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New DJI XT2 integrates thermal camera with enterprise drones, further proving integration is key to making drones useful

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When it was released in 2013, the original DJI Phantom was a remarkable drone, except for one big problem: you couldn’t see what the drone’s camera was seeing in real-time, meaning you were flying blind until you landed, unmounted the GoPro and uploaded its SD card to your computer. It was an awkward and clunky process that made for lots of missed photo opportunities and cumbersome fiddling of gear.

When the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ came out, aerial photography changed. When the camera is seamlessly integrated into the drone so it can be controlled and viewed in real time, photos not only get better, but new applications come about: spotting poachers over wildlife reserves, rescuing lost hikers or detecting where flames are in a burning building.

Today, DJI is doing for thermal camera-toting, enterprise drones what it did for the DJI Phantom. The Chinese drone manufacturer on Tuesday released the Zenmuse XT2 thermal imaging camera created in partnership with thermal camera maker FLIR Systems. The Zenmuse XT2 improves upon the existing Zenmuse XT camera, which was an Infrared camera designed to be integrated with DJI’s line of drones, by including not just the infrared camera, but a dual sensor to show a traditional 4K video feed in real-time as well.

The camera is intended to be used for drone operators who need to capture heat signatures invisible to the naked eye. It offers gimbal-stabilized video and, since it is integrated with DJI’s existing features, allows the user to operate under DJI’s existing flight modes like QuickTrack, which centers the camera on the selected area.  A new feature called HeatTrack automatically tracks the hottest object in view. That could be useful in applications such as search and rescue, where the drone can hone in on a missing person.

A screenshot of the app shows how operators can see both thermal and visual images.

A dual-sensor camera designed for aerial use is not a completely new concept. FLIR had previously been selling its FLIR Duo camera for drones, which also combines the thermal camera with the traditional light camera. That camera, which sells for $999, is similar in size to a GoPro, and could mount on any drone that had a GoPro mount (such as the DJI Phantom 2 or 3D Robotics Solo). The big problem though was that it wasn’t integrated into the DJI app. Much like the original DJI Phantom experience of fumbling with a GoPro to look at video after the fact, this is a similar experience.

A spokesperson for FLIR told The Drone Girl that it is possible the new Zenmuse XT2 could cannibalize its existing FLIR Duo camera, adding that it’s not much of a concern because it is a sale for FLIR either way. And that cannibalization is entirely possible, given that DJI claims more than an estimated 70% market share of the drone industry. An easily integrated duo-thermal and visual camera could propel those numbers even higher.

Live demo of the drone trying to identify an emergency situation with the XT2 by @romeoch pic.twitter.com/sYAG6eQXsH

— Sally French (@TheDroneGirl) March 28, 2018

The DJI Zenmuse XT2 has a 12-megapixel visual camera and is available in two thermal sensor resolutions of 640 x 512 or 336 x 256, with 9mm, 13mm, 19mm and 25mm lenses. The Zenmuse XT2 is compatible with DJI’s Matric 200 Series and Matrice 600 Pro enterprise drones, and will be available first for the DJI Pilot mobile app for Android, and on the iOS app at the end of April.

More onboard intelligence functions on the @flir XT2 for @DJIGlobal: pic.twitter.com/6yZF7v1KZ2

— Sally French (@TheDroneGirl) March 28, 2018

DJI on Tuesday also released its new Payload Software Development Kit, intended to allow drone startups and other developers or device manufacturers to integrate custom cameras, sensors or other payloads onto DJI’s drones. That SDK could allow non-DJI cameras or other payloads to be mounted and integrated directly onto the DJI Matrice 200 line of drones. That’s made possible due to the newly announced DJI Skyport, which is a gimbal port adapter that will allow the payload to integrate with DJI drones, connecting to the drone’s power supply and removing the need for that payload to have its own cables and batteries.

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New DJI XT2 integrates thermal camera with enterprise drones, further proving integration is key to making drones useful was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/03/28/dji-xd2-thermal-camera-matrice/ by Sally French

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Yuneec partners with Parrot to put Pix4D’s mapping software in its commercial drones

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As drone companies look to compete with  drone industry king DJI, two companies have come up with a unique strategy: combine resources and team up.

Yuneec, a Chinese drone manufacturer known mostly for its Typhoon hobby drone, has partnered with Pix4D, a 3D mapping software company owned by French drone manufacturer Parrot, which is known for its Bebop and AR toy drones.

A screengrab of the Pix4D software.

The two companies announced this week that Parrot’s  Pix4Dcapture software would now be available on Yuneec’s H520 ST16S ground station controller. The software gives users the ability to create georeferenced maps and models from drone imagery, Pix4D capture is used in verticals such as law enforcement, inspection and construction, where drone pilots can customize flight plans and parameters and view maps in multiple orientations.

The Pix4Dcapture software will now be pre-installed on all future Yuneec’s H520 ST16s ground stations and available via software update for existing H520 owners. 

Yuneec’s H520, which was announced in January 2017, is a six-rotor drone targeted at commercial applications. It looks very much like the Typhoon H drone (but is bright orange for high visibility), building off the six-rotor platform (that is capable of flying under emergency situations with just five rotors) while incorporating commercial-grade cameras and applications for high-end commercial use.

The partnership is unique as Parrot opts to extend the reach of its software into drones outside of the Parrot family. Pix4D has been integrated into Parrot’s enterprise-level drones, including the Disco-Pro and the Parrot Bluegrass. But it’s interesting to see Parrot drones appearing in drones by what is seemingly a competitor company.

Meanwhile, DJI’s attention when it comes to consumer drones is on the thermal imaging market. The Chinese drone behemoth, which has an estimated 70% share of the drone industry, recently announced a partnership with thermal camera maker FLIR to integrate its thermal cameras into its drones alongside a traditional 4K camera with the launch of the new DJI XT2 camera.

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Yuneec partners with Parrot to put Pix4D’s mapping software in its commercial drones was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/04/06/yuneec-partners-with-parrot-to-put-pix4ds-mapping-software-in-its-commercial-drones/ by Sally French

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FAA seeking more LAANC suppliers months after industry criticism about “ol’ boy’s club forming”

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The Federal Aviation Administration is seeking more applicants to participate as a supplier in its Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) drone program.

A month after announcing that it would  expand tests of its real-time approval processing program to 500 airports by the fall of this year, the FAA wants more companies to supply LAANC services.

The LAANC program allows drone operators to use an interface from one of four providers that were hand-picked by the FAA — AirMap, Project Wing (an entity of X, formerly known as Google), Rockwell Collins and Skyward — to request approval to fly in restricted airspace. Operators would then receive approval almost instantly.

That instantly speeds up the ability to legally fly in controlled airspace such as near airports — a cumbersome process that had required individual applications and took months.

While the drone industry was generally excited that the process to get permission to fly in controlled airspaces has gotten easier, many industry players feared that the FAA selecting just 4 companies to provide such a service with no clear criteria of how to get chosen was a threat to other companies, particular small startups with minimal resources.

“Getting exclusive access to what is essentially a national resource doesn’t seem like a fair gig at all,” said Joshua Ziering, founder of Kittyhawk, a drone-operations platform similar to Skyward in a past interview with The Drone Girl. “With this, the FAA is essentially picking winners in the private industry.”

Since that time, the FAA announced that it considering agreements with additional entities to provide LAANC services. The period for new entities to apply will run from April 16 to May 16. Interested parties can find information on the application process here.

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FAA seeking more LAANC suppliers months after industry criticism about “ol’ boy’s club forming” was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/04/03/faa-seeking-laanc-suppliers/ by Sally French

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China’s second-largest courier just got permission for drone delivery

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Drone delivery has arrived in China.

SF Express, a courier in China, announced that one of its subsidiaries received the first official permit to deliver packages via drones.

The courier is focused on delivering items via drones to more sparsely populated areas. The company said it intends to use a few types of drones. Traditional manned aircraft will delivery items at large scale to major warehouses, followed by big drones delivering items to local warehouses and small drones making the actual deliveries to customers.

Tests of SF Express’s drones have been spotted as early as 2013, the same year Jeff Bezos announced that Amazon was working toward drone delivery. SF Express is the second largest courier in China after China Post.

With the new government approvals, SF Express can legally make deliveries in approved airspace. But that still doesn’t mean drones will be making deliveries anywhere and everywhere just yet. The flights are still in beta mode, with SF Express launching a pilot zone in the Nankang district of Ganzhou, a city in Jiangxi province, where it had already been testing drone deliveries. After that stage, drone delivery would expand across the entire provence.

China has made huge headway in the field of drone delivery. Another company called JD.com, which has been described as the Chinese version of Amazon, has a fleet of drones making deliveries near Beijing.

JD’s heavy-load drones can carry payloads weighing more than a ton and focuses on flying along fixed routes from warehouses to special landing pads in rural villages, where local contractors for the company then deliver the packages to the customers’ doorsteps.

That model is similar to that of Iceland’s Flytrex, which flies fixed routes from warehouses to specified points across the city. From there, a human courier handles the packages between that drop-off point and the customer’s house, filling in the “last mile,” or the customer can come to the drop-off point to receive it themselves.

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China’s second-largest courier just got permission for drone delivery was originally posted at http://thedronegirl.com/2018/04/02/chinas-second-largest-courier-just-got-permission-drone-delivery/ by Sally French

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