Chris Anderson's Posts (2716)

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3D Robotics

Low-cost sense and avoid for microdrones

3689726428?profile=originalTo be shown at CES this week. From the press release:

​Fitted on a Mass-Market Microcontroller, 360Fusion Software Technology Detects any Dynamic Obstacle and Helps Guide Drones Away from Collisions

GRENOBLE, France – Dec. 14, 2017 – Leti, a research institute of CEA Tech, will demonstrate the world's first low-power, low-cost 3D anti-crash, fusion-sensor solution for drones at CES 2018 in Las Vegas.

 

Leti's 360Fusion software, in combination with miniaturized sensors, collects, analyzes and transforms millions of incoming 3D distance data items into relevant, actionable information.

 

This technology provides consumers and innovative companies with a reliable and affordable integrated anti-crash system. It also ensures safe navigation and enables prompt action in civil-security applications and ensures both fast response and maximum performance for drones in defense uses.

 

"360Fusion is a flexible solution that is compatible with all types of sensors and that can leverage data from the best of them," said Marie-Sophie Masselot, Leti industrial partnership manager. "Fitted on a low-cost microcontroller, this technology can be embedded in drones to detect any dynamic obstacle and guide the drone away from a collision."

 

Features of 360Fusion include:

  • The first obstacle-avoidance algorithm in a dynamic environment based on cutting-edge, laser sensor technology
  • Ultra-compact and miniaturized design that fits into a tiny, mass-market microcontroller
  • 10x cheaper than comparable systems
  • A highly integrated perception system that weighs less than 40 grams
  • Seamless integration in existing drone technologies

In its continuing work on the prototype, Leti will equip a fleet of drones with this technology to show they detect and avoid nearby drones, fit miniaturized radar sensors on the fleet, enable detours to safe routs when obstacles are detected and enable autonomous flight.

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More from Mashable here.

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3D Robotics

2017 DIY Drones year in review

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2017 was our tenth year, and since one drone year is like ten regular years, we're practically a century old! A few thoughts on the past twelve months:

First, we've continued to grow here, although not as fast as the boom years from 2012 to 2015 (see above)

More importantly, the two open source software projects that spun out of this community, ArduPilot/APM and Dronecode/PX4, are both going from strength to strength and are now essentially unrivaled in the full-stack open drone software market. APM is thriving with DIY'er (thanks to its developer-friendly "copyleft" GPL V3 licence) while PX4 is thriving with companies (thanks to its corporate-friendly "permissive" BSD licence). 

Both are very active and have large developer bases. Below are the stats for the past month, where PX4 was slightly ahead, but in another month it could go the other way. Although I co-founded APM, I now only contribute to the Dronecode/PX4 project (professionally I can't use GPL code). But I'm super proud of them both, and when it comes to autonomous cars, where I'm still just a hobbyist, I use and love the ArduRover code when we're doing outdoors races that require GPS.

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Elsewhere in the industry, the consolidation in the consumer space continued, with eHang the latest to leave and most others cutting prices dramatically as DJI's Mavic proves a hit.  (3DR was one of the first to leave the consumer market, last making Solo in 2015, which is a decision I'm happier about every day, as painful as it was at the time). I predict that prices and margins will continue to fall in that market, and DJI will continue to pull ahead with its more than 11,000 employees

The commercial side of the market continued to mature, with most companies now having defined their industry verticals and partnerships and focusing on data quality and the analytical tools expected in pro-level enterprise software.  Most founding CEOs of the bigger commercial drone companies have been replaced by enterprise sales vets, including Airware, Precision Hawk, Kespry, CyPhy, and Measure. (Exceptions are Skycatch, Drone Deploy and my own 3DR -- we must be doing something right!)

It's fair to say that the DIY-centric era of the industry is now over, thanks to today's polished consumer and commercial offerings (we can take a lot of credit for birthing those!). A lot of the DIY energy has shifted to "drone" racing (not actually drones, since they're manually piloted), which does not require the sophisticated autonomy and full-stack software we focus on here. That said, there are still lots of students DIYing to learn how drones work and it continues to be a fun hobby so we'll be here for many years to come. 

Personally, my professional life is totally focused on using drones in the AEC (construction) and GIS (geospatial) markets with 3DR, which had a record year as a software company in 2017. And now that getting drones to fly well is a pretty much solved problem, my hobby/DIY interests have moved to autonomous cars, where the technical challenges are much harder, from computer vision to machine learning. So I spend more time in our sister community, DIY Robocars, than here.  Ten years is a long time to sprint, and the early years here did indeed feel all-consuming. Now we're settled back to a more sustainable pace here, and I do my crazy hacking on things that have wheels, not wings and props.  Plus ça change.

 

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3D Robotics

"Donny the Drone" is voiced by Guy Pearce in this new sci-fi short featuring a modified DJI Phantom.

From IO9:

The film opens in 2022, as Donny—a mapping drone who “woke up” after a midair collision with a bird, and now speaks with the lulling cadence of a new age guru—is being presented with a “Person of the Year” award. Since his transformation, he explains, he’s devoted himself to being an ambassador for machines’ ability to help people. But despite Donny’s big award, not everybody embraces his philosophy—or his vision for humanity’s future.

We’ve seen “the trouble with sentient machines” done many times before, but Donny the Drone offers a thoughtful new take on that well-trod scifi territory. Pearce, recently seen playing android and AI innovator Peter Weyland in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, is a particularly apt choice to voice the drone who gains a soul—and a slippery agenda along with it.

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3D Robotics

FCC fines FPV dronemaker for illegal radios

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From Hackaday:

The commission just levied a $180,000 fine on a company in Florida for selling audio/visual transmitters that use the ham bands as well as other frequencies.

The FCC charged that Lumenier Holdco LLC (formerly known as FPV Manuals LLC) was marketing uncertified transmitters some of which exceeded the 1-W power limit for ham transmitters used on model craft.

Equipment that is purely for ham use is normally exempt from certification, but since the equipment was able to operate on other frequencies, this was a violation. In addition, even for licensed ham use, some of the transmitters were using too much power.

The company stopped selling the units in question after an FCC inquiry back in April. We can’t help but think that in years past building a consumer product with a significant radio transmitter was a big task, and someone would bring up the FCC rules and certifications before much progress had been made. These days though you can easily acquire building block ICs and modules to field a product in a few weeks that would have taken a sophisticated team years of effort not long ago.

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3D Robotics

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We are happy to announce the release of PX4 v1.7.0, this version comes packed with performance and quality of life improvements. With 1840 commits with the help of 76 authors and hundreds of flight hours across all of our certified hardware, this is the biggest release of PX4 to date.

This release couldn’t have happened without the help of our supporting members, developers, and partners that help us every day, from planning to execution, we are grateful for this community and hope you enjoy flying PX4 v1.7.0.

MAJOR FEATURES

  • First-generation experimental support for ROS2-like setups with FastRTPS
  • Support for many new sensors (LIDAR, airspeed, IMU, etc)
  • Significant robustness improvements and new features to default estimation system (EKF2)
  • Significant improvements to VTOL flight control
  • Increased smoothness of multi-copter flight control
  • Better performance of fixed-wing flight control
  • Many build system improvements (including 50% faster Nuttx builds)
  • New continuous integration system (http://ci.px4.io) with significantly more build and testing capacity
  • Reduced CPU load and RAM usage
  • Plus more tons of minor bug fixes and under the hood enhancements
  • Full list of changes

DOWNLOAD

You can flash the v1.7.0 release from QGroundControl or grab the binaries for your platform directly from the v1.7.0 release tag

FEEDBACK

If you have any feedback you would like to share here are some options:

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3D Robotics

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From a FAA alert about a bug in the Rockwell Collins autopilot that is used in many jetliners. Interesting, it's easier for them to fix the airport database that these autopilots use than the autopilot code itself, although that will be coming later. 

"If the crew manually edits or temperature compensates a “Climb to” altitude, the FMS will remove the database turn direction (if any) on the immediately following leg. The FMS will turn in the wrong direction after sequencing the “Climb to” leg if the shortest turn direction is different than the required turn direction onto the next leg."

...

"Rockwell Collins has removed from both the Jeppesen and Lufthansa (LSY) Navigation Databases the approaches for which the FMS may not turn correctly after an altitude is edited beginning cycle 1712. This resulted in the removal of approximately 10,000 approaches. Rockwell Collins is working on corrective actions for this issue to restore the removed procedures and has been providing regular updates through email communication."

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3D Robotics

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Impressive work by the University of Warwick, who are designing a Pixhawk-powered drone from search and rescue. Above, a test device for Pixhawk. Below, a mold for the carbon-fiber mold. 

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From the article:

The design now has a 2.2-meter (7.2-foot) wingspan, multiple imaging cameras, and an antenna tracking system at the base station to maintain contact. It also features two control systems designed in Autodesk EAGLE: a traditional manual transmitter for takeoff and landing and an autopilot system controlled by modified open-source software.

Warwick Associate Professor of Engineering Simon Leigh, who specializes in additive manufacturing, guided Barlow’s team during the project. He knew they would 3D-print reusable molds of the UAV body parts and then use them to resin-infuse strong-yet-light carbon fiber to create the finished product. Leigh says it took about one month of continuous 3D printing to finish the molds. After that, infusing the carbon fiber proved a challenge, as well.

“We used liquid-resin infusion, which is under the vacuum,” Barlow says. “You apply a vacuum to your carbon fiber on the mold, and then you inject resin into it under the vacuum. That’s generally done on a much bigger scale, with much easier geometric parts than we were using, so we had to invent a lot of really cool tools to do it.”

Barlow couldn’t elaborate on those inventions due to the terms with industry partner GKN Aerospace, which may commercialize some of them down the line. To exercise that kind of innovative thinking while working with an expert company was a great experience and opportunity for the students, Leigh says. And they continue to employ creative thinking toward making parts of the UAV multifunctional to maximize its weight

For example, the UAV’s main function will be to search for casualties on a mountain, land next to them by parachute, and deliver supplies. But the parachutes could be made of emergency space blankets for the people to use, and other equipment could also be built into the aircraft. Customized software could even tailor the payload for the needs of each emergency.

“It would suggest the load out you would need and how to balance it to get the right center of gravity,” Leigh says. “So we cataloged the supplies we want to put in it and worked out where they might sit in the airframe.” The group has also explored using Autodesk Netfabb additive-manufacturing software to optimize aspects of the UAV design to be 3D-print friendly and reduce weight.

Barlow’s goal for the UAV was a carrying capacity of about 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and an 80-kilometer (49.7-mile) range, but that’s much farther than current UK regulations allow for this type of drone. The many layers of regulation applied to UAVs from the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the wireless communications regulations from Ofcom are “bit of a minefield to navigate,” Leigh says.

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3D Robotics

Human vs AI drone racing

From NASA JPL

The race, held on Oct. 12, capped off two years of research into drone autonomy funded by Google. The company was interested in JPL's work with vision-based navigation for spacecraft -- technologies that can also be applied to drones. To demonstrate the team's progress, JPL set up a timed trial between their A.I. and world-class drone pilot Ken Loo.

The team built three custom drones (dubbed Batman, Joker and Nightwing) and developed the complex algorithms the drones needed to fly at high speeds while avoiding obstacles. These algorithms were integrated with Google's Tango technology, which JPL also worked on.

The drones were built to racing specifications and could easily go as fast as 80 mph (129 kph) in a straight line. But on the obstacle course set up in a JPL warehouse, they could only fly at 30 or 40 mph (48 to 64 kph) before they needed to apply the brakes.

"We pitted our algorithms against a human, who flies a lot more by feel," said Rob Reid of JPL, the project's task manager. "You can actually see that the A.I. flies the drone smoothly around the course, whereas human pilots tend to accelerate aggressively, so their path is jerkier."

Compared to Loo, the drones flew more cautiously but consistently. Their algorithms are still a work in progress. For example, the drones sometimes moved so fast that motion blur caused them to lose track of their surroundings.

Loo attained higher speeds and was able to perform impressive aerial corkscrews. But he was limited by exhaustion, something the A.I.-piloted drones didn't have to deal with.

"This is definitely the densest track I've ever flown," Loo said. "One of my faults as a pilot is I get tired easily. When I get mentally fatigued, I start to get lost, even if I've flown the course 10 times."

While the A.I. and human pilot started out with similar lap times, after dozens of laps, Loo learned the course and became more creative and nimble. For the official laps, Loo averaged 11.1 seconds, compared to the autonomous drones, which averaged 13.9 seconds.

But the latter was more consistent overall. Where Loo's times varied more, the A.I was able to fly the same racing line every lap.

"Our autonomous drones can fly much faster," Reid said. "One day you might see them racing professionally!"

Without a human pilot, autonomous drones typically rely on GPS to find their way around. That's not an option for indoor spaces like warehouses or dense urban areas. A similar challenge is faced by autonomous cars.

Camera-based localization and mapping technologies have various potential applications, Reid added. These technologies might allow drones to check on inventory in warehouses or assist search and rescue operations at disaster sites. They might even be used eventually to help future robots navigate the corridors of a space station.

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3D Robotics

First pass at a Drone family tree diagram

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For a presentation I'm doing I tried to explain how the modern drone industry grew out of the intersection of two communities, RC and robotics, and although they didn't merge, they did both evolve. 

Here's where this community comes in, bridging those two

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And here's an animation showing how 3DR and Dronecode evolved alongside the markets

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3D Robotics

Pixhawk Mini now just $139

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Last year, we introduced the Pixhawk Mini, a small, efficient autopilot designed in collaboration with HobbyKing specifically for the Dronecode PX4 1.6 stack. It’s been put to work on a variety of projects, and many of you use it to build DIY quads, planes, rovers, and more. It also now supported by the ArduPilot/APM code, too.


Today, we’re excited to share that the Pixhawk Mini is now available for just $139, which is 30% less than its original $199 price point.

The Pixhawk Mini is 60% smaller than the original Pixhawk, and has improved sensors and an included GPS module. It's the smallest autopilot you can buy, while still rivaling its big brothers in power. Since its original release earlier this year, the digital airspeed sensor has also been upgraded to give more reliable readings.

Designed specifically for the pro-grade Dronecode PX4 software, Pixhawk Mini has an integrated four-motor power distribution board and power supply module, which enables efficient installations with small quadcopters. But you can also use it with fixed-wing vehicles and rovers with the included 8-channel RC-out board. 

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To see more features, technical specs, and to buy online, check out the Pixhawk Mini on Amazon.

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3D Robotics

Great YouTube channel on using Dronekit, APM

Tiziano Fiorenzani, an Italian engineer now working in the US, has one of the best YouTube channels on using open source drone software, especially, APM, Dronekit and Python. Above is just one example, on Drone Delivery with Python:

We are going to write a script that connects with the vehicle and waits for the operator to upload a valid mission. Then the script adds our current location as final waypoint and the vahicle is commanded to arm and takeoff. The vehicle is then set to Auto and once the final waypoint is reached, the script deletes the mission and sets the vehicle in Return to launch mode. At the end the script resets its status and is ready for new adventures!

See the rest of his videos on his YouTube channel here

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3D Robotics

DIY Drones now at 86,000 users

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It's customary and traditional that we celebrate the addition of every 1,000 new members here and share the traffic stats. We've now passed 86,000 members! We're also more than ten years old!

Rather than simply give the usual monthly traffic snapshot, I thought I'd give the data for the whole decade, which tells quite a story. 

  • First, some amazing totals:
    • More than 20 million users and 118 million pageviews over the decade. 
    • 13,400 blog posts
    • More than 60,000 discussion threads
    • Nearly a million comments
  • Second, the ups and downs of this industry. Over the ten years, we've gone from one of the few drone communities around to today, when there are hundreds of sites, most of them commercial, and drone users and developers are scattered amongst them. In the early 2010s, DIY Drones was in the top three results on Google for "drones". Now there are pages and pages of commercial sites before it. That's a natural thing and demonstrates classic maturing of an industry. The amateurs have given way to the pros.
  • Third, the related rise and fall of "DIY" in the drone industry. With the triumph of DJI and its Phantom (and now Mavic and Spark) lines, it's no longer necessary to build your own drone. This is a good thing (the same happened with PCs and all sorts of electronics before it), and many people still choose to do so anyway for fun (as they still do with PCs), but it's clearly gone back to a niche activity or one for developers, much as it was in the early days. 

Today, we're still a big community with healthy traffic (about 10,000 visitors and 15,000 page views a day). And we'll continue just as we are for many years to come. We won't be the biggest site in this space, but we'll continue to be one of the most interesting and a friendly, high-quality place to talk about ideas and projects that extend of potential of drones to change the world. And have fun doing it!

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3D Robotics

Blimpduino flies again!

Ten years after this site started with its first project, a robotic blimp called Blimpduino, two long time friends here, Jordi Munoz and Jose Julio, are relaunching it in a new improved form. It's called, unsurprisingly, Blimpduino 2.0, and you can see the progress here

The is new one is based on fly-by-wire Wifi system (smartphone based) and supports computer vision with the OpenMV camera.  It's what we had in mind a decade ago, but just took years for the technology to catch up. 

It looks like it will be available in a couple months. Can't wait!

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3D Robotics

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This is the cheapest good computer vision autonomous car you can make — less than $85! It uses the fantastic OpenMV camera, with its easy-to-use software and IDE, as well as a low-cost chassis that is fast enough for student use. It can follow lanes of any color, objects, faces and even other cars. It's as close to a self-driving Tesla as you’re going to get for less than $100 ;-)

It’s perfect for student competitions, where a number of cars can be built and raced against each in an afternoon.

Instructions and code are here

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3D Robotics

Eagles vs Drones (spoiler: Eagles win)

3689721585?profile=originalFrom the Wall Street Journal:

SYDNEY— Daniel Parfitt thought he’d found the perfect drone for a two-day mapping job in a remote patch of the Australian Outback. The roughly $80,000 machine had a wingspan of 7 feet and resembled a stealth bomber.

There was just one problem. His machine raised the hackles of one prominent local resident: a wedge-tailed eagle.

Wedge-tailed eagle

Swooping down from above, the eagle used its talons to punch a hole in the carbon fiber and Kevlar fuselage of Mr. Parfitt’s drone, which lost control and plummeted to the ground.

“I had 15 minutes to go on my last flight on my last day, and one of these wedge-tailed eagles just dive-bombed the drone and punched it out of the sky,” said Mr. Parfitt, who believed the drone was too big for a bird to damage. “It ended up being a pile of splinters.”

Weighing up to nine pounds with a wingspan that can approach eight feet, the wedge-tailed eagle is Australia’s largest bird of prey. Once vilified for killing sheep and targeted by bounty hunters, it is now legally protected. Though a subspecies is still endangered in Tasmania, it is again dominating the skies across much of the continent.

These highly territorial raptors, which eat kangaroos, have no interest in yielding their apex-predator status to the increasing number of drones flying around the bush. They’ve even been known to harass the occasional human in a hang glider.

A picture of a wedge-tailed eagle taken by an Australian UAV drone.
A picture of a wedge-tailed eagle taken by an Australian UAV drone. PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN UAV

Birds all over the world have attacked drones, but the wedge-tailed eagle is particularly eager to engage in dogfights, operators say. Some try to evade these avian enemies by sending their drones into loops or steep climbs, or just mashing the throttle to outrun them.

A long-term solution remains up in the air. Camouflage techniques, like putting fake eyes on the drones, don’t appear to be fully effective, and some pilots have even considered arming drones with pepper spray or noise devices to ward off eagles.

They are the “ultimate angry birds,” said James Rennie, who started a drone-mapping and inspection business in Melbourne called Australian UAV. He figures that 20% of drone flights in rural areas get attacked by the eagles. On one occasion, he was forced to evade nine birds all gunning for his machine.

The birds are considered bigger bullies than their more-docile relatives, such as the bald and golden eagles in the U.S. Wedge-tailed eagles are the undisputed alpha birds in parts of Australia’s interior but it’s not entirely clear why they’re so unusually aggressive towards drones. Scientists say they go after drones probably because they view them as potential prey or a new competitor.

“They’re really the kings of the air in Australia,” said Todd Katzner, a biologist and eagle expert at the U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, Idaho. “There’s nothing out there that can compete with them.”

Nick Baranov holds a drone camouflaged with ‘eagle-eyes.’
Nick Baranov holds a drone camouflaged with ‘eagle-eyes.’ PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN UAV

The problem is growing more acute as Australia makes a push to become a hot spot for drones. One state, Queensland, recently hosted the “World of Drones Congress” and last year gave about $780,000 to Boeing Co. for drone testing. Amazon.com is expanding in Australia and could try using drones for deliveries, and the machines are increasingly favored by big landowners such as miners and cattle ranchers.

The eagles will often attack in male-female pairs, and they aren’t always deterred if their first foray fails. Sometimes they will come from behind, attack in tandem from above, or even stagger their assault. A drone operator may evade one diving eagle with an upward climb, but the second eagle can then snatch it, Mr. Rennie said.

“If you take your eye off that aircraft even for a couple of minutes, the likelihood is it will end up in pieces on the ground,” he said.​

In late 2015, Andrew Chapman, a co-owner at Australian UAV, was mapping a quarry and landfill site near Melbourne, and figured it was close enough to the city that an eagle attack was unlikely. But when the drone was about half a mile away, an eagle “materialized out of thin air and knocked out the drone,” Mr. Chapman said. He spent two days looking for the machine, worth about $35,000 at today’s retail price, and had to ship it to the manufacturer in Switzerland for repairs.

Another view of a wedge-tailed eagle taken by a drone.
Another view of a wedge-tailed eagle taken by a drone. PHOTO: AUSTRALIAN UAV

More exotic defenses have been considered. Mr. Chapman said arming drones with pepper spray was discussed but quickly discarded, out of concern it could harm the birds.

“It’s a relief to be planning for jobs overseas because we know the wedgies aren’t there,” said Mr. Chapman, using the local nickname for the bird.

Rick Steven, a survey superintendent at the St. Ives gold mine in Western Australia, who uses drones to survey the pits, debated using something like a ShuRoo—a device mounted on cars that makes noise, which humans can’t hear, to keep kangaroos off the road. But he was concerned it would be cumbersome on the drone and may not ward off eagles anyway.

Instead, Mr. Steven and other drone operators make use of another weapon: time. The eagles are less active in the early morning, because the thermals—columns of rising air—they use to fly don’t develop until later in the day after the sun has warmed the ground.

In his first 2½ years flying drones at the mine, Mr. Steven said he lost 12 drones to eagle attacks, which cost his employer, South Africa-based Gold Fields Ltd. , some $210,000. During the past year, when he focused his flying in the morning, he has lost two—with two more close calls.

​​Any successes at deterring wedge-tailed eagle attacks in Australia could provide clues in how to minimize avian obstacles in other regions.

“Every time I go to a conference on birds and they’re having a workshop on drones, somebody tells me about this problem in Australia, about these wedge-tailed eagles,” said David Bird, a retired wildlife biology professor in Canada and founding editor of the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems.

Daniel Parfitt poses with a drone.
Daniel Parfitt poses with a drone. PHOTO: DANIEL PARFITT

Mr. Parfitt, who began his drone business Aerial Image Works about three years ago, remains vigilant. Each of his last three jobs attracted an eagle attack.

Other birds will “fly at the drone and they’ll act in a very aggressive manner, but they don’t actually touch you,” he said. “I’m not scared of anything else attacking my drone except the wedge-tailed eagle.”

Write to Mike Cherney at mike.cherney@wsj.com

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