Judging by headlines flying around the internet, it'd be easy to think that North Dakota is a futuristic cyberpunk wild west, where deputized police robots shoot first and ask questions later. Stories like the Daily Beast's “First State Legalizes Taser Drones for Cops, Thanks to a Lobbyist,” the Verge's “Police in North Dakota can now use drones armed with tasers,” and Reason's “Watch Out for Drones with Pepper Spray in North Dakota” all allude to a dark, dismal world of legally-sanctioned robot assault. That's especially strange, because since 2012, any drone use in North Dakota has had to go through an ethics review board at the University of North Dakota.
At their core, drones are little more than computers that fly. At DEFCON, the large hacker conference held annually in Las Vegas, David Jordan of Aerial Assault revealed a drone that can swoop down and break into computer networks. On board the drone, an ultra-cheap Raspberry Pi computer runs Kali Linux, an aggressive cybersecurity diagnostic tool that looks for weaknesses in the systems it attacks. Set up as a security testing tool, with some reconfiguring it could go from a testing device to an actual weapon.
Tiny insect drones could be useful for disaster-area surveillance or delivering supplies to people in accessible places. But the technology is still new, and they run a high risk of running into each other in confined spaces. Now researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology have created an artificial eye and navigation system for these drones based on insects' vision, according to a study published recently in The Royal Society Interface.
For over a decade, drones have hunted men abroad. Overseas, Predators and Reapers have flown over war zones, their powerful cameras below looking for threats. Back home, the Air National Guard deployed a Reaper for a far more humanitarian manhunt: a search to find a lost teacher.
Whales are awesome and important. But because they are so big and sensitive to sound, researchers have a hard time collecting all the data they need without freaking them out. Now, whale biologists from the nonprofit Ocean Alliance have teamed up with students from the Olin College of Engineering to create drones that can capture one of the most important biological materials--a whale's snot--without disturbing the animals. They've launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their research.
To fight drones, a state-owned Russian defense firm is developing an anti-drone “microwave gun,” according to Russian state-owned news site Sputnik. The gun will have a range of just over six miles and fire in 360 degrees. It won't destroy drones, but it will disable the “radio electronics” of drones and precision warheads, if it works as promised. It certainly sounds clever. But it might be solving a problem that doesn't really exist.