a blanket over the lower atmosphere, stopping the warm air from escaping. However, with clear skies and calm winds radiant heat can rise up from the Earth to the upper layers of the atmosphere. Temperatures also can vary depending on your location. This means on your property you may see different temperatures on either side of your house, under trees, on south or north facing slopes, in wind-protected areas, or in low-lying spots. Now that you know about when frost can occur, you need to know how it will affect your plants…

How do you protect your crops?

As those in the agricultural business know, the amount of time fruit spends at low temperature is decisive. For example, mandarin fruit can withstand a brief drop in temperature to 24º F, but several sustained hours at 26º F will damage it. It’s not just the fruit; leaves and green wood are cold sensitive too. Seasoned farmers know to prepare for a frost by entirely covering the plants or even covering a whole row of small trees and hanging a heat source in the middle—such as Christmas tree lights!

What should you do if a hard frost is predicted?

weather thermometer freezingWe know that fruit can easily be damaged by a surprise frost. Since the best place to store ripe citrus is on the tree, you’ll probably have a lot of work to do before a frost comes. If a hard frost is predicted, it’s important to pick any ripe fruit to give away or use. After the frost it’s important to remove frozen fruit as soon as possible and use it immediately; otherwise it is essentially waste. Remember, citrus does’t ripen after you pick it so there is no value in picking immature fruit—your friends won’t be able to make much with unripened fruit!

How do you know when a frost is coming?

The agricultural standard is to know when the average first fall frost occurs in your area. History isn’t enough though; you’ll want to keep an eye on the weather. If you see cool, clear nights with low humidity, often following a cold front, you should be watching for an impending frost. Instead of checking with the TV meteorologists every night, we suggest you sign up for a Zeus Weather Subscription to monitor your crops. The Zeus Team will watch over your plants for you, and make sure you can eat the most fruit of your labor.

Read more here: “Understanding Frost” from Cornell, and “Avoiding Cold Damage to Home Citrus” from the University of California’s Cooperative Extension.

Drone Regulations: FAA vs. Transport Canada

octocopter in sky with cameraYou may be an employee of a company that plans to fly its products all over North America, or a drone enthusiast who wants to launch his favorite octocopter in both Vancouver, WA and Vancouver, BC. Perhaps you’re just interested in comparing UAV regulations—we are! Read on for a review of US and Canadian UAS regulations!

USA: the rules you’ve been waiting for

The FAA divides its varying types of UAS operations into Civil, Public and Model Aircraft. Here’s what you need to know about civil use: currently you need an experimental Special Airworthiness Certificate to operate in the national airspace. With this experimental certificate you’ll be unable to fly for compensation, but you can operate for R&D, demonstrations, and training.

Certificates of Authorization (COAs) are granted to public entities—an example is the University of Maryland—to fly in civil airspace. If you think your organization falls into this category, learn more about how to request a COA here. NB: it can take 60 to 90 days for approval. A few COAs have also been granted to aerial photography/film companies so they can use UAS to make movies. Their restrictions are many: operators must hold private pilot certificates, keep the aircraft within line of sight, restrict flights to the set, inspect the aircraft before each flight, and not operate at night.

If your aircraft happens to fall within the “model aircraft” category, you should review the DOs and DON’Ts here. To be considered “model” the aircraft should weigh under 55 lbs (unless certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization). Model aircraft must be flown far from populated areas and full scale aircraft—nowhere near an airport!— should be kept within visual line of sight, and can’t be used for business purposes.

Canada: northern regulations

When it comes to Transport Canada’s rules, as with the FAA, it depends on what you use your aircraft for and how much it weighs. Transport Canada has a nifty flowchart to help figure out the classifications. No matter what you’re doing with it, if your aircraft is 35 kilos (77 lbs) or more you must apply for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC).

Iquadcopter launch filmf you’re using your aircraft for work or research and it weighs more than 25 kilos (55 lbs) you need an SFOC. Similarly, if your aircraft is less than 25 kilos and you can’t meet the exemption requirements, you need an SFOC. However, if your aircraft falls within the special range between 2.1 kilos (4.6 lbs) and 25 kilos and you meet the exemption requirements, you can fly without permission. The exemption requirements list is long, but when safety is at stake we all agree that it is important to follow the rules!

As in the US, if you use your aircraft for recreational purposes in Canada you don’t need to get permission to fly. However, the benefit in Canada is that if your aircraft is under 35 kilos you don’t even need permission—they allow an extra 22 lbs of model aircraft weight!

So where is it better to fly?

Well, it depends. Many small UAS users would complain that the FAA is about to crush a nascent industry with their proposed regulations. The FAA actually has an answer to those who complain about their speed: US airspace is complex and we’re trying to get it right! If you want to fly profit right now in Canada, you can do so if you fit within their requirements. You’ll have to stay under 90 meters (295 feet), which is lower than the 400 feet we’re used to in the US. You’ll also have to tell Transport Canada who you are, where you’re flying, and what you’re doing.

Stay tuned for our next blog in this series when we compare UK regulations for UAS!

Drones in Europe

delivery dronesTrending topic: London Mayor wants drones

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, recently declared that he hopes to be able to use an app to direct UAS around his city. If you’ve been in London traffic, you understand why he wants delivery drones in the capital. In fact, the rise in internet shopping will lead to an estimated 45% increase in delivery van traffic in the next seven years! Fortunately for Mr. Johnson, Amazon is planning to run delivery drone flight trials at an air testing facility in Cambridge—read more at The Daily Mail.

Geo-Fencing in France

Earlier this fall you may have heard about unidentified UAS flying over French state-operated nuclear power plants. As of November, this was still relatively unexplained. Three people were arrested as they were about to launch a small RC aircraft; however, they weren’t suspected of the harassing flights. Apparently not of concern to the malicious pilots is that the French Gendarmerie may be allowed in the future to shoot down trespassing drones.

Thermal Imaging in the UK

UK-based company Vertex Access is providing thermal imaging services via UAS. By flying above solar panels, wind turbines, or commercial buildings the aircraft capture images showing potential defects or anomalous temperatures. Find out more about how drones can help the energy industry save money here.

Just for fun

Did you know the world’s largest ice rink is in Moscow? Its 20,500 square meters of ice opened November 28. Video news agency Ruptly sent its resident UAS to fly overhead and capture the vastness of the ice rink. Check out the video here!

Drones Helping Animals

Quadcopter drone cameraIn a previous post we told you about what drones were doing to help humans. Here at Zeus Weather we care about animals too! Today’s blog is about what people are doing with UAS to help animals. Read on for some wildly interesting stories!

Detecting Poachers in Africa

San Francisco-based Airware is working with Ol Pejeta, a wildlife conservancy in Kenya, to observe and protect endangered species in Africa. As reported by KTVU, the company is helping rangers observe expansive areas of land where poachers prey on animals. Beyond just observing animal movements, these drones will be able to catch views of poachers at night when they are most active.

Monitoring the Health of Killer Whales

NOAA and the Vancouver Aquarium teamed up to observe the Northern Resident killer whales of British Columbia. They used a custom-made hexacopter to fly over 100 feet above the whales—high enough not to bother the whales, but low enough to get great photos.*

Studying dugongs in Australia

A researcher in Australia is using drones to survey dugongs—they’re like manatees—in Shark Bay. Amanda Hodgson has done a few studies with drones to search for and take photographs of these sea creatures. She points to one of the best advantages to using UAVs instead of manned aircraft: it’s human risk-free!

Learning from Ants

Perhaps drones are helping animals as a way to give back for the intelligence they’ve gained. Vijay Kumar, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics, is observing ants to improve drones. He and his team in the GRASP lab are using intelligence around how ants communicate and cooperate without a central commander to develop “swarms” of UAVs. Read more here.

*N.B. Whales are very sensitive to what goes on around them. Researchers observing whales were trained to recognize if their activities disturbed the animals. NOAA would remind you to check out the Marine Mammal Protection Act and respect the regulations.

How to use the Zeus Tool: A Tutorial

Forecast Page

So you’re trying to decide if Zeus Weather is the right option for you. We understand that before signing up for a subscription you want to know what you’ll be getting. Check out this tutorial to see how the Zeus Tool works and what it can do to save you time, money, and frustration.


Special advisory: powerful information is headed your way!

Site Templates PageWhen you first start out you won’t have any launch sites. The Client Portal is easy to use and you’ll have sites and templates up and viewable in no time! Creating a template is a beneficial way to speed up the process. Say you use multiple sites in the US that all have the same limitations. Just create a template, name it whatever you like—for example, United States Sites—and choose it from the Site Configuration drop down menu  to populate your New Launch Site Form for all your similar sites.

How to view all your sitesViewing Sites on Overview

Say you have a Plus Subscription—you can create up to five launch site locations. You may think having multiple locations would be hard to view and monitor. Not with Zeus Weather! You can see all your locations on one map at the Overview Page. From here you can see what the weather is currently, and you can choose any site to see its 7 day forecast.


Using Forecasts and Hourly Breakdown

forecast easy

We know you don’t have a lot of time to spend sifting through model data to find the perfect time to launch. That’s why we’ve made the 7 day Forecast easy to read with “GO” / “NO GO” forecasts. What if you see a “NO GO” on the day you hoped to launch? Don’t give up yet! Remember, the Zeus Forecast shows a “NO GO” when there are not 6 consecutive hours that your requirements are being met. Check the details to see if there are any “GO” hours. See that? If you can get your team up for a 5 am start you can launch on the day you want!

Proving to your friends/boss/self you can launch

weather report

So you’ve committed to launching on your hoped-for day and your coworkers don’t believe you? With Zeus Weather you can download and print the report to show them why launching that day will work! Choose from downloading your chosen day’s report, or go for the whole week! The reports are PDFs so you don’t even have to print them—just take your tablet over to your boss and demonstrate your wisdom.

We hope this tutorial has helped inform you about the Zeus Tool. As always, if you have any questions about subscriptions, pricing, or what Zeus can do for you, email us at