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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Legal aspects of drone operations

Drone technology is developing rapidly, that is why legal assessments will require regular updates. The development is so fast that it is very hard to regulate by the law all the restrictions relating to drones. United States - the most advanced country in the drone technology - is supposed to integrate safely drones into the national airspace system by September 2015. Unfortunately, there are so many issues to discuss and define, that the probability of achieving the goal becomes less and less.

Current regulations in U.S. 
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not currently regulate safe minimum operating altitudes for drones as it does for other kinds of aircraft. In 2007, the FAA stated that no person may operate a UAS in the National Airspace without specific authority. Currently all drone operators who do not fall within the recreational use exemption must apply directly to the FAA for permission to fly. Drones operated by federal, state, or local agencies must obtain a certificate of authorization or waiver (COA) from the FAA. After receiving COA applications, the FAA conducts a comprehensive operational and technical review of the drone and can place limits on its operation in order to ensure its safe use in airspace. Civil operators, or private commercial operators, must receive a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category in order to operate. These certificates have been issued on a limited basis for flight tests, demonstrations, and training. Presently, there is no other method of obtaining FAA approval to fly drones for commercial purposes. Recreational users are instructed to fly a sufficient distance from populated areas and away from noise-sensitive areas like parks, schools, hospitals or churches. Additionally, users should not fly in the vicinity of full-scale aircraft or more than 400 feet above the surface. When flying within three miles of an airport, users should notify the air traffic control tower, airport operator, or flight service station.
What about the future?
As it was mentioned before, FMRA (Modernization and Reform Act) instructs the FAA to integrate civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace by the end of FY 2015 and implement new standards for public drone operators. This law included provisions describing the comprehensive plan and rulemaking the agency must create to address different aspects of integrating civil drones, restricting the FAA’s ability to regulate model aircraft, and requiring the creation of drone test sites. The FAA has already implemented a streamlined process for public operators to obtain COAs. In addition to this streamlining, FMRA instructs the FAA to develop and implement operations and certification requirements for the operation of public unmanned aircraft systems in the national airspace. In FMRA, the FAA was prohibited from promulgating rules regarding certain kinds of model aircraft flown for hobby or recreational use. This prohibition applies if the model aircraft is less than 55 pounds, does not interfere with any manned aircraft, and is flown in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines. Additionally, the aircraft must be flown within the line of sight of the operator and be used solely for hobby or recreational purposes. If flown within five miles of an airport, the operator of the model aircraft must notify both the airport operator and air traffic control tower. While the FAA is prohibited from writing rules or regulations governing these aircraft, it is not prohibited from pursuing enforcement actions against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

Regulations in European Union 
Regulation of the European Parliament no 216/2008/WE of 20 February 2008 authorized the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to settle legal issues related to the operation of civil unmanned aircraft whose takeoff weight exceeds 150 kg. UAVs used by the military, government or experimental amateur built, as well as all civil UAV whose weight does not exceed 150 kg are exempt from the supervision of the Agency. In early July 2013, the European Commission announced "RPAS Roadmap". It is a document developed by the European RPAS Steering Group (ERSG), a team appointed by the European Commission to help the process of integration of unmanned systems of European airspace. The document sets out an action plan for the period 2016 - 2028, and one of his first objectives is the need to abolish the border of 150 kg and acquire the supervision of EASA also smaller UAVs. This is due to the fear of too much variation in the provisions in force in the various countries of Europe. The reason for the planned changes is the fact that we observe very dynamic development of the possibilities of using mainly small unmanned platforms, which often does not exceed the weight of several kilograms. Determination of the rules of use of drones has been entrusted to national aviation authorities.

United Kingdom 
United Kingdom is working on its regulations several years. It is allowed to operate flights within sight of the operator, UAVs weighing not more than 20 kg and with the following restrictions: a ban on flights at a distance of less than 150 m from the cities, population centers and residential areas, a ban on flights at less than 30 m from people and the obligation to have liability insurance. In addition, each type of commercial activities requires registration and approval of aerial surveillance, as well as the respective powers held by the UAV pilot. Flights out of sight require the approval of aviation authorities and can be implemented in a dedicated specifically for this purpose airspace.

Iceland has no specific regulations addressing unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft, except for what is characterized as ‘self propelled flying models and flying bodies,’ and the regulations dealing with RC aircraft apply to aircraft weighing more than 5 kg that are to be flown within 1.5 km of populated areas or aerodromes. Even small RC aircraft (weighing less than 5 kg) require permission from the aeronautical authority if operated within 1.5 km of an aerodrome. There are no published procedures for applying for permission to operate models or UAS other than requesting permission of the controlling authority for an aerodrome. Otherwise, operations of UAS outside populated areas and away from aerodromes (and presumably in Arctic regions where Iceland provides air navigation services) may be conducted without restriction other than the standard ICAO Class ‘G’ airspace rules.
Regulations in Australia and New Zealand 
Airspace in Australia is regulated by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), an independent authority established by the Australian Federal Government. Any UAV being used for commercial operation requires a UAS Operator’s Certificate, but there are no regulations on the size of it. Commercial Operation is here defined as operating for some sort of remuneration or reward. There are no explicit regulations for non-commercial UAV’s, they fall under the Model Aircraft regulations and are treated as such. The main rules are following:
● Keep the UAV away from populated areas and the immediate vicinity of others (i.e. more than 30m)
● Do not operate within 3nm (5.5km) of an aerodrome
● Do not operate in controlled airspace above 400ft (123m)
● Do not operate in military prohibited or restricted areas
● Do not fly in poor visibility, clouds or at Wight
● Consider the benefits of approved flying areas
The Model Aircraft Association of Australia (MAAA) is the major model aviation authority in Australia and operates a number of flying fields around Australia. The MAAA do not allow UAV’s to be operated at their flying fields.
CASA is currently reworking its UAS regulations. The goal of the new regulations is to take a risk-based approach to small UAV’s. This will likely lead to different classes (depending on weight) of UAV with varying levels of certification needed.

New Zealand
The law in New Zealand is like in Australia, but without the identification requirement. It appears as if recreational and commercial motivations for UAV flight are indistinguishable in New Zealand.

Laws related to civilian drone use don't even exist in African countries yet. This technology is just at the beginning of its development. At the moment, drones have been banned in two countries: Kenya and South Africa. In South Africa the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) has declared that it is illegal to be flying UAS within civil aviation airspace in April this year. South African civil aviation legislation does not currently provide for certification, registration and operation of drones in South African airspace, but an increase in demand for UAS’s has prompted the SACAA to integrate regulations as swiftly as possible. Until then, they say that anyone caught operating a drone in public airspace could face a fine of up to R50 000 or ten years imprisonment (or both). Kenya's government also banned the private use of drones. This move will immediately ground an anti-poaching pilot program that was set to begin in one of the world's most important wildlife sanctuaries. In Africa it is very important to introduce appropriate legislation due to The Flying Donkey Challenge, which starts this year and the stationing of U.S. drones in African countries.

Monday, 18 August 2014

UAVs DIY resources

The web is full of information about do-it-yourself (DIY) drones. In this post we will highlight in best resources, that GeoDrone ehf. is using while creating our unique service.

FPV Quadcopter Guide and Parts List
This Google Sheet highlights the essential steps needed for drone builders. It was created by the reddit user 

whitenoise106Reddit is practically endless resource of useful information and we also gathered many useful tips from this thread as well as this wiki.
This website is full of reliable information and step-by-step instruction on how to build your own drone. You will get detailed description of the required components as well as list of vendors.

Jerry LeMieux. "Drone Entrepreneurship: 30 Businesses You Can Start
And last, if you prefer to have a book, we recommend this book by Doctor Jerry LeMieux. "Drone Entrepreneurship: 30 Businesses You Can Start" has a lot of interesting tips for aspiring entrepreneurs interested in starting their own drone business.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Measurement standards in the geothermal industry

Historically, many of the early geothermal projects were developed in a non-systematic manner. It came with a time, that the stages and phases of a development process of geothermal resources have become more clearly defined. Even today there are differences in methodologies and techniques between different countries and agencies.
There are seven phases in the process of developing geothermal projects, including: preliminary survey, exploration, test drilling, project review and planning, field development, power plant construction, commissioning and operation, however this article will focus only on the two first phases, in which measurements data are the most important.
The Preliminary Survey Phase involves a work program to assess the already available evidence for geothermal potential within a specific area. The initial surveying involves a literature review of geological, hydrological or hot spring/thermal data, drilling data, anecdotal information from local populations, and remote sensing data from satellites, if available.
Most countries have existing databases of geological and hydrological data.  These are useful for guiding early geothermal surveying and exploration.  Information should be also gathered on legal issues, like the national, regional and local regulations that might allow or restrict access for exploration activities.
Basic information for the preliminary survey covers: the power market and possible power purchase agreements or feed in tariff, infrastructure issues (roads, water, communication, transmission), resource ownership issues, environmental and social issues, institutional and regulatory frameworks, issues related to political and financial stability and information from available literature on the resource itself.

The second phase Exploration, may start by looking at a regional level and, as more data is gleaned, focus to a more localized analysis. Exploration typically begins with gathering data from existing, nearby wells and other surface manifestations, and goes on to surface and sub-surface surveying using geological, geochemical, and geophysical methods. Surveying techniques used in this phase are following: 

    Surface studies - gathering local knowledge, locating active geothermal surface features, assessing surface geology.
    Geochemical surveying - geothermometry, electrical conductivity, pH, flow rate of fluids from active features, soil sampling.
    Geophysical surveying - gravity, electrical resistivity, magnetotelluric, temperature gradient drilling, 2D & 3D seismic sampling.

By the end of this phase, sufficient exploration data should have been collected and analyzed to select sites and targets for the first few deep exploration wells.  A preliminary estimate of the magnitude of the resource, and developing initial conceptual and numerical models should also be possible at this stage.

Geological data
In the field exploration it is very important to locate and characterize all existing geothermal features within the project area and within a relevant distance from the project area.
Geological data for the project area should be presented in the form of geological maps, structural maps, stratigraphic columns, and cross sections for the project areas.

Geochemical data
Geochemical studies focus on understanding the geothermal fluid sources and flow paths and assessing potential operational issues that will come with development, such as wellbore scaling, corrosion, and concentrations of non-condensable gases. Regional CO2 gas surveys are becoming increasingly popular, because elevated CO2 at the surface may indicate the presence of permeable faults or the extent of an active geothermal system. Fluid and gas geochemical data are presented on maps, tables, drawings, and plots for the project area. 
A good outcome of the geochemistry studies would be an indication of temperature distribution within the geothermal system, a maximum temperature range for the resource, and a fluid-mixing model.

Geophysical data
There are many types of geophysical surveys that can be carried out. They include gravity surveys, temperature gradient drilling (also referred to as heat flow surveys), electrical and electromagnetic resistivity surveys (particularly magneto-telluric (MT), but there are also several others), 2D and 3D seismic techniques. Geophysical data collection points should be presented on maps with license boundaries and cross section lines clearly labeled. Maps should be provided as geo-referenced digital files or have a grid overlain on them that allows for easy geo-referencing. Gravity data should be presented as contour maps with the appropriate reduction densities indicated. Resistivity data should be presented in a similar way, with contour maps of resistivity or conductivity at a particular elevation/depth, or isoresistivity contour maps showing the elevation of a particular resistivity or conductivity value. Seismic data requires more detailed processing and interpretation than either resistivity or gravity data. For temperature gradient drilling data should be presented graphically, with a legend listing the dates that each profile (temperature log) was made.
Each geophysical survey should be carried out soundly and the acquired data should be interpreted by an experienced operator with deep insight in the region’s tectonics and geology.

Satellite imagery
More and more data from satellite and airborne sensors are becoming readily available. Many of them can be applied to geothermal exploration, like satellite or aircraft-based infrared scans, and thermal data acquired by Thematic Mapper (TM) and Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) sensors on-board Landsat-5 and Landsat-7 satellites. It may be also appropriate to develop a Geographic Information System (GIS) database of potential geothermal sites based on aerial photos and satellite data. The technique may be especially useful in difficult terrain where ground access is difficult. Relevant remote sensing data can be downloaded into GIS software for integration with data compiled from surface surveys to produce detailed maps for each project area.

GeothermEx Inc., USA, and Dr. Colin Harvey: "Geothermal Practices Best Practices" (PDF download)

Aneta Żądło
Tomasz Sasin

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The biggest companies in the drone market and their outstanding products

The drone market is expanding very fast these days. There are many companies that are producing drones, which are being used in various sectors of the economy. Here are a few biggest companies and their most interesting products that you definitely should know about. 

1. The Boeing Company 
It is commonly known as one of the biggest producers of the passenger aircraft (Boeing Commercial Airplanes), but it has been also producing drones for military purposes (Boeing Defense, Space and Security). The Boeing Company produces a few types of drones, one of them is called Phantom Eye. The drone is powered by liquid hydrogen long endurance UAV and can fly for 96 hours. The company is also developing a solar-powered drone called the SolarEagle that will be capable of flying up to 60,000 feet for five years. This technology is very similar to Zephyr drone, which has been developed by QinetiQ. The drone is able to stay aloft for 336 hours and 22 minutes, or 14 days, without refuelling.

2. Airbus, Dessault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi

These are three European companies that have been developing in aviation (mostly passenger aircraft). Recently, all of them decided to turn up to the drone market. If the project will come into effect it is predicted that first drones will appear in 2020. This will help Europe to become more independent of United States. 

3. Titan Aerospace 
The company now has gained notoriety due to the announcement of its acquisition by Google. It is said that Google will use these drones to provide access to their services in areas where it is not possible at the moment, as well as is planning their biggest competitor Facebook. These drones are prototypes for now, but will be powered by solar energy and able to stay high in the air for several years. 

4. General Atomics 
The company is mostly known for constructing the Predator drone. The drone is equipped with cameras and other sensors, but it has been modified and upgraded to carry and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other munitions. The Predator has also a bigger and more powerful variant which is MQ-9 Reaper.

5. AeroVironment 
The company is known especially for its Hummingbird drone. It is a drone that mimics the look and behaviour of the hummingbird. The drone is very small, light and can hover or fly in all directions. It also carries a camera. The company is also constructing tactical military drones like RQ-11 Raven used for example to explore new territories by soldiers. 

6. Vanguard Defense Industries 
The company is mostly known for their drone called ShadowHawk. It is available in different variants (for example military, electric) and can fly day-after-day, for up to 3 hours at a time, on an accurate flight path, under computer control. 

7. Northrop Grumman 
The Northrop Grumman is also one of the biggest companies in the drone market. The X-47B is the most advanced stealth combat drone produced by this company. It can refuel itself in flight and conduct pre-programmed missions using GPS navigation. It can be equipped with sensors or weapons. 

8. Prox Dynamics AS 
The Prox Dynamics has developed the Black Hornet Nano, which is a drone that looks like a tiny helicopter. The Black Hornet Nano is equipped with a camera which gives the operator full-motion video and still images. 

Science Applications International Corporation is a US company that provides government services and information technology support. They specialize in building unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV), known as underwater drones. The vehicles are able to operate underwater without a human occupant and can be used in a defense against ultra-quiet submarines. 

10. Israel Aerospace Industries 
The company is the biggest aerospace and aviation manufacturer in Israel. It is producing both military and civilian aerial systems. They are developing many types of drones such as Pioneer, RQ-5 Hunter, Heron - family of long-endurance UAV, Bird-Eye - family of mini-UAV. 

11. Draganflyer Innovations 
This company is widely known because of its product Draganflyer X6. It is a drone that is powered by battery and it’s being one of the lightest in the drone market by now. It can be equipped with a cameras and sensors, but can’t fly longer than about 20 minutes. Condor Aerial It is not a big company, but it is expanding very fast these days. It has already been offering a few types of drones like: Precepter, Talon, Phoenix, Phantom-2, SeaHawk, Scorpion and Critter, with Multi-Rotor or Fixed-Wing option.

12. Condor Aerial
It is not a big company, but it is expanding very fast these days. It has already been offering a few types of drones like: Precepter, Talon, Phoenix, Phantom-2, SeaHawk, Scorpion and Critter, with Multi-Rotor or Fixed-Wing option.

Aneta Żądło
Jan M. Krawczyk

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Project Management in an international start-up

Managing a tech start-up project might be quite a challenge, especially when you're working with a team that is located in different cities... yet even different countries! But we live in a XXI century and the technology is here to help!

In my opinion there are four main things important for a successful start-up project to run efficiently. Organising regular time-framed team meetings, having reliable cloud-based file repository system, have ways to connect with each other almost "real-time" and define clear responsibilities and task delegation system.

1. Regular, time-framed team meetings
Our team is spread between three Polish cities (Katowice, Kraków and Warsaw) and our CEO is located in Reykjavik, Iceland. Since we are in the Startup Energy Reykjavik program finals, we had to figure out the way to manage telepresence during the interviews, meetings with mentors and possible investors.
The first choice is obviously Skype. The benefit of this application is that it's a stable stand-alone installation on PC and also runs on all mobile platforms. On the other hand the free version does not support multiple video-feeds and desktop sharing.
The next choice was Google Hangout. The giant from Mountain View is working hard to gain more interest in their social network platform Google+ and compete with Facebook. This means that they are offering a lot of useful tools for free, just by signing up to their network. What's important to emphasise is that, oppose to the popular belief, Google+ is a very useful tool for entrepreneurs to build connections (but that's a story for a separate post).
Google Hangout offers free multiple video-feeds, desktop sharing and plenty other cool tools like special effects that will make at least one of your meeting completely unproductive but very entertaining. Obviously it is available on all platforms, but we experienced some problems with running it on Mac OS.
During a Team Meeting, there always have to be a scribe responsible for preparing an agenda for a meeting and compiling meeting minutes. That person is also responsible for time discipline - if the meeting was scheduled for 1 h, he or she has to take control of the group. We put a lot of time into figuring out a good structure of our Meeting Minutes template and I will soon share it on our blog.

2. Reliable cloud-based file repository
There are multiple products available on the market right now and every few months there's some new company offering to revolutionise a way of working with files in the cloud. I personally started using Dropbox when it first started and was amazed by how reliable it is. I used it for many years, but the size limitation in the free account made me switch do Google Drive.
In my opinion Google Drive is a killer app and now I cannot imagine working without it! With a desktop plugin installed all the files we work on are automatically synced to the cloud. We never had an issue with somebody missing a file or having an old version. There are also advanced options that allow you to view who made specific changes and when.
Basically Google Drive with Docs functionality makes an attachment of an e-mail an obsolete feature. I don't even want to start on the beauty of the design and functionality of their mobile apps... A lot of this project is happening thanks to Google and it's all for free!

3. "Real-time" team communication
Robert Kiyosaki use to say: "Most people clock out of their job at 5pm. As an entrepreneur, you're always on the clock. That doesn't mean you're always working though."
Everybody are pigs in a start-up and need to be 100% involved! This means that sometimes we need to get in touch when somebody is at work or is taking care of his/her family. Obviously a mobile phone is a thing to use, but when you deal with an international project things are not so easy.
We decided to rely on the Facebook Messenger system. Obviously this most popular social-network is generally reserved for private matters and posting cat pictures, but we all know we cannot resist the urge to check it out couple of times a day. Facebook tricked everybody into installing a separate app on their phones by removing a chat functionality from the basic Fb app. In the beginning, I was quite annoyed by this, but with time I got to appreciate the functionality of this application.
We have a group chat setup in Facebook called "GeoDrone Talks". In this way we can limit the amount of e-mails and we also see right away if the message was delivered and viewed (we can even do NSA style things by turning on the location option!). Alicja figured out how to setup a custom graphic for a group chat and it nicely pop-ups in our phones with GeoDrone logo (she promised to make a simple infographic to explain this tricky process).

4. Define clear responsibilities and task delegation system
I have some experience in managing group projects from my work at Keilir Institute of Technology. I was experimenting with different methodologies and sizes of groups. What really proved to be effective in a technical projects was a Scrum methodology of self-managing teams. This combined with a good Kanban board and a well managed backlog make projects complete with amazing results. You can take a look at some projects I was managing at KIT on their website.
All those projects are using the Mahara ePortfolio system, which in my opinion is perfect for school/training applications. We also experimented with LeanKit and gave a try to the Office365 EXCEL web app (which then proved to be much worse than the Google Drive alternative).
For the PM work with GeoDrone I wanted to test a app called PODIO that was recommended to me. I did some research and compared it with alternatives. Basecamp is commercial so I automatically skipped it and Asana don't have mobile apps on all the platforms. We started using PODIO, which in the beginning looked quite complicated. It definitely has a high learning curve, but once you get there you appreciate all the customisation options and different cloud-storage products integration.
After working with PODIO for few weeks it turned out, that for a small team this tool is just too elaborate and bulky. Now we are using a simple Google Docs Sheet with clearly defined Work Packages and people responsible for each chunk of work.

This is briefly how we work at GeoDrone, I hope you'll find this article useful and as always we appreciate some constructive feedback! What PM apps, software are you using in your company, start-up?

Monday, 17 March 2014

First post on GeoDrone blog!

The journey of GeoDrone Team started couple months ago when we got an idea. When like-minded people with drive and motivation meet, things happen quite quickly. One thing led to another and our company is now the finalist of the Startup Energy Reykjavik program.

We are very excited to take part in SER and want to use this opportunity to the fullest. This blog will serve as a platform to communicate the developments of our Team in SER program and beyond. We hope to get some feedback from you and we always welcome some constructive criticism.