CES 2018: Workhorse grounded but Volocopter takes flight!

I promised last week an update on the Workhorse maiden flight at CES 2018.  Unfortunately, the weather prevented the SureFly from taking flight.  That doesn’t mean CES was without flying cars or without razzle-dazzle.  Intel’s drone shows continue to improve and their CES 2018 show did not disappoint.  Check it out here.

Intel also demoed the Volocopter.  The Volocopter is an autonomous passenger drone developed by a German company.  During the indoor demo, the Volocopter was tethered to the ground but flew unmanned.  The craft has yet to receive FAA authorization but drone taxis may be closer than we all think.

What do you think? Would you fly in this?


As a side note: Intel also announced a ‘major breakthrough‘ in quantum computing chip but can we trust them after their chip flaw was recently unveiled?

Patent of the Week – January 8, 2017

U.S. Patent No. 9,858,947 issued on January 2, 2018.  The ‘947 patent, titled “Drone detection and classification methods and apparatus” is assigned to DroneShield of Herndon, Virginia.  The ‘947 patent is directed to methods for identifying and classifying drones based on sounds.   Figure 15 displays a flowchart of an example method to create a feature frequency spectrum:


Claim 1 reads as follows:

1. A system for detecting a drone comprising: a microphone configured to receive a sound signal; a sound card configured to record a digital sound sample of the sound signal; a sample processor configured to: partition the digital sound sample into a predetermined number of segments, convert each of the segments into a vector of frequency amplitudes by applying a frequency domain transformation to the segments, form a composite frequency vector by averaging the vectors, determine whether a drone component exists within the composite frequency vector by comparing the composite frequency vector to a database of known drone signatures, determine a drone detection of the drone if the drone component exists within the composite frequency vector, determine at least one of a distance and a heading related to the drone detection using at least one of the digital sound sample and the drone component of the composite frequency vector, and transmit a message indicative of the drone detection including the at least one of the distance and the heading; and a server communicatively coupled to the sample processor and configured to: receive the message indicative of the drone detection; and display within a user interface a graphical representation of the drone detection including the at least one of the distance and heading of the drone.

The ‘947 patent focuses on detection but a review of DroneShield’s website reveals the company partakes in offensive drone mitigation as well. They currently offer three products: Dronegun, Dronesentinel, and Dronsentry. Each of these products offers a way to take down drones.

The ‘947 patent is the latest issued patent assigned to DroneShield.  DroneShield currently has four issued patents, all in the same family.  U.S. Patent No. 9,275,645 is the parent application with three continuation applications filed and issued from it.   Currently, DroneShield has no other published applications pending. This suggests DroneShield is following the trend in anti-drone technology companies by keeping their valued information as trade secrets.

My Top Stories of the Week – January 5

Drones Help Utilities Cope and Restore Service post-Natural Disasters

We all heard about the hurricanes and the lack of power and other basics in their aftermath.  Puerto Rico is still recovering.  The use of new technology could potentially speed up disaster relief efforts to restore services to stricken areas.

“Drunk Droning” Makes Good Headlines for NJ Law

How could “Drunk Droning” not be included?  Federal regulations already prohibit operating a drone while under the influence.  However, the article suggests the NJ Bill is using the tagline to support other measures as well.

Graphite Additive Manufacturing on Slashing Lead times in SLS 3D Printing

This isn’t drone specific but additive manufacturing is another super cool technology.   A new 3D printer is set to cut lead times in half.  Dabbling int he manufacturing industry in a previous life, I laugh that the company lost business when quoting a 7-10 day lead time.  I guess this is the on-demand world in which we currently reside.

Workhorse’s newly approved passenger drone free to fly at CES

Anyone want a shorter commute to work?  This technology is so Jetson’s it’s freaky.  Stay tuned next week for a report on the official lift off at CES.

The Future of Drones

A new year always starts with bold predictions – what will the year hold?  Those predictions are often positive.  After all this is a new year, let’s be a better person.  However, this year started with a colleague sharing an ominous view of the future of drones.  One that, admittedly, has been around for awhile but is worth revisiting as we renew our annual goals and predictions.

You may watch the video here.  It is not included due to several disturbing scenes.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=28&v=9CO6M2HsoIA


This is not a real video.  It’s a propaganda piece published by Stop Autonomous Weapons.  Their mission is to stop the development of lethal autonomous weapons. 

Their cause is notable.  After all, when Facebook designed chatbots to negotiate with one another, the bots developed their own language for negotiating.

In other words, the model that allowed two bots to have a conversation—and use machine learning to constantly iterate strategies for that conversation along the way—led to those bots communicating in their own non-human language.

The article comically asks you to watch Blade Runner if this doesn’t scare you.  I was thinking more I, Robot.

The point is autonomous, killing drones or other weaponry could develop its own language, its own protocol, and operate entirely autonomously.  Perhaps the machines could prevent human interruption or control.  What do you think?

Weekly Patent Round-Up: The ever intriguing development towards drone delivery

One of my favorite things about technology is the cross-over between industry and uses.  Amazon’s latest patent, U.S. Patent No. 9,812,021, offers such intrigue.  The patent is directed to Amazon’s quest to corner the market on drone delivery.   The obviously know what they are doing in the consumer market.  After all, look at what Amazon did with its 1-click patent.

The ‘021 Patent, titled “Object avoidance for automated aerial vehicles,” is directed to an automated aerial vehicle with one or more object detection elements to detect the presence of objects.  The vehicle also has an avoidance determining element configured to cause the automated aerial vehicle to automatically determine and execute an avoidance maneuver to avoid the objects.  For example, an object may be detected and an avoidance maneuver determined based on a position of the object and an object vector representative of a direction and a magnitude of velocity of the object.

Claim 1 reads:

An object avoidance system of an automated aerial vehicle, comprising: an object detection element coupled to the automated aerial vehicle and configured to detect a presence of an object within a defined distance of the automated aerial vehicle; an avoidance determining element coupled to the automated aerial vehicle and configured to determine an avoidance maneuver, wherein the avoidance maneuver is determined based at least in part on an object vector representative of a distance and a direction of the object, and a defensive direction that is different than the direction of the object vector, wherein an avoidance vector is representative of the avoidance maneuver and a magnitude of the avoidance vector is greater than a magnitude of a velocity of the object with respect to the automated aerial vehicle; and a navigation component for automatically performing the avoidance maneuver.

What do you think?  Is Amazon going to corner the market?  Or are there enough engineering solutions that everyone will be able to play?



Weekly Patent Highlight: Multi-Level Fullfillment

Amazon continues to improve its patent strategy towards drone delivery.  Their latest issued patent, U.S. Patent No. 9,777,502 directed to “Multi-level fulfillment center for unmanned aerial vehicles.”  A multi-level fulfillment center is designed to accommodate landing and takeoff of UAVs in densely populated areas. Unlike traditional fulfillment centers, the ML fulfillment centers may include many levels (i.e., stories, floors, etc.) as permitted under zoning regulations for respective areas. The fulfillment center may have one or more landing locations and one or more deployment locations to accommodate UAVs, which may delivery at least some of the items from the fulfillment center to locations associated with customers.  The multi-level fulfillment center supports a large volume of UAVs that continually pick up deliveries from the fulfillment center and then deploy toward a destination for the particular delivery. The fulfillment center may include services to charge batteries of the UAVs, inspect and/or service the UAVs, and/or perform other operations for the UAVs between flights.

Figure 1A is an example of a fulfillment center.  (They may want to hire an architect.)  (and if I could upload images you would see what I mean…)

Claim 1 is lengthy:

1. A multi-level fulfillment center configured to support distribution of items by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the multi-level fulfillment center comprising: an exterior shell to secure internal operations of the multi-level fulfillment center; UAV platforms to support landings and takeoffs of the UAVs, the UAV platforms coupled to the exterior shell; apertures located in the exterior shell at different altitudes to provide at least access to the UAVs located on the UAV platforms, wherein a first aperture provides access to an authenticated UAV on a first UAV platform located proximate to the first aperture, the authenticated UAV to be readied for a next flight while on the first UAV platform to deliver an item from the multi-level fulfillment center to a destination associated with a customer; aperture doors to selectively close the apertures, wherein a first door is configured to secure the first aperture in a closed position at least when the first UAV platform is not occupied by the authenticated UAV; a controller to authenticate the UAVs and control the aperture doors, wherein the controller causes a second door to open based at least in part on a determination that an incoming UAV being received at a second UAV platform is authorized to access the multi-level fulfillment center; a receiving area within the exterior shell to receive freight that includes the item and other items available for consumption by customers; and a storage area within the exterior shell to organize and store the item and the other items prior to distribution to customers by the UAVs.

Amazon is clearly dedicated to drone delivery and protecting its rights in the arena.  Amazon currently has 19 patent patents dedicated to drones.  It’s exciting to see what they are protecting and watch their portfolio is heading.

Weekly Patent Round-Up

A review of weekly patent round-ups reveals a lot of patent applications in the realm of drone communication.  The big hitters are investing their money attempting to get licensing and be chosen for drone delivery and other autonomous drone uses.  IBM is in the running.

Their latest patent application focuses on drone safety during inclement conditions.  Drones cannot safely operate under extreme weather conditions.   As such, IBM is developing a system to detect and safely ground UAVs during inclement weather conditions.  Figure 2 is exemplary.

Claim 1 reads as follows:

1. A system for drone coordination comprising logic to: detect an adverse weather condition; detect a plurality of drones operating in a region to be affected by the adverse weather condition; and transmit a request to the plurality of drones, the request indicating that each of the plurality of drones is to return to an emergency landing site to be selected from a set of predetermined emergency landing sites, the emergency landing site for each drone to be based in part on the location of the drone at the time of transmittal of the request.

It will be interesting to see how the claims progress as the patent application undergoes prosecution.

Weekly Patent Round-Up: XiDrone Systems Inc.

As discussed, the anti-drone movement is just as popular and growing as the drone upswell.  Anti-drone patents are rare though as most companies prefer to keep their technology a trade secret, forcing competitors to reverse engineer their secret sauce.  The passage of the Defense of Trade Secrets Act in 2016 has also likely contributed to the preference toward trade secret protection.

XiDrone has joined the anti-drone movement to countermeasure small UAV use.  Their recently granted patent, U.S. Patent No. 9,715,009 is directed to a “Deterrent for Unmanned Aerial Systems.”  The abstract provides little detail.  Essentially, the system detects a drone and analyzes a threat level. Then it either redirects the drone (which may be disclosed as to how in the patent) or destroys it.

The claims provide a good level of detail disclosing how to achieve their countermeasures.

1. A multi-sensor system for providing integrated detection, tracking, and identify/classification against commercial unmanned aerial vehicles comprising: a direction finding high fidelity RF receiver coupled with a receiving omnidirectional antenna and a receiving directional antenna for detecting an RF signature of a flying unmanned aerial vehicle; a spectral signal identifier processor for analyzing the RF signature and identifying spectral signatures of the unmanned aerial vehicle and eliminating electromagnetic clutter; a modified radar system designed for detection of terrestrial (Surface) targets, provided with a radar clutter and target filter processor for providing input to an azimuth and elevation vector coordinate data processor for determining the location of the unmanned aerial vehicle; a signal generator that produces at least one tailored signal based on the spectral signatures of the unmanned aerial vehicle; a variable strength amplifier that generates an output power; an antenna alignment assembly for adjusting the alignment of a transmitting directional and focused antenna based on the location of the unmanned aerial vehicle as determined by the azimuth and elevation vector coordinate data processor; and the signal generator and amplifier coupled with the transmitting antenna to send at least one signal to the unmanned aerial vehicle to alter at least one of the speed, direction and altitude of the unmanned aerial vehicle.

The patent continues to go into detail on how it engages a takeover and prevents sUAS from entering undesired airspace.  It’s unclear what products Xidrone offers and how the patent covers the product.  This patent is one of two issued US Patents to Xidrone and is accompanied by one published application.  Fig 1A is reproduced below for some additional detail.


US Pat. No. 9,715,009, FIG. 1A

Weekly Patent Roundup: AT&T

I am attempting to revive my weekly patent roundup alongside my weekly legal roundup.  Should make for some interesting reading!

This week’s patent is U.S. Patent Publication No. 20170181117 assigned to AT&T titled, “Location Assessment System for Drones.”  Soon we will see a drone system in place that requires oversight and AT&T clearly has its sights set on patenting some of the relevant technology for the emerging industry.  The abstract describes the patent application as:

A system for locating unmanned mobile connected objects, such as, but not limited to, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as, but not limited to drones, and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) is disclosed. A command center may be configured to identify current locations of unmanned mobile connected objects, predict future locations of unmanned mobile connected objects, predict and prevent collisions of unmanned mobile connected objects, identify unpredictable variables, such as, but not limited to, plane crashes, disaster areas, cranes interfering with flight paths and no-fly zones and search for unmanned mobile connected objects even if there is no radio signal coverage or in situations when radio signals are inactive, such as during disasters and emergency situations. The system may be configured such that an unmanned mobile connected object may populate a neighboring table with information such as geolocation, cell signal strength, and status, and may be shared with a command center.

The patent discusses a methodology to communicate with UAVs to gather and analyze flight information concerning the UAV.  Interestingly, the first claim is not directed to this direct communication path with a central communication unit.  Rather, the first independent claim is directed to the “ad-hoc” communications network.  This ad-hoc network allows a drone outside the range of the central communication unit to relay information by using an intermediary drone which is within the corresponding range.  Claim 1 reads:

1. A first unmanned mobile connected object, comprising: a memory that stores instructions; a processor that executes the instructions to perform operations, the operations comprising: receiving classification information associated with the first unmanned mobile connected object; populating fields in a neighboring table of the first unmanned mobile connected object with the information associated with a first unmanned mobile connected object; transmitting the neighboring table to a second unmanned mobile connected object; and receiving classification information associated with the second unmanned mobile connected object to populate the neighboring table.

This claim is obviously subject to changes as it undergoes prosecution but is an interesting look at the focus of patent protection for AT&T.

Figure 1 of U.S. Pat. Pub. 20170181117

FAA Drone I.D. Rulemaking Committee Met this Week

The most interesting news of the week is the meeting of an Aviation Rulemaking Committee by the FAA.  The charter states the objective is to “provide a forum to discuss and provide recommendations to the FAA for [sic] regarding technologies available for the remote identification and tracking of UAS.”

The Qube is flown in a demonstration in Simi Valley, California, October 19, 2011. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

The FAA announcement of the committee states the purpose to help protect the public and the National Airspace System from these “rogue” drones.  The committee consists of 74 companies ranging from drone associations, drone end users, drone manufacturers, and mapping systems.  The Fairfax County Police Department is also a representative.  A full list is available here.  The three main tasks of the UAS-ID ARC are

a. Identify, categorize and recommend available and emerging technologies for the remote identification and tracking of UAS.

i. Factors to consider include, but are not limited to: technical and oeprational capabilities such as size, weight, speed, payload, equipage; appropriate requirements for different classifications of unmanned aircraft system operations, including public and civil; technology readiness levels (TRL); operational range; and reliability.

b. Identify requirements for meeting the security and public safety needs of law enforcement, homeland defense, and national security communities for remote identification and tracking of UAS.  The ARC should consider and evaluate the need to provide information that could assist in threat discrimination and determination of hostile intent.

c. Evaluate the feasibility and affordability of the available technical solutions, and determine how well they address the needs of law enforcement and air traffic control communities. The ARC should develop evaluation criteria and characteristics for making decisions, and rate the available technical solutions provided.

i. Factors to include, but are not limited to: supporting infrastructure; relability assurance and continuity of service features; utilization of readily available spectrum/communication network(s); and any limiting factors.

The ARC seems to be welcomed within the UAS industry.  A recommendation report is due to the FAA by September 30, 2017.  It will be interesting to see the recommendations giving the wide sampling of participants and available technologies.

What’s interesting to me is the recommendation does not require a look into the potential intellectual property related to standards and infrastructure.  The companies presenting and discussing these ideas should be required to be transparent in their discussions to determine if the companies could potentially see a monetary benefit from the recommendations to the FAA.