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DJI teams up with Ford to build a rescue drone that launches from a moving car

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The company rolled out its latest developer challenge with a focus on humanitarian missions

This afternoon DJI announced version 3.0 of its software development kit, or SDK. That's probably not very interesting to you, since most people aren't in the business of building apps to interface with drones. But to help spur developers into working with its SDK, DJI also creates an annual challenge with a cash prize. This year the competition has a very cool and noble theme. DJI is partnering with Ford and the United Nations to offer $100,000 to the team which builds the best application for launching a drone from moving vehicle as part of a theoretical search-and-rescue mission.

We've seen drones deployed for these kind of missions for a few years now, but never launched from a car in motion. In a rapidly shifting and dangerous situation, like a flood, fire, or earthquake, rescue workers might need to launch and land their drones while remaining inside their vehicle and on the move. The challenge asks for the drone to both launch and land from the bed of a Ford F-150 pickup truck, and developers can use Ford's SYNC AppLink, or the OpenXC platform to let drone and vehicle communicate with each other. Ford says that although this first challenge has a specific objective, the technology used could have drone-to-vehicle applications in farming, forestry, construction, and a host of other outdoor industries.

DJI is increasingly expanding into more complex industries

DJI has, up until recently, sold drones that targeted professional filmmakers and casual hobbyists. But increasingly it's expanding into more complex industries and services. It announced a drone built for spraying crops and a partnership with FLIR Systems to add thermal imaging to its Zenmuse camera. That kind of technology is specifically aimed at jobs like firefighting and search and rescue.

The competition is open to students and developers from around the world. According to DJI's press release, the 15 teams who are selected for the second round will be "provided with DJI’s flagship SDK aerial platform, the Matrice 100, as well as a Zenmuse X3 camera to mount on the Matrice. Ten teams will advance into the final round, where they will use their app to perform the mock search-and-rescue mission, taking off and landing on a moving Ford F-150 pickup truck and transmitting the data collected."

That flatbed you've seen hauling bricks and lumber in TV commercials to an anthemic rock score just got some very interesting new cargo.

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