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April 8, 2016
By Alexander Lucas
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are not new, but the innovative ways people use them certainly are. To prevent me from just droning on and on, here are the most fascinating quick hits on the top recent drone stories. Prepare for an interesting—or just downright strange—unmanned ride.
While the idea for commercial delivery drones isn’t new (e.g., Amazon), the rollout of a viable system is. Zipline International recently demonstrated using catapult-launched drones to deliver blood and other medical supplies to hard-to-reach areas within Rwanda. The UAV releases a supply box attached to a parachute over the remote clinic, making deliveries in hours rather than days or weeks. This service is slated to begin in July.
A modern reboot of Leatherface? A group of filmmakers from Finland made a video about a flying chainsaw drone they dubbed KillerDrone. The viral video, which in its first week racked up over 1.3 million views, shows the airborne chainsaw slicing through treetops and icicles before succumbing to its natural enemy, a couple of pink balloons.
You might think this is a new phenomenon, if not for the handgun, Roman Candle and flamethrower drones the Internet has also popularized. Be afraid, be very afraid.
Recent near-misses between manned aircraft and unauthorized drones in restricted areas have caused alarm about the UAVs. Enter the DroneCatcher, an attack drone that tracks and positions itself above other UAVs. When in position, the DroneCatcher shoots out a net and parachute to entangle the drone and drop it to the ground safely. This is similar to a bazooka recently developed by SkyWall that also used nets and a parachute to disable offending drones.
My favorite anti-drone defense, however, is still the Dutch-trained eagles and hawks. Still waiting though for a defense against the flying chainsaws … aside from a balloon wall.
Due to the release timing of the Roam-e drone, I was hoping it was an April Fool’s Day prank. However, this (real) water bottle-sized drone camera uses facial recognition software to follow you and snap selfies. The drone can be controlled by smartphone apps and follow you at a distance of over 80 feet.
This isn’t the only product looking to capitalize on the narcissism market. Two other auto-flying, subject-following drones, the Nixie and Lily, have been announced over the last several years. Ugh, hand me my drone bazooka.
People love watching sports and playing video games, which is why eSports like Defense of the Ancients II have become huge spectator events. In a similar vein, drone racing using FPV (first-person view) goggles is beginning to rise in prominence, with various leagues and championships.
This week 60 Minutes featured a segment about the U.S. National Drone Championships. The Drone Racing League began its first season in late-February, bringing a professional sports broadcast look. So if you want all of the fun of racing crashes without people actually getting hurt, this could be the new hot “sport" to check out. As National Champion Chad Nowak described it, “Drone racing is like video games on steroids."
This can’t be a tech article without a story about hacking and security breaches. A researcher at IBM has exploited unencrypted chips in professional-grade quadcopters allowing him to hijack command from over a mile away. This allows a hacker to perform man-in-the-middle attacks and block out commands from the original user.
And the cost to perform this type of hack on police and security agency drones? About $40.
The FAA has begun to loosen restrictions on UAVs within the United States. On April 1 the maximum altitude ceiling for UAVs was doubled to 400 feet. This change only affects the areas where drone flights are already permitted. Officials have proposed new recommendations, however, that would allow some commercial flights to fly over populated areas and crowds if the risk of injury or harm falls within acceptable limits.
What drone stories have you seen recently—and what do you think about the rise of UAVs? Please leave a comment here or on our social media channels to continue the conversation. In the meantime, be sure to check out IoT: interoperability, security and digital transformation in 2016 and beyond.
A self-styled storyteller, Alexander Lucas loves to share his vast knowledge of tech, innovation and design trivia. TEKsystems’ resident video designer is also an avid history buff and writes about technology innovation through time.