The latest bomber to make its debut over Iraq has four engines, no cockpit, and a flight time limited by the length of its battery. ISIS, the radical insurgent group holding territory in both Syria and Iraq, is fighting for its life in Mosul, the large city in Northern Iraq it has held since 2014. Most of the weapons ISIS uses are are familiar, if still horrific: rifles and mortars, artillery and suicidal car bombs. To that arsenal, ISIS recently added commercial drones, converted into tiny bombers.
Delivering objects via drone is a tempting notion bound by hard constraints: drones are small, so the cargo has to be small. Drones need power to fly, and any additional weight requires more power to cover the same distance, which further limits the size of the cargo. For a drone delivery to make sense, then, the small cargo has to justify both its weight and the urgency of a drone flight. Pound for pound and ounce for ounce, few cargoes match that limitation better than blood.
On October 2nd, in Irbil, Iraq, a drone flown by ISIS killed two Peshmerga, or Kurdish soldiers, and injured two French paratroopers, who were supporting Kurdish force, according to French newspaper Le Monde. The attack is possibly the first where a drone fitted with an improvised explosive device has inflicted casualties on troops from a Western nation.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is built for watching disasters unfold. The high-altitude, long endurance drone can fly for over 34 hours and reach an altitude of 60,000 feet above ground. Most of these expensive, private-jet-sized drones fly for the Air Force, where they watch battlefields in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, finding targets and coordinating troops below. NASA also flies one, for scientific research, and last night they used it to drop sensors into Hurricane Matthew.
Drones can do many things people can't. They can fly, which is neat, and they can carry chemical sensors, identifying airborne particles with far greater fidelity than human noses. And drones, unlike human workers, don't have children to send to college, taxes to pay, or retirements to plan for--so they're good for cutting costs. At least, that's the pitch General Electric is making to oil companies, with their new leak-sniffing Raven drone.
UPS has over 100,000 cars, vans, tractors, and motorcycles in its delivery fleet, and over 500 jets owned or chartered. That's a massive fleet by any metric, and one with a tremendous amount of reach for the delivery giant. Yet it's a fleet with one major limitation: the jets need large runways to land, and the automobiles are all limited by land. This is fine for people on the mainland, but what if UPS wants to deliver something to a small island, one without the space for a runway or ferry? Drones. Drones are the obvious answer.
LEGO gets knocked down, and then it gets put back together again. It's what it does. Drones, with few exceptions, get put together, and are then gravely damaged beyond repair when they crash. Why not build on the repairability of LEGO bricks when making a hobbyist drone? That's the idea behind Flybrix.