A new short film illustrating the prospect of military drones has been commissioned for an event at the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons, which is being hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.
The film presents a fictionalized scenario in which a tech company showcases and deploys its latest combat drone, which is capable of distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys. A montage of mock new reports illustrates what happens next, when the device’s true abilities are revealed and the machines begin killing off politicians and activists.
Stuart Russell, an artificial intelligence (AI) scientist at the University of California in Berkeley, is part of the group that will show the film to attendees. He has stated that the technology depicted in the film already exists, and it would actually be much easier to implement than self-driving vehicles.
Military drones are nothing new, having been used for reconnaissance missions as well as attacks. However, they have largely been operated by human pilots via remote control, whereas we’re now in a position to outfit these machines with automated targeting systems. This advancement would allow them to execute missions autonomously.
This situation is troubling enough in its own right, but there are also concerns about the potential for widespread proliferation. These drones could be manufactured en masse for a relatively small amount of money – and they could be used to enact the unthinkable if they were to fall into the wrong hands.
Ban These Bots
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots hopes to convince international authorities to establish a treaty that bans autonomous weapons. This would outlaw the large-scale manufacture of such machines, and apply oversight to any nation choosing to explore the technology.
“Pursuing the development of lethal autonomous weapons would drastically reduce international, national, local, and personal security,” argued Russell, according to a report from The Guardian. This line of thinking has been compared to the approach that prompted the Biological Weapons Convention.
As the underlying technology that facilitates this kind of weaponry has progressed, experts have realized the need to appeal to lawmakers. And, while calls for legislation have been made for years, there has been a serious increase in activity over the course of 2017.
In August, Elon Musk led a host of prominent A.I. experts in signing an open letter that outlined the dangers of autonomous weapons. In November, scores of experts reached out to the Australian and Canadian heads of state, urging them to take action.
Amazon has been granted a patent for an ambitious new method of maintaining a charge in electric vehicles (EVs). The company wants to use drones to allow drivers to top up their vehicles without having to visit a charging station.
Drivers would request a top up from a central server, which would dispatch a charging drone to their location. The drone would then dock with the vehicle and start transferring power, without the car ever needing to come to a stop.
This solution isn’t meant to administer a full charge to the car’s battery, it would only supply enough power to get the driver to a charging station, which are still in somewhat limited supply. While charging technologies for EVs are developing quickly in leaps and bounds, it would currently be very challenging to outfit a drone with such advanced capabilities.
Better charging methods are a major priority when it comes to making EVs the norm. There are various ongoing projects looking to perfect wireless charging, including panels on road surfaces that would supply power, which have great potential — but, if nothing else, Amazon’s drones could be a great tool while these technologies continue to advance.
BAE Systems has teamed up with students from Cranfield University to develop a new kind of drone that can quickly transition between flight modes mid-mission without affecting its overall top speed and range.
The conceptual aircraft, currently being referred to as an Adaptable UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), would operate with both its motor and propeller units facing forward when in fixed-wing mode and traveling at high speeds.
However, when it needed to land or take off, one of its propellers would rotate backward to transition the craft into rotary-wing mode. This mode would allow the drone to spin around and rise or descend vertically.
The hole in the center of the craft is designed specifically for take-off and landing purposes. In both instances, the drone would utilize a stationary pole installed on a vehicle or building. This pole would be gyroscopically stabilized to keep it from moving around while on a moving truck or ship, and multiple drones could stack themselves on a single pole for easy storage.
According to a news release, BAE Systems sees numerous benefits to their Adaptable UAVs: “This novel technology could allow UAVs to better adapt to evolving future battlefield situations and through working together in a swarm, tackle sophisticated air defenses, as well as operating in complex and cluttered urban environments.”
As for a timeframe for adoption, the company believes military forces could be using their UAVs “within the next few decades,” though they’ve yet to set a specific date for the official debut of their aircraft.
These futuristic flying drones aren’t the only crafts BAE Systems is working on, according to company Futurist and Technologist Nick Colosimo. “The Adaptable UAVs concept and related technologies are one of a number of concepts being explored through close collaboration between industry and students in academia,” he notes in the news release.
The unnamed photographer flying the drone even went over to armed guards afterwards and explained what happened. They took down his information, but no one contacted him after.
The photographer claims that the landing was unintentional — he was forced to touch down on the ship due to a high wind alert — but the ease with which he was able to land on the warship raises very important concerns. “I could have carried two kilos of Semtex [plastic explosives] and left it on the deck,” the pilot told BBC Scotland.
In fact, terrorist groups like ISIS have been known to weaponize drones. “I would say my mistake should open their eyes to a glaring gap in security. This was a bit of tomfoolery, but it could have been something terrible, not just for the ship and its crew but for the people of Invergordon,” the photographer added.
The Ministry of Defense has since reacted, telling the BBC that they are investigating the matter and will be stepping up their security protocols in response. In fairness, the ship is not active or armed, which may have contributed to the lack of concern over the drone.
Drones are a powerful technology, and we do not fully understand their potential. The U.S. already has policies in place that allow drones to be shot down if they get too close to military facilities, but lawmakers across the globe must be proactive in the creation of legislation that addresses any potentially nefarious use of these devices.
Facebook’s solar-powered Aquila drone completed its second successful flight Thursday near Yuma, Arizona. It stayed aloft for 1 hour and 46 minutes, cruising over the desert and gathering data the team will use to optimize its efficiency moving forward. After the flight was over, the drone landed smoothly without incident, Mark Zuckerberg reported in a Facebook post.
This was the latest step in the Aquila project which will eventually see an entire fleet of the drones staying in flight for months at a time. The unmanned drones will need to be completely optimized to make this kind of longer term performance possible, so these test flights are critically important. Zuckerberg said that Facebook intends to use the drone to increase the world’s access to the internet.
“When Aquila is ready, it will be a fleet of solar-powered planes that will beam internet connectivity across the world,” Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook. “Today, more than half the world’s population — 4 billion people — still can’t access the internet. One day, Aquila will help change that.”
Aquila’s wingspan is wider than a Boeing 737, but it weighs less than 455 kg (1,000 pounds). To stay aloft, Aquila’s solar panels collect power during the day and stores enough in a battery for the dark hours. It uses about 5,000 W of power at its cruising altitude, which will be about 18,300 meters (60,000 feet). Aquila cruises at a deliberately slow speed of about 129 km/h (80 m/h) to maximize efficiency.
Right now the Aquila team is working to make the craft lighter and trim down its power consumption. They also aim to more accurately assess how much power it will take to operate during the different altitudes and temperatures of take off, flight, and landing, and how those power demands will affect battery size, latitude range, solar panel performance, and seasonal performance. Additional test flights will also allow the team to assess actual in-flight dynamics and see how the massive drone batteries stress the large, flexible wings.
The Aquila fleet is just one way Facebook is working to connect people with technology. Zuckerberg has also revealed that the company is working on a brain-computer interface that will let us communicate using just our minds.
One such drone is being developed by Flypulse, a Swedish startup working on an autonomous drone that can bring life-saving equipment to the scene of a medical emergency. Its has the ability to deliver Automated External Defibrillators (AED) at an incredible speed — four times faster than an ambulance.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), each year more than 350,000 people suffer from cardiac arrest outside of a hospital in the United States. Only 12 percent of victims survive through hospital discharge. To help battle this, the AHA recommends that the public has access to defibrillation. However, the AEDs are not cheap, so there could be a cost barrier to acquiring one.
Devices like Flypulse’s LifeDrone-AED allow for first responders to get the technology to the victims long before they may be able to arrive themselves. Jacob Hollenberg, of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, set up the test for the drone. Hollenberg and his team reported in the journal of the American Medical Association that the drone’s average flight time was 5 minutes, 25 seconds, compared to the 22 minutes it took to dispatch an ambulance to the same locations.
Hollenberg said in an interview with the New Scientist, “If we can decrease the time in cardiac arrest from collapse to defibrillation by a few minutes, hundreds of lives would be saved each year.”
The LifeDrone-AED is not the only potentially life-saving drone from Flypulse. The company is also developing the LifeDrone-WATER to aid in the location and assistance of drowning victims, as well as the LifeDrone-FIRE that will provide “fire and incident overview.” Such technology could make a significant difference in communities around the world. These drones are just one example of the many ways drone technology is not only enriching our lives, but also preserving them.
Lawmakers in Connecticut are currently exploring the possibility of equipping drones with deadly weapons for use by police. The bill currently up for debate would essentially ban the use of these weaponized drones by anyone but the police force.
“Obviously, this is for very limited circumstances,” Republican State Sen. John Kissel, of Enfield, told CBS New York. He is the co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee that approved the measure Wednesday in a vote of 34-7 and sent it to the House of Representatives, where it will now be debated. “We can certainly envision some incident on some campus or someplace where someone is a rogue shooter or someone was kidnapped and you try to blow out a tire,” he added.
If the measure passes, the state’s Police Officer Standards and Training Council would be responsible for determining how exactly the police would be able to use the drones. Law enforcement would be required to receive sufficient training before they could use the weaponized machines, and police would need to meet several other requirements for their use, such as obtaining a warrant before deployment (save for emergency or other specific circumstances), delivering annual reports on how often the drones were used and for what purposes, and establishing laws and penalties regarding the criminal use of such drones.
If the bill passes, Connecticut would be the first state in the U.S. to allow police to use drones equipped with deadly weapons.
Apprehensions regarding how weaponized technology is vulnerable to abuse have already been raised, and the proposal has been met with concern by various civil rights and civil liberties groups. Many of their questions are centered on whether the state is setting a dangerous precedent in the matter of lethal force using drone technology.
“There’s a level of separation that makes it almost video game like where they’re detached from the actual situation,” David McGuire, executive director of the state ACLU, told CBS. “It is really concerning and outrageous that that’s being considered in our state legislature. Lethal force raises this to a level of real heightened concern.”
While the bill may have passed the Judiciary Committee, it should be noted that several members said they simply wanted to get a debate started regarding the issue. Some say they actually share concerns regarding weaponizing drones.
To date, only North Dakota allows the use of weaponized drones for its police force, but those drones are equipped with non-lethal weapons such as stun guns and tear gas. Five other states — Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Wisconsin — explicitly prohibit anyone from using weaponized drones, while Maine and Virginia ban the police from using armed drones.
“I think that police are taught one thing. You put a weapon in their hand, they shoot center mass, they shoot to kill. If it’s going to be used, you’re going to use it to kill somebody,” said Democratic Bridgeport Sen. Edwin Gomes. Only time will tell if the state’s House of Representatives agrees with that sentiment.
In April 2016, Facebook announced the launch of Building 8, a research lab to develop hardware projects in the style of DARPA. The internet behemoth even enlisted former DARPA executive Regina Dugan to head up the division. Dugan, who was part of Google’s advanced projects division before taking on Building 8, has been leading an “all-star roster of tech veterans” since the project started.
Currently, Building 8 has four projects underway, and they touch upon cameras and augmented reality, devices that fly, and even brain-scanning technology. According to Business Insider, the technical lead for each project functions as a mini-CEO for the team, which has two years to produce a proof of concept.
None of these new products have been released yet, but Facebook’s developer conference, FB8, takes place in San Jose, California, on April 18 and 19, and Building 8’s new toys could play a central role at the event, though nothing on the schedule explicitly mentions the division.
A Range of Innovation
With Building 8, Facebook took a risk, stepping into hardware development despite a lack of experience in that realm, and they’re now competing against giants like Google and Apple. The new division is even structured very similarly to Google’s ATAP and X moonshot lab, and teams are conducting research in some of the same areas.
Introducing both virtual and augmented reality into the Facebook world has also been an interest of Zuckerberg’s, and another current Building 8 project involves cameras and augmented reality.
A third project with medical applications is being led by a Stanford interventional cardiologist with expertise in the development of early stage medical devices. These academic collaborations are also a part of the Facebook long game, which culminated with the launch of SARA, the “Sponsored Academic Research Agreement,” in December 2016.
Building 8 is also taking to the air with the help of Frank Dellaert, a computer vision and robotics expert leading what appears to be a consumer drone project. Dellaert was previously the chief scientist at Skydio, a drone startup, and that company’s former head of hardware, Stephen McClure, has also signed on to Building 8. They are joined by several former GoPro employees. Dugan wrote of Dellaert, “He’s going to help us make things fly … when he’s not guarding the door.”
Building 8 is reportedly planning to jumpstart a fifth project, as yet unspecified and leaderless.
Based on the highly qualified hires for Building 8, Facebook appears to view the division as a long-term investment and is quite serious about manufacturing and selling its own devices — whatever they turn out to be.
Each week, Abundance Insider gives you a look at the most notable scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs that are transforming our world. Want to learn more? Simply click the links provided for the full rundown. Send any tips to our team by clicking here, and be sure to subscribe to Abundance Insider.
What it is: In Tampa, Florida, UPS recently tested flinging a drone from the back of a delivery truck to save human drivers the trouble of parking their trucks and physically delivering packages to each recipient’s doorstep. Driver Sid Perrin placed the package in the drone, used a touchscreen command to deploy the drone, and watched from the truck as the drone made its delivery, reentered the UPS truck, and plugged itself into its charger. UPS is currently working with the FAA to make package-delivering drones a reality in the near future.
Why it’s important: We’ve been tracking package-delivering drones closely in Abundance Insider. With major logistics companies like UPS initiating experiments alongside disruptive startups, it’s only a matter of time before robotic couriers are commonplace.
Spotted by Cody Rapp / Written by Sydney Fulkerson
What it is: AT&T has teamed up with GE to launch its Smart Cities Program, and it’s starting in San Diego, California. GE will install over 14,000 LEDs to reduce energy costs and 3,200 “CityIQ” sensor nodes with cameras, microphones and other sensors, with AT&T providing connectivity. As part of its M2X Internet of Things platform, AT&T’s vision is to provide a range of data and analytics on top of the sensors, from traffic monitoring and parking optimization to gunshot detection, air quality monitoring and weather.
Why it’s important: The cost and size of sensors have dropped significantly, while data resolution and performance have increased exponentially. Look for more Smart City projects to launch as network carriers begin to feel pressure from ubiquitous wifi and broadband demand, and cities explore additional revenue streams from licensing the data.
Spotted by Clyde Dennis / Written by Jason Goodwin
What it is: A team led by Stephanie Malek at the University of Pennsylvania has designed a metamaterial that can create a holographic image. Metamaterials interact with electromagnetic waves in unique ways, distorting light and leading to applications such as materials with negative refraction, super-resolution, and even invisibility cloaks. Building on that foundation, the team created an array of gold nanorods embedded in a flexible film. Not only was the team able to create a hologram, but by stretching the material, they were also able to alter the size and number of images.
Why it’s important: We now have VR and AR headsets, coupled with advances from multiple directions in holographic images. As advances in materials science continue, and next-generation materials find applications in optics and display generators, we enable a mixed reality universe.
Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin
What it is: In France, Grigory Antipov from Orange Labs and two friends have created two complementary deep learning machines to alter the perceived ages of photographed faces and ensure those synthetically aged faces still look sufficiently recognizable. Using a training set of 5,000 images from IMDB and Wikipedia, and later tested on another 10,000, the Age Conditional Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) achieved about 80% accuracy. Several deep learning algorithms already exist to artificially age (or reverse the age) of photographed faces, but a key challenge has been retaining the original identity as the algorithm makes changes. The second adversarial algorithm addresses this by analyzing all computer-modified images and rejecting those that don’t resemble the original photographed face.
Why it’s important: More evidence of the computing power available to researchers and DIY innovators. When mixed with other technologies like virtual reality, this algorithm could even be used to inspire empathy. (Case in point: In November, we featured research by Jeremy Bailenson’s Stanford VR lab in which participants allocated twice as much money to their retirement savings when they were greeted by their “future self” in VR versus when they were greeted by a present-day image.)
Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Jason Goodwin and Marissa Brassfield
What it is: SpaceX recently announced that two private citizens have been chosen to fly around the Moon in 2018. After SpaceX completes four upcoming missions to the International Space Station, it will send the duo on an unforgettable trip in a Dragon 2 capsule powered by the still-in-design Falcon Heavy rocket.
Why it’s important: This Moonshot marks tremendous progress in the commercial space industry. If successful, the milestone would generate new opportunities for space entrepreneurs, investors, researchers, and travelers.
What it is: Norwegian company No Isolation has developed a robot named AV1 that can go to school in place of a child who suffers from long-term illnesses that prevent them from attending class. The robot comes with a camera, microphone and built-in speaker, and it can move and rotate enough to capture the entire room on camera. Light-activated eyes illuminate once the child is connected to the robot, and the top of the robot even lights up to signify when the child wants to raise his or her hand — all controlled by the child from an app. The company currently has active units in seven countries in the Nordics and Baltic, thanks to support from partners like The Children’s Cancer Society and Atea.
Why it’s important: The convergence of robotics and technology will revolutionize how we educate the next generation. In Peter’s blog on the future of education, he mentions the importance of nurturing optimism and an abundance mindset in today’s competitive world. Kids suffering from long-term illnesses can often have more pressures than most, as they must also contend with the impact of missing days in the classroom. What happens to a child’s creativity, confidence and motivation when he or she can engage with classmates and experience a typical school day through a friendly-looking robot?
Spotted by Aryadeep S. Acharya / Written by Sydney Fulkerson
What it is: Researchers from Stanford University recently developed a more environmentally friendly alternative to mining raw uranium for nuclear power: extracting oceanic uranium from seawater. The team collected supplies of uranyl, a compound formed once uranium comes in contact with oxygen from the ocean, by using a pair of carbon electrodes coated with the compound amidoxime. Their method pulled three times as much uranyl in 11 hours than when they used an amidoxime-coated brush.
Why it’s important: Nuclear power is controversial; however, as the Stanford researchers note, uranium from seawater would give us thousands of years worth of energy, which makes it a compelling option to enable energy abundance. “We need nuclear power as a bridge toward a post-fossil-fuel future,” said Stanford professor Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and co-author of the Nature Energy article that accompanied the team’s research. “Seawater extraction gives countries that don’t have land-based uranium the security that comes from knowing they’ll have the raw material to meet their energy needs.”
Spotted by Jason Goodwin / Written by Sydney Fulkerson
What it is: The nonprofit Freshwater Trust has created a data analysis tool named BasinScout that can help identify low-cost water restoration solutions. The tool integrates data about vegetation near waterways, including the amount of sunlight, soil type, slope of land, crops nearby, and a number of other factors. BasinScout then creates a map that color-codes areas where trees could have the most impact as a cooling mechanism for cold-blooded fish. The U.S. spends around $38 billion on freshwater health and restoration each year, and Freshwater Trust believes the funds could be spent much more effectively using data. In the future, the nonprofit sees people using this tool to inform real-time decisions.
Why it’s important: As Peter often says, there’s gold in your data. And as researchers collect more environmental data thanks to better sensing capabilities — and increasingly more powerful tools to mine that data, thanks to advancements in processing power and artificial intelligence — we’ll be able to generate faster, better, cheaper, easier and more sustainable solutions to nearly any problem.
Spotted by Aryadeep S. Acharya / Written by Sydney Fulkerson and Marissa Brassfield
“I never thought I’d say that when I joined the Air Force,” Lt. Gen. Roberson said during a roundtable with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. “So we’re really in a much better footing with RPA [remotely piloted aircraft] pilot production in addition to just getting the numbers up.”
The upgraded drones now come equipped with sense and avoid technology. This should help prevent the drones from colliding with other flying machines as well as improve their ability to share airspace with birds. The added tech will also make it easier for the drones to complete accurate deliveries.
Because laws in the Unites States prevent drone operators from flying their crafts outside of their direct sightline, Amazon currently only has the authorization to use this technology in the United Kingdom, and last December, Amazon Prime Air made its first delivery to a lucky customer in Cambridgeshire, England. Amazon is also thinking about using its delivery drones to deliver packages via parachute.
The Sky’s the Limit
Drone technology has only just begun to (pardon the pun) take off, and it’s not just delivery drones that will soon be zipping across our skies. Drones are poised to transform the world we live in, with people rapidly developing the technology for use in construction, agriculture, and numerous other industries.
There is no limit to what drones could be made to do. They could start taking over dangerous aspects of jobs that humans currently perform, and they’re already being used to deliver vaccinations and other important medical supplies to remote areas in Africa, keeping people safe from disease and illness.
Today, we may just be looking forward to faster deliveries of our FireSticks and Kindles, but the real potential of this tech lies in its ability to further enrich and even save countless lives around the world.
According to reports, aircraft manufacturing company Airbus is prepping to reveal a futuristic new car design. While they recently debuted a concept for a flying car, with this new design they take a slightly different approach to travel.
Airbus’ new vehicle will be capable of being airlifted by a drone in cases of heavy traffic. The drone, which measures 5 meters (16 feet) wide according to Automotive News‘ sources, would provide air-lifting services for these specially designed vehicles. Italdesign, a design and engineering company, worked with Airbus on the cars, which are expected to be officially revealed at the Geneva Auto Show that begins on March 9.
Many innovators are currently trying to find solutions to widespread traffic issues, but this design would be a first of its kind. Elon Musk is convinced that drilling tunnels underneath Los Angeles could be the answer to that city’s traffic problems, while others, including Airbus, continue to explore the possibility of flying cars.
While this idea seems strange and even potentially dangerous, it will certainly be interesting to see what Airbus’ design is capable of. Who knows? It could be the next big thing in transportation.
Drones are not just for nerds and nukes anymore. A report from Business Insider (BI) projects that global demand for commercial drones will be growing in the consumer, enterprise, and government sectors alike.
In addition to that, private businesses and state and local governments are more motivated than ever to use this technology in construction, agriculture, and land management — just to name a few industries. Right now, many of the vendors who are taking advantage of UAVs are small to mid-sized private companies and startups. However, BI predicts that larger conglomerates will be investing more in drone technology, increasing revenues from drone sales to $12 billion in 2021 from around $8 billion last year.
Utility and Regulation of UAVs
While drones are being used for such applications as mail delivery in France and power-line cleaning in China, the United States hasn’t figured out exactly how to deal with drones quite yet. The Federal Aviation Administration has recently drafted rules limiting the use of commercial drones to select industries (like the oil and gas sectors) and applications (like aerial surveying in the agriculture).
However, a US government “exemption” program has already authorized a number of companies to fly small drones commercially. Many hope that regulations may be further loosened by the increased prevalence of technologies like geo-fencing and collision avoidance, whichwill make flying UAVs safer.
But many business leaders are forging ahead into the drone industry, regardless of the state of US policy. As the money pouring into UAV technology and application grows, so too expands the ways that drones could make our world safer. Could we see more nations use drones to deliver vaccines to isolated groups? Will UAVs make dangerous jobs, like working oil fields, less hazardous? Investors certainly seem to hope so, and so do we.
Year after year, we witness drones becoming more multifaceted in functionality. From artificial pollination to performing at halftime during the Super Bowl – drones have become just as diverse as the society that created them. This is now truer than ever, as China has recently equipped drones with flamethrowers for the benefit of the public.
A power company in Xiangyang, China has established a hot, new way to clean power lines. Rather than having people try to reach the far corners of the city scraping off caked-on debris that’s been lodged in hard-to-reach-spots, the power company will now have drones perform this task.
While this seems dangerous, the use of drones seems to actually be safer than the previous protocol. Before, maintenance workers would risk their lives to clean power lines, climbing upwards of 10 meters (32 feet) into the air while risking electrocution with each step. While the use of a flamethrower may require more frequent cable replacements, the metal power lines will not be harmed by the flames.
The 11kg drones have officially made their fiery debut, reminding us that while this might mean fewer maintenance jobs, technology, and flamethrowers, can improve safety.
A primary reason for this is that the government is quite particular about how drones are operated. In the U.S., all drone operators are required to stay within eyeshot of their craft, thus greatly limiting their traveling radius.
Now, a radar array start-up may have developed technology that could cause the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to ease those restrictions.
The Aerial Solution That You Can’t See
Echodyne is backed by some big name investors, including Bill Gates, Vulcan Capital, and Madrona Ventures. They believe in the company’s ground-breaking product, the Metamaterial Electronically Scanning Array (MESA). This radar array is small enough that it could be easily attached to any drone, such as those used by Google or Amazon to make deliveries.
What’s particularly notable about MESA is that it’s exponentially more powerful than currently circulated radars, such as those used in Uber and Google’s autonomous cars. The video above illustrates the difference between the data collected by camera and by radar. It is difficult to make out the drone on the camera, but the radar clearly displayed the distance and altitude of the other drone in the vehicle’s line of sight.
Echodyne’s tech is designed to detect Cessna-sized aircrafts from 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) away and small drones from up to 750 meters (~0.5 miles) away. In short, the product is developed to fortify trust in unmanned vehicle operation when they are out of eyesight. From use by the government to delivery companies to commercial consumers, MESA has a wide range of potential applications, and as Echodyne grows, so will the number of drones we see fluttering in the skies.
In the final episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror, the government claims to be using Autonomous Drone Insects to counteract the collapse of the bee population. Spoiler alert: they’re lying.
It’s soon discovered that these bee drones are actually being used for mass public surveillance. Worse, the drones are programmed to kill. The deaths are linked to a website promoting a ‘Game of Consequence’ where Twitter users can vote to kill one hated public figure using the hashtag ‘#DeathTo.’
Now, similar drones are coming to Japan, without all the government secrets and Twitter deaths (we assume). Japan’s insect-sized drones were turned into artificial pollinators with the help of a coating of horse hair and an ionic sticky gel. The drones work like bees and use their hairs to pick up pollen from one flower and deposit it into another.
Researchers from Japan actually discovered this ionic gel accidentally, and then published their work in the journal Chem. Back in 2007, one of the researchers, chemist Eijiro Miyako, was working on possible liquid electrical conductors. One attempt to do so produced a wax-like sticky gel. The gel was shelved after Miyako considered it a failure. It was rediscovered after a decade during a lab cleanup and, to Miyako’s surprise, the gel remained unchanged.
“This project is the result of serendipity,” Miyako said. “We were surprised that after 8 years, the ionic gel didn’t degrade and was still so viscous. Conventional gels are mainly made of water and can’t be used for a long time, so we decided to use this material for research.”
Miyako tested the pollen-grasping abilities of the gel by coating ants with it, which he then left to roam free in a box of tulips. Researchers observed that ants coated with the gel were able to collect more pollen than those that weren’t. In addition, a separate test applying the gel to houseflies revealed that it changes color when exposed to different sources of light — potentially giving it a camouflage effect that can help artificial pollinators avoid predators.
Drones Helping Nature
With the gel tested and proven to be sticky enough, the next thing to do was to look for the artificial pollinator. Miyako found a $100-four propeller drone and gave it a fuzzy, bee-like exterior. It was the team’s AIST colleagues Masayoshi Tange and Yue Yu who decided to use horse hair on the drone’s surface. These bristles gave more surface area for pollen to attach to, and at the same time, provided electric charge that kept the pollens in place.
The drones were tested on Japanese lilies, with the team flying them by remote control. The drones would pick up pollen from one flower, and then flew to another flower to deposit the pollen.
“The findings, which will have applications for agriculture and robotics, among others, could lead to the development of artificial pollinators and help counter the problems caused by declining honeybee populations,” Miyako said. “We believe that robotic pollinators could be trained to learn pollination paths using global positioning systems and artificial intelligence.”
As bees enter the endangered species list in the United States, these natural pollinators will need all the help they can get. Artificial pollinators can lessen the burden of modern agricultural demand, giving the bees breathing space to recover their numbers. Hopefully, these drones won’t turn out to the way their Black Mirror counterparts did, but we can worry about that later. For now, getting these drones out there to see just how much they could help will keep the world pollinated.
If you haven’t noticed, the Super Bowl LI is trending on social media – the Patriots won in overtime and Lady Gaga impressed during halftime. But the pop superstar wasn’t the only one that lit up the night – Intel literally did so with 300 drones that moved behind Lady Gaga as she sang on the stadium’s roof.
“The Intel Shooting Star drone is the company’s first drone created for entertainment light shows,” says Anil Nanduri, VP for Intel’s New Technology Group. “We’ve also worked with the FAA to receive a Part 107 Waiver to fly these drones as a fleet with one pilot at night in the U.S.”
These Shooting Star drones are actually quite simple. They use a desktop software suite of programs, allowing them to follow a pre-programmed route. The software also keeps the drones form colliding with one another, as they don’t have hardware to detect collisions, nor do they communicate directly with each other.
More Than Entertainment
Each of Intel’s drones can be assembled in less than 15 minutes. There are no screws and everything snaps together. They have a large, multicolored LED light on the bottom, are encased in a styrofoam housing, and weigh about the same as a volleyball. Currently, Intel uses these drones to conduct fantastic, well-coordinated light shows in the night sky. Intel says these are near-limitless in its scale – they re able to control more than 10,000 drones at a time.
In the future, Intel hopes that this fleet drone technology will find other applications beyond that of entertainment. As Josh Walden, senior VP and GM at the New Technology Group said: “The potential for these light show drones is endless, and we hope this experience inspires other creatives, artists and innovators to really think about how they can incorporate drone technology in new ways that have yet to even be thought of.”
These drones, combined with Intel’s other proprietary technologies, could even be used in search and rescue operations, or for industrial inspection. “Intel’s leaders are positioning the company to provide the compute, sensor, communications, and cloud integration for the growing drone ecosystem,” the company notes.
The once-small community of drone hobbyists has transformed into a worldwide phenomenon. In 2016 especially, significant technology improvements and regulatory clarity have paved the way for even more dramatic changes in the coming years.
Among the biggest adopters of drones, and experimenters with them, have been universities. As the director of the University of California system’s Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety – effectively the drone headquarters of our whole 10-campus system – I have an excellent view of the drone industry’s past, present and future.
The truly surprising details are about how wide and diverse a range of purposes drones are serving on our campuses – and what’s coming next. As we begin exploring what drones can do, and identifying what social and commercial uses they might serve, the work provides a glimpse into the future of drone flight across the country, and throughout our economy.
Drones have only recently reached the commercial mainstream. However, university engineering departments have been designing and building them for decades. For years, engineering students, for instance, have studied the advanced control algorithms that keep drones flying level and straight. Their work has helped bring us to the point where drones are even available for sale in toy stores.
It is no surprise that our engineers are still working on drones and related technology such as sensors, automation and innovative platforms. Some introductory engineering classes involve students building and flying drones; more advanced students learn about flight dynamics and algorithms that help drones stay aloft.
In recent years, though, our engineering departments are focusing less on building the aircraft and more on improving safety, navigation and ability to carry equipment that allows drones to help with different tasks.
For example, researchers are developing navigation systems that don’t rely on GPS satellites. This could help allow drones to navigate autonomously inside buildings, in deep canyons, underground or other places where GPS signals are unavailable or unreliable. Whether delivering packages to remote locations or handling emergency tasks in hazardous conditions, this type of capability could significantly expand drones’ usefulness.
Another research group is working on ways for drones to help detect gas leaks from oil pipelines. With millions of miles of pipelines across the country, that is a monumental task. Attaching methane-sniffing sensors to drones could make it much easier: Autonomous drones could fly the routes of every pipeline nearly constantly, registering the location and volume of leaks, and alerting repair and cleanup crews.
Growth in Agriculture and Environmental Work
Our largest use of drones has been out in the fields. Two-thirds of the UC system’s drone flights, which encompass thousands of flights and hundreds of flight hours, have been for agricultural and environmental research. This suggests that those areas could provide breakout opportunities for drone uses.
Some scholars have found many ways drones can replace existing manned aircraft, like with a pesticide-spraying helicopter that could reduce time and costs and provide safer operations. But the biggest factor has been how easy drones make it to collect data that were extremely difficult, or even impossible, to collect before.
For example, drones with special thermal cameras are allowing researchers to investigate water consumption rates of several varieties of crops in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The drones’ data collection is so detailed that the scholars can count individual melons, allowing much better estimates of crop yield. When farmers know much more precisely how big the harvest will be, they can better estimate how much money they’ll make – and can make better budget decisions with the information.
Drones are also proving themselves useful in high-resolution aerial coastal survey mapping. In the past, researchers walked along the coast and took pictures to survey areas. This was difficult to do without disturbing wildlife. In addition, surveyors would take pictures from small planes to model and predict coastal erosion and flooding. With drones, they’re able to collect data more frequently with greater detail, and do a better job mapping and analyzing environmental data. That helps improve our understanding of coastal ecology, and prepares local residents and communities for possible disasters because the drones are able to get closer to certain environments which scientists will be able extract more information from.
For instance, when monitoring giant sequoias, a team of five to seven people would have to map the area, which would take about a week. A drone flight has been able to replace that work with a two-minute flight. That makes it easier to track how the trees are growing and responding to changes in their environment.
Campus film and media departments regularly use drones to make sweeping images of our scenic campus locations for promotional videos and reports. Beyond that, though, university facilities workers have been using drones to monitor construction sites, inspect building areas that are hard to get to (like roofs) and keep an eye on the university’s sizable landholdings. All of these uses can significantly improve worker safety, productivity and cost savings.
Students are also using drones recreationally, which has raised safety and privacy concerns on our campuses, just as it has off-campus. With plenty of green spaces, many students want to fly their drones and other model aircraft on campus, even near dorms or other housing. We’ve addressed this need with respectful solutions like helping students form clubs and organizing flying events, either on campus fields reserved for the day, or at off-campus parks. We are also seeing what may be the beginnings of a collegiate Drone Racing League.
This sort of just-for-fun experimentation can make it challenging to regulate drone flights based on what the drone is doing. But universities are often test locations for new technologies. Our work – both formal and recreational – encourages creativity and can foster an entrepreneurial spirit. We can expect that at least some of these early uses for drones will eventually spill into the commercial and consumer markets.
That’s the name of Episode 6 from Season 3 of Britain’s popular science fiction TV show, Black Mirror. The show illuminates a whole bunch of pent-up anxieties that we face with our technological future. No matter who you are, the show is pretty great at letting you know that literally, any outcome is possible.
Aside from the social media-induced murder that the police are trying to solve, this particular episode introduces tiny drone insects that freely fly around the city. A private tech company created these drone honeybees as a response to the extinction of real honeybees (which, if this actually did happen, we would see the major collapse of food chains and a reduction in more than half the amount of fruits and vegetables we see in the supermarket). In the series, they fill the ecological gap by acting as pollinators, but they also have another task – to murder people.
The company purposely left a security hole open so that the UK government could hack and reroute the bees to attack specific people. Surely the only thing worse than being stung by a bee is being brutally murdered by one.
Now For the Real Deal
Now that we’ve properly instilled that terror into you, a Biomedical solutions company called Draper announced that they will be creating a living dragonfly drone as part of their DragonflEye project. The drone dragonfly will be equipped with a small backpack, which is powered by a mini solar panel and contains a guidance and navigation system that allows it to fly on its own. Instead of hijacking all muscle control, the system will send messages to the insect’s “steering” neurons found in its nerve cord. Utilizing genes naturally found in the dragonfly’s eyes, the “optrodes” within the backpack send these messages as flashes of light in order to guide it.
Jesse J. Wheeler, the program’s lead researcher, stated that they developed a first-generation prototype, but haven’t actually tested it yet. Regarding the plans for the project, he mentioned that “in the first year of the project, we focused on developing core enabling technologies like the backpack, optrode, and synthetic biology toolkit for the dragonfly. As we begin our second year, we are preparing to equip dragonflies with our first-generation backpacks in a motion capture room that can monitor their precise flight movements as data is captured from navigation system.”
If we ever do see these drone dragonflies out in the world, they would primarily be used as pollinators and tiny surveillance systems. Since the backpack is an all-in-one device, it could be used on other insects in the future…such as bees. Sound familiar? Thanks, Black Mirror.
Applications for drone technologies have seen a quick rise lately. From Amazon Prime Air delivering packages to consumers to drones capable of delivering life-saving medical devices directly to the scene of an emergency, drones are proving their ubiquity more and more with each development. Airmada, a drone-making startup out of Boston, is looking to continue that trend.
The company’s latest product is sort of an all-in-one drone solution. This robotic ground station safely stores a drone when it’s not in use. Once the drone is activated, the box opens and serves as a launch pad, allowing the drone to take off from inside the box. Once the drone has completed a round or come back from a response, it simply flies back to the box and lands. The drone is folded back up, and the battery can be switched out for charging.
Airmada is positioning this product for use as industrial security. The drones are able to respond more quickly to tripped alarms and keep human security guards out of potentially dangerous situations, or even just to do routine rounds on an industrial campus. Even so, Dan Danay, Armada’s co-founder and CEO, has bigger plans for his tech.
Danay predicts that he will be able to expand his product for use in package delivery. “Commercial drones have a lot of potential in many industries, but as long as you have to have a human operate on the site, you’re very limited,” he tells Technology Review. “One of the main benefits of drones is being able to do things without a lot of human labor.”
Flying cars have long been a facet of a science fiction vision of the future. From George Jetson making his morning rounds, to Leeloo crash landing on Korben Dallas’s cab, the future of transport has always been among the clouds. Back here in reality, driverless vehicles seem to be taking over as the next step in the evolution of personal transportation. Even so, some just aren’t ready to give up on the dream of taking flight in the family vehicle.
Urban Aeronautics is a company out of Israel that is currently working on a passenger drone able to carry 500kg (1,102 lbs) at speeds up to 185 km/h (115 mph). The vehicle is called the Cormorant, formally the “Air Mule,” and is generally being looked at as a military vehicle. It uses internal rotors, as opposed to helicopter-like blades, making it easier to maneuver in an urban setting.
Moving on Up
This “flying car” still has some work to do before it is ready to join the ranks. The prototype does not yet comply with all Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards. Also, during a test flight back in November, there were inconsistencies in the data provided by onboard sensors.
“It could revolutionize several aspects of warfare, including medical evacuation of soldiers on the battlefield,” says Tal Inbar, head of the UAV research center at Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies.
Flying cars are also being explored by other companies. Lilium Aviation has developed a prototype for a vehicle that can take off vertically using a set of large electric fans which then tilt to propel the vehicle forward at speeds from 250 to 300 km/h (160 to 190 mph).
Drones are fast becoming a ubiquitous part of our lives. From their early beginnings as top secret military technology, they are now used in a variety of ways—including photography, delivery, and even home and commercial security.
Now, a company wants to take them in an entirely new direction: personal transport. Flyt Aerospace is building drone systems that can transport humans and cargo, by joining multiple drone rotors to each other.
Drone delivery is usually confined to small cargo—in other words, small objects that fit inside a box. But the guys at Flyt want to scale that up, hoping eventually to transport objects as big as a human being. If successful, the technology has the potential to transform the way we travel and even the very structure of our cities; it could relieve traffic congestion and revolutionize the logistics of transport and delivery.
Their most successful project, the Flyt 16, can do just that, by using 16 propellers powered by lithium batteries. The drone weighs ~159 kg (~350 lbs) fully loaded, and can fly about 10 minutes with a person in it (but that’s just 2-3 feet off the ground).
But it’s the goal that really shines here. Flyt wants to perfect the “flying” part of the drone, leaving the undercarriage to the user. That means building a working flight system that can operate with heavy loads, and developing harnesses that can be used for cargo, people, or whatever else you can imagine.
A New Age of Flight
Flyt is just one of the many new and fantastic ways people are redefining flight. Many different projects have resurrected the idea of a jetpack, leading to systems like the JB9 or the golf cart jetpack.
Also, Solar Impulse 2 has proven the viability of solar-powered aircraft. One day, we could very well find ourselves traveling in planes powered solely by the Sun’s energy, leading to craft that can stay aloft for years at a time. Not to mention that some are tricking out planes with robotic systems; one DARPA experiment is even testing robot co-pilots that can control aircraft on their own.
A new age of flight is dawning, and human travel is increasingly becoming 3-dimensional—even on the smallest scales of personal transport. We can’t wait to see what happens next!
Norwegian drone company Griff Aviation has unveiled a new series of manned drones powerful enough to lift people. The Griff 300 is an octocopter weighing in at 75 kg (165 lb) that uses its eight propellors to carry a payload of up to 225 kg (496 lb) for up to 45 minutes of flight-time.
Check out the (rather intense) video below:
The drone is controlled via radio remote control from the ground. Those with the extra cash also have the option of adding a mobile control station, which allows for the drone to be controlled in the first-person view. The drone also has a variety of other add-ons that make it suitable for a number of applications, including search and rescue or firefighting.
Customer satisfaction is the company’s top priority, according to Griff Aviation’s CEO Leif Johan Holland in an interview with Drone Life:
Our aim is to give our customers an optimal user interface, either controlling a drone from a fixed or a mobile ground station. If the customer wishes, they can use a helicopter cockpit or a captain’s chair, with full view of the map, telemetry, and video feed. We can design, manufacture and install everything.
If the Griff 300 is not impressive enough for you, the company also has plans for another model, the 800, that has a payload capacity of up to 800 kg (1,764 lb). Even higher capacities could be on the way, as well.
How does one top defying the mayor of New York City and the NYPD by speeding through the snow covered streets of the Big Apple on a snowboard being dragged by an SUV? Well, by learning how to fly, of course!
Youtube personality Casey Neistat released a new viral video showing him snowboarding and taking flight with the help of a custom built drone.
The drone took nearly a year to develop. The humongous 16-rotor flying machine is as decked as the halls with its festive Christmas lights. The fully-grown man was tethered behind the drone and strapped to a snowboard as he moved. The drone was dragging Neistat behind before finally lifting the 35-year-old nearly 8 meters (25 ft) into the air.
The whole stunt was sponsored by Samsung and, as such, was captured on a Samsung Gear 360 attached to the drone itself. Using the 360° camera and some handheld sports cameras, the team was able to capture some pretty impressive shots.
To add to the festiveness of the stunt, Neistat donned his trendiest Santa suit. Don’t worry about Santa’s organic flying machines, though, rumor has it that they’re locked into a favorable contract with the jolly red elf for eternity.
7-Eleven and startup Flirtey are changing the way deliveries are done. Since completing the first 7-Eleven delivery by a Flirtey drone in July, the pair has “completed 77 autonomous drone deliveries to customer homes in the United States,” according to a report.
“Flirtey is the world’s leader in the drone delivery industry, and we have now successfully completed the first month of routine commercial drone deliveries to customer homes in partnership with 7-Eleven,” said Flirtey CEO Matthew Sweeny. “This is a giant leap towards a future where everyone can experience the convenience of Flirtey’s instant store-to-door drone delivery.”
The entire process, which takes about 10 minutes on average, is rather simple. After an order is placed via an app, the 7-Eleven merchandise — hot or cold food, even over-the-counter medicines — is loaded into a custom Flirtey delivery drone container. The drone then flies autonomously to the local customer’s house using GPS. When it arrives, the drone lowers the package while hovering in place.
In March, Flirtey was the first company to complete an officially sanctioned drone delivery, and the company has emerged as a leader in the field. “Flirtey’s goal is to make delivery instant, and in the process, create jobs at home for hardworking Americans and veterans,” Sweeney said. In 2017, Flirtey and 7-Eleven plan to expand their drone delivery operations even more, so the next time you want a Slurpee, you might only have to go as far as your front porch.
France’s national postal service, Le Groupe La Poste, has begun a testing program to bring delivery by autonomous drone to the country. This announcement comes on the heels of Amazon successfully completing its first drone delivery over in the U.K.
A subsidiary of the postal service, DPDgroup, has been working on making drone delivery a reality in the European nation since 2014. The group partnered with French drone-making company Atechsys to provide the drones, which can fly up to 19 km (12 miles) at speeds of up to nearly 31 km/h (19 mph) while carrying a parcel weighing up to 3 kg (6.6 lbs).
The drone test route covers about 15 km (9.3 miles), which is the distance between two depots in the southeast of the country, Saint-Maximin-La-Sainte-Beaume and Pourrières in the Provence region of France. The packages are dropped off and picked up from these designated depots.
A Looming Problem
Any advancement in autonomous robotic technology always brings about a renewed debate surrounding jobs and unemployment. Experts say that robots will continue to replace humans, with some estimating that anywhere from 47 to 81 percent of jobs could be eliminated by technology.
Low-skill jobs such as manufacturing are no longer the only kind being discussed as potentially on the chopping block. IBM’s Watson AI was just as effective at recommending cancer treatments as doctors, and not even editors are safe, as Watson was also able to edit an entire magazine on its own. It’s also said that AI can replace 80 percent of IT workers.
Universal basic income is being discussed as a way to ease the blow that automation will take on the workforce, but even if that’s not the ultimate solution, something will need to be done soon to account for the loss of jobs due to technology.
The United States Navy has been developing unmanned systems for quite some time now. It’s already released several drone designs, including submarine-launched drones and drones ready for active warfare. Now, the Navy is hoping to add a new drone to its arsenal.
The goal is to create a tail-sitting flying wing that can take off and land vertically, perfect for use on small decks like those found on destroyers or smaller carriers. During a flight operation, the drone would take off vertically from a tail-sitting position. It would then turn its body to begin horizontal flight, after which it would become vertical again for landing.
The drone has an expected range of 1,111 km (690 mi) and will be able to carry 454 kg (1,000 lb). It is designed to support the Navy in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, as well as small targeting and strike missions. Northrop is expected to create detailed aircraft designs, build two demonstrator aircraft, and conduct land and sea-based testing by the end of its current testing phase.
The increasing availability of drones and their customizability make them a useful tool within many industries. Unfortunately, they’re also being used for criminal purposes, such as to penetrate high-security areas like the White House and the Japanese Prime Minister’s office, so as drone technology thrives, counter-drone technology has cropped up as well.
Sydney- and Virginia-based security company DroneShield has revealed one such device: the DroneGun. This portable system can counter-control a wide range of drone models without destroying the intruding drone — it just forces it to land or return to its pilot. The DroneGun can also shut off a drone’s video transmission ability and disable its signals, including those from positioning systems like GPS and GLONASS.
What’s perhaps most impressive about the system is its ability to jam drone signals from distances as far as 1.9 kilometers (1.2 miles) away under many environmental conditions. Most rival jammers need to be much closer, which could be dangerous to users if the drone is carrying an explosive device. Use of the DroneGun has yet to be authorized by the US government.
Around 2.5 million drones were sold this year, and according to the Federal Aviation Administration, this number could almost triple to 7 million drones in 2020. While the tech could benefit such industries as agriculture, transportation, and even healthcare, its increasing usage presents a number of opportunities for crime.
It’s truly dangerous to think what can happen when offenders don’t need to be in the vicinity to harm people. Drone intrusion reports in the UK surged by 352 percent in just one year, most alleging that the tech was being used to spy on civilians, record PIN numbers, and serve as burglar lookouts. In warfare, drones are being used to rain down explosives.
Those with criminal intent will almost always be able to find nefarious ways to use the technology we create to benefit our work and personal lives. Cybercrime and technological terrorism are very present realities that we must actively prepare for, and counter-technologies such as this DroneGun are one of our best measures to keep ourselves safe.