Weekly Roundup 1/14


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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

In order to correct what we deemed to be an under-representation of industry voices in the popular drone debate, Arthur Holland Michel interviewed Steve Gitlin, Vice President for Marketing Strategy & Communications at AeroVironment, one of the world’s leading drone manufacturers. In the interview Gitlin discusses the history of manned flight, the future of the industry and his reasons for choosing not to use the word “drone.”


The White House is investigating claims that an American drone strike on December 12 targeted a wedding party in Yemen. The strike is alleged to have killed 12 people—including several civilians—and wounded 14. According to one unnamed Yemeni government official, “It is completely not clear who was killed. This is should be a wake-up call to everyone involved [in drone strikes] to find out what’s going on.” (NBC News)

Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is hoping to equip its destroyers with small, fixed-wing reconnaissance drones. The announcement comes at a time of increasing tensions between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea. Japan’s Constitution has previously prevented destroyers from carrying fixed-wing aircraft, as they might be considered offensive weapons. (Japan Times)

Vladimir Puchkov, the Russian minister of Emergency Situations, told journalists that every region of the country will have drones for rescue operations. “We plan to make very active use of all robotic technology, including drones,” said Mr. Puchcov during a visit to the city of Yekaterinburg. (The Moscow Times)

Meanwhile, drones will be used in the massive security operation at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, according to two Russian investigative journalists. It will be the first time that an Olympic event will feature aerial surveillance drones and bomb disposal ground robots. (Canadian Broadcasting Company)

The Federal Aviation Administration announced that it will begin working with drone hobbyists to develop guidelines and safety rules for flying small drones. In an agreement with the FAA, the Academy of Model Aeronautics agreed to act as an intermediary between the regulatory body and the hobbyist community. (FAA Press Release)

France deployed two Reaper drones to Niamey, Niger. The drones will support French operations in Mali, though they might also be used to monitor the escalating conflict in the Central African Republic. “France thus reinforces its significant intelligence capabilities in this part of Africa,” said French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. (Defence Web)

Camp Shelby, an American National Guard base in Mississippi, will soon become home to an inter-services project to develop open-source software for unmanned vehicles, called Open Source Unmanned Remote and Autonomous Vehicle Systems (OS-URAVS). “We were built on tanks and Howitzers and now we’re looking at the realm of cyberspace and the UAS market,” said Lt. Col. Rick Weaver, the operations officer at Camp Shelby. (The Miami Herald)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

Writing for Britain’s Royal Aeronautical Society, Keith Hayward summarizes the development of drone regulation in American and European government agencies. “Europe also needs to think beyond reinventing the Reaper and focus [research and development] on more fundamental technology acquisition that will underpin the next generation of small and medium sized RPAS,” writes Hayward.

International Business Times picks the twelve companies that are set to dominate the drone market.

BBC Future visited drone manufacturer 3D Robotics in California and interviewed co-founder Chris Anderson about the potential applications of drones for agriculture.

Also at the BBC, Jane Wakefield examines artificial intelligence technologies in order to imagine “a society dominated by machine intelligence.”

Drone Wars UK, an advocacy group based in London, released a report on Israeli military drones. According to Mary Dobbing, a co-author of the report, “[A]bout 50 of the 76 countries known to have some form of military UAV capability have received drones or drone technology from Israel.”

In the Harvard National Security Journal, Naz K. Modirzadeh examines the role of human rights lawyers and organizations in conflict policy during the War on Terror.

Know Your Drone

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman and the U.S. Navy have announced that they are nearing completion of the Triton, a long-endurance surveillance and reconnaissance drone that is capable of monitoring an area of over 2,000 nautical miles. (Wired)

A U.S. company has unveiled a prototype drone that doubles as a driverless truck. The Black Night Transformer is intended for use in military rescue operations. (PopSci)

The Consumer Electronics Show featured a number of cheap personal use drones such as the DJI Phantom. (Motherboard)

Among the more hyped companies at the Consumer Electronics Show was the tech startup AirDroids, which raised over $50,000 on Kickstarter in a single day to produce a portable tri-copter drone called the Pocket Drone. So far the campaign, which will reward supporters that donate $415 with a Pocket drone of their own, has raised just under $170,000. (Tech Crunch)

Senator Rand Paul, whose 13-hour filibuster against the U.S. drone program made headlines last year, was given a toy drone for his birthday by fellow Senator Mike Lee. Senator Paul flew his drone during an interview on Fox News. (Politico)

Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is exploring how drones can be used to gather information about grassfires. Jim Gould, CSIRO’s principal research scientist, emphasized that the technology “will help the agencies to provide better information, preparedness and warnings around grass fires.”  (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Researchers at Michigan Tech Research Institute are experimenting with drones as a tool for monitoring road surface conditions for the Department of Transportation.

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Photo: A truck destroyed by an alleged American drone strike on a Yemeni wedding party caravan in December.  Rooj Alwazir/Al Jazeera
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