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V O L U M E 4 N O. 4 | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4


Inside This Issue: Jibo Heads to Your Home Martha vs. Kanye Drone PointCounterpoint Drone Wedding Pics All the Rage

V O L U M E 4 N O. 4 | N O V E M B E R 2 0 1 4



Robots Stump for STEM Schools Wrangle Robotics Tech to Teach

22 Delivery Drones

Companies Prep for Unmanned Packages


4 Essential Components

The Latest in Commercial Robotics



INDEX OF ADVERTISERS FLIR Systems, Inc.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Integrated Microwave Technologies, Inc. (IMT) . . . . . . . . . 17


iRobot. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Inside Front Cover

UMEX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

Uncanny Valley Martha Stewart Versus Kanye West Point-Counterpoint

State of the Art The Wide World of Robot Sports

Technology Gap Cleaning Sucks. Let a Robot Do It for You



Gaea L. Honeycutt is chief creative officer at Brazen Maven Marketing Communications and a freelance writer.

Karen Aho, a freelance writer in western Massachusetts, reports and writes on science, business and housing. She can be reached at



20 Testing, Testing

Brett Davis Vice President of Communications and Publications, Editor

Danielle Lucey Managing Editor

Ken Burris Sales Manager Dave Donahoe Sales Manager

On the Cover

Timeline A Peak at Future Innovations

Q&A A Virtual Visit With Molly

Drones Head to the Hoover Dam

26 Spotlight

Jibo Aims to Revolutionize Home Robotics

28 End Users

Bridal Parties Abuzz Over Drones

Robots, like the 58-centimeter-tall Nao, are being used to improve classroom learning. Page 14. Photo courtesy Aldebaran Robotics. MISSION CRITICAL


Mighty Small

Lepton Thermal Camera Core (Actual Size)

See What Lepton Can Do!



Envisioning the Future of Unmanned Systems When you think of the future of unmanned systems, what do you envision? Danielle Lucey Managing Editor

Starting in 2015, every issue of Mission Critical will focus on an array of commercial robotics applications — not just niche markets.

For me, my day might start by my robot butler sounding my morning wakeup call. After getting ready, I will use my smartphone to summon my driverless car from the local Washington, D.C., lot to take me to work. Once there, I might use my office’s telepresence robot to walk around a robotics conference wrapping up in Japan. Around noon, I will summon a drone from my smartwatch to deliver me a taco. In the afternoon, I will interview a company for an article, and my voice-to-text automated journalist software will spit out a perfectly tailored story for the next magazine. It all sounds too easy and futuristic — until you realize that each one of these things is a real, working technology that already exists. They just need to be streamlined so they can be integrated into our daily lives. This issue of Mission Critical focuses on the commercial market, which will herald a new age where my daily scenario becomes a reality. On Page 14, contributing writer Gaea Honeycutt talks about how robotics is changing education, starting as early as kindergarten. Today’s five year olds might have more than a decade of experience dealing with robots before they hit the job market. Editor Brett Davis writes about Kickstarter home robot project Jibo in our Spotlight department. Once this small desktop robot hits the market, it could serve as a personal assistant, photographer and even become part of the family. That story is on Page 26. This issue touches on many other topics, like drone wedding photography, a hotel that made the switch to a robot concierge and even how celebrities like Martha Stewart are getting into the drone game. You’ll find additional content in the online edition, like a feature on drone package delivery, unmanned systems for power station inspection, robots in the hospital and the wide world of robot sports. That is available at I hope you enjoy reading this issue as much as the staff loved putting it together. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we have decided, starting in 2015, every issue of Mission Critical will focus on an array of commercial robotics applications — not just niche markets like we have done in the past. The commercial unmanned systems space is changing so quickly, and this way our editorial staff will be able to give our readers the latest and greatest in all emerging markets with this change. If you know of a new, groundbreaking application that you think deserves coverage, we’d love to hear about it. Contact me at with your ideas and comments and help us keep up with this fast-paced industry.



Drone Controlled by Smartwatch 3D Robotics, based in San Diego, says its new unmanned aerial system, IRIS+, has added Android smartwatch functionality to its features. The IRIS+ allows users to fly manually using a controller with onscreen telemetry for instant flight data or follow a preprogrammed flight path mapped out on the free DroidPlanner app. With the software, users can use a feature called Region of Interest to maintain focus on a particular location and with two-axis stabilization the camera will remain steady throughout flight. Users can also star in their own cinematographic masterpiece using 3D’s Third Person View Follow Me feature where the IRIS+ will follow any GPS-enabled Android device at the touch of a button. The system can be controlled on any Android device including tablet, phone or smartwatch. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, a new investor in 3D Robotics, said, “It’s amazing to see

Custom Color Roombas Now Available

Roombas will be available in colors for a limited time. Photo courtesy ColorWare.

For a limited time, iRobot is offering customized Roomba robot vacuum cleaners through a partnership with ColorWare. Users can pay $100 to customize a new Roomba 870 or 880 or $199 to jazz up a currently owned Roomba 800 series through the ColorWare website.

Consumers can choose from 58 unique colors for five different parts, including the top, handle, front and back rings, and the bin release along with the option of gloss or matte finish. IRobot is diversifying its options to stay on top of the market ahead of Dyson’s 2015 release of its highly touted 360 Eye robotic vacuum.

Robot Butler? Botlr Hits Aloft Hotel Photo courtesy 3D Robotics.

what a little flying object with a GoPro attached can do. Before they came along, the alternative was an expensive helicopter ride and crew.” The IRIS+ can fly for 16 to 22 minutes on a charge and will return to a home point if it runs out of battery or travels out of range. The device is available on 3D Robotics’ website and comes at $750.



Google Ventures-backed Savioke has begun testing its fully autonomous robotic servant, Botlr, at Starwood’s Aloft hotel in Cupertino, California. Botlr is programmed with a map of every hallway, elevator, and guest room in the hotel and uses lidar and cameras to navigate the grounds and avoid obstacles. When a guest phones with a request, a hotel employee can program Botlr to deliver any item up to two cubic feet in size. The robot then taps into the hotel’s Wi-Fi to call an elevator, boards it, wirelessly selects the floor and then phones the desired room upon arrival. The company also plans to use the three-foot-tall robot in restaurants,

Savioke’s robotic butler. Photo courtesy the company.

hospitals and elderly care centers. Botlr will be sold as a monthly service including maintenance and will expand to other early adopting hotels starting in 2015.


Qualcomm Enables Robotic Programming Through Snapdragon

Stroke Robot Helps With Rehab A group from Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has developed robotic rehabilitation software and equipment in collaboration with the National Stroke Association of Malaysia. The system, CR2-Haptic, is a compact, portable physiotherapy system for stroke patients or people with other brain injuries or neurological disorders, that is designed to reduce rehabilitation costs and improve efficiency.

Brain Corp.’s eyeRover shows its smarts at Qualcomm’s developers conference. Photo courtesy Brain Corp.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon mobile processor is becoming a beacon for robotics enthusiasts. Qualcomm and San Diego-based Brain Corp. are using the integrated, low-power system to create platforms with multiple robotics applications, including vision, sensors, navigation, and wireless communication for development teams and educational institutions. Qualcomm Research currently offers free 3-D printable designs and assembly instructions, applications and source code for creating a fully functioning robotic vehicle they call Micro Rover. Micro Rover, using any Android smartphone with Snapdragon processor as its only brain, can see with the phone’s camera, interact with its environment via a tiny forklift and be controlled through a tablet or smartphone app. The company also offers an application called Follow Target that displays the autonomous capability of the vehicle by programming it to follow a visual goal. Brain Corp. has developed an advanced brain for robots built on the Snapdragon S4-Pro processor called bStem that will be available to select developers this fall. The bStem board is biologically inspired, built to mimic neural networks to promote parallel learning processes rather than preprogrammed serial processes. This allows a robot running the company’s BrainOS operat-

ing system integrated with bStem to be trained like a pet to acquire learned autonomous behaviors. At Uplinq, Qualcomm’s developer’s conference in September, Raj Talluri, Qualcomm senior vice president, introduced BrainOS’s capabilities with Brain Corp’s self-balancing 3-D printed robot, eyeRover. The internally developed robot makes use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, stereo vision and LED indicators for ears. He first demonstrated eyeRover’s ability to quickly learn a specific route around obstacles on stage, such as a chair and planter. An operator steered the robot a few times along a path, and then, without guidance, eyeRover was able to follow the chosen route repeatedly. “The concept that a processor can enable a product to learn a behavior and change its behavior based on learning is a very powerful one,” says Talluri. “Now imaging your phone that learns your behavior. … In time, the phone starts getting better and better and more and more personal to you.” With these new platforms, Qualcomm and Brain Corp. envision many types of developers and educational institutions driving progress in adaptable machine intelligence, training robots for a variety of low-cost commercial applications, according to a press release.

Photo courtesy Compact

Rehabilitation Robot. It can be set up virtually anywhere, including at home or in a confined space, where users train their muscles while playing virtual reality games. The robot trains using three different modes — passive, assistive and active. The passive mode is for patients who cannot move their arms or legs, so the robot will do it for them. Assistive mode is for users who have limited movement, and the system will aid them to increase strength and range of motion. Active mode is strictly to improve movement through use of increased resistance according to rate of recovery. The robot records and uploads force and position data remotely to the Internet so therapists can track patient’s progress. Additionally, the device comes with a heart rate monitor to ensure patients are trained safely. The UTM team also created an award-winning sister product, CR2-Motion, that aids stroke rehabilitation through a virtual reality game using Microsoft’s Kinect.






Drone Point-Counterpoint Drones are high profile, and celebrities have started thinking up ways the flying machines could transform their lives. Martha Stewart recently took to her blog, with a follow-up editorial in TIME magazine, to proclaim her love for all things unmanned. Meanwhile, T M Z recently reported on Kanye West’s drone fears. It may seem off the wall, but these two stars espoused many views the industry and its haters have been voicing for ages. Mission Critical explores these quotes from Queen of Mean and Mr. Kim Kardashian in this epic drone point-counterpoint.

ha t r a M wart Ste


AN EYE FOR BEAUTY The view I was “seeing” on my iPad with the help of the drone would have otherwise been impossible without the use of a private plane, helicopter or balloon. With any of those vehicles, I would have needed a telephoto lens, and all of them would have made an unacceptable commotion on the beach. What’s more, I would not have been in the photos!



An aerial shot of the vegetable garden looked very much like my Peter Rabbit marzipan embellished Easter cake, which was designed without the help of a drone.

Kanye West PRIVACY

Wouldn’t you like to just teach your daughter how to swim without a drone flying?

POOR OPERATOR TRAINING Could it fall and hit her if that paparazzi doesn’t understand how to remote control the drone over their house?



Drones can be useful tools, and I am all about useful tools. One of my mottos is “the right tool for the right job.” My mind started racing, and I imagined all the different applications for my drone. I knew that every type of use had already been thought of by others (governmental agencies, businesses,, Google Maps), and I knew I could not even begin to fathom even a fraction of the social, ethical and political challenges the widespread use of drones would create.

What happens if a drone falls right next to her? Would it electrocute her?



The Wide World of

ROBOT SPORTS Las Vegas For golfers that like to walk the course but would rather not take shot advice from a high schooler on summer break seeking a hefty tip, FTR Systems has invented the CaddyTrek — a robotic golf caddy that will follow the golfer over any terrain. Though hopefully its users won’t need to test it through the rough, in a sand trap or through a water hazard.

Washington, D.C. The National Football League’s lobbyists have been trying to persuade lawmakers to allow unmanned aircraft to be used to fly over professional football games.

Clemson, South Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee Berkeley, California Researchers from the University of California Berkeley are working on a tennis ball retrieval robot that would serve the same functions as a tennis ball boy or girl — fetching dead balls and reparking itself outside of the way of play.

The American South takes its football seriously, and in the modern era, that means filming practice videos with unmanned aircraft. To prepare for their college football seasons, Clemson, the University of North Carolina and the University of Tennessee all used unmanned aircraft.

Viera, Florida The Washington Nationals were caught using an unmanned aircraft to film its spring training games earlier this year without permission from the Federal Aviation Administration. A team official was quoted by the Associated Press on the issue, saying, “No, we didn’t get it cleared, but we don’t get our pop flies cleared either, and those go higher than this thing did.”



João Pessoa, Brazil

RoboCup is an annual international soccer game played entirely by robots. Once the game starts, the only human intervention comes from referees. The game was first played in 1997 in Nagoya, Japan. The 2014 game was held in Brazil.


Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Doha, Qatar The United Arab Emirates and Qatar took a stand against the common practice of using children as jockeys in camel races, and instead decided to employ robots as a safer alternative.

Daejeon, South Korea

South Korean baseball team the Hanwha Eagles addressed declining attendance by allowing fans to attend the games through telepresence systems called “fanbots.”


RoboCup isn’t the only robot soccer game in town. FIRA, the Federation of International Robot-soccer Association, got its start in South Korea in 1996 and has held the RoboWorld Cup annually since then. The 2014 game is slated for early November in Beijing.​

Makuhari Messe, Japan

Forget dull, dirty and dangerous — in the future robots will be everywhere, able to assist you even in your leisure activities. Here is a look at how recreational robots are popping up around the globe, enabling athletes to get some high-tech help with improving their game.

The Japanese company Omron has developed a robot capable of playing ping pong against a human opponent, although the company itself says the robot isn’t very good. The main point of the robot, unveiled at CEATAC 2014, is to show how sensing and control technology can help humans and robots work together.

Hsinchu, Taiwan

Researchers at the Industrial Technology Research Institute have created a robotic arm, dressed as a seal for some reason, that can sink 99 percent of basketball free throws using a toy ball and a tiny hoop.





SUCKS The Solution?

Let a Robot Do It For You

Dust bunnies under the bed, endless hair on the bathroom floor, Fido’s fur on the carpet, that damn corner by the sink that could feed a mouse army with errant morsels from every dinner from the past week — this is the state of the floors of the world. And still, plugging in a vacuum is just. Too. Much. Work. Robotics companies are keen on this, and they are looking to make your Hoover collect dust in a whole new way. Here’s a look at the intelligent floor suckers currently on the market that will have you daring to go past the five-second rule.

iRobot Roomba

Dyson 360 Eye

Neato Botvac

Price: $399.99-$699.99

Price: 130,000 Yen ($1,200)

Price: $479-$599

The King of Robot Vacuum Cleaning, the iRobot Roomba has some serious muscle on its resume, with its brains originating as a robot that could sweep up bombs — after that, a little dirt doesn’t sound like such a big deal. The company currently sells five models of the picker uppers, including the Roomba 870 seen here. The company says its AeroForce Performance Cleaning System ensures it removes up to 50 percent more dust, dirt and debris than other methods. It navigates around objects using its iAdapt Technology sensor suite, and you can ban your cleaning minion from different parts of your home with a Virtual Wall.

The iMac. The first MP3 player. Furby. All these products were new releases when British industrial engineer and stoic vacuum guru James Dyson first started toying with the idea of roboticizing his favorite appliance. Sixteen years in the making, Dyson is finally getting into the smart vacuum game with the omnisciently named 360 Eye. The system compiles a live map of a room by taking 30 pictures per second with its, you guessed it, 360-degree camera. The robot’s proprietary V2 motor spins at 104,000 RPM — a rate more typical for turbo engines. The system is not on sale yet, but will hit Japanese markets in 2015 before going worldwide.

California company Neato Robotics released its Botvac robot vacuum earlier this year. The company’s strategy is to use a larger brush than a typical tech-heavy vacuum and also has a larger dust bin. It uses a laser mapping technology to navigate obstacle, and, unlike iRobot and Dysons, satisfies the OCD crowd by doing a lawnmower-style pattern by default instead of spinning around the room in a seemingly random pattern. The Botvacs come in an assortment of colors — blue, orange, green or purple — fighting your dust particles in style.





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to the



September 2015

2017 – 2020 Google self-driving car project lead Chris Urmson predicted earlier this year in an interview with Recode that a mass-market version of the technology will be available in three and a half to six years.

According to a Congressional mandate, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has until next fall to incorporate unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System.

2018 FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has estimated that as many as 7,500 small, commercial unmanned aircraft could be flying in the United States.

2020 This is the date when the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) aircraft is supposed to enter service, meaning “Top Gun” will have become Top Robot.

2020 Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says driverless cars will come to the company’s showrooms in six years.

2024 Unmanned aircraft will be fully integrated into European skies, including making cross-border flights using “file and fly” principles, according to the European RPAS Steering Group.



TIMELINE Where will autonomous technologies be 10, 20 or even 30 years from now? Naysayers and dreamers alike have different ideas about when technologies like delivery drones, self-driving cars and personal space pods to Mars will be as routine as modern technologies. Though no one can know for sure, here’s a look at some of the predictions voiced by the industries pushing the envelope toward our nerdier, more awesome future.

2025 Daimler is currently working on its Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025, named after the year they hope it will be introduced.

2025 Most of our interaction with computers will be verbal and we will be well on the way to having complete access to all human knowledge by just asking, says Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, responding to a Pew Research survey.

2026 Elon Musk, head of personal space exploration company SpaceX, told reporters earlier this year that he intends to have the Mars Colonial Transporter up and running by the mid-2020s.

2029 Futurologist Ray Kurzweil predicts that by this year, computers will have become more intelligent than humans and will be able to learn, engage in intelligent dialogue and even flirt.

2038 Air-launched swarms of tiny unmanned aircraft could help larger platforms with their intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance work, using artificial intelligence to detect threats, according to the U.S. Air Force’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Vector Report.

2040 A group of experts from IEEE predict that by 2040, automated vehicles will account for 75 percent of the cars on the road.

s t o b o R for


STEM Schools Wrangle Robotics Tech to Teach By Gaea Honeycutt

The 58-centimeter-tall Nao robot is being adopted to classroom learning. Photo courtesy Vincent Desailly, Aldebaran Robotics.



Read any newspaper or social media feed and you’ll find that STEM education has taken the world by storm. Search the Web for robotics competitions and a couple million results will appear for highly competitive events, pitting children with science, technology, engineering and math interests against one another. With technology in particular, parents have a plethora of robotics programs to choose from, such as the camps and workshops offered by Einstein’s Workshop. The Burlington, Massachusettsbased learning center encourages children and adults to explore the creative side of STEM through hands-on programs. It’s creative director Katy Hamilton’s job to develop new programs and curricula, including the animatronics class Einstein’s Workshop offered this past summer. As the week began, children took apart Beanie Babies to put them back together as animal robot characters and create a script for them to act out. With the added incentive of creative expression, children learned the subtlety of motion and timing. Hamilton described the challenges of making a cow nod or programming Godzilla to walk without knees. “They gained an appreciation for their own brains and bodies and how fluidly they work,” she says. However, as society collectively witnessed with the advent of the computer — a focus on computer science evolving into the widespread use of computers in nearly all fields, industries and aspects of life — we’re now bearing witness to the transition of STEM education. No longer is it the sole domain of those interested in advanced coding and building robots. Today, programs that integrate STEM into other aspects

of learning are a growing part of the educational landscape — both to improve learning outcomes and to prepare the workforce of the future for careers of tomorrow. South Korea introduced robots into elementary schools with Engkey, a robot teacher, about five years ago. Driven by the need to teach children English, but also reduce the cost of instruction, the government-funded Korea Institute of Science and Technology created the egg-shaped device to be controlled remotely by teachers. Instead of a native-English speaking teacher from another part of the world, Engkey’s head rotates revealing a screen on which a teacher’s face appears. As the machine rolls around the classroom and among students, it mimics the teacher’s expressions and projects her voice, providing human-like interaction. But how do you make robots more ubiquitous and interactive in a classroom or similar setting? RobotsLAB is on a mission to do just that, making robots more engaging so that students will be more inclined to learn. While the San Francisco-based company doesn’t build the robots, it does program them, creating kits and ready-touse machines and applications for educators. As CEO Elad Inbar notes, providing the programming removes a significant challenge for teachers. For example, DARwIn-OP (Dynamic Anthropomorphic Robot with Intelligence–Open Platform),

South Korea’s Robotis produces the programmable DARwIn-OP robot. Photo courtesy the company.

an admittedly cute freestanding humanoid robot from South Korea’s Robotis, comes fully assembled. The miniature humanoid robot has advanced computational power, sophisticated sensors, high payload capacity and dynamic motion ability. It’s designed for for research and higher education arenas and comes with a three-axis gyro, three-axis accelerometer and two detection microphones. But the user needs to know C++ to program it. “Everyone can use an iPad, right? Robots should be the same,” MISSION CRITICAL


Nao’s open coding platform Choregraphe was quickly adopted in the education sector. Photo courtesy Vincent Desailly, Aldebaran Robotics.

he says. “Students may be eager to learn how to program it, but it can be intimidating to teachers, too. And if the teachers can’t use it, then it’s no good.” The answer may just lie with Nao, a 58-centimeter-tall humanoid robot that walks, talks and recognizes users. Nao V5 Evolution is equipped with two processors, tactile and ultrasonic sensors, gyroscope, accelerometer, force sensors, infrared sensors, two high-definition cameras, four microphones, and high-accuracy digital encoders on each joint. According to the maker, Parisbased Aldebaran Robotics, Nao is unique in that he brings STEM education to life through more channels — human channels — than simply movement. While 16


initially imagined as a robot that would assist and interact with people, the open coding platform Choregraphe was quickly adopted in the education sector. Essentially, the interface is drag-and-drop, allowing novices to program Nao. Those with coding ability can add their own code to extend the robot’s capabilities. “We have different curricula that we’re developing for K through 4 — everything from basic math to identifying shapes. At the high school and college level, we use them in mazes to find the exit,” says Inbar. Dr. Sandra Okita, assistant professor of communication, media and learning technologies design at the Columbia University’s Teacher College Mathematics, Science and Technology

Department, has taken advantage of the robot’s flexibility to design software to make the robot behave more humanly. Okita’s expertise is in combining her background in science with her interest in human learning. And the driving thrust of her research is how technology can be developed in a way that would help humans learn. She’s using Projo, a Nao robot, to teach children self-assessment using a peer-to-peer style approach at New York City’s Public School 76. “An important skill both children and adults should have is the ability to self-assess and self-correct. That doesn’t always come naturally. Even if you tell child to correct their answer, they rarely do. However, they do like to help correct other’s mistakes,” says Okita.

Projo facilitates the learning process by making mistakes as the child watches. The child then helps Projo find the right answer. In their research, Okita’s team has found that children bring the selfassessment skill inward through the interaction. And she reports an unanticipated side effect is fostering an interest in STEM. “We’ve found that working with it inspires them in robotics.” Inbar also described one college professor who connected Nao to a helmet with brain sensors to control the robot with thoughts. In another program, girls are introduced to robotics with Robotic Idol, a competition-style dance curriculum that requires them to program. They calculate the support base, center of gravity and how the robot moves to stay within balance, working on the math and physics behind it. And he notes that, with its simple interface and attractive form, Nao is one of RobotsLAB’s best sellers.

tivating and fun,” reports Aldebaran Robotics. Instant gratification is the other key, says Peter Stone, professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin. “Over the decades, it’s become clear that when you have a tangible device you can program on and you see the results in the real world, it draws you in. Students naturally put in tons of time. It’s visceral feedback.”

CUTE ROBOT That brings us back to cute. In South Korea with Engkey and in the case of Nao, the appeal of the robots is part of their success in facilitating learning. Children were attracted to the robots rather than intimidated. That human interaction is the focus of Aldebaran’s current improvements to Nao. “The most impactful thing we learned with building interactive robots is just that. Because they are humanoid and interactive, people have positive feelings and want to interact with them. … Nao is used in all levels of education from primary through higher education, even in special education and research. Each level has embraced different qualities of Nao to make learning more cap-

n n n n n n

At this point, Stone notes, the challenge isn’t finding more capable machines, but developing ways to leverage the ones currently available. “From the education point of view, I think there’s an untapped potential right now. We just need to figure out how to use them,” he says. “There are some initial projects, but there aren’t enough studies or data yet on what works best in curriculum.” 

Superior broadcast grade video SD and HD encoding Up to 8W RF Tx output power MPEG-4 Part-10/H.264 Video, data and telemetry Remote control unit


MISSION CRITICAL 135_UnManned_6.75x4.5_MissionCritical_0114.indd 1


1/8/14 2:28 PM

A Virtual Visit With Molly’s Robot Nurse Keeps Tabs on Patients, based in California, is a company that provides a “virtual nurse” to carry out personalized monitoring and follow-up care for patients around the clock, especially those with chronic diseases. and its front-end avatar, Molly, can serve as a go-between for the patients and their healthcare providers, talking to patients in plain language, monitoring their vital signs and warning doctors if patients are at high risk. Patients connect to the system through their phones or computers and can link devices such as glucometers, which Molly can then read. Companies using the system include major providors, payers and telemedicine companies. Mission Critical recently talked with company cofounder and CEO Adam Odessky.

A: It works both on a phone, on a smartphone, iPhone or Android. It also works within a Web browser on a computer, and for connectivity we require you to have a network connection, because she is dynamic in what she says and how she talks to you. … We both perform textto-speech and speech recognition in the cloud, so network connectivity is required.

Q: What healthcare market conditions led you to create Molly?

Q: Your mention that your technology is “future proofed” and is scalable. What does that mean?

A: There were definitely several forces that kind of created the perfect storm. First of all, it’s the Affordable Care Act. A fundamental principle of the Affordable Care Act is moving the patient reimbursement … from a pay-per-procedure model to a pay-per-outcome model, so basically the incentives for doctors are slowly beginning to change, where they are not necessarily incentivized to see more patients and to see more patients more frequently because they get paid … based on the quantity of patients they see. But rather, they get paid based on the outcome, if the patient is getting healthy or not. … And the [U.S.] healthcare system is one of the more expensive systems, if not the most expensive system, in the modern industrial world, and it causes a burden for doctors and budgets alike. There are over 100 million Americans with a chronic disease out there, and doctors and budgets are struggling to cope. So one of the motivations we had is to lessen the cost burden on both the providers as well as the insurance companies to enable patients to live healthier, more productive lives.

I would say the last trend is



around the revolution in mobile technologies, just general computing that has come about in the last few years. You can now do so much with your smartphone that you couldn’t do before. You can have the smartphone call you, message you, interact with you, connect to any kind of device, like via Bluetooth or via wire, and bring all these different kind of sensors together in a fashion that would benefit the patient. Q: What was the thinking that led to the Molly avatar in particular? A: We’ve done a lot of tests, looked at a lot of avatars that are out there. We looked at what worked, what didn’t work, what we liked. … We tested on some people, found what they liked, what kind of voice they preferred to hear, and through trial and error we arrived at Molly. We didn’t think actually that she was going to become that popular, but she did, so that’s good. … There’s something to be said about her calmness, her lack of judgment, which I think is important when you have these kind of doctor-patient conversations. Q: What connection capability do people need to have in order to interact with Molly and their physician?

A: We use very off-the-shelf commoditized components for infrastructure. … It’s future-proof, because we can swap components in and out without affecting the whole system. There’s some customized software, but there’s not a lot of customized hardware. As technology evolves, as interactions evolve, as the Web evolves, our software will not become obsolete, because it’s built on Web standards. From a scalability perspective, we can support hundreds of thousands of patients and we can grow as our customers grow. We don’t foresee a limit of usage that we can hit that will prevent the software from being expanded into other hospitals and other markets. Q: How does identify patient stress remotely? A: There are lots of different ways. There are algorithms to gauge voice tones and audio tones to look for stress patterns. There are algorithms out there to look for phrasing, in the way a person speaks and the kind of word choice they use, to identify from the word choice what kind of mood and what kind of

Q&A stress they are under. … We don’t have any active pilots — just to set the record straight — using that kind of stuff right now. We see it more being used in the future and in a more experimental fashion. Q: You have identified several partners in the healthcare field. What work are they doing with your systems? A: They are using the system for lots of different use cases. Some are using the system for physical therapy, some are using it for behavioral health and addiction treatment. We have a couple of pilots in heart failure. And some hospitals are using this for follow-ups with patients, telemedicine, and some are using it to measure glucose for diabetes, so there are many uses. Q: How do the personalized solutions for various ailments, such as diabetes, work? A: We have a conversation creator that allows medical personnel to create a customized conversation that blends in voice, speech and medical devices, so for diabetes we have some protocols developed that basically check the patient’s blood sugar by enabling them to plug in their glucometer. We read that glucometer — Molly reads that glucometer — and then we also ask them questions about diet, food choice, and calories and those kinds of things we can calculate risk against those answers. And if the risk is too high, we let the clinician know, and they can take appropriate action. Q: Can you foresee this kind of service expanding into more healthcare realms in the future, or is this the sweet spot for it? A: I see it going beyond health care. We work with adjunct healthcare organizations like insurance com-

panies and pharma. Our focus is on the healthcare domain, but there is definitely the possibility for this kind of technology to be used outside the domain as well. Q: What kind of feedback are you getting? A: The feedback has been mostly positive, if not all positive. The patients really like Molly. They understand that she’s a robot, but she’s very pleasant, understandable. She speaks slowly enough for them to clearly retain instructions. … Clinicians really like it, because she’s able to offload a lot of these kinds of onerous tasks that they perform every day, like taking the patient’s blood pressure and weight and glucose and asking them what’s their pain level on a scale of one to five. So basically she’s there as this tertiary level of care to automate these basic tasks. You have your doctor that’s your

primary care, you have your nurse that’s your secondary and does the more rigorous work, and then you have Molly, who’s the tertiary level that does the basic tasks that you don’t need a human to perform, because the tasks themselves are very scripted and basic. Q: What sort of negative reactions have you gotten? A: There are some patients who thought she [Molly] may be a bit too young, or too old even, and [the] kind of the feedback that gave us is we really want to give people a choice of avatars, ones that they like and ones that they kind of have affinity to. One of the things that we’re doing is we’re expanding beyond Molly to different prototypes, or avatars rather, that patients can choose or we can choose for them depending on their demographic. MISSION CRITICAL


The buffers surrounding Qua.R.K.’s rotors serve as both a safety function and a structural element. Photo courtesy Skyworks Aerial Systems.

Reservoir Drones Las Vegas Company Gambles on Indoor Flight Ops This spring, Las Vegas company Skyworks Aerial Systems is going to test out its drone’s snuff at an American power institution — the Hoover Dam. But don’t alert the Federal Aviation Administration just yet. The company skirts around the current commercial drone flight ban by operating only indoors. “We’re a little different than the standard drone company out there. There’s a lot of work being done in the outdoor sphere, while there is also sort of a more niche market out there, which is the indoor world. Our focus as a business is on the indoor market,” says Greg Friesmuth, speaking at a conference in September. Friesmuth and Jinger Zeng, his former classmate at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, grew Skyworks 20


out of research they were doing in college on optimizing drones for indoor operations. “We knew we wanted to make more with his design and that it had huge potential, and there was a lot of hype in the space at that time, so we started the company,” she says of the startup, in an interview with Mission Critical. “When I was doing research when I was in college, my specialty, my focus, was actually in operating these things in indoor environments. So I took that knowledge that I had and spun it off and built this company up from where we were at,” says Friesmuth. The company opened its doors in January 2014 and soon identified markets it could conquer where the ceiling —

instead of the sky — was the limit. Zeng says the pair’s adviser in school has a friend that works at the Hoover Dam, who, when he learned about the company, was intrigued to start using their system, the fourrotor Qua.R.K. “The Hoover Dam has a couple of gates where water goes in, but it’s very hard for people to go in, because they have to go in by boat and it’s very dark,” says Zeng. [Their adviser’s friend] is interested in us using our system for that kind of autonomous application in getting into the gate area, where the water channels are, and then to conduct inspections for those low-light, hard-to-reach environments.” Currently, according to Friesmuth, the dam only inspects these spillway tunnels once every seven years because of the difficulty. “But they have this need to inspect these pretty often. So we’d fly one of our UAVs in there, monitor, take images, infrared images as well, look inside and see what needs to be done while in that environment.”

TESTING, TESTING Added safety is also an appealing factor of switching from manual work, done traditionally by navigating a boat up to the tunnels. “If it’s something that people don’t have to endanger themselves to complete those tasks, then those inspections can be done more frequently, which improves all aspects and abilities of these facilities,” says Zeng. The company currently aims to begin its Hoover Dam operations in spring, but before then, it must continue to test its platform and sensors for optimal indoor use. “We’re still in development a lot, using lidar, and we also have ultrasonic sensors to basically forward the navigation,” says Zeng. “It depends on the setting. We’ve started working with two solutions. One is if it’s more of a known environment, then you can use a motion tracker to map, but, on the other side, if it’s in an unknown environment, that kind of sense-and-avoid capability is actually what we will working with UNLV on.” The lidar works by creating a sense of the environment virtually through a series of points of distance, measured by lasers spinning quickly and continuously around an area. Ultrasonic sensors Friesmuth likens more to how a bat uses echolocation to navigate caves. “The problem with that is it is very not fine, so you have a broad reach of sound that is very spread out,” he says. “You can also use stereoscopic 3-D cameras. … This technology is constantly evolving, but right now it’s very cost intensive from a computing point of view to operate these 3-D cameras and do live, real-time object avoidance.” Image and data collection are also more difficult with a small system indoors versus a larger drone

Las Vegas company Skyworks Aerial Systems is testing its drone for spring inspection flights at the Hoover Dam. AUVSI photo.

scanning the horizon. With many large systems, the data are processed off board, but smaller systems would require a much larger bandwidth pull to sense and avoid in real time. “But when you’re flying indoors, you want to be quick and process it on board. You have to develop the technology. You have to have a lot of processing power to do onboard sense and avoid. … If you are trying to do it off board, your bandwidth is a big limitation.” The company’s hardware, based out of that early university research, is particular for indoor flight as well. “The airframe itself is really is unique because [of ] the protective rotor design,” says Zeng. “It’s not only just a buffer to protect the rotors, but it’s actually part of the airframe itself. It’s part of the structural element.” The rotors are flexible and don’t pose the threats many other systems with exposed blades do, according to Zeng.

“With that design you can literally go up to it and touch it and it won’t cut into you, where as if you see other demos, people have to wear safety glasses and stand really far away, set up a netting cage for it. So it’s a much safer platform.” The four-pound aircraft can carry about a pound and a half of payload, says Zeng, and it can fly up to 30 minutes. However, Skyworks is working with a local battery company to extend that time. Skyworks plans on patenting its Qua.R.K. and is also working on a six-rotor version called HULC. One factor the company does not have to overcome is the currently illegal status of commercial UAS operations, as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration. “They’re not even considered aircraft by the FAA,” says Friesmuth. “It’s kind of a weird place to be, but it’s nice from a regulatory point of view.”  MISSION CRITICAL


Amazon says more than 80 percent of its products could one day be delivered by drone. Photo courtesy Amazon Prime Air.

Deliver Us From Evil

Package Drop Drones Smack at Past Military Stigma By Karen Aho

The very idea that unmanned aircraft systems might someday deliver goods was unknown to many before last December, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled his company’s prototype in a gee-whiz reveal on “60 Minutes,” staging a kind of reverse gotcha sure to bolster press coverage across the commercial drone industry. While public reaction ran the gamut from the dubious, with some calling small UAS “vaporware,” to the outraged — The noise! The privacy violations! — to those enthusiastically embracing the next new technology, there was no denying the cool factor. 22


In Amazon’s demonstration video, the bumblebee yellow and black octocopter clips ahold of a container off a conveyor belt and buzzes out the warehouse door. It does so without a remote operator, buzzing over green fields before gently settling down in front of a suburban home. Amazon Prime Air promises to offer 30-minute delivery, available for more than 80 percent of its products. “Before Amazon came out with this, all you heard about was military drones,” says Matt Scassero, director of the University of Maryland’s UAS test site. “As soon as Amazon came out with this, it

changed the discussion to, ‘Hey, it can change my life.’” Technology and delivery companies alike have been quietly developing small drones for just this type of commercial use for years but have become increasingly frustrated by government restrictions on outdoor testing, necessary to overcome navigation and avoidance capabilities. This, of course, may be why the famously tight-lipped Bezos disclosed the details of a project that even he cautions remains several years out. As he told “60 Minutes,” “The hardest challenge in making this happen is going to be demonstrating to the standards of the FAA that this is a safe thing to do.” Companies have been mounting similar pressure abroad. DHL received government approval to run a month-long trial this fall to deliver medicine and other urgent necessities to an island off the northern coast of Germany, marking the first authorized autonomous parcelcopter flights in Europe. Under the deal, DHL had to monitor the flights and be prepared at all times to manually intervene if need

be. Initial reports were positive. The 11-pound UAS, powered by four propellers and capable of carrying a 2.6-pound payload, flew a programmed 7.4-mile route in 15 to 30 minutes, depending on wind conditions, at an altitude of 50 meters. “Having these companies push the regulatory boundaries is a good thing,” said Scassero. “It shows where the market interest is. It gets people excited.”

jars of baby food or a couple of fresh batteries? In fact, some of the most pressing concerns were articulated by someone with intimate knowledge of the delivery business on the ground: a Domino’s Pizza spokesman. Explaining that a video of a pizza-delivering drone in Britain was merely a publicity stunt, he said the company was certainly not

Google X’s Project Wing tested a hybrid fixed-wing and helicopter drone in the Australian desert. The UAS lifted off vertically using the propellers, then flew horizontally. Scassero says he knows of automated electronic fixed wings that weigh under 100 pounds and can travel 40 miles. Google’s test flight was apparently shorter. When the drone

The package area of DHL’s parcelcopter. Photo courtesy DHL.

DHL’s 11-pound UAS can carry a 2.6-pound payload. Photo courtesy DHL.

PRAGMATIC PACKAGES Commercial drone development will largely be driven by such small UAS, say experts. But how much can they add to the private delivery business? Surveying a crop or aiding a search-and-rescue team is one thing, but how efficient is it to navigate through populated areas to deliver a few

DHL’s parcelcopter began testing this fall. Photo courtesy DHL.

testing UAS delivery. “Given the fact that these things have spinning blades, could be stolen, shot at or batted like piñatas, we didn’t think the idea would ‘fly’ here in the U.S,” the spokesman emailed a reporter. Google is trying to tackle these dilemmas while also extending range. After two years of tinkering,

reached its destination, it tilted into a hovering position and winched down a 200-foot line, which slowed just before the package hit the ground. The tech team told The Atlantic magazine that lowering the package seemed to be the only safe option. Hurling boxes from the sky was dangerous for obviMISSION CRITICAL


Amazon unveiled its drone delivery aspirations in late 2013 on CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Photo courtesy Amazon Prime Air.

ous reasons. Parachutes too easily drifted off target in the wind. Landing and taking off, as Amazon’s prototype does, didn’t pass the field research.

pany’s name implies, the system is akin to an Internet for matter, with a web of preset spokes. At each lily pad, a UAV can exchange its battery.

“What they found was that individuals could not be stopped from trying to reach for their packages, even if they were told that the rotors on the vehicle were dangerous, which they are,” The Atlantic reported.

Greek entrepreneur Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet with an aim to deliver medicine to remote areas of the undeveloped world, much of which lacks passable roads for part or all of the year. Where truck transport is costly or impossible, small UAS could cost a dollar per package for each 25 miles. Establishing a network of five stations and 10 UAS would cost about $144,000, the company has estimated.

Google says it’s too early to say even if it will stick with a hybrid model. Like other companies, it’s releasing few technical specs at this stage of research and development. Another option, one exemplified by the company Matternet, is to extend range via docking pods. Where one eight-propeller drone could carry a 4.4-pound payload six miles, a chain of 10 drones could travel 60 miles. As the com24


DELIVERY DRIVERS AND DETERRENTS Unmanned vehicles for large cargo would likely operate in a similar fashion, following a set route

between hub airports. Airplanes are already able to take off, fly and land via computer. Cut the costs of pressurized-cabin equipment, pilot salaries and extra fuel burned to make good time, and FedEx estimates air cargo would no longer cost 10 times as much as sea freight. It would only be double. Getting from Point A to Point B is not a problem, though, for UAS both small or large. Reaching Point B without hitting something is. By 2018 — at which point the FAA expects to have small UAS rules in place — the agency estimates that as many as 7,500 commercial drones could be buzzing through U.S. air space. Small drones typically operate below 500 feet. But even recreational drones have ventured far outside authorized zones. An investigation by The Washington Post found 23 reported crashes

since 2009 and 15 close calls near airports in the past two years. In many cases, authorities were unable to identify or track the offending drones. NASA is currently researching the development of a separate air traffic control system for low-flying aircraft. Commercial UAS will be subject to regulations that don’t yet exist for hobbyists, and they’ll presumably use far more advanced navigational tools. But while UAS sensors can now detect fixed objects at close range, they’ll be subject to far more variability in the real world: other moving drones, birds, power lines, people. Speaking at a tech conference last year, Chris Anderson, CEO of the drone company 3D Robotics, called home delivery by UAS an “incredibly stupid” idea, due to safety issues.

“We love drones for agriculture because there are no people there, but using drones for delivery in built-up areas around people might not be the best idea,” he said, according to Fast Company magazine. And once the avoidance technology is perfected, how is the system protected against hackers? In 2012, a University of Texas professor and his students demonstrated for the Department of Homeland Security how to hack — or spoof — a drone flying one kilometer away. “If you can convincingly fake a GPS signal, you can convince a UAV into tracking your signal instead of the authentic one, and at that point you can control the UAV,” said Prof. Todd Humphreys. He later told The Washington Post if the FAA permits widespread commercial drone traffic before effective solutions are in place, “the hackers will come out of the woodwork.”

Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, an industry lobbying group launched in October, is not alone, though, when he expresses confidence in a near future that includes delivery drones. “Technology always wins,” he said. “It wins because it makes consumers’ lives easier, and on the commercial level the potential for use of UAVs in a myriad of industries is going to be breathtaking.” Ultimately, say experts, where automated drones deliver packages will, as always, be reduced to cost considerations. When is it worth the price for half-hour delivery? “As a consumer, then, I want that,” said Drobac. “I want to be able to receive the diapers for my children in 30 minutes at my house, and I don’t have to leave.”  MISSION CRITICAL


The new social robot Jibo, billed as “the world’s family robot.” All photos courtesy Jibo Inc.

Jibo Aims to Revolutionize Home Robotics It plays music. It turns on the lights. It reads books to your children. It plays emails and voice messages. It takes family photos. It guards your house. It’s a rotund little robot named Jibo, and by next December, it could be in your home if its successful crowdfunding appeal succeeds in getting it to market. Jibo is the brainchild of Cynthia Breazeal, Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and pioneer in the world of social robotics. The team behind the new company she formed includes technologists from iRobot, Apple, 26


IBM, Symantec, Zynga and more. The robot packs a lot of hardware in its 11-inch-tall, six-pound frame. He sports two color stereo cameras with 360-degree sound localization, so if you talk to him from behind, he can swivel his flat, high-definition touchscreen “face” around to you. He has full-body touch sensors, two premium speakers, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, all running on a Linux-based ARM processor. And, yes, Jibo is a he, according to his maker. An FAQ page on the company’s website says, “Jibo is gendered male.” You can’t change

his name to Bucky or Sparky, either, at least not yet. “In the current release, you have to use the name Jibo to address him,” the same FAQ says. “Future updates may allow for the possibility to give your Jibo a new name of your choice.” Breazeal has worked on social robots for years, including at MIT’s Media Lab, home of social robots such as Nexi and Leonardo, earlier efforts to create sociable robots. Unlike some of those robots, Jibo doesn’t try to mimic a human or animal face. “Key to Jibo is his ability to create relationships with users, as a persona himself. Jibo is a ‘social robot,’ and while other robots strive to be humanoid — with legs that mimic human gate, with physical presence that resembles the human physique — Jibo strives to establish a relationship,” Steve Chambers, executive chairman of Jibo Inc., writes in an email to Mission

SPOTLIGHT Critical. “It’s a philosophical difference and belief that key to establishing relationship isn’t trying to have Jibo walk up a flight of stairs but to have him show empathy and respond to consumers.” Having a screen-faced Jibo also avoids the uncanny valley, which is where robots that try to look human but fail can come off as creepy, Chambers notes. “Jibo tries hard to be a warm, attentive, responsive companion. Having him not be anthropomorphized was key to establishing his presence as such,” he writes. Jibo can learn things about you — such as your favorite takeout food — information that it stores in the cloud, which the company says is protected data. In fact, should your Jibo conk out and need to be replaced, the new one can “learn” everything the old one knew. The system depends heavily on speech recognition technology, according to Roberto Pieraccini, the company’s director of conversational technology, in a video blog post hosted by the company. Having robots understand speech is a challenge enough, but “building conversational technology for a robot like Jibo has many more challenges,” he says. One of those is the fact that there is no button to push to let Jibo know you are talking to it. He also needs to ignore your voice unless he knows you are talking to him, as well as filter out background noise such as traffic or television. Jibo approached the market using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo. The company sought $100,000; it ended up raising nearly $2.3 million, wrapping up the campaign on 14 Sept. The most popular package allowed funders to

Jibo in a kitchen, where it could help with recipes or read you emails while you cook.

obtain the first robots for $499. The first units are expected to ship to developers in September 2015, with consumer units arriving in December. COMPETITION There are a few robots similar to Jibo coming to market, although few with the technological firepower behind Jibo. One is Buddy, the first product from France’s Blue Frog Robotics. Like Jibo, Buddy has a flatscreen face, although in its case it’s actually a tablet. Unlike Jibo, Buddy is intended to be mobile, and it has hands, although it’s not clear what they can do. “It is a companion robot, 45 centimeters [17.7 inches] high, which can manage your household automation devices, help seniors at home, entertain or contribute to the education of your kids and assist you in the personal surveillance of your home,” the company says. Another competitor — albeit a much taller one — is Adam, from Italy’s Hands Co. Adam is more like Jibo in some ways, in that it

has a screen for a face and no arms and it’s intended to learn from its owner’s behavior over time. Like Jibo, it’s designed to interface with home automation, allowing it to switch on lights, adjust thermostats and the like. It can also play music and take photographs. Chambers says there are several factors that set Jibo apart from his competition in the market. “The ability to move in 3-D space. The ability to ‘hear’ and orient himself, due to an ability to move almost 360 degrees. The ability to disambiguate family members, and to recognize people and address them as … individual people,” he writes. “The way Jibo moves — based on ‘line of action’ animation principles — is unique to his character. “ As a social robot that lives in the home, “a key foundation to Jibo’s uniqueness is how we have connected audio processing, visual processing, persona and relationship intelligence and expressive movement, together,” Chambers writes. “Doing so requires advanced architecture and software that make Jibo — Jibo.”  MISSION CRITICAL


SOMETHING NEW Bridal Parties Abuzz Over Drone Wedding Pics

With unmanned aircraft crashing wedding parties around the world, soon wedding photographers might need to know as much about E-stops as they already know about F-stops. “People want drone photography first. If they can get something nobody else can get, then people are really apt to go for it, especially in the wedding industry, going crazy



as it is. People want the newest, the best, and they want outdo their maid of honor or their bridal party,� says photographer Dale Stierman. Stierman, who owns Picture Perfect, a photography company in Dubuque, Iowa, got the idea to meld his RC helicopter hobby with his lifelong passion for taking photos about two months ago. Quickly, the

A wedding photo Dale Stierman shot using an unmanned aircraft. All photos courtesy Dale Stierman, Picture Perfect.

END USERS option to shoot weddings with his team’s DJI Phantom became the hottest trend to hit Iowa’s wedding photography scene, and media coverage from CBS marqueed Stierman’s business in national headlines. Ever since, his phone has been ringing nonstop. “We’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of phone calls in the last three weeks from other photographers around the country asking for advice, and asking for ideas, and even asking basically our procedure,” he says. Stierman got his start snapping scenes when he was a child, following his photojournalist father to shoots as soon as he was old enough to carry a camera bag. The pair took on wedding photography when Stierman’s dad, Dale W. Stierman, transitioned to entrepreneurship. Stierman is also an RC helicopter hobbyist, and as soon as he realized how easy it was to fly a small quadrotor compared to a four-channel single rotor, he decided to give drone wedding photography a go, he says. “They got to drop down in price so much that we started looking into them,” he says. “And I actually had a friend of a friend who had one and asked if I wanted to use it sometime.” He knew the device could push his wedding photography business to new technological levels after hearing about Realtors in California using unmanned aircraft to shoot photos of houses for sale. Stierman says he knew using the DJI Phantom to shoot around Dubuque’s difficult terrain would mean his business would have the ability to take pictures in places no other photography firm in the area could. “There’s lots of twists and lots of buildings that are tall on the [Mississippi] river’s edge that no photographer [could get to],” he

says. “The river’s so wide there, you couldn’t shoot it from the Illinois side from a feasible lens, and you really couldn’t get high enough with a ladder or anything like that. … I knew this would probably be the only way. So I took this crazy idea, and I had a bride that was willing to let me do my thing, and it worked out well.” Stierman says that safety is his priority when going on shoots with drones, going so far as to airbrush out security personnel that serve as drone bouncers, standing near the bride and groom during the shots so if anything goes awry, they can safeguard the wedding party. He flies with a minimum of four personnel staged around the scene as a precaution. “The big thing is we don’t fly over people,” he says. “We don’t go anywhere near large groups of people. We have a telescopic lens that goes on the camera so we can get three times further away than your standard GoPro or your standard point and shoot that you would put on top of smaller drones.” His recent customers have taken him to destinations like Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Saint Maarten in the Caribbean, meaning he has to research airspace laws everywhere he goes. Stierman is careful to warn customers that not every day will have conditions that are conducive to flying. Should the winds pick up or the weather turn foul, he grounds the systems for the day. “We always tell our brides that it can’t be guaranteed, because we don’t want to be throwing up a drone in 45 mph wind gusts when there’s 400 people on the ground. It’s just not gonna happen,” he says. “If the weather isn’t cooperating, then we just don’t fly. And if they’re getting

married at a Holiday Inn that’s two miles from airport, we’re not going to do that either.” Not all of his small-town Iowa clients were immediately receptive to the idea of using drones for wedding shoots. “When people hear drone, they automatically think government conspiracy, spy planes, something like that,” he says. “We’ve actually changed our terminology to quadcopter, because it’s less threatening to the people. So we actually kind of avoid the word drone just simply because, especially in this area in the Midwest, when people hear drone, they think negatively about it.” And despite its popularity, Stierman is skeptical about unmanned aircraft taking over the entire wedding photography business. “Traditional wedding photographers, especially some of the old school ones that are around here that have been around for a while, they look at it as gimmick. They look at it as basically another phase that people go through,” he says. “And ultimately we know from doing it only the month and a half, two months, we’ve been doing it, we know every wedding can’t be shot with a drone. It’s just not feasible.” Stierman says that drone wedding photography would likely not work in places like the Las Vegas Strip or downtown Chicago, where not only are there more people on the ground, but privacy is a bigger issue. However, his Iowa business will likely have a leg up because of the systems. “I think it’s going to go on for years with us because of how much open land we have here,” he says. “ … Our ideas are going to go on for a long time.”  MISSION CRITICAL


Interest in self-driving vehicles has been galvanized in recent years by DARPA’s challenges and by automaker technology, making self-driving cars and trucks a real possibility in the mind of the public. Robotic and unmanned vehicles have also been increasingly employed in many roles on land, in the water and in the air.

SAE International and AUVSI offer this new book that identifies profitable opportunities for civil and commercial applications for autonomous vehicle technologies, from cargo-carrying systems to home robots to autonomous underwater vehicles, and everything in between.

Mission Critical: Commercial  

AUVSI's Mission Critical: Commercial addresses the latest in unmanned systems and robotics.