By Dorothy Dobbie (photo by MicroPilot)

Driving out in the country these days is a bit like driving into the future, at least here in Manitoba. It seems that every second field has a small plane buzzing just above the treetops like a lot of oversized insects.
These busy machines are drones, or what the techies prefer to call UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
Right now, these airborne machines are basically surveillance craft, taking pictures and collecting data to tell farmers how their crops or livestock are doing. At the border, they are patrolling for illegal crossings from Canada to the U.S.
Over the last few years, the interest in drones and the savings that can accrue to the farmers who buy one has burgeoned. A small surveillance plane, equipped with still and/or video cameras, can retail for about $7,000 or even less.
In Manitoba, two companies offering unique systems have been developed. One is the CropCam system built in Stony Mountain. MicroPilot, owned by Howard Loewen (the son of Bill Loewen who created Comcheq and Telpay), is now one of the world leaders in the development of lightweight autopilots as well as a number of spinoff systems that can be customized to meet client needs, and an autopilot for helicopters.
Howard Loewen started his company back in the nineties as a natural progression from his hobby building and flying model airplanes. The company now has sales in 70 countries around the world.
The other Manitoba company is Challis Heliplane, operating in the RM of Cartier, Elie. Challis aims to produce the fastest rotocraft in the world, with speeds exceeding 300 mph. Owned and developed by certified commercial helicopter pilot, Doug Challis, the company offers a number of different models ranging from 540 pounds to 1,200 pounds. The smaller heliplanes have a lower altitude range and can carry cameras for HD videos for both day and night filming.
There are many uses for the unmanned vehicles. The United States used small drones in its war in Iraq and other countries. Newer technologies are improving the ability to achieve a more targeted warfare and avoid civilian collateral damage in highly populated areas.

A U.S. squad leader launches an unmanned aerial vehicle during training (photo by The U.S. Army)
A U.S. squad leader launches an unmanned aerial vehicle during training (photo by The U.S. Army).

Military uses are one thing. The big future is in commercial UAVs.
Commercial use
Currently, barriers to more widespread use of small, hand-launched UAVs include power limitations which reduce the range for vehicles with larger payloads. But many other obstacles are being dealt with through regulation (Canada is ahead of the U.S. here and Europe is ahead of us both). These issues include a crowded airspace and low-altitude competition with recreational craft; the competency, training and licensed operation of these vehicles which can now be managed through a cellphone; and a host of privacy and other concerns.
These other concerns may be prompted by stories that retailers such as Walmart are already building sensors into all their products which could conceivably be linked to small UAVs to deliver and track goods. Google wants drones to deliver products to homes and has been testing mechanisms to do this in Australia since 2012. Creative thinkers are even suggesting that sensors could be installed in humans so drones could keep track of us.
On the plus side, this exciting technology opens up a lot of doors. There will potentially be jobs in engineering as new machines capable of new applications come on line. There are thousands of jobs for operators who will soon require licences to control a UAV – and with good reason. There have been incidents recently where unskilled operators have crashed into people and property, and even put commercial aircraft at risk.
One of the new applications that will probably soon make an appearance here is crop dusting. UAVs are not currently being used in this way in Canada, at least not officially, due to concerns about pesticide drift, payload capacities and battery life of the flying systems. But the answers to those concerns are not far away. Crop dusting is happening in countries such as Japan and China. Some people see “bot swarms” in the future taking over the job not just of spraying crops, but also seeding and harvesting. (Some farmers in Manitoba are apparently already using UAVs to do their seeding.)
While UAVs are used for everything from military purposes to firefighting, law enforcement (the Winnipeg police force has been using them for two years), weather observation, search and rescue, pipeline monitoring, forest and wildlife management and even filmmaking, it is predicted that about 80 per cent of the activity will be for agricultural purposes. UAVs can send back critical information about the condition of a food crop in just a few hours where obtaining such information would have required days or even weeks and much manpower previously.
Moreover, a farmer can target pesticides to specific areas of concern, wiping out problems before they get away and reducing the overall amount of chemical being laid down. There is excitement, too, about the potential for managing livestock using these systems.
Our Manitoba location has a lot to recommend it for companies producing such systems. Factors generally considered as negative – high wind speeds and sub-zero temperatures – make great testing and proving grounds for new air-bound technologies. Stay tuned. There will be a lot more to say on this subject.

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FAA streamlines rules to speed up permits to fly drones

By Joan Lowy | AP March 24
WASHINGTON — Federal aviation officials, battered by complaints that bureaucratic hurdles are preventing industry from realizing the economic benefits of drones, announced Tuesday they are streamlining rules to expedite permits to fly small, commercial unmanned aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration made the announcement an hour before a congressional hearing at which an Amazon.com executive complained that the agency took too long to approve a request to flight test a delivery drone. The model of drone was already obsolete when the request was finally granted last week.

Drone industry officials have complained that FAA’s restrictions on testing are forcing U.S. companies to do their testing overseas and giving foreign competitors a leg up.

“We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad,” said Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology’s aviation subcommittee.

Amazon submitted a new request to the FAA last Friday — the day after the previous request was granted — for permission to test fly a more advanced drone, Misener said. “We are hopeful that this permission will be granted quickly,” he said.

The company is also asking FAA for permission “to rapidly modify our test vehicles without administrative delays associated with every change,” Misener said.

By contrast, European regulators are “enthusiastically pursuing” an approach that is “eminently reasonable” and “mindful of the tremendous opportunities for innovation and economic benefits” that drones present, he said.

8d974572ddea4056aaff17c289f9121e-4dd27ee29a6244f5bca0e9ff2243211b-0 have been cautious about granting permission both to companies who want to test drones for future operations like Amazon and to companies that want to use drones now. Agency officials have said their tight restrictions are necessary to prevent collisions between drones and manned aircraft, especially since drones don’t show up on radar and drone operators have limited ability to “see and avoid” other aircraft.
Last year, the FAA began granting permits on a case-by-case basis to companies that want to use drones for aerial photography, to monitor crops and pipelines, and to inspect bridges, cell phone towers, oil platforms and other tall structures, among other uses. But the agency has a backlog of nearly 700 permit applications, and the list is growing.

Under the streamlined rules, the FAA will grant blanket flying permission to applicants whose drones weigh less than 55 pounds and who agree to keep flights under 200 feet, to fly only in the daytime, and to keep away from airports.

The permits FAA has granted thus far also require operators to keep drones within line of sight of operators. That severely limits the distance drones can fly and would prevent the kind of deliveries Amazon envisions.

Amazon wants to use drones weighing less than 50 pounds to deliver small packages to customers within 30 minutes or less. That would entail flying “distances of 10 miles or more, well beyond visual line of sight,” Misener said.


Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Senator Cory Booker To Introduce Commercial Drone Legislation Following FAA’s Amazon Ruling

DHL has already begun experimenting with drone delivery in Germany. Senator Cory Booker is expected to introduce a bill on Tuesday that will allow for companies to test drones for commercial purposes in the U.S. dhldrone-e1427135330207-1940x1091(Photo: Associated Press)

By Ryan Mac and Frank Bi

U.S. Senator Cory Booker is set to introduce legislation to establish temporary rules to govern the commercial use of drones that could greatly expand the ability of companies to fly unmanned vehicles, according to documents obtained by FORBES.

On Tuesday, the junior senator from New Jersey could present a bill before the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security that will allow for the piloting of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for purposes such as the surveying of construction sites or the mapping of crops. If passed, the legislation will dramatically change the government’s stance toward the commercial use of drones, which is currently banned by the Federal Aviation Administration, with only a few exceptions.

According to sources familiar with Booker’s proposed legislation who provided a two-week old draft of the document, the bill will create a temporary set of conditions that will be placed on UAVs used for business until the FAA issues final rules on the matter. The “Commercial UAV Modernization Act” will allow operators that have passed a knowledge test to commercially operate drones below a 500-feet limit, within the FAA’s already defined “visual flight rules” and only during daylight, unless otherwise exempted. One source expected Booker to unveil the legislation on Tuesday, while another said that tomorrow may be too early, but to expect the bill in the near future.

“It’s all speculation at the moment,” said Monique Waters, a spokesperson for Senator Booker, when asked about the legislation.
With observers expecting the FAA to possibly take up to two years to define rules regarding commercial drones, the bill already has support from members of both parties within the 20-person subcommittee, which includes Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Maria Cantwell of Washington state, according to the source. The source also noted that Republican Senator Dean Heller from Nevada is among its biggest proponents. A spokesperson for Senator Heller did not respond to calls requesting comment.
Booker’s legislation is separate from the new rules that are expected to be introduced by the FAA before a congressional subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. First reported by Reuters, the FAA, may streamline the process by which companies can obtain drone exemption permits by no longer requiring businesses to file for documentation for each new use of a drone. Until recently, the administration has received more than 750 requests for exemptions under the current ban on commercial UAVs, but has only issued about 50. The FAA was unaware that Booker was going to introduce legislation and declined to comment.

“Today there are thousands of end businesses waiting for the appropriate regulatory environment to use drone-based solutions,” said Kespry CEO Paul Doersch, whose startup is developing a high-end drone for aerial imaging and analysis. “As the industry evolves, we can expect hundreds of thousands of businesses to take advantage of this technology over the next five to ten years.”

Last week, Amazon.com AMZN -0.41% received a much-publicized certificate to begin testing its delivery drones in its home state of Washington. The airworthiness certificate came with many stipulations including requirements that drone operators must have private pilot certificates. Most crippling of all, however, was the fact that the certificate only applied to a specific model of drone and did not allow for iteration or modification on that vehicle as the company tested its Air Prime delivery program.

While some commended the FAA for being forward-thinking, those close to the Seattle-based tech company thought otherwise, deeming it a shallow move that promotes little innovation. On Tuesday, Amazon will trot out Paul Misener, head of the company’s global public policy, to speak in front of senators on its desire for greater leeway when it comes to UAV policy. Currently Amazon has been unable to test its latest drones in the U.S. and has instead been testing its program in Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Amazon declined to comment ahead of Tuesday’s hearing.

Booker’s proposed legislation may be the type of wide-ranging policy that Amazon is hoping for. Meant to serve as temporary rules until the FAA can propose its own, the modernization act will require companies to carry liability insurance but it will be much more lenient to drone operators. Unlike Amazon’s certificate and current exemptions going out to other businesses, UAV operators will not be required to have a private pilot’s license under Booker’s legislation and will only be required to pass an “aeronautical knowledge test.”

The bill also calls for the appointing of a “Deputy Associate Administrator for Unmanned Aircraft” to report to the head of the FAA and the Secretary of Transportation. While the FAA for most of its existence has overseen the operations of manned vehicles, the new position suggests a need for another leader to understand unmanned aircraft issues. That person will oversee the administration of the other rules set forth in the bill including the proper reporting of any drone-associated accidents, the registration of commercial UAV operators and the creation of further rules with regards to payloads and the flying of drones out of a pilot’s line of sight.

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FAA plans new steps to speed up commercial drone use: sources

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration plans to unveil new steps soon to make it easier for companies to use drone aircraft for specific business operations, according to people with knowledge of the matter.prime-air_high-resolution02

Commercial drone flights are generally banned in the United States, except in a small number of cases where the FAA has granted an exemption. The has agency received more than 750 requests for exemptions to the ban, but has awarded only 48.

Now the U.S. aviation regulator intends to streamline the process by no longer requiring companies with exemptions to obtain a new certificate of authority for each new use of a drone, the people familiar with the matter said.

The FAA could announce the change next week, ahead of a congressional hearing on drones scheduled for Tuesday, these people added.

The FAA had no immediate comment. The agency has been taking measured steps to ease restrictions on commercial use of drones.

The change in policy could be a positive signal to a wide swath of companies that are pushing for federal regulators to remove barriers to commercial uses of automated aircraft, and help foster growth of an emerging sector of manufacturers and service providers built around drone technology.

The rule changes also would be a boost for companies that already have exemptions from the commercial drone ban, such as Chevron (CVX.N), Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF Railway Co (BRKa.N), State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co, and a number of film and media companies. Those companies could get more flexibility to use pilotless aircraft for rail and pipeline inspections, crop surveys and aerial photography for commercials or movies.

Companies awaiting exemptions from the overall ban could also benefit, includingAmazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and Yamaha Motor Co (7272.T).

On Thursday, Amazon got FAA clearance to experiment with drones at an outdoor facility in Washington state under a different set of federal rules. Amazon hopes to develop drones capable of delivering packages to customer doorsteps.

Industry lobbyists have criticized the current process as too slow. Companies with approval to fly unmanned aircraft must obtain government permission each time they intend to use drones for a new project. They must fill out and get FAA approval for a two-page “certificate of authority” before each flight specifying where, when and how long the drone will fly.

The process of authorizing specific flights has bogged down, said Mark Dombroff, a partner in the drone practice of McKenna, Long and Aldridge. In one case, Dombroff said, applicants sought permission to fly over an area of land, but the FAA “wanted us to apply for every farm individually.”

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told industry representatives at a recent meeting that his agency was moving to streamline the process, the sources added.

In February, the FAA proposed rules that would lift the current ban on most commercial drone use. But industry representatives say it could be years before the ban is lifted, leaving businesses to follow the cumbersome exemption process for now.

(Reporting by David Morgan in Washington, additional reporting by Alwyn Scott, editing by Soyoung Kim and Joe White)

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These Are The Top 20 US Accelerators

Editor’s Note: Yael Hochberg is an Associate Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business and a managing director of the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. Susan Cohen is an Assistant Professor of Management at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond and is a managing director of the annual Seed Accelerator Rankings Project. Dan Fehder is Associate Director and Chief Technologist at the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project.

Startup accelerators have become a prominent feature of the tech landscape in recent years, with more and more programs popping up every month.

In many ways, they have become a rite of passage for thousands of entrepreneurs who apply to and join programs annually.

Yet, with so many programs to choose from, and little publicly available data on each program, it can be hard for entrepreneurs to figure out which programs are most effective and which specific program would be the best fit to help launch their startup. We founded the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project with this challenge for entrepreneurs in mind.

Competition for the top 20 spots this year was fierce. With so many new programs coming into their own, and the addition of eligibility for non-equity-taking programs and programs with specific affiliation requirements (such as university-affiliated programs), the pool for this year’s ranking has grown considerably.

Our aim is both to foster conversation about the accelerator model that has emerged over the last decade, and help entrepreneurs gain a measure of visibility into the strengths of various programs.

The project is an outgrowth of the original accelerator rankings study conducted by Aziz Gilani, Kelly Quann and Yael Hochberg in 2010.

Today, at SXSW, we released the latest version of our annual rankings.

This year, a number of trends are apparent. First, while many new programs have emerged, a good number have also shut down. Furthermore many of the newer programs are vertically-specialized, focusing on a specific industry – for example, healthcare or energy. Finally, a good number of new programs are associated with local governments or state initiatives.

Overall, we found many interesting new programs that were simply too young to have reliable outcomes, and that were therefore not included in this year’s rankings. However, we expect to see some of these programs in top categories in years to come.

In determining who qualified for the rankings, we considered all programs that met the formal definition of an accelerator program: fixed-term, cohort-based, with educational and mentorship components, culminating in a public pitch or demo day.

Additionally, programs had to have graduated at least one cohort, have at least 10 graduates, be primarily located in the U.S., and be willing to provide full transparency to our team. Of course, there are some programs out there that call themselves accelerators who do not meet these criteria, and therefore did not qualify for this rankings project. Ultimately, we verified and invited over 150 programs to participate in the rankings process.

To construct the rankings, we collected detailed data on a large number of accelerator programs and their graduates including confidential data provided by the accelerators themselves.

We then calculated a variety of quantitative measures to better understand how programs stacked up on several important outcomes, including: valuations, fundraising, exits and survival. We supplemented those measures with a broad survey of each accelerator’s graduates, in order to determine their satisfaction with the program and whether they would recommend it to fellow entrepreneurs.

Nearly 1000 accelerator program alumni shared information about their startup’s experience with us.

Here are the top 20, based on our criteria:

Rank Program Rank Program
1 Angelpad 11 Surge
2 Mucker Lab 12 MassChallenge
3 Techstars 12 Brandery
4 University of Chicago NVC 13 Gener8tor
5 Alchemist 14 ZeroTo510
6 StartX 15 AlphaLab
7 Amplify LA 17 BlueStartups
8 500 Startups 18 ERA
9 Capital Innovators 19 BetaSpring
10 Dreamit 20 IronYard


This year, the list is topped by a new champion: Angelpad (last year’s #3 program). Mucker Lab (#4 last year) and Techstars (last year’s #2) took second and third respectively. Angelpad’s rise to the top is rooted in extremely high satisfaction of its graduates, high valuations for its portfolio companies and fundraising success.

Mucker Lab similarly distinguished itself with high alumni satisfaction and fundraising numbers, while Techstars is particularly successful in the valuations and firm survival categories, with a strong alumni network also in play for its graduates. The University of Chicago New Venture Challenge, in its first year of participation, slots into fourth place on the strength of a number of strong exits, including the $2B Grubhub IPO and Braintree acquisition.Rankings5

There are a number of close groupings and an outright tie in this year’s rankings. The 5th through 10th ranked programs are relatively close in composite score. There is an outright tie for 12th place, and the programs in slots 16 to 20 are also relatively close in score.

Notably absent in this year’s list are Y Combinator and RockHealth–both programs now classify themselves as seed funds rather than accelerators, and asked us to respect their evolution into a new model. This, of course, is not a statement about efficacy of those programs – based on the 2013 data submitted to the rankings team, Y Combinator would still have topped the list if they had not transitioned models.

So what are the metrics we used to assess accelerators’ effectiveness? To get a more accurate picture of accelerator programs, we calculated many different measures: the average valuations of the portfolio companies; the percentage of graduates that raise significant venture or angel funding; the average amount of dollars raised by the companies; the percentage of portfolio companies that have had a significant exit event; the average valuation of the companies at exit; the percentage of companies still operating; and the opinion graduates have of the program.

To make sure we are comparing apples to apples, we measure one, two and three years after graduation, and we adjust for differences in the stage companies are at when they enter the accelerator, such as whether they have come in having already raised a round of two of financing or with positive revenue, versus entering as a brand new company.

Overall, the startups that have graduated from the accelerators in our top 10 have a current total valuation slightly under $4.4 billion. Roughly 3.5% of the companies that have gone through an accelerator in the top 10 have exited successfully, a number that is low, but not necessarily surprising given how new the phenomenon is relative to the typical number of years it takes for a seed stage startup to reach a successful exit.

Another 35.6% of the companies raised a significant round of financing within a year of graduating from a program, with an average raise of $1.5 million. Also, it is remarkably clear is that for the top programs, there is near universal satisfaction from the startups’ perspectives.

For example, in the top 10 programs, 96% of the startups said that knowing what they know now, they would repeat the experience.

Competition for the top 20 spots this year was fierce. With so many new programs coming into their own, and the addition of eligibility for non-equity-taking programs and programs with specific affiliation requirements (such as university-affiliated programs), the pool for this year’s ranking has grown considerably. Given this, snagging a spot anywhere in the top 20 is a sign of distinction.

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Drones take real estate marketing to new heights

Though all real estate is local, there are some national issues that affect the industry. Real estate agents across the country have been waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to release guidelines permitting the use of drones for commercial purposes, such as marketing real estate. Last month, the FAA released its proposed rules, which would allow real estate professionals to use drones to aid their clients in marketing and selling properties.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones, are aircraft without a human pilot aboard. The applications for this new technology are varied and numerous. Property managers are interested in drones’ property inspection applications while real estate agents hope to use drones to capture videos and pictures that help visualize and market clients’ residential and commercial properties.

New drone technologies can help real estate agents market homes and properties in ways that were cost-prohibitive in the past. Aerial photography and video could someday be an added value that Realtors provide for all of their clients, creating eye-catching listings that stand out to potential buyers.

The new rules provide guidance on the various permits and registrations operators will need to obtain, when and where the drones can be used and the requirements for reporting accidents or injuries. It will likely take two years for the rules to be finalized and go into effect.

Some of the requirements included in the proposed rule are:

Commercial drones’ flights would be restricted to 500 feet in altitude, 100 miles per hour of speed and daylight hours.

All flights would need to be within visual line of sight of the person operating the drone.

Operators of commercial drones would be required to pass an aeronautical knowledge test and be issued a permit to fly, which must be renewed every two years. This would be different from receiving a pilot’s license.

While drones are exciting new technology, until the rules are finalized the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors reminds sellers that real estate professionals cannot use drones to aid in the selling and marketing of properties.

Currently, using drones to market and sell either residential or commercial property can result in heavy fines for agents. But when the rules are finalized, drones will hopefully become an exciting, new tool to help sellers make their property even more attractive to buyers.


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U.S. Will Allow Export of Armed Drones

Export requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis

The State Department announced new policies Tuesday stipulating that U.S. drones can only be exported through government programs and that the receiving country needs to agree to certain conditions about what the drone will be used for.http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1&isUI=1

Under the new rules, exports of armed military drones must be made through government entities and the nations receiving the devices must agree to “end-use assurances,” according to the State Department.

“The new U.S. UAS [unmanned aerial systems] export policy provides a disciplined and rigorous framework within which the United States will exercise restraint in sales and transfers and advance its national security and foreign policy interests,” says a State Department fact sheet.

These new proposals come amid increasing controversy anduncertainty over the use of drones, after one crashed onto the White House lawn last month.


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