Drone innovators are not stopping – and technology giants do not want them to!

The unmanned autonomous vehicle (UAV) debate is rattling on.

Drone shot overlooking Battersea Power Station and 101 Prince of Wales Drive
Drone shot overlooking Battersea Power Station and 101 Prince of Wales Drive

It has been almost two weeks since our blog highlighting the benefits of using drones on construction sites, but since then the news has continued to highlight the dangers and concerns with wide use.

Days after the blog post, The Guardian reported permits issued to legally fly UAVs was up 80% from the start of the year to 359 operators (under 20kg and for work purposes). But despite companies and organisations actively seeking permission to fly drones, the UK pilots association Balpa called for stricter regulations to be put in place.

DJI Innovations, the Chinese manufacturing company behind the series of Phantom UAVs, have been the leading name in affordable drone technology. And they expressed an interest in making drones “not scary” last Thursday.

Eric Cheng, DJI’s director of aerial imaging, even described them as a “sort of an extension of the selfie stick really”, reports CNN.

And even with the constant negativity around UAVs and fresh setbacks, such as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ban on drone flights over stadiums (something Greater Manchester Police attempted to prevent on Sunday), DJI’s ambition is starting to be reflected by other big companies.

Late Monday night technology giant Intel announced the winner of their annual “Make It Wearable” competition for 2014. And what was it? A drone!

But not just any drone. The Nixie, created at Stanford University and picked by Intel from 10 finalists, is a lightweight wristband.

And the purpose behind it? Remote filming.

Developed by Dr Christoph Kohstall, a physics researcher at Stanford, along with two colleagues, it is designed to fly away at the touch of a button, record video and images, and then fly back with a simple hand gesture.

Now that it is being back by $500,000 of investment from Intel, it could be the extension of the “selfie stick” that DJI is hoping to develop – and it could also overtake HTC’s RE as a real challenger to GoPro cameras. It is also more practical, robust and useful than the Fotokite.

The Nixie is targeting the point and shoot camera market, hoping to revive it as digital cameras become more and more obsolete and as camera phones take over. (Although at the moment, there is no indication as to what capture quality the on-board swivel camera will produce.)

With the innovators at Stanford securing funding needed to take the Nixie forward, it lets us – those who have an interest in industries that benefit from photography solutions – explore our hopes for the technology.

In the previous blog on drones, we looked at enthusiast Richard Evans’ work on construction sites. And the Nixie can be another step towards wider use of UAVs to help construction site management.

Drones currently available – that can carry the require camera or produce the optimal quality of images – are pretty bulky pieces of equipment. This limits operators, like Evans, to flying them from the ground. They are great for monitoring everything from foundation work to the tippy-top of newly built structures.

However, the Nixie could help to keep costs down by minimising disruption for workers. Imagine there is some fiddly work to be done by a worker in a harness, but he might not have the best view or it needs to be recorded for future reference. Instead of having someone stood on the ground, flying a large drone (which does still carry an element of risk to health and safety and takes up an additional member of staff), the Nixie could be set to work with a simple touch of the button. And whilst hovering around, images could be viewed anywhere on the construction site in real-time, whilst the construction worker is free to use his hands and not worry about controlling it. Then, when finished, a simple, safe gesture would allow it to return to the operator’s wrist.

The size and weight of the UAV is another huge positive. Forget endoscope cameras, Nixies are going to be – potentially – small enough to get into small spaces. Once in there, they have the freedom to move (certainly more than an endoscope) and give a much wider view of what is going on. Plus, if they operate by themselves as suggested, there is no risk of losing it.

Whilst the ‘bad press’ continues for drones and UAVs, it is exciting to know that innovators are busy working behind the scenes, developing technology for a range of uses in the future. Time-lapse photography is still best way to achieve the highest quality, remote site management solutions. But in the near future construction site management is only going to benefit from additional technology. And the Nixie is the latest to start paving the way.

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