Weekly Roundup 1/12/15

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has been flying a fleet of Predator B drones over U.S. borders since 2006. The program is the most substantial domestic government drone operation, flying tens of thousands of hours of surveillance missions. But a recent audit found that CBP’s drones may not be worth the cost. Here’s what you need to know.

Dr. Mirko Kovac, a leading robotics professor at Imperial College London, has dedicated himself to finding ways to use drones for good. He sat down with the Center to talk about construction drones, hospital drones, rescue drones, and more.


The U.S. Department of Defense is considering offering drone pilots large retention bonuses. The plan would increase the size of payouts made under the Air Force’s Aviator Retention Program, which offers bonuses to pilots who switch from manned to unmanned aircraft. “We’re looking at incentives of how we maintain people in the career field and how we incentivize growth in the career field,” Col. Ray Alves of Air Combat Command told the Military Times.

The Federal Aviation Administration will allow an agricultural company and a real estate agency to use drones for commercial applications. The Administration granted exemptions to Advanced Aviation Solutions in Star, Idaho, and Douglas Trudeau of Tierra Antigua Realty in Tucson, Arizona. The FAA has so far granted 13 commercial drone exemptions out of 214 requests. (ABC News)

The FAA issued a guide for law enforcement agencies on how to handle encounters with drone hobbyists. The 12-page document offers suggestions to police on the best methods for investigating individuals suspected of endangering the national air space. “State and local Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) are often in the best position to deter, detect, immediately investigate, and, as appropriate, pursue enforcement actions to stop unauthorized or unsafe UAS operations.” writes the FAA in the guidance. (Bloomberg)

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Ted Poe spoke about the threats to privacy posed by drones. Rep. Poe, a Republican from Texas, has tried since 2012 to pass a bill curbing domestic drone use. “Here a drone, there a drone, everywhere a drone. Just more eyes in the sky and these eyes can be anywhere and on any person,” said Mr. Poe. (C-SPAN)

An Indian Air Force Heron drone reportedly crashed in the northwestern Rajasthan province. The Heron, a medium-altitude surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, experienced engine failure shortly after taking off from Jaisalmer Air Base. (First Post)

The U.K.’s Airprox Board, a committee tasked with investigating domestic aviation incidents, released a report on a near-miss between a British military drone and an Army manned helicopter during a training session in July 2014. The Desert Hawk surveillance drone came within 60 ft. of the troop-carrying Merlin helicopter. (The Telegraph)

In New York City, model aircraft enthusiasts are getting ready to lobby the City Council not to pass an anti-drone bill introduced by Councilman Daniel Garodnick, which would prohibit all drone use except for NYPD drone operations. “Your legislation would destroy a decades-old, family-oriented and community-based recreational activity,” wrote Academy of Model Aeronautics Vice President Eric Williams in a letter to Garodnick. (New York Daily News)

Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice for information about the FBI’s reported drone programs. With this FOIA, CREW “seeks documents that will shed light on the FBI’s drone program, including the source of its drones.”

Commentary, Analysis and Art

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism compiled all of its statistics on drone strikes that took place in 2014.

At the New York Times, Scott Shane connects the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, France, to Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born member of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011.

At Rolling Stone, John Keel notes that the military’s rules for operating drones in Afghanistan remain unchanged in spite of the official end to the war.

At Lawfare Blog, Bryan Cunningham argues that policymakers must decide whether the military or law enforcement should respond to acts of terrorism.

In the New York Review of Books, Kenneth Roth explains why he is disappointed with President Obama’s approach to torture and drones.

At War is Boring, Joseph Trevithick takes a look at how U.S. special operations commandos use drones to hunt suspected militants for weeks on end.

At Geographical Imaginations, Derek Gregory previews Adam Rothstein’s forthcoming book Drone (Object Lessons), which will be published later this month.

Speaking at the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show, Shawn DuBravac, the chief economist for the US Consumer Electronics Association, predicted that the drone industry will grow to $1 billion by 2018. (The Guardian)

Helen Greiner, a co-founder of iRobot and inventor of the Roomba vacuum, tells AP that she started her new company, CyPhy Works, to develop useful new kinds of drones.

The Royal Aeronautical Society argues that the manufacturers of commercial airliners and engines need to update the bird strike test to include small drones.

The editors at Staten Island Live urge the New York City Council not to ban model aircraft with new anti-drone legislation.

The trailer for “Good Kill,” an upcoming film featuring Ethan Hawke as a conflicted drone pilot, was released this week. (YouTube)

Know Your Drone

PC Magazine has put together a gallery of the 15 most interesting drones that were on display at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show.

Computer company Intel has partnered with German drone maker Ascending Technologies to develop a system that allows small drones to sense and avoid moving and stationary obstacles, even in complex environments. (Wired)

Meanwhile, drone maker SkySpecs has unveiled its own obstacle avoidance system for small drones.

India’s Ministry of Defense has announced that it will fund the development of the country’s first combat drones, the Rustom-2. (C4 ISR)

Chinese drone maker Chengdu Aircraft Corporation has unveiled a new, stealthier version of its Tian Yi high-altitude surveillance drone. (IHS Jane’s)

Drones at Work

Archaeologists in Peru are turning to drones to protect cultural sites from growing housing developments and vandalism. (PBS)

The Verge’s Ben Popper raced drones at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show.

Managers at Cleveland Metroparks, a system of nature preserves in Ohio’s Greater Cleveland area, want to use eBee drones to map vegetation. (Cleveland.com)

Sky Tech One, an aerial photo and video company, created a drone tour of New York City’s boroughs and abandoned facilities, as well as a second behind-the-scenes video. (YouTube)

A drone was used to get an aerial perspective of the red carpet at the Golden Globes. (Cosmopolitan)

In the Netherlands, amateur drone hobbyist Zwier Spanjer rushed waist-deep into a lake to save his DJI Phantom quadcopter. The dramatic video received over 2 million views in two days. To his friends, he is a “hero.” (Daily Mail)

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

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

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