First the robots came for manufacturing jobs. Then they went after skilled labor. Now, robots are going after inspectors.

Reuters’ Alwyn Scott reports on a new business line at GE dedicated to a mostly automated process of inspecting buildings and other facilities:

General Electric Co has begun testing autonomous drones and robotic “crawlers” to inspect refineries, factories, railroads and other industrial equipment with an eye on capturing a bigger slice of the $40 billion companies around the globe spend annually on inspections.

In trials with customers, aerial drones and robots are able to move around and inside remote or dangerous facilities while photographing corrosion or taking temperature, vibration or gas readings that can be analyzed by computer algorithms and artificial intelligence, Alex Tepper, head of business development at Avitas Systems, a startup GE formed for this business, told Reuters.

Some notes:

  • First and foremost, this is for petroleum, transportation and energy distribution systems
  • GE will not be replacing all human involvement, though it will be leveraging artificial intelligence to further improve the inspection technology
  • IBM has already proven the use of AI in detecting manufacturing defects

The primary driver for developing this capability is attrition among experienced inspectors. This parallels what is happening in the construction industry: highly experienced skilled professionals are retiring, yet few younger folks are drawn to the industry.

Google X — now just “X” — is a secretive skunkworks subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company that used to be simply known as Google. The company is famous for its “moon shot” experiments where big risks hopefully lead to big payoffs. But are the costs really worth it?

Julie Bort, at Business Insider, reveals the darker side of cutting-edge technology research and development practices, and the negative impact on the humans behind those efforts.

Some members of the Project Wing field team painted an alarming picture of hostile work conditions driven by engineers and managers back at headquarters who scheduled the group to conduct loads of tests, thereby producing loads of data, despite the long hours outdoors that such a schedule required.

What’s more, the field crew found much of their feedback and expertise on how to improve their circumstances discounted or ignored, in part, some say, because their backgrounds in the military were allegedly viewed disdainfully by others on their team.

“It was unconscionable” to make that team “work that hard,” one person told us about this team’s experiences.

The story of the drone crew reveals some of the problems that have plagued Google’s efforts to build advanced delivery drones, and it illustrates one of the risks when Silicon Valley’s worship of workaholism and data crash into real people doing physically demanding jobs. It’s a dangerous dynamic as companies like Google, Facebook, and cash-rich startups expand into new industries, from aerospace and delivery to space exploration and self-driving cars.

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are more commonly referred to as drones. And in the world of drones, the undisputed leader of the industry is DJI.

As a largely unregulated industry, operating in a realm that is carefully regulated (in the US, the FAA is in charge here), manufacturers like DJI are anxious to establish industry standards in order to avoid risk to future business operations. Along those lines, DJI is proposing a novel concept that is extremely practical and pragmatic: License plates for drones. (more…)

Happy Friday, everyone! Today’s treat is a neat video that a builder made during the construction of his brother’s home.

The way he made this video is actually really cool. By programming a route for the drone, and then flying that exact route every day, Youtube user ChuckPPhotography then edited the video from around 32 to 34 of the passes together. The end result makes it look as if the entire home was constructed during a single pass of the drone.

My team and I have been working on something similar for our clients.

Check out the video below:

Ever since GoPro tried to launch their new line of drones for their adventure enthusiast market, problems have tarnished the normally stellar reputation for solid, quality-built imaging technologies. Forbes’ Ryan Mac wrote a thorough analysis of the saga, with the provocative headline, “The Sky Is Falling For GoPro.”

The article opens with a story of a disappointed customer’s experience:

Six days after the release of GoPro’s first-ever drone in October, Brian Warholak was itching to get airborne. As an employee at a Chesapeake, Va.-based government contractor, Warholak, 43, had few opportunities during the workweek to fly his new toy. But on Friday, he left his desk early, unpacked his GoPro Karma from its carrying case and set it on a manicured lawn near the company parking lot.

In the video of Warholak’s aeronautic excursion, the drone lurches upward, pausing for its master to pan the attached camera. What it captures initially is unremarkable: a nondescript office building and a mostly empty car park. Then, two minutes into the voyage, the device bricks. Its four propellers cut out and the drone begins a five-second, 170-foot freefall toward earth. It smacks a few tree branches on the way down for good measure and lands camera upward to capture its owner rushing to the crash. “F***, now where is the rest?” Warholak is heard saying on the video. “Son of a b****.”

Here’s the video in question:

Perhaps because of the requisite remote control making it look and feel like a toy, for some reason people seem to think that drones are just toys. Not that they can’t be a ton of fun — it is just that they can really screw up the already complicated and difficult to understand airspace above our heads.

Consider then the following points:

  1. The FAA has incredibly detailed and complex regulations governing every aspect of flight, right down to the toilets in the lavatory and the screws securing the overhead bins
  2. The FAA has been very vocal about its intent to regulate both recreational and commercial drone operations
  3. You don’t mess with the FAA

I learned this last point firsthand during the ground school portion of my flight training prior to earning my private pilot license. And now it seems that a prominent commercial drone photography operator is learning that lesson as well, according to Digital Trends:

A Chicago-based company that specializes in aerial photography using drones has agreed to pay a $200,000 penalty to settle a case brought by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which had accused it of violating aviation regulations. The figure was a significant reduction on the colossal $1.9 million the FAA had originally proposed.

The company, SkyPan, will also have to hand over an additional $150,000 if it breaks FAA rules in the next year, and another $150,000 if it fails to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.

The flights at the center of the dispute took place over Chicago and New York City between 2012 and 2014.

Having worked with some professionally shot drone footage of properties for use in legal disputes, what I like the most about it is the way that it puts things into context so well.

In real estate, location is everything, and nothing compares to a drone for impact in highlighting a property’s location. Digital Journal has an interview with Douglas Thorn about how drove video is changing the real estate sales industry:

“My videos are like mini-movies,” he tells Digital Journal.”I start with an intro that showcases the entire area so that potential buyers can get a complete idea of the community and natural surroundings before zooming into the home and detailing the interior.”

Thorn’s sizzle reel is below: