How to be a responsible steward of Democracy, Human Rights Capitalism and Planet Earth.

How to be a responsible steward of Planet Earth.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Vanishing animals

Vanishing Animals

 Vanishing animals

Barbara Franco, Gianfranco Bologna, Simona Giordano, World Wildlife Fund
White Star Publishers, Oct 14, 2008 - Nature - 304 pages

A poignant chronicling of the vulnerability of the animal life supported by the world’s diverse habitats, this important book presents an overview of the principal animal species that are threatened with extinction. 

For each species, it presents the challenges involved in conservation and explores the actions WWF is taking in the field. 

Above all, it examines the connection between the protection of a certain species and the survival of the local populations. 

The animal species on which this book focuses are among the rarest in the world—and the best known to many of us for exactly that reason. 

The authors also examine less familiar species of equally high biological significance. Each chapter focuses on projects dedicated to the conservation of that species in different locations around the world. 

Among the animals highlighted are the African elephant—with particular attention paid to the extreme environment of Chad—the aye-aye of Madagascar, the short-tailed chinchilla of South America, and the bird of paradise of Papua New Guinea. 

Accompanying the insightful text of this meaningful book are hundreds of magnificent photographs that convey the unique qualities of each of the species featured. 

A wake-up call we can’t ignore, this volume demonstrates the severity of the plight of our endangered species and is a testimony to the good work being done to salvage this very serious situation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Drones In Agriculture

I write about technology, business, and Silicon Valley trends full bio →


Growing The Use Of Drones In Agriculture

Although news coverage around them is mostly focused on use in military operations, drones can be used across multiple industries. Using diverse payloads, ranging from GoPro cameras to professional cameras, drones can be used to perform a variety of tasks, ranging from reconnaissance missions in the military to, possibly, delivering pizza.

According to a study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the drone, or UAV, industry in the U.S. could produce up to 100,000 new jobs and add $82 billion in economic activity between 2015 and 2025. Those numbers are pretty significant. However, the industry has a bit of a trek to get to them.

This is because privacy concerns balance the case for drone use.  A majority of countries in the world today use a loose set of guidelines to govern drone use.  A notable exception is Japan, which uses drones extensively for agriculture purposes.
With regulation governing drone use up for discussion in 2015, the United States could soon follow Japan’s lead.

About three weeks ago, I visited 3D Robotics, a startup that manufactures drones. As I mentioned earlier, commercial use of drones is limited in the States. As a result, approximately fifty percent of the startup’s customers are located outside the States.

According to Sue Rosenstock, 3D Robotics spokesperson, a third of their customers consist of hobbyists, another third of enterprise users, and a third use their drones as consumer tools. “Over time, we expect that to change as we make more enterprise-focused products, such as mapping applications,” she explains.

Started by former Wired editor Chris Anderson, 3D Robotics is an end-to-end solutions startup. It’s operations are spread across Berkeley (where Anderson is based), San Diego, and Tijuana in Mexico. It is vertically integrated (just like Apple ) and manufactures its own hardware and software. While vertical integration increases upfront development costs, it offers greater control for the company to market its products to specific industries, such as agriculture.

Drones In Agriculture

3D Robotics is already conducting tests with farmers to understand user needs and test custom drones for agriculture. “Our approach is to make a product that fits into a farmer’s actual equipment,” says Brandon Basso, lead researcher at 3D Robotics. “We want them to use drones the same way that they use their other farming equipment.”
In the absence of data regarding use of drones in agriculture, 3D Robotics is working off educated guesses and formulating use cases. These guesses break down typical cost structures for farming to incentivize farmers to use drones.

Brandon Basso
Brandon Basso

As an example, Basso says farmers spray pesticides uniformly over their crop to protect them from fungal infections. “It is not environmentally great or financially great,” says Basso. According to him, the use of drones can mitigate some of these drawbacks. For example, farmers can choose to not spray pesticides based on an aerial survey of their crop using drones. Alternately, they can selectively spray pesticides only on plants that need attention, thus minimizing environmental damage and saving money.

Drones, which are fitted with payloads such as cameras, enable farmers to get a bird’s eye-view of their crop by flying at low altitudes. Using Infra-red imaging, drones can also detect which plants are sick and which ones are healthy. Basso says healthy plants reflect more infrared radiation, as opposed to plants which have fungal infections.
3D Robotics has deconstructed its tests into a series of stages that are closely linked to an actual drone operation.

During the Mission Planning stage, Basso and his team discuss objectives and goals of a particular flight mission. Subsequently, they spend time drawing out an automated flight path for the mission. This path enables them to map out the best coverage area for the flight. Flight times for drones can vary from less than ten minutes to approximately forty minutes flight time. This time is a function of payloads and rotors used in that particular drone. Basso says drones used for agricultural purposes have a longer flight time but are unable to carry much load. Images and data are processed using imaging software once drones return to their original takeoff point.

Pablo Lema, Sales Director, 3D Robotics

Pablo Lema, Sales Director, flies Iris, the latest quadcopter from 3D Robotics
However, drones are, as yet, a fairly technical affair. While their operations have been simplified, data crunching and imaging processing from drones still require technical knowledge. As such, 3D Robotics is not selling its drones directly to farmers. Instead, the startup sells drones to crop analysts, who recommend them to farmers.

Privacy And Drones
As I mentioned earlier, drone use has come under increased scrutiny due to privacy concerns. The agriculture industry is no different. A majority of farms still rely on a number of manual methods for crop care. Licenses for drones are granted on a case by case basis. In the meanwhile, plans to grant access to US skies for drones by September 2015 are already delayed.

However, Rosenstock is not worried. “I would be surprised if there wasn’t distrust of new technology,” she says, adding that they (3D Robotics) are tech innovators and not police. “We leave regulation to the legislators,” she says.

Frackers: Billionaire Wildcatters

The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters
Gregory Zuckerman of the Wall Street Journal

Moderated by Joel Kurtzman of the Milken Institute

February 6, 2014
4:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
Santa Monica

For decades, they operated on the fringes of the energy industry. Now the unlikely wildcatters who perfected fracking have moved from the fringes to the forefront of a revolution that has turned the United States into the world's fastest-growing energy power.

At this Milken Institute Forum, Gregory Zuckerman, a senior writer for the Wall Street Journal and the author of "The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters," will tell the dramatic tale of the ambitious and headstrong wildcatters who were determined to tap the massive deposits of oil and gas that the industry's giants had dismissed as a waste of time.

Their success with hydraulic fracturing--known as fracking--through extremely dense shale has transformed the U.S. energy landscape. Once dependent on imported energy, the U.S. is expected to pass Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world's largest oil producer. The wildcatters' success has transformed their personal lives as well. Like the Rockefellers and the Gettys before them, they're using their newfound wealth and power to influence politics, education, entertainment, sports, and many other fields. The revolution the frackers are responsible for has transformed the U.S. economy, raised environmental concerns, and upended global geopolitics. In some ways, their impact is just beginning.

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Book: The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters