Drones and AI


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We are joined by the host of podcast Commercial Drones FM, Ian Smith, who gives us a fascinating understanding of how drones are being used today and in the future. From petri-dish wielding drones that follow whales, to miniature drones working in warehouses, to thermal sensing drones in the mining industry—drones are starting to be used extensively and will continue to grow in the future. We go over the technology, the use cases, the regulations, and the future. Intro: There’s never been a good way, ever, to get snot from a whale to see how healthy they are or do other types of experiments. It can hover right above the whale as it’s surfacing, and it will just have a little petri dish that when the whale blows it’s blowhole, all the snot just goes on it. Then they bring it back to the boat, and then they analyze it later. Curtis: One big area that uses AI and will continue to increase use of it is drone technology. One of the big things that machine learning enables drones to do is be aware of its surroundings. Computer vision classifiers help the drones identify objects that it is seeing and take appropriate action, such as avoiding obstacles, performing maintenance recon, and charting autonomous flight paths. Ginette: Let’s talk to someone steeped in all things drones who can give us insights into drones and how AI currently plays a role and will continue to play a role as drones evolve. This is Ian Smith. Ian: I got into drones in 2013, but before that I had actually built and flown model aircraft, like RCE aircraft with little tiny gas engines, and the balsa wood, and the glue that you have to wait overnight for it to set, and yeah it was a lot of work, and I wound up flying helicopters for my career, so I’m a commercial helicopter pilot. I was a flight instructor, and I heard in 2013 that RC aircraft that model aircraft had come so far that there was people that were using them. They were calling them drones, and they were taking pictures with them and selling them to people, but it was illegal in the United States because there was no regulation from the FAA at the time. So of course I decided to get into this as much as I could, since I wasn’t flying at the time, and ever since then in 2013 it’s been my career, and I worked for a company in France called Delair, and today I work for a company in San Francisco where I’m based now called DroneDeploy, and I host a podcast about drones called Commercial Drones FM as a side project. Curtis: So if you’re looking for more on drones after this episode, go check out Ian’s podcast. He covers all things drone and will keep you up on the latest. Let’s take a broad look at some of the use cases for drones. Ian: Some of the use cases, some of the industries that are using drones really are . . . agriculture was one that everyone latched on to. The construction industry of course. Inspecting assets, so whether that’s oil and gas or utilities or something else entirely, like wind turbines, or something like that. There’s general land surveyors that use drones for mapping activities, and of course there’s the film and photography. Everybody’s by now has seen a Youtube video of a drone or a drone shot in a movie or TV show. . . . Then there’s the mining industry who use them to calculate volumetrics of stockpiles, and search and rescue for finding people and putting crazy sensors on these drones that can sense thermal signatures. The way they’re being used, it’s really up to your imagination. Pretty much anything outside that can get a GPS signal these days. They're going to go towards more indoors things and closed, confined spaces too, so we're seeing just amazing use cases. People have these incredible imaginations, and the more you ask somebody what would a drone do for you? You just get these awesome responses, and it’s really cool to hear what people come up with. They’re even using them for wildlife monitoring,

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