Is a paper airplane a drone? For the Federal Aviation Administration, responsible for regulating America's skies, this is no longer an idle question. The commercial use of drones is currently prohibited in the United States, unless an operator receives an exemption from the FAA that allows them to fly their drone.
Derek Klingenberg makes viral videos. His “What Does The Fox Say?” parody, “What Does The Farmer Say?” has over six million views, and his earnest “Serenading the cattle with my trombone (Lorde - Royals)” from last year currently has over nine million views. Yesterday, Klingenberg added another title to his viral media presence: drone fisherman.
It's no secret that modern military aircraft are really, really expensive. Fighters like the F-35B cost about $134 million apiece, which makes them both attractive targets and potential liabilities in battle. To combat the high costs of modern planes, DARPA wants swarms of cheaper, useful drones, with expected lifespans of around 20 uses. They're calling these drones “gremlins”.
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.
For decades, aircraft design has focused on a central compromise: if an aerial vehicle wants to fly fast, it needs a plane-like body that cuts through the air and generates lift, but if it wants to take off and land vertically, it needs rotors and a much slower body. Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) is the kind of ability that usually comes with a pricetag of billions of dollars, like in the F-35B or the V-22. New drones can offer that ability at a fraction of the cost, like this new one from Sony's drone wing Aerosense.
For the Navy, flying robots just aren't enough anymore. To truly fulfill the maritime combat branch's mission, designers are making unmanned flying machines that can land on the sea and swim beneath it. The imposingly named “Flimmer”, created by the Naval Research Laboratory, is one such robot, with flippers on the ends of its wings that fold up for flight. It turns out Flimmer isn't the only transforming drone in the works. Boeing was granted a patent for a “Rapid Deployment Air And Water Vehicle,” or, a drone that flies and then swims.