UPDATE 7/25/2014: It's now "illegal" to fly quadcopters in Seattle, after media reports that an Amazon.com employee "crashed a drone" into the Space Needle, supposedly terrifying observers on the observation deck who reported it to police. But then the real story came out -- he flew a quadcopter near the building, where people were smiling and waving at the drone, from the observation deck.
ORIGINAL BLOG 7/24/2014:
NOTE: A video of Colin demoing the 3DRobotics quadcopters was removed from YouTube after this blog was published, but it showed live video feeds from the units as they flew, talked about a 1-pound payload, and mentioned things they are working on for the future, such as collision avoidance.
There's been a lot of news on amateur drones since I tested the DJI Phantom Quadcopter for storm chasing purposes last fall and later published a diatribe about the legalities of flying amateur lightweight drones. This spring, I was quoted in an AccuWeather.com story about drones assisting in tornado damage assessment. The FAA has shown interest in big-money movie companies that want to use drones, while continuing to chastise other companies (such as Amazon) and small businesses for "illegally" using them. They're asking for "public feedback" but not telling us what for. They've also said they won't consider public feedback unless it reaches a (random) number of 50,000 -- and tomorrow (July 25) is the last day to give them feedback. In relation to all this, a commercial Drone Pilots Association has been formed. Because of my interest in using quadcopters for weather research and reporting, I have joined. (photo: me flying my quadcopter into a storm this summer).
But still, we have no regulations, and the FAA is suing search-and-rescue operations for using drones even though they have saved lives. In related news, the AMA has refuted the FAA's drone directive on which their policy statement was based (so much for the rule being "operate under a national organization's rules"). A "don't fly drones here" map has been created online, but it only encircles U.S. airports (which even the FAA says are immune from their rules if you call the tower first) and National Parks. Worldwide ICAO airports, which many newer UAVs won't fly in, are not shown. (photo: my quadcopter view of my yard sale this spring).
Meanwhile Forbes.com wrote an excellent expose on how the media keeps exaggerating drone claims (as does the NYPD, who claimed a Phantom quadcopter was a "military aircraft going to 2,000 feet in less than two seconds" (faster than the fastest military jet can rise).
And last but not least, because of poor customer support, DJI has fallen out of favor for many RC and quadcopter enthusiasts. I am afraid I can no longer recommend their products. Story after story on the Facebook Group for DJI Quadcopters tells stories of quads that were sent in for repair and never returned, and some have waited months for an RMA so they could return their Phantom for repair. I personally called DJI in June for a repair and (even though it was the middle of the day) I got a recording saying "call back during business hours." I put in a support ticket and only heard that it had been received; I never got a reply using that method either. Storm Chaser Ron Shawley, who briefly tested the newer Phantom 2 Vision, sent his unit in for repair in April and has not yet received a replacement. (photo: flying my DJI Phantom over a local storm chasing vista this summer).
A new company has popped up, under the direction of DJI's former CEO Colin Quinn. I briefly interviewed Colin over the phone earlier this month, and I look forward to reviewing the new quadcopters from 3DRobotics this fall. They are going above and beyond what DJI was doing, with consumer quadcopters that will do new and amazing things, such as:
1.) Following you as you walk, with no transmitter direction required.
2.) Creating an open-source platform for UAVs.
3.) Allowing you to draw a route on a GPS map on your tablet device, then ignore the quadcopter as it takes off on its own, makes its rounds based on the route and lands back home.
4.) Track your flight or others through the crowdsourced website "DroneShare.com", on 3-D maps.
I can't wait.
Severe weather hit the state of Pennsylvania yesterday, 30 years to the day after the biggest tornado outbreak in the state's history.
Reed Timmer was headed back to Oklahoma to storm chase when he decided last-minute to chase supercell storms in the Catskill Mountains. I've got the full video.
Typhoon Dolphin brought extreme conditions to the islands of Guam and Rota today. Here's how it looked on radar.
On Monday, I documented a big thunderstorm on camera, 3-D radar and high-res satellite.
Wednesday's tornado outbreak was epic and it brought into question whether tornado shelters are safe -- because of a new problem: Flooding.
I haven't blogged lately, but you can see my previous blogs at the bottom of this page. Here are the latest "quick snippets" that I'm putting out on Social Media.