September 2, 2014
The tech industry’s enthusiasm for building small delivery drones may be getting ahead of figuring out what to do with them. The New York Times reports.
Researchers at NASA are working on ways to manage that menagerie of low-flying aircraft. At NASA’s Moffett Field, about four miles from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., the agency has been developing a drone traffic management program that would in effect be a separate air traffic control system for things that fly low to the ground — around 400 to 500 feet for most drones.
Much like the air traffic control system for conventional aircraft, the program would monitor the skies for weather and traffic. Wind is a particular hazard, because drones weigh so little compared with regular planes.
The system would also make sure the drones do not run into buildings, news helicopters or other lower-flying objects — a more challenging task than for an airplane flying at 30,000 feet. There would also be no-fly zones, such as anywhere near a major airport.
“One at a time you can make them work and keep them safe,” said Parimal H. Kopardekar, a NASA principal investigator who is developing and managing that program. “But when you have a number of them in operation in the same airspace, there is no infrastructure to support it.
Unlike the typical image of an air traffic control center — a dark room full of people wearing headphones and staring at radar screens — NASA’s system, like the drones themselves, would dispense with the people and use computers and algorithms to figure out where they can and cannot fly.
The commercial viability of delivery drones would depend heavily on two things: how many people live in the area and how much people are willing to pay for the service.
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September 1, 2014
Yellowstone is now criminally charging drone and other model aircraft operators who fly their devices in the park. Individuals who are criminally charged face six months in jail and fines of up to $5,000. Forbes reports.
Their case in federal court will be tried before a U.S. Magistrate Judge and they will face an Assistant United States attorney who will be armed with the full power of the U.S. government. Those who are convicted of flying drones, toys and other model aircraft in parks will spend their time in a federal prison, further burdening an over crowded prison system. Is this a good use of taxpayer resources?
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August 31, 2014
A quadcopter's close aerial footage — posted on YouTube by Evan Kilkus — of the destruction caused by this week's 6.0 California earthquake in wine country shows the potential of drones in disaster areas. [via C/Net]
August 29, 2014
Amazon isn't the only tech giant experimenting with drones. Google has unveiled Project Wing, which is focusing its efforts on disaster relief, at least for now. [via Cnet]
Google is working on a delivery system called Project Wing that will use what it's calling "self-flying" drones to bring goods to people.
Google has been testing the vehicles in Queensland, Australia, and has already made deliveries to locals -- including shipments of candy bars, dog treats, cattle vaccines, water, and radios. Similar to the company's self-driving car project, the drones will be able to fly a preprogrammed route at the push of a button. The company said that it will be a few more years before the system is ready for commercial use.
Google isn't the only tech giant experimenting with drones. Facebook has been working with drones through an effort called Connectivity Lab, announced in March. In December, Amazon announced it is developing a drone system that will bring products to customers. But while Amazon's efforts seem to be more focused on consumers, Google's early development of the system has been around disaster relief. For example, one early mission for the project in 2012 was delivering defibrillators to heart attack victims.
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August 26, 2014
The country of Bhutan, in South Asia, has roughly one doctor for every 3,300 people. As if that weren't problematic enough, the nation lies in the Himalayas and access to many rural areas is difficult. That’s why the World Health Organization, along with California company Matternet and the government of Bhutan, have joined forces to explore the benefits of using drones to deliver medical packages to these remote locations. Health IT Outcomesreports.
Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet said when introducing the drones, “The beauty of this technology is its autonomy. There’s no pilot needed to fly this vehicle. They fly using GPS waypoints from one landing station to the next. Once they arrive at a landing station, they swap battery and load automatically. This is the heart of our system … we believe that Matternet can do for the transportation of matter what the Internet did for the flow of information.”
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August 22, 2014
According to a recent report from the White House Administration, one in four bridges in the United States is in dire need of significant repair or cannot handle automobile traffic. AtMel Corp reports.
Typically, when bridges are inspected for defects, such as cracks, engineers must use hanging scaffold systems or view them from elevated platforms. It’s a slow, dangerous, expensive process and even the most experienced engineers can overlook cracks in the structure or other critical deficiencies. However, Tuft University engineers are employing wireless sensors and drones that may soon be able to examine the condition of bridges in a quicker, more efficient manner.
Led by assistant professors Babak Moaveni and Usman Khan, the Tufts University team is developing a detection system using smart sensors that are permanently attached to bridge beams and joins.
Each sensor can continuously record vibrations and process the recorded signals; furthermore, any changes in the vibration response can signify damage, Moaveni explained. A wireless system would then use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to hover near the sensors and collect data while taking visual images of bridge conditions.
These quadcopters would transmit data to a central collection point for analysis. According to Tufts, Khan was recently awarded $400,000 award from the National Science Foundation to explore this technology, which requires addressing significant navigational and communications challenges before it could be a reliable inspection tool.
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Disney applied for three UAV-related patents, indicating that drones could hold marionette or projection screens for nighttime entertainment. [via MarketWatch]
The inventors recognized that presently there are no mechanisms for creating very large aerial displays such as a display that is reusable/repeatable, dynamic, and interactive,” the patent states.
To address that need, Disney’s R&D department is working to create a multi-drone aerial display system and a ground control station that could choreographic repeatable movements.
August 21, 2014
In Greece, a small quad copter drone sailed over a prison’s high barbed wire fence on Aug. 15 to make a delivery to prisoners inside. The drone was only carrying consumer electronic devices, but it easily could have transported something far more volatile. Quartz reports.
Last week’s incident happened in Larissa, a small city 220 miles north of Athens, where the small unmanned aerial vehicle flew over the fence and was only spotted by guards when it landed on prison grounds, according to the Greek newspaper Ekathimerini. The guards called in bomb disposal experts to examine the small package attached to the UAV, which was being remotely controlled by a still at-large suspect. Only when they approached the package did they realize it was non-lethal, containing five mobile phones, six SIM cards and two sets of earphones.
Similar criminal incidents involving drones have occurred elsewhere. In the US state of South Carolina, officials recovered a crashed drone outside a maximum security prison. The drone was carrying marijuana, tobacco and mobile phones, said officials at the time. In Brazil (Portuguese), a UAV was used to drop about 250g of cocaine onto a local prison near Săo Paulo, and another was used in an attempt to deliver cell phones. There have also been reports of drones used to scout and rob marijuana-growing operations in the UK, and in 2011 a model hobbyist was arrested in Massachusetts, accused of planning a drone attack on the Pentagon and the Capitol.
Read full article.
A new twist on skeet shooting – using drones for target practice – has authorities turning up at some firing ranges to stop the practice. The Feds say the gatherings are illegal. NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports (video).
August 20, 2014
Flying drones are helping journalists in Kenya report on disaster stories by enabling them to film in dangerous or hard-to-access areas. [via All Africa]
The pilot African SkyCAM project funded by the Africa News Innovation Challenge is using these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Kenya, and a follow-up initiative, africanDRONE, is planned to agree safe community standards for 'drone journalism' across Africa.
Filming from a high vantage point helps bring a sense of scale to stories that might otherwise be unavailable to journalists in developing countries, says Dickens Olewe, African SkyCAM's founder.
"Many African media cannot afford to buy or hire helicopters to cover fast-moving stories," says Olewe, also a journalist at Kenyan newspaper The Star. "UAVs aid storytelling from a new perspective."
African SkyCAM sprang from Olewe's observations of how traditional news media covered disasters such as flooding. Journalists would row boats into flooded areas, he says, "risking life and equipment".
The low cost of drones and digital cameras now potentially allows journalists to cover such events with little risk to themselves or their equipment.
Chinese security forces are now using surveillance drones against civilians in an apparent escalation of their crackdown on ethnic and religious minorities, reports The Washington Free Beacon.
The Global Times, a Chinese newspaper affiliated with the state-owned People’s Daily, reported on Monday that forces had sent operators of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to the northwestern region of Xinjiang after a “fatal terrorist attack” occurred on July 28.
The UAVs surveilled towns “day and night” for “suspected terrorists,” helping the police eventually arrest 215 people, according to the newspaper.
The use of aerial drones equipped with cameras to catch celebrities at home and in other private places is "a huge concern, especially for public figures who want to have some privacy in their backyards," sais Patrick J. Alach, legal counsel for the Paparazzi Reform Initiative, a group representing celebrities and others that has persuaded lawmakers to tighten laws governing photography of those he represents. The Los Angeles Times reports.
A proposal pending in the Legislature would prohibit the use of aerial drones to collect video, photos and audio from celebrities and others in a way that violates their privacy rights.
The concentration of entertainment-industry figures and paparazzi in California has led to other restrictions on photographers. One enacted last year made it illegal to photograph a celebrity's son or daughter without consent if it causes substantial emotional distress.
Related article dated 2010 from The Telegraph: Paparazzi to deploy unmanned drones'.
India, not US, will be the launch-pad for Amazon's plan to deliver packages using drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, according to two people aware of the development.
The US-based e-tailer will debut its drone delivery service with trials in Mumbai and Bangalore, cities where it has warehouses, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
[via The Economic Times India]
August 19, 2014
The instant ramen dinner company created an advertisement to show how their product can fit into an active lifestyle, with a little help. [via PSFK]
August 18, 2014
Drones help teams assess damage, search for survivors and clear roads following earthquake in Ludian, Yunnan, China. [via sUAS News]
Relief workers are using aerial imaging to address two of the greatest challenges in the Ludian earthquake zone – identifying areas amidst the rubble areas to focus the search for survivors, and clearing roads for supplies to get to the disaster area.
Following the magnitude-6.5 earthquake in Ludian on August 3, 2014 which caused more than 600 deaths and forced 200,000 individuals to relocate, the China Association for Disaster & Emergency Rescue Medicine (CADERM) has incorporated small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) into their relief work for the first time.
The team is using the DJI S900 and DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ flying platforms to provide workers with an overhead view, assisting post-disaster assessment and enabling them to focus their work in the most efficient way.
Amazon recently banded together with several makers of small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to create a coalition to speed federal action. And the e-tailer is also buttressing its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.
... "This is uncharted territory," says Chris Anderson, co-founder of drone maker 3D Robotics. His firm joined Amazon, DJI Innovations and Parrot in founding the coalition. The group aims to represent commercial uses of drones, establish a code of conduct and educate the public about benefits of the technology, he says.
Drones are coming. The FAA has estimated that as many as 7500 small, commercial drones may be in use in the US by 2018, assuming regulations are in place. Globally, drone spending is expected to increase from US$6.4 billion this year to US$11.5b annually a decade from now, as projected by aerospace and defence industry research firm the Teal Group.
Both Amazon and the new coalition have retained Washington DC law firm Akin Gump to assist in lobbying efforts. Already, Amazon is among nearly two dozen other companies that have sought exemptions from the FAA to begin tests with drones that weigh less than 30 kilograms and fly below 120 metres.
Read full article.
August 4, 2014
July 25, 2014
As of late Thursday, more than 150 registrants submitted requests to use drones at the annual week-long counterculture gathering in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. When organizers announced the registration Tuesday, it set limit the number of people allowed to use devices to 200. [via The Examiner]
Though registration was required at 2013’s event, organizers believed limiting the number of flyers to this year to 200 would more than accommodate the number of people intending to fly.
“We don't think we had anything close to that last year. We'll see what we get,” Graham said Wednesday.
But by 11 p.m. Thursday night, 156 attendees had registered for this August’s event.
Despite the numbers, Graham said Friday morning that the organization doesn’t believe it will need to increase the cap.
“We had a rush of applications when we announced registration,” he explained. “It has slowed to a trickle. We think the 200 cap is good and was based on our ability to staff and properly support the effort.
July 19, 2014
Conservationists test unmanned aerial vehicles in Belize and California. National Geographic reports.
An estimated 20 percent of all fish hauled in around the globe are caught illegally, through a combination of fishing in restricted areas, subverting quotas and seasonal limits, and using banned gear. The fish are shipped around the world and sold to existing markets, where most buyers have no idea that the food they are purchasing is stolen goods.
The problem is especially acute in Belize, where hundreds of incidents have been reported over the past few years, according to Julio Maaz, who serves as a fisheries coordinator in Belize with the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society.
Belize has only 70 fisheries enforcement officers to patrol its 240 miles (386 kilometers) of Caribbean coast and more than 200 islands. And with fuel prices rising, the enforcement budget has been shrinking. As a result, fishermen get away with flouting the law, says Maaz—especially crews based in nearby Honduras and Guatemala.
But now a new weapon is being tested in the fight against pirate fishing: drones.
Researchers at MIT and Cornell University have developed autonomous photographic lighting drones that automatically assume correct positions to achieve specific lighting effects. [via AmateurPhotographer]
The system is controlled via a camera-mounted interface, through which the photographer indicates which direction he or she wants the light to come from, and the drone subsequently positions itself.
In the demonstration exercise, the photographer specified a thickness for the light's rim width. The drone then automatically adjusted its position to maintain the same lighting conditions as the portrait subject moved and turned.
Read more. Image left: The drone responds to the subject's movements and turns in order to keep the lighting consistent.