Weekly Roundup 11/17

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

If one drone can be claimed, above all others, to have started the drone revolution, it is the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator, a spindly motorized glider that ended up spearheading the hunt for Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11. We caught up with Richard Whittle, author of Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution, to discuss the story of this remarkable aircraft.


A U.S. drone strike in Pakistan reportedly killed six militants. Missiles struck a compound in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan, a semi-autonomous tribal region that is gathering point for local and foreign fighters. (Associated Press)

For more on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan in October, click here.

In Yemen, a U.S. drone strike reportedly killed seven al-Qaeda militants. The strike took place in Azzan, a village in Yemen’s southern Shabwa province. Tribal sources who spoke with the AFP reported two other U.S. drone strikes that could not be confirmed.

The U.K. launched its first drone strike in Iraq. The British Reaper drones targeted Islamic State militants who were reportedly laying improvised explosive devices in Bayji, a city north of Baghdad. The Reaper strike was followed up with bombs from manned fighters. (Ministry of Defence)

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol drones monitor almost half the 1,954-mile long border with Mexico, according to the Associated Press. The Predator drones are used in areas that are inaccessible or where there is no existing fences, guard towers, or ground-based sensors. Around 2% of the 10,000 flights conducted since 2013 have yielded evidence of illegal crossings.

Russia will open a new base for drones that will conduct aerial reconnaissance flights of its eastern maritime border with the U.S. and the Arctic. The base will be located just 420 miles from mainland Alaska and will be staffed by professional soldiers, not conscripts. The drones, which will provide aerial reconnaissance for the Russian Navy, are thought to be a part of Russia’s efforts to boost its military presence in the Arctic. (Newsweek)

For more on Russia’s drones, click here.

A special meeting of the United Nations was held in Geneva to discuss the development of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Many delegates, having expressed alarm at the prospect of killer robots, advocated for continued scrutiny of these weapons. (The Guardian)

A woman at a flea market in Mount Dora, Florida was struck by a drone. She suffered cuts from the propellers and was taken to a nearby hospital. According to Lake County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Fillman, the woman was not seriously injured. (WESH Orlando)

Meanwhile, in Australia, the drone operator accused of crashing a drone into triathlete Raija Ogden in April has been fined $1,700. Ogden sustained head injuries from the crash. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The Federal Aviation Administration launched an investigation after an airline pilot reportedly spotted a drone twelve miles from Phoenix’s primary airport. Local police investigated the area of the sighting but found nothing. (CBS 5)

A real estate listing in Australia was taken down when it was noticed that an aerial photo of the house, taken by a drone, had also captured a unsuspecting sunbather next door. (News.com.au)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At Yahoo News, Michael Isikoff investigates U.S. condolence payments to the families of victims of U.S. drone strikes in Yemen.

In a series on civilian robotics at the Brookings Institution, Gregory McNeal argues that anti-drone legislation might be emphasizing privacy concerns too much. He offers advice to lawmakers on how to craft regulations for drones.

At Vice News, Meredith Hoffman reports that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will soon expand the number of drone surveillance flights on the northern border with Canada.

At the Daily Beast, Umar Farooq and Syed Fakhar Kakakhel examine how informants who supply the U.S. with targeting intelligence for drone strikes in Pakistan live in constant danger.

At the New York Times, John Markoff weighs the opportunities against potential dangers of lethal autonomous weapons that, once released, choose who or what to strike.

At Defense One, Adam Baron takes a look at how U.S. drone strikes are contributing to a spiral of violence in Yemen.

Ben Popper, a drone hobbyist, questions the lack of drone safety regulations after he “almost killed someone” with his multi-rotor drone. (The Verge)

At Lawfare, Just Security, and Opinio Juris, legal experts debate the Obama administration’s planned expansion of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to include the Islamic State as a lawful target.

Know Your Drone

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is requesting proposals for an airborne aircraft carrier that can launch drones. (Popular Science)

According to a report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the U.S. Air Force was not impressed by the General Atomics Avenger surveillance and strike drone when it first got hold of one in 2011. Eventually, the USAF opted to simply upgrade its existing fleet of Reaper drones instead of acquiring the Avenger. (War is Boring)

At the Zhuhai 2014 Air Show, China displayed a range of its latest military surveillance and strike drones, including a stealth model. (Easter Arsenal Blog)

Researchers have unveiled a biodegradable drone made out of fungi. (Forbes)

Bloomberg News profiles the Airbus Zephyr, a high-altitude, solar-powered drone that can stay aloft at 65,000 ft. for extended periods of time.

DJI, maker of the popular Phantom quadcopter drone, has unveiled a new drone, the Inspire I, which the company claims is optimized for aerial photography. (Tech Crunch)

Drones at Work

The police chief of Salem, New Jersey is passionate about his drone, but promised the South Jersey Times that it will never be used in a criminal investigation.

An alliance of vineyards in France teamed up with Airbus to test drones that seek and detect a new and dangerous vine disease. (Decanter)

A drone was used to inspect the exterior of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Otago Daily Times)

For updates, news, and commentary, follow us on Twitter!

For Mashable’s take on the week in drone news, check out Drone Beat.

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