“Drones Fight Poachers” has an undeniable sexiness to it as a news narrative. Who doesn’t want to read about flying killer robots battling machete-wielding criminals chasing innocent animals on the wild African plains? The instant appeal of a high-tech solution to a pervasive low-tech problem is also why Silicon Valley giant Google has given the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) $5 million for drones to stop poaching. But to actually stop poachers, WWF should focus less on drones and more on math—and some lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
University of Maryland computer scientist Thomas Snitch is applying a mathematical forecasting model he developed for use by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan to Africa. Snitch is trying to overcome poaching networks’ advantages in money, opportunity, and manpower using his military model to put park rangers in the right places to intercept rhinoceros killers.
Read more. [Image: Edward Echwalu/Reuters]
Last spring, a Seattle woman reported that some guy was flying a drone over her yard.
It was, she wrote, a “warm spring day,” and she at first believed that the buzzing sound she was hearing was someone doing yardwork. But soon she looked out her third-story window, and saw “a drone hovering a few feet away.”
The drone’s operator was outside on the sidewalk. The woman’s husband went outside to ask him to quit and he refused, arguing that “it is legal for him to fly an aerial drone over our yard and adjacent to our windows.”
Whether he was right about that is unclear. What kind of drone was it? Who was the operator? Was he taking pictures of the inside of her home or of the public street?
These are questions for law enforcement and courts to sort out, I said in a piece about the incident. In the meantime, though, many people wrote to me to say: To heck with that. I wouldn’t wait for any cops. I’d shoot that thing right out of the sky myself.
Well, Phil Steel of Deer Trail, Colorado, thinks that is a great idea.
Read more. [Image: Phil Steel]
The latest legislative act that undermines self-government.
Read more. [Image: Phil Roeder/Flickr]
LAS VEGAS—The International Consumer Electronics Show has just begun, but the trade show has already spawned a dance. But if you’d prefer not to see a conference full of tech industry professionals start to shimmy, fear not: The ones doing the boogeying, in this case, aren’t human. The “Flying Robot Dance,” instead, features flying automata (quadrotors, in this case) that hover and whizz and even tumble, all in delightful synchrony.
"Bridle’s Drone Shadow Handbook [PDF] provides detailed instructions on how to sketch the outline of a drone - the imagined shadow of such an aircraft overhead – on a city street near you. The book, which I read about on Policy Mic, enables anyone to replicate one. It’s an ongoing art project for Bridle, who wants to bring public awareness of drones to the citizens of the countries that launch them.”
On my wedding day, my wife and I hired a couple of shuttle vans to ferry guests between a San Clemente hotel and the nearby site where we held our ceremony and reception. I thought of our friends and family members packed into those vehicles when I read about the latest nightmarish consequence of America’s drone war: “A U.S. drone mistakenly targeted a wedding convoy in Yemen’s al-Baitha province after intelligence reports identified the vehicles as carrying al Qaeda militants,” CNN reported, citing government sources in Yemen. “The officials said that 14 people were killed and 22 others injured, nine in critical condition. The vehicles were traveling near the town of Radda when they were attacked.”
Can you imagine the wall-to-wall press coverage, the outrage, and the empathy for the victims that would follow if an American wedding were attacked in this fashion? Or how you’d feel about a foreign power that attacked your wedding in this fashion?
The L.A. Times followed up on the story and found slightly different casualty figures: “The death toll reached 17 overnight, hospital officials in central Bayda province said Friday. Five of those killed were suspected of involvement with Al Qaeda, but the remainder were unconnected with the militancy, Yemeni security officials said.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
We can talk about regulatory hurdles. We can talk about delivery zone issues. We can talk about cost and weight and range and reliability, about lawsuits and criminality. We should, when we’re talking about Amazon’s Prime Air, talk about all of those things. You know what we should also be talking about, though? Birds.
Read more. [Image: UMD Robotics screenshot via UPI]
After Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced that his company wanted to deliver packages with small unmanned aerial vehicles, many people have questioned the viability and wisdom of the idea.
Yesterday, we got one optimistic perspective from Andreas Raptopoulos, an entrepreneur who founded Matternet, which is developing drone-delivery technology.
But there are many other ways to answer the questions that I posed to Raptopoulos. So, today, we bring you an interview with the University of Washington’s Ryan Calo, who has become a leading authority on the ethical and policy implications of emerging technologies. Specifically, he’s focused on the problems at the nexus of drones and privacy in recent months.
To offer the most intriguing parallels, I tried to keep my questions to Calo as similar to the ones as I posed to Raptopoulos as possible.
Two and a half years ago, Andreas Raptopoulos founded Matternet, a company devoted to creating a network of drones that could deliver lightweight packages. It’s starting with medical applications, with plans to extend from there to “bring to the world its next-generation transportation system.” To hear Raptopoulous tell it, when the histories are written in a few decades, people will think: electric grid, road infrastructure, telephone lines, Internet, mobile phones, and … tiny flying drones.
“We think about it not just as a point-to-point delivery, but as a network. What can you do if you have many stations of these flying drones?” Raptopoulous said. “What can you do with a system like this in the developing world, in our cities, in our megacities? We’re convinced that it’s going to be the next big paradigm in transportation.”
Of course, last night, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed Amazon Prime Air, his company’s plans to use drones at some point in the future to deliver packages to customers.
It all sounds a little crazy. And we can all think of many objections to drone delivery networks. They won’t have enough range! People will shoot them down! What if they crash! They can’t operate in places where you can’t get a steady GPS signal!
Given that Amazon seems unlikely to give real answers to these questions, I contacted Raptopoulos, who has spent the last several years deeply engaged with these problems since working on a project at Singularity University in 2011.
Read more. [Image: Amazon]
What if I told you all that an armed Predator drone is circling above us right now? It isn’t. So don’t worry. But if an armed drone was there, would it make you feel anxious? If we could hear the buzz of its engine, would that change the tenor of our time together? Now let’s imagine that this drone is hovering overhead because there’s a terrorist hanging out 100 yards away from this building. We’re often told how precise drone strikes are. Obama Administration officials have called them surgical. If a surgery were happening in the building next door I wouldn’t be worried about getting nicked by the scalpel. Would you be worried for your safety if you were 100 yards away from drone strike? Say you’re laying in bed one night, and in the house next door, a terrorist is laying in his bed.
Would you want a drone strike to take him out?
If next door is too close for comfort, do you think the U.S. military or the CIA should be allowed to carry out drone strikes on terrorists with innocent people next door?