September 16, 2014
Google is planning to test Internet delivery by drone high above New Mexico, according to a government filing, reports PCWorld.
On Friday, the company asked the FCC for permission to use two blocks of frequencies for the tests, which are scheduled to last about six months and begin in October. They will be conducted above an area of more than 1,400 square kilometers in the center of New Mexico to the east of Albuquerque.
“Google recently acquired Titan Aerospace, a firm that specializes in developing solar and electric unmanned aerial systems for high altitude, long endurance flights,” Google said in its application. “These systems may eventually be used to provide Internet connections in remote areas or help monitor environmental damage, such as oil spills or deforestation.
September 10, 2014
The online retail giant's dedicated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) section includes both recreational and photography-base drones, ranging in price from $99 to over $1,000.
The Drone Store also offers a number of accessories for UAV enthusiasts, such as cases, batteries and propellers. A "Buying Guide" page and "Fly Responsibly" section links to advice for drone users, flying tips and safety codes provided by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
While there is not a vast array of drones on offer yet, the new store does show that Amazon believes drones can go beyond its own lofty goals of UAV product delivery.
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September 4, 2014
A new controversy over drones is brewing in the US, but not in the way you might think: angry academics want their permission to fly them restored. Times Higher Education reports.
On 22 August, a coalition of nearly 200 research universities filed a lawsuit challenging new federal rules complicating and even banning the use of unmanned aerial vehicles within the US for work such as archaeological surveys and river mapping – even though hobbyists are still allowed to fly their own unmanned model aircraft.
“The restrictions being placed on education and research are out of all proportion to the actual danger posed,” said Paul Voss, an associate professor of engineering at Smith College, who coordinated a protest letter that was also signed by 28 peers at Harvard, Duke and Stanford universities and the universities of Michigan and Wisconsin, among others. The lawsuit was subsequently brought by the Council on Governmental Relations, an association representing 188 research-intensive universities.
The regulations are an attempt by the US Federal Aviation Administration, on orders from Congress, to address concerns about safety, security and privacy in the wake of drones’ proliferation.
But academics say the rules will increase the area over which the FAA has control. Federal laws had previously given it authority to regulate airspace 500ft (152m) above ground level and higher. Now, the researchers contend, in a “breathtaking jurisdictional expansion”, the FAA has extended its reach to ground level, “including our campuses, private backyards, and possibly even inside buildings”.
September 3, 2014
With sensors covering his head, University of Texas at San Antonio graduate student Mauricio Merino concentrates hard as a camo-colored drone hovers with a soft hum in the middle of a campus research lab. [via MYSA]
For now, fellow graduate student Prasanna Kolar stands nearby to operate the unmanned aerial vehicle, also called a UAV or drone, through a cell phone app — gently commanding it left and right.
But the goal is to create a process for a human to control the movements of groups of drones with only a thought, said Daniel Pack, chairman of UTSA's electrical and computer engineering department.
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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.
Read full article.
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.
Read full article.
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 São 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.
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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.