Quadcopter Inspects B-52 on USAF Taxiway

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An unusual aircraft went through its motions on the Edwards Air Force Base flightline March 16 when a small quadcopter equipped with a camera took to the sky to perform a visual inspection of a B-52 Stratofortress.

This was the first-ever test using a small unmanned aerial system near an active taxiway on an Air Force flightline.

As aircraft taxied by on their way to launch or recovery, and others flew overhead, the tiny quadcopter flew a pattern around the B-52 under the direction of the Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force.

This inspection was the second in a series of tests to examine the feasibility of using small unmanned aerial systems to perform visual pre- and post-flight inspections of large aircraft. The first was done on a C-17 Globemaster III parked on an out-of-the-way ramp during training day.

Major Will Niblack, the ET-CTF operations officer and sUAS pilot, said there were some added challenges to this second test with the B-52.

“Two significant differences were conducting the aircraft inspection near a main operating taxiway – successfully avoiding being a conflict to other aircraft – and completing this capability (demonstration) while actual exterior maintenance was being done on the aircraft. We avoided being a hindrance to their maintenance operation,” Niblack said.

Edwards2

One of those maintainers, James Rebel, a B-52 crew chief with the 912th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, was working on his aircraft as the sUAS was doing its tests. He said he thought it was a pretty cool concept.

“It only takes about an hour for us to get harnessed up and do an inspection,” Rebel said. “So this may not save us much time yet. But once they get it fine-tuned, I can see its usefulness.” He said it would be especially useful on higher areas, such as the tail, on B-52s and C-17s.

Niblack said this second test was very successful, and the 412th Maintenance group has shown continued interest in developing this capability for future maintenance support.

“We plan to continue working with the (Maintenance Group) to stand up this capability in their respective units,” he said.

He also said the ET CTF is working on future capability demonstrations with the 412th Civil Engineer Group to perform building and roof inspections.

Photos: U.S. Air Force photos by Christian Turner

Source: US Air Force

Analyzing Parrot’s latest financial report

Parrot is the only publicly-listed consumer/commercial drone company, so their quarterly and annual financial reports are one of the few places to get accurate and up-to-date numbers on how the drone industry is really doing. They published their Q4 2016 and full-year 2016 financials earlier this week and as always it makes for interesting reading.

Some observations:

  • Consumer drones continue to be tough for everyone (aside from DJI) due to rapid price declines and commodification: Parrot’s consumer drone sales fell by 46% in 2016.
  • Gross margins fell even faster, from 50% in Q4 2015 to 20% in Q4 2016
  • As a result, Parrot lost a lot of money in 2016: losses were $138m for the year and $45m in Q4 alone.
  • Sales are slowing at their commercial drone subsidiary, Sensefly, too, down 32% to $15m for the year.
  • But their partially-owned software subsidiary, Pix4D, had another great year, up 160% to $16m for the year.  

Parrot says that it expects 2017 to be better, in part because it will cut costs by eliminating 250 jobs and introduce new products. It will also spin off its older automotive and consumer electronic sides and become a pure-play drone company. 

Bottom line: drone hardware is a tough market, consumer drone hardware is even tougher, but the market for commercial drone software, while still young, is looking good. 

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Sentera Announces Real-Time NDVI Video Streaming

This is an interesting development.  Prior to this technology, NDVI required post-flight processing to be effective. According to Sentera, they can now accomplish this live and in-camera.

Sentera today announced the upcoming release of LiveNDVI™ video: live streamed NDVI video via the Sentera Double 4K sensor. This breakthrough technology will offer agronomists worldwide the fastest way to make decisions and specify inputs based on complete, real-time data. Sentera’s Double 4K “little green sensor” processes normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI) data in-flight, on the sensor, and live streams NDVI video directly to the user’s mobile device on the ground, the moment it’s captured.

“This is a great new tool for agronomists and other advisors,” said Eric Taipale, CEO of Sentera. “Users have been limited in what they could immediately take away from sensor data while they’re still at the field’s edge. With the Double 4K’s LiveNDVI capability, these users get definitive NDVI data on the entire field immediately, and with complete confidence. It could not be faster, and it costs less than traditional methods of data collection.”

Capabilities like LiveNDVI continue to reduce the time and expense associated with lower-value data collection tasks. By collecting higher quality data faster and less expensively than ever before, agronomists can focus on high-value advisory and prescriptive tasks, bring more acres under management, and provide better advice, to more growers, at a lower cost.