Dr. Adam Watts of the Desert Research Institute is standing by the side of the road near Donner Pass, shouting over the wind into his phone to talk about a recent test flight. “We built a robot that can fly itself and bring more water out of clouds,” he says, capturing the technological promise at hand in just a few words. Together with Nevada's Drone America, the team flew a cloud-seeding drone beyond the pilot's line of sight. It's the next step in a gradual and ambitious process, aimed at solving a decades-old problem: can the desert pull more water from the sky, and can it do so without injuring anyone along the way?
From body parts to supercars, the family of 3D printed products just keeps expanding. But in a study published last week in Science Advances, scientists think small: German researchers 3D printed different lenses—each smaller than the width of a human hair—onto a chip. Such micro-cameras could be perfect for tiny drones and other pint-sized robots.
On Jan. 20, the drone war entered its third Administration. Over the inaugural weekend, American drones fired missiles at suspected Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen, killing five people. The drone war, that is, the popular, unmanned-vehicle term for America's strategy of targeted killing, is an outgrowth of President George W. Bush's war on terror, a vestigial organ that became the centerpiece for the Obama administration's eight years of low-intensity warfare. With much of American national security strategy poised to change under the new Trump administration, it's worth taking a step back to examine what, exactly, the United States hoped to do with its drones.
This year, the world saw a long-theorized weapon in action: a commercial drone, like a person might find at Best Buy, dropping a bomb on a target in Iraq. These drone bombers, used by the ultra-violent quasi-state ISIS in Iraq and Syria, are the flashiest combination of modern technologies with the modern battlefield. Cheap, camera-carrying robots, put to nefarious ends by a group that could never otherwise dream of fielding an air force. Dropping grenades isn't the deadliest thing an insurgent group can do with a small flying robot, but it leads to a very important question: What, exactly, is the answer to such a drone?