We’re excited to sponsor EUCI’s UAS for Electric Utilities

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We’re excited to sponsor EUCI’s UAS for Electric Utilities

We’re excited to sponsor EUCI’s UAS for Electric Utilities, taking place from October 18-19, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. This year’s conference welcomes industry and legal experts to discuss the onsetting integration of drones as a sustainable practice in the electric utilities industry. At PRENAV, we plan to join the movement by employing our automated aerial robots to conduct visual inspections of tall, vertical structures in both confined spaces and outdoor environments.

Frequent inspections are critical to locate, monitor, and address structural deficiencies, like cracks and corrosion, before more severe conditions ensue. Although traditional methods are still required to complete actual maintenance and repairs, the implementation of drones will address the operational challenges of human inspections and simultaneously streamline the inspection pipeline.

By developing advanced technology to precisely and automatically maneuver around structures, PRENAV provides a safer alternative for commercial inspections of industrial infrastructure like transmission towers and power-generation facilities, even in GPS-denied environments. Take boilers and tanks for example -- the conventional approach to boiler inspections requires the construction of expensive scaffolding for inspectors to access the interior. With the usage of drones, however, data can be captured much faster and more safely, and scaffolding only needs to be built in the event that a repair is required.  An operator can supervise remotely as the drone follows a predetermined flight path, while viewing the captured high-resolution images for assessment in real time. Along with the decrease in overall cost and asset downtime, risk to the inspection personnel is eliminated as well.

By offering a level of accuracy that GPS-based systems are unable to provide, PRENAV’s drone system introduces a modern solution to an otherwise traditionally inefficient operation.  

Hope to see you at the conference!

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Thoughts on the FAA's new rules for commercial UAS operations (Part 107)

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Thoughts on the FAA's new rules for commercial UAS operations (Part 107)

Yesterday, the FAA officially released Part 107, which encompasses the new rules for commercial operation of drones.  This is a defining moment for the drone industry in the U.S., since the new regulations make it so much easier for individuals, service providers, and enterprises to use drones for business.  Here's how:

  1. The FAA has removed the certified pilot restriction.  Prior to Part 107, the only people allowed to operate drones commercially had to have a manned aircraft pilot's license. Now drones can be operated for profit by anyone, as long as they pass a written test.  This makes the technology so much more accessible to the average worker, like field engineers, insurance adjustors, farmers, construction crews, and more. 
  2. Operations no longer have to stay 500 feet away from non-participating individuals or property.  Keeping a 500 foot buffer was practically impossible in any moderately populated environment, and prevented so many applications involving homes, buildings, and other structures.  Now, operators just need to take care not to fly over people who aren't participating or otherwise protected by a structure.  By the way, cars don't count if they're moving... so no flying over roads.
  3. All the paperwork and hassle around filing for a Section 333 exemption is no longer required.  The previous Section 333 exemption process essentially involved copying other people's exemptions word-for-word and then waiting 6-7 months for an FAA rubber stamp of approval. It was unnecessarily burdensome and slow, and it's finally over.  Hallelujah.
  4. Flying within 5 miles of airports MIGHT become a little easier.  It appears operators will no longer need to request a special COA (certificate of authorization) from the FAA to fly near airports, which can take months to get approved, and instead just need ATC approval.  It remains to be seen if ATC will grant these approvals, and how long the process will take, but we're hopeful that it will be an improvement.  
  5. Operations can now fly as high as required, as long as they're within 400 feet of an existing structure.  Since we do a lot of work on tall structures like wind turbines and cell towers, this is something we were pushing for, so we're happy to see a provision was included.    

There are still a few areas where we'd like to see the FAA pull back the regulations more.  For example, the FAA should reconsider allowing night-time operations.  If the drone is within line of sight and visible to its operator at night, there's really no reason the operation shouldn't be allowed.  There are many applications of drones that ONLY work at night, like drone light shows or certain types of thermal imaging.  Additionally, the 1 operator to 1 drone requirement should be looked at.  As automation continues to improve, it will be possible for a single operator to manage multiple drones at once, and hiring additional operators will be cost prohibitive in these scenarios.

All in all, I'm relieved the new regulations were released on time (according to estimates last year), and mostly matched up with the FAA's original proposal from back in Feb. 2015.  The new regulations will take effect in August 2016.  Until then, organizations can operate under their existing Section 333 exemptions.

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"Hello World" Selected for NYC Drone Film Festival

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"Hello World" Selected for NYC Drone Film Festival

 

We're pleased to announce that our video "Hello World" has been officially selected for the 2nd annual NYC Drone Film Festival! The event takes place March 4-6th at the Directors Guild of America Theater. Tickets can be ordered here. See you at the show!

Check out "Hello World" below:



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A commercial drone startup's reaction to the FAA's new registration process

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A commercial drone startup's reaction to the FAA's new registration process

The FAA just announced their new registration requirements for UAS (unmanned aerial systems), and everyone is talking about it.  The drone press is generally focused on getting the word out to hobbyists.  AMA members are rightfully upset.  Several groups take issue with the $5 registration fee, and others question the legality of the process the FAA has used by essentially skirting the public comment period due to last minute concerns over holiday drone sales (I mean, who knew Christmas was coming, right?).  

So I thought I’d share a commercial drone startup’s viewpoint. Personally, I think the registration program is overall a good idea, but I agree with many of the concerns that have been voiced. I believe AMA members should be allowed to use their AMA number, and not have to go through a separate registration process with the FAA. I think the $5 fee every 3 years will deter some people from registering, and the minimum weight threshold of .55 lbs is far too low. From the FAA’s FAQs:

Q. “If I don't have a scale and my drone doesn't appear on the list is there another method to tell how much it weighs?”
A. Two sticks of butter weigh 0.5lbs.
The safety of the NAS depends on ensuring that drones of this size are registered. Right...

The safety of the NAS depends on ensuring that drones of this size are registered. Right...

With all that being said, we here at PRENAV can’t wait for the new registration process to replace the current N-number process (expected to be extended to commercial UAS by Mar 31, 2016).  Today’s registration process for commercial drones is slow and cumbersome, and not cut out for the rapid pace of technology development in the industry.  The new process sounds considerably streamlined, although I still need to see what specifically they will require of commercial systems. 

Since not everyone is familiar with the current aircraft registration process, here are some of the steps we recently went through to register some of our prototype UAS systems.  Consider this the unofficial guide to getting your commercial UAS system registered today.  

First, we had to apply for an “N-number” for each of our drones. N-numbers are used to identify all types of aircraft that are operating in the national airspace. There’s an online process where we could apply for our N-numbers.

Cost is $10 per number. Once we made some selections and submitted payment, it took a few weeks before we received a letter in the mail granting our N-numbers.

FAA Notice to PRENAV of Registered N-numbers

Next, we needed to paint our N-numbers on the aircraft. Something like this (NOTE: this isn't our drone, it's just an example):

San Diego Gas & Electric FAA-registered drones stamped with the N-number "N544L". Photo source here.

San Diego Gas & Electric FAA-registered drones stamped with the N-number "N544L". Photo source here.

Then, we needed to register that particular make/model of aircraft to its N-Number and file that with the FAA. To our surprise, the forms were not available online; we instead had to call our local FAA office and wait for them to mail us hardcopies.  Also, it's important to be careful when filling out the forms since the FAA won't accept forms with cross-outs or whiteout on them. That also means that if you make a few mistakes, you have to request new forms to fill out and wait again.

AC Form 8050-1 Aircraft Registration Application

As we were filling the form out, we realized that we also needed to provide the FAA with a “proof of sale” including the specs of the aircraft. Since we’re a manufacturer of drones who hasn’t started selling our product yet, this was a bit tricky. We found a workaround, which was basically a letter that we needed to write to ourselves, and another form to fill out (thankfully we could download this one online, but it needed to be notarized...).  We mailed that all back to the FAA, and now we’re waiting to get a response to see if we did it right.   

AC Form 8050-88 Affidavit of Ownership for Amateur-built and other non-type certificated aircraft

Proof of Sale document

The entire process took several months, so you can see why I’m pushing for the new process to be rolled out to commercial UAS quickly. We'll take a simple online registration process and unique identifier over the N-number process any day.  I also think it's important to increase awareness and accountability among new drone users, so overall I'm in favor of the new registration process.

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Groundbreaking Autonomous Drone from PRENAV Approved by FAA for Commercial Use

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Groundbreaking Autonomous Drone from PRENAV Approved by FAA for Commercial Use

PRENAV and Partner Hawk Aerial Granted First Section 333 Exemptions To Operate Fully Autonomous System for Close Proximity Inspections

San Carlos, Calif. - Oct. 26, 2015 - Silicon Valley startup, PRENAV and partner Hawk Aerial today announced that have been granted the first Section 333 exemptions from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate the PRENAV precision drone system.  PRENAV drones are capable of autonomously navigating in complex, cluttered, or GPS-denied environments.  The two companies plan to use the system to perform close proximity visual inspections of cell phone towers, wind turbines, bridges, oil tankers, industrial boilers, and other large structures.  

“Using drones to inspect structures such as cell towers and wind turbines typically requires an expert pilot because GPS isn’t adequate for close proximity flight,” according to Nathan Schuett, CEO of PRENAV.  “The PRENAV system is the first drone to be approved by the FAA that will enable these types of missions to be performed autonomously, where the flight is controlled by a robot on the ground.”

Even though the flight is autonomous, the FAA requires that the aircraft be operated within line of sight of a pilot in command who is a certified, manned aviation pilot.  For PRENAV’s system, the pilot in command must review the flight plan in advance and then monitor the flight on a tablet over the course of the mission.  The pilot has the ability to take control and land the aircraft in the event of an emergency.  Even without the pilot, however, the system is capable of running the entire mission.

In addition to PRENAV’s exemption, Southern California-based drone services provider Hawk Aerial has also been granted an exemption to use the PRENAV system.  

Kevin Gould, CEO of Hawk Aerial, stated:  “We’re very pleased the FAA amended our 333 Exemption to cover the PRENAV aircraft.  The PRENAV system allows us to better serve our customers and makes our operations more precise by employing market-leading automation technology for inspections.”

Product launch of the PRENAV precision drone system is slated for 2016.  Current performance can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BywFaww6SDQ

To reserve one of the first systems or to receive assistance applying for a Section 333 exemption with the PRENAV system, please email sales@prenav.com for more information.  


Media Contact:
Tim Smith
Element Public Relations
Press@prenav.com
(415) 350-3019

ABOUT PRENAV
PRENAV is developing an automated system to capture data about the world’s infrastructure using small aerial robots. Navigating along pre-defined, repeatable flight paths, PRENAV’s drones take photographs from precise locations in close proximity to structures to build accurate 3D reconstructions of industrial assets. The system consists of a commercial drone, a guidance robot on the ground, and software to plan the mission and analyze the data. With an initial focus on cell towers, wind turbines, and other tall structures, PRENAV enables customers to inspect nuts, bolts, serial numbers, cabling, and damaged areas, as well as take measurements of key components. The company is based in San Carlos, CA in the heart of Silicon Valley.  For more information, please visit www.prenav.com or follow the company at @PreNavInc

ABOUT HAWK AERIAL
Hawk Aerial was founded on the belief that drone technology can make businesses safer, faster and more profitable.  To that end it sells integrated UAV systems, provides aerial inspection and data collection flight services, and conducts comprehensive drone training.  Hawk Aerial holds an FAA 333 exemption covering 8 models of UAV aircraft, both multirotor and fixed-wing.  It is based in Southern California and provides sales & services throughout North America and the Caribbean.

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Hello World.

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Hello World.

Today, we officially announced PRENAV as a company, along with our $1.2M seed funding. Part of this formal company announcement is a teaser video that shows off the incredible precision of our system.  In the video, we're able to repeatably position a drone anywhere in an environment with centimeter-level accuracy, which we've demonstrated by blinking an LED onboard the drone at specific times to make shapes and letters in the sky.  One of the first things we wanted to write, naturally, was Hello World.

Here's the full video if you haven't seen it yet.  

 
 

Here are a few of our favorite shots, and some more details on how we did it:

Here's a gif of the drone drawing one of the shapes in the video

Here's a gif of the drone drawing one of the shapes in the video

That shape can then be animated by moving the drone to a new set of points, taking another pic, and sequencing all the frames together

That shape can then be animated by moving the drone to a new set of points, taking another pic, and sequencing all the frames together

All of the animations in the video were drawn by the drone in this way.  

The precision comes from custom software and hardware we've created, including a robot on the ground that's equipped with a camera and laser rangefinder to guide the drone along a pre-defined path. 

An entire warehouse full of drone lightpainting! (This is our new headquarters in San Carlos, CA)

An entire warehouse full of drone lightpainting! (This is our new headquarters in San Carlos, CA)

This animation was shot outdoors in about 18 mph winds looking out over San Francisco Bay (Redwood Shores, CA)

This animation was shot outdoors in about 18 mph winds looking out over San Francisco Bay (Redwood Shores, CA)

Here's the very first animation we did once we got the technology working -- a rotating cube.  You can see some of our team working and generally just milling about as the drone is traveling to each of the points.  

The video was a fun and playful way for us to highlight the capabilities of our system, but the precision that we're demonstrating is essential for industrial use cases like cell tower and wind turbine inspections. For this type of work, a drone needs to fly extremely close to the structure to capture imagery and build a 3D reconstruction of the asset. Flying this close is challenging, even for the most skilled drone pilots who today try to do this manually (since GPS can't provide the accuracy needed for autonomous guidance). Our system makes it a breeze to get complete coverage of the tower with hi-res images.  And those images then get stitched together into an accurate 3D reconstruction that can be rotated, measured, and analyzed to provide insights to our customers.  Measurement is really the key to our customer's workflow, and we believe our tech is the best way to capture the necessary details to make measurement possible. 

Here's a flight we did on a local cell tower, where each of the dots represent positions where the drone is taking a photo of the structure. We're able to run a mission like this by scanning the tower from the ground before we fly, planning a collision-free path around the tower (and other environmental obstacles), and navigating the drone along the path with our guidance robot. In this way, we're able to get full coverage of the tower every time, making sure our customers get all the data they need.

This is a big opportunity.  There are millions of cell towers and wind turbines in the world, and climbing these and other tall structures is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. We're only beginning to scratch the surface of what's possible with our automated technology, and we can't wait to show you what's coming next.

Thanks for reading.  Hope you enjoyed it!  

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