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?
The Obama administration’s aggressive drone program in Pakistan came under renewed attack this week, with Amnesty International suggesting that the United States is engaged in war crimes and visiting Prime Mininster Nawaz Sharif describing the strikes as a “major irritant” in relations.
But what is obscured by the public dispute is that there has been, since the administrations of George W. Bush and Pervez Musharraf, a secret agreement in place by which Pakistani military and intelligence authorities have approved many of the strikes, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.
"The exact terms were never shared with civilians but there was a protocol between the Musharraf government and the Americans," says a former senior Pakistani official who would discuss the classified matter only on condition of anonymity. "When the civilian government came in [in 2008], it was informed about it but there was no renegotiation."
Read more. [Image: K. Pervez/Reuters]
Coming soon: swarms of mechanized eagles.
Read more. [Image: Mr. T in DC/flickr]
When Chris Anderson started building drones, he had no idea what a crop survey was. He had never even been on a farm – at least, not “professionally.” But about a year and half ago, he found out that farmers were getting excited about drones – and now, so is he.
“When I got into this, I thought it would be the future of flight, but now I think drones might be the future of food,” he said at The Atlantic Meets the Pacific conference on Wednesday.
Read more. [Image: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters]
When Boomer was lost on the battlefield in Taji, Iraq, his brothers in arms gave him a funeral. The tribute involved a 21-gun salute, and the awarding of both a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal. All in recognition, according to a soldier who has worked with Boomer’s comrades, of Boomer’s heroism and of the many lives he had saved on the battlefield.
It was a funeral that was typical in every way but one: Boomer was a machine. He was a MARCbot, an inexpensive robot designed to seek out and disarm explosives. He — Boomer was, apparently, a he — saved soldiers’ lives as he tooled his way into dangerous zones, taking one for the team in the most selfless way possible. The tributes in Taji, be they figurative (the Bronze Star) or more literal (the firearmed salute), recognized all this. “Some people got upset about it,” the soldier recalls of Boomer’s improvised funeral, ”but those little bastards can develop a personality, and they save so many lives.”
The little bastards do save lives. Their personalities, however, aren’t so much developed as they’re imposed by their human minders. In the heat of battle, and in the chaos of war zones, soldiers, it seems, tend to humanize their robotic aides. They develop emotional attachments to the machines that put themselves in harm’s way so the humans don’t have to.
Read more. [Image: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Bobby J. Segovia/Wikimedia Commons]
In building drones that kill people, the U.S. has a couple-decade head start on China. But when it comes to domestic uses, U.S. businesses are hamstrung because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) isn’t required to issue commercial drone rules until 2015. In the meantime, one of China’s biggest delivery companies is tinkering with using drones—with Chinese government permission.
SF Express is testing a drone it has built for delivering packages to remote areas, according to Chinese media reports. The drone can hit an maximum altitude of 328 feet and deliver parcels within two meters of its target. It’s not clear what sort of weight these puppies can handle, but Beijing journalists calculated that it probably can’t carry more than 6.6 pounds.
Read more. [Image: Weibo]
Yes, everything about this *is* weird.
I hate Obama’s drone war—but, under the law, he has a perfect right to fight one. Armed drones in war may be new, but their use introduces no new ethical or legal issues.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]