TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The worst ceasefire: Russia and Ukraine are both preparing for war as their uneasy peace slips away.

By Jamie Dettmer in the Daily Beast

2. With the rise of legal cannabis, the small-holders running the industry may soon be run off by the “Marlboro of Marijuana”

By Schumpeter in the Economist

3. From taking India to Mars on the cheap to pulling potable water from thin air: Meet the top global innovators of 2014.

By the writers and editors of Foreign Policy

4. Some charter schools promote aggressive policies of strict discipline, and that strategy may be backfiring.

By Sarah Carr in the Hechinger Report

5. As local police forces become intelligence agencies, we need sensible policies to balance privacy and public safety.

By Jim Newton in the Los Angeles Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Companies

Amazon Is Hiring a Pilot to Test its Delivery Drones

Strike- Amazon Leipzig
A drone with an Amazon package floats in front of the Amazon logistics center in Leipzig, Germany on Oct 28, 2014. Peter Endig—dpa/Corbis

Company is also seeking a flight safety manager

It seems Amazon is getting serious about delivering packages to its customers via drone.

The e-tailer has posted a job listing for a flight operations engineer on its Amazon Prime Air drone delivery team. The new job, based at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, will involve working with regulatory authorities, planning out test flights and executing the flights themselves. Several years of flight test experience are required for the job.

The company is also seeking a flight safety manager to work on the same program.

Amazon first announced its intentions to begin a drone delivery program via a 60 Minutes episode about a year ago. The plan has been met with much skepticism because the commercial use of drones is heavily regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the agency recently permitted the use of drones on certain movie sets, which could pave the way for wider use of the vehicles at businesses such as Amazon.

TIME Gadgets

This Is the Best Drone You Can Buy Right Now

Preview Of The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show
A DJI Innovations Phantom remote-controlled drone hovers above attendees during the CES Unveiled press event prior to the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best is the best drone for most people

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com

Dozens of pre-assembled consumer drones are now available between at prices between $200 and $9,000, and we looked into virtually all of them. After 35 hours of research and dozens of flights, we had to agree with the opinions of most experts and everyday users: For aerial photography, videography, and generally having fun, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best drone for most people from first-time flyers to experienced novices.

No other drone under $3,000 comes with the 2 Vision+’s three-axis gimbal, top-notch camera and live-view that you need to take great photos and videos. Building something similar costs hundreds of dollars more and can be a pain in the neck.

Our Pick

Roughly $1,200 is a lot to pay for a drone, but the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is ready to start shooting photos when it arrives. You just spin on the propellers, charge and plug in the battery, download an iOS or Android app for your phone, and you’re ready to lift off and start shooting. Other models require hours at a soldering bench before they’re as capable as the 2 Vision+.

“We’ve been told that drones are going to change the world,” says Norman Chan of Tested, “but this is the first product I’ve used that really makes me believe it.”

In the air, the 2 Vision+ is a very capable imaging machine. Its 1080p/30 720p/60 camera is better than the in-house cameras from companies like Walkera and Blade, and roughly as good as a GoPro Hero3+ action camera. (The 2 Vision+ takes more detailed stills, while the GoPro Hero3+ is clearly better at 1080p video quality.) “The videos and stills are amazing,” said Erick Royer, executive editor of MultiRotor Pilot magazine.

The gimbal, which holds the camera steady even as the aircraft wiggles, is an undisputed standout. It stabilizes the camera in three planes—tipping, rolling, and twisting. Virtually all other drone gimbals stabilize cameras in only two dimensions, leading to shakier images.

Perhaps best of all, the free DJI Vision+ app, combined with the radio controller’s Wi-Fi extender, displays the camera’s view of what the drone is shooting on your Apple or Android smartphone from as far as 2,000 feet away. It also allows you to frame shots by pressing a button that tilts the camera up and down, and it displays useful stats like how much battery life remains.

“The most important thing, of course, if you are flying to shoot, is to see what your composition is,” says filmmaker Philip Bloom. This is key, but it’s sadly rare. To get those features from something like a Phantom 2 and separate GoPro, you have to buy pricey aftermarket video feed transmission systems, pull out the wire strippers, watch or read some tutorials, and plug in that soldering gun or order parts from Britain—a major hassle, in other words.

The 2 Vision+ has other class-leading features, including a battery life of 25 minutes, compared to the usual 10 minutes, and a top-notch autopilot that holds the drone rock steady when you take your thumbs off the controller. If the drone loses connection with the radio transmitter, then it automatically returns to the launch pad—a great safety setting that many drones now use.

The big surprise is the 2 Vision+’s price. $1,160 seems like a lot of money, but is actually a good deal. In order to get similar capabilities from a cheaper drone, such as the 3DR IRIS or plain Phantom 2, you have to futz with the inside wiring of the thing and spend over $1,500 on a drone and aftermarket parts.

Small flaws (but not dealbreakers)

The main drawback of the 2 Vision+ is that the camera is permanently attached to the drone. If cameras get dramatically better in the next couple years, owners of the 2 Vision+ will still be stuck with the 2 Vision+ camera. But that’s a minor worry — the camera is already excellent. What limits the quality of 2 Vision+ videos and stills these days is not the engineering of the camera, but the quality of the pilot—how smoothly he or she flies, or how creatively he or she approaches the subject.

For nervous or over-eager flyers

We gave Phantoms to seven people who’d never flown any kind of radio controlled drone or plane before, from a 13-year-old boy to a 73-year-old retiree. Five of them got the hang of it immediately and had no problems flying. Two of them—excitable guys in their 30s—crashed into trees within five minutes.

The 2 Vision+ is very easy to fly, but because of those experiences we recommend that people consider buying an inexpensive drone, too. If you’re unfamiliar with how to fly drones or don’t trust yourself to fly calmly at first or just need to fine tune your skills (and who doesn’t), then definitely think about getting a cheapo trainer drone before putting your $1,160 investment aloft.

We recommend the highly touted $90 Blade Nano QX. It’s essentially a palm-sized quadcopter without the camera and fancy features like GPS-assisted position hold. It flies much like the 2 Vision+. Push the left stick of the radio controller up and the drone ascends. Push the right stick right and the drone glides right. So skills honed on it transfer to the 2 Vision+. And if you crash the Blade, replacement parts cost just a couple bucks, instead of as much as a couple hundred, and take just 10 minutes to install, instead of an hour or more.

In Closing

The DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ is the best drone for the vast majority of people. It has many standout features like a 25-minute battery life and is a relative bargain, but these are mere perks. The big deal is that it arrives ready to make super images—colorful, detailed, well-framed, jiggle-free aerial pictures and video. So pilots of the 2 Vision+ can focus on the fun stuff.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation please go to The Wirecutter.com

Read next: Meet Nixie, the Selfie Drone You Wear on Your Wrist

TIME World

This Stunning Drone Footage of Island Surfers Will Make You Desperately Want a Vacation

Taken in Indonesia's gorgeous Mentawai Islands

Can’t take a vacation right now, because of silly obstacles like your job or money or your kids or fear of flying? Well, this video is kind of like a little vacation in itself.

It features drone footage captured in the gorgeous Mentawai Islands of Indonesia and comes complete with soothing but upbeat music. So grab your headphones and allow yourself a five-minute escape from it all.

(h/t Boing Boing)

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 23

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A “13th year” of public education combines the supportive environment of high school with the first year of community college — and more students are staying enrolled.

By Rebecca Schuman in Slate

2. Imagine drones as solar-powered and mobile cell towers delivering connectivity to underserved areas.

By Adele Peters in Co.Exist

3. Large employers offering employees at-home solar power at a deep discount could help scale and create demand for this critical renewable resource.

By Diane Cardwell in the New York Times

4. If “democracy” is intended to work for everyone, not just the political class in America, it’s clearly failing.

By Clive Crook in Bloomberg View

5. With each success, new community partnerships exercise greater strength, building civic confidence to solve persistent regional problems.

By Monique Miles in the Aspen Journal of Ideas

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Hong Kong

Watch the Massive Hong Kong Protests From the Sky

The drone video posted to Facebook and YouTube beautifully conveys the size and determination of Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests

Thousands of demonstrators are occupying key districts across Hong Kong in a massive democracy protest that has drawn international attention. Following a night of clashes with police, the number of protesters appeared to grow substantially on Monday.

The video above, posted Monday on the Facebook account of Nero Chan, helps convey the scope of the ongoing protests.

TIME environtment

Dutch Man Fined for Crashing Drone into Yellowstone Hot Spring

View of the 'Grand Prismatic' hot spring
View of the 'Grand Prismatic' hot spring with it's unique colors caused by brown, orange and yellow algae-like bacteria called Thermophiles, that thrive in the cooling water turning the vivid aqua-blue to a murkier greenish brown, in the Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming on June 1, 2011. MARK RALSTON—AFP/Getty Images

The unmanned aerial vehicle is still at the bottom of the famed hot spring

A U.S. federal judge has ordered a Dutch tourist to pay $3,200 in fines and restitution after the man crashed his drone into an iconic hot spring at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Theodorus Van Vilet pleaded guilty to crashing his drone into the Grand Prismatic Spring in August 2014. A judge ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and $2,200 in restitution over the incident. Authorities have been unable to locate the exact location of the downed drone, which remains at the bottom of the hot spring.

The ruling is the second guilty verdict this year stemming from a violation of the National Park Service’s drone ban issued in June. A German man was ordered to pay $1,600 in fines and restitution after crashing his drone into Yellowstone Lake in July. A third case involving an Oregon man is pending.

TIME Innovation

Google Reveals Drone Delivery Plans

The company just started conducting tests after two years of work

Google has begun testing a small number of drones as it explores a possible delivery service powered by the unmanned aerial vehicles, the company revealed Thursday.

Google has been working on Project Wing for two years but only began testing the drones in the Australian outback this month, the Washington Post reports. In trials, the small aircraft have flown between 130 and 195 ft. (well above houses and trees) and delivered items such as a water bottle and a first-aid kit. Google says it conducted more than 30 successful flights, including one that traveled more than half a mile.

While the Federal Aviation Administration is still developing guidelines and regulations for commercial drones, several companies besides Google, including Amazon, Facebook and Disney, have opened up about possible applications for drones, including delivery capabilities and high-speed Internet services. According to Google, it will be years before the company will develop a fully functional delivery service with drones traveling along preprogrammed routes.

“When you can get something near-instantly, it changes how you think about it,” the company said in a statement. “Think of the mom stuck at home with two sick kids, the hiker who’s met a poisonous snake, or the farmer out in the field with a sick animal. It could also open up new models for sharing goods rather than owning them — who needs a power drill for more than eight minutes a year?”


TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 13

1. True rehabilitation: We can reform prisons and reduce recidivism if we treat prison labor less like modern-day slavery and more like on-the-job training.

By Beth Schwartzapfel in American Prospect

2. Drones are a powerful military and civilian tool. Reforms are desperately needed if the U.S. wants to stay at the top of the drone food chain.

By Missy Cummings in Wired

3. Liberia’s fragile democracy may fall victim to the Ebola virus outbreak.

By Ashoka Mukpo in Al-Jazeera America

4. Mayors need the partnership and protection of a UN for big cities to test new solutions and spread innovation.

By Richard Florida in Citylab

5. The biggest barrier to nonprofit innovation isn’t the lack of money. It’s knowing the right way to scale up and spend big infusions of cash.

By Mathu Jeyaloganathan Ivey Business Review

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.


Somebody Crashed a Drone Into Yellowstone’s Biggest Hot Spring

Grand Prismatic Spring Quan Yuan—Getty Images/Flickr RM

Drones aren't allowed in the area, but one hit Grand Prismatic Spring on Saturday and sank, potentially damaging the geothermal feature, the largest hot spring in the park and third largest in the world, said a park official

An influx of camera-equipped drones illegally flying over national parks reached a new level this week when one crashed into—and possibly damaged—a famed hot spring at Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

A park official told Reuters on Wednesday that the unmanned aerial vehicle crashed into the Grand Prismatic Spring on Saturday and sank, potentially damaging the geothermal feature, the largest hot spring in the park and third largest in the world.

The National Parks Service banned drone flights in June as parks are reporting a spike in drones, which are annoying some visitors and, at times, crashing. Earlier this summer, according to Reuters, a drone crashed into a marina at Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone National Park now has to decide whether–and how–to extract the doomed drone from the hot spring, which is more than 121 feet deep.

“What we have to determine is whether the presence of this radio-controlled recreational aircraft poses a threat to that unique resource,” park spokesperson Al Nash told Reuters.



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