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aerial real estate

NASA wants to send a quadcopter to Saturn’s giant moon Titan

NASA wants to send a quadcopter to Saturn’s giant moon Titan

Matthew Humphries

Jun 18, 2014

Saturn’s largest moon Titan fascinates the scientists at NASA due to its dense atmosphere and the presence of stable bodies of surface liquid alongside ice and rock. The nitrogen rich atmosphere experiences wind and rain, meaning the mix has produced a moon with similar features to Earth’s own surface, complete with rivers, lakes and seas (of liquid methane or ethane), mountains, and dunes.

Such an interesting place deserves to be explored, but visiting Titan for an extended period of time hasn’t been feasible due to a lack of supporting technology. NASA’s ideal vehicle for exploration there would be a helicopter, able to move quickly from place-to-place taking photos and collecting samples. But such a craft would be too expensive to develop and deploy, we haven’t had the tech to make it work autonomously, and even then you wouldn’t be able to support it. Other missions including a balloon, plane, and boat have also been proposed and later shelved.

However, in recent years there have been major advances in autonomous navigation coupled with the miniaturization of technology including sensors and computer systems. What that means is the idea of sending a helicopter to Titan has morphed into sending something that quite a few of us are buying for fun right now: a quadcopter or similar tiny flying drone.

NASA is researching a mission that would see the equivalent of a quadcopter supported by a balloon sent to Titan. The balloon would drop into Titan’s atmosphere without needing to land and would act as a base station. The quadcopter would launch from the balloon to visit locations, take pictures, and collect samples. It would then return to the balloon to recharge its batteries and have the data and samples it has collected analyzed by NASA back on Earth. The length of the mission would only be limited by how long the balloon could keep providing power to the quadcopter.

The combination of a balloon and quadcopter make such a mission feasible for several reasons. The craft and balloon are both lightweight, the autonomous systems used to navigate are becoming mature here on Earth, the quadcopter is quite hard wearing, and the power it requires is minimal.

The potential for discovery and education through a visit to Titan’s surface make such a mission highly desirable and very exciting for everyone involved. For now NASA is just at the planning stage, but if you’ve seen how complex the Curiosity landing was on Mars, this mission by comparison should be a walk in the park if it gets funded.



Drones Giving Real Estate Industry an Aerial Advantage

Drones Giving Real Estate Industry an Aerial Advantage

LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The real estate industry is about to go aerial.

Real estate companies are beginning to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems, better known as drones, to give potential home-buyers bird’s-eye views of properties with a quick fly-by.

“It gives a different view to it than you would get otherwise,” says Bret Brown, a Realtor with McEnearney Associates, which sells homes in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

Brown recently used a drone to capture the aerial view of a property for sale on Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda. Flying over the lot, the drone’s camera shows the large driveway, three-car garage, extensive back yard, and outdoor pool that come with the $3.5 million price tag.

“It just shows the landscaping and how the house is situated on the lot. It gives a totally different perspective,” Brown says.

Right now, drones are being used primarily for high-end properties, where acres of land and outdoor amenities such as tennis and basketball courts or a pool can be accentuated to a potential buyer.

“You really have to have a spectacular property,” says Marc Infeld of Coldwell Banker.

But Infeld says he expects the use of drones in the real estate industry to increase as the technology improves and more agents are trained to use it.

“It will definitely become more integrated into real estate” as drone technology continues to evolve, Infeld says.

Still, there could be potential legal issues.

“I think there are some gray area as far as copyright laws,” says Infeld, explaining that people own the rights to all images of their private property.

Also, the use of unmanned aerial systems for commercial purposes is banned by the FAA — although rarely enforced.

“We have to prioritize our safety resources for the area of greatest risk,” Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, told SFGate.

John Domen - CBS DC