Here's a roundup of the week's top drone news: highlights from the military, commercial, non-profit, and recreational applications of unmanned aircraft.
Police Drones Prepare For The Cup
In preparation for the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian police used a drone to hunt a notorious gang kingpin. The drone used was an Israeli-made Heron, and key to finding the kingpin was an onboard infrared camera. According to Brazilian officials, the drone allowed for a safer capture than would otherwise have been possible in the hostile favelas, which Brazilian police attempted to pacify before the eyes of the world turned to Rio.
Critiquing the Law
Writing in MIT newspaper The Tech, law professor Henry H. Perritt Jr. and helicopter pilot Eliot O. Sprague argue that the Federal Aviation Administration is going about regulating drones in the wrong way. Perritt and Sprague says that this is most clear in the agency's treatment of small drones, the kind hobbyists and consumers can buy for a few hundred or thousand dollars. They write:
Taking another five years to go through every line of the 500 pages of existing federal aviation regulations to mold the details of existing requirements for manned aircraft is not the right approach. Manned airplanes and helicopters cost anywhere from hundreds of thousands to tens of millions of dollars. Rules for their flight are implemented through professional pilots, mechanics, and directors of operations who have designed their careers around manned aircraft.
Instead, the FAA must recognize microdrones for what they are: inexpensive consumer products that put strikingly useful technologies within the reach of almost everyone.
The U.S. legal system knows how to regulate consumer products. Lawn mowers can’t be sold unless they comply with basic Consumer Product Safety Commission requirements for guards and deadman controls. Smartphones and Wi-Fi points of presence are excluded from the market unless they meet FCC requirements that avoid interference with other spectrum users.
The crux of their argument is this: Rather than making anyone who buys a small drone comply with elaborate and complicated regulations, the compliance should instead be built in at the point of manufacture.
Lasers To Fight Drones
In the future, the United States might send military forces against a foe that uses flying robots. In this hypothetical future war, what's the best way to shoot down enemy drones? Lasers, of course! Freaking. Lasers. The project, known as Ground Based Air Defense (GBAD) comes from the Office of Naval Research, and it's been in the works for quite some time. The reason for using lasers is mundane: Lasers are cheaper than other ways to shoot things out of the sky, so they're a perfect fit for the relatively inexpensive drones they'll be fighting. On Wednesday, the Navy announced it had finished awarding contracts to develop this laser, which puts us one step closer to a war where Marines use lasers against robots. The future, man.
A volunteer firefighter team in Sheboygan, Wis., formed a volunteer drone squad. The "Sheboygan County Autonomous Search & Rescue Team" got its start after a firefighter acquired a cheap commercial quadcopter that can be piloted by smartphone. The drone carries a camera underneath, and with a flight time of about 20 minutes, it can give rescue workers an overhead view of a situation before they have to go in. Thermal imaging here is especially helpful, as infrared cameras see where the fire is before human eyes can.
Turn A Paper Airplane Into A Drone
With an app, a signal receiver and motor, and a piece of paper, it's possible for anyone to make a simple drone in seconds. Thanks to a kit made by PowerUp3.0, the drone steers with a rudder behind the propeller. It's one of the purest "just a toy" drones out there, and it looks like an utter delight to fly. Watch one get made and flown below:
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