Weekly Roundup 3/16/15

March 9, 2015 – March 15, 2015

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, senior U.S. government officials told the public that Saddam Hussein’s military was developing sophisticated drones capable of dropping chemical and biological agents on U.S. soil. Like the more famous claims about Iraq’s nuclear arsenal, this turned out to be patently untrue. We look back at Iraq’s foil-clad drones to see what the story can teach us about military drone proliferation today.


A U.S. drone strike reportedly killed Adan Garaar, a senior member of al-Shabab. The strike targeted a vehicle traveling near the town of Bardera in southern Somalia, killing Garaar and two other members of the militant group. Garaar is believed to have been the head planner of the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi. (Washington PostFor more on counterterrorism operations in Somalia, click here.

The United States will begin sending small reconnaissance drones and other non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine. The White House announced, however, that it has decided not to send lethal arms to Kyiv, as doing so might escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine. The package of non-lethal military aid includes seven Ravens, the hand-launched surveillance and reconnaissance drone made by Aerovironment. (Associated Press) For an interview with Aerovironment Vice President Steve Gitlin, click here.

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on President Obama’s proposed Authorization for Use of Military Force against the Islamic State. Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, and General Martin Dempsey testified in the hearing. (New York Times)

The Wall Street Journal reports that some members of Congress are encouraging the Obama administration to lend drones to Jordan to be used in the air campaign against the Islamic State. In a letter to the White House, 23 members of the House of Representatives wrote that the U.S. could supply Jordan with three or four MQ-1 Predator drones that the U.S. Air Force is in the process of replacing.

The Michigan State Police received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly a drone anywhere in the state. It is the first time that the FAA has granted a law enforcement agency such latitude for drone operations. The State Police bought an Aeryon SkyRanger multi-rotor drone in 2013 with grant funds provided by the Department of Homeland Security. (Detroit Free PressFor more on police drones, click here.

The U.S. Secret Service has begun testing different methods for defending the White House against drones. The tests, which are taking place over several weeks in D.C. between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., will involve tracking, hacking, and jamming incoming drones. The FAA confirmed that it granted the Secret Service authorization to fly drones in Washington D.C. airspace, which is highly restricted. (Associated Press)

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) released a proposed classification scheme for drones. The proposal, which divides drones into three categories, aims at consolidating by the end of the year the various local rules and regulations created by E.U. member states. “These rules will ensure a safe and fertile environment for this much promising industry to grow,” said EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky in a statement. (Reuters)

A small DJI Phantom drone crashed on a sidewalk in New York’s Upper West Side. The owner of the drone has not been identified. (WABC-TV)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At Motherboard, Jason Koebler reports on recent attempts by the FAA to crack down on hobbyists who post drone videos on YouTube.

Meanwhile, at Forbes, John Goglia questions whether the FAA’s scrutiny of the drone videos on YouTube is the best use of agency resources.

At the Verge, Ben Popper reports that drone maker DJI is set to become the first billion-dollar consumer drone company.

At DroneLife.com, Andrew Amato profiled the seven “most influential players in the drone industry.”

At Wired, Cade Metz argues that Facebook’s plan for using drones to provide Internet access will “make the Internet better for us all.”

At Defense One, Patrick Tucker takes a look at the role that DIY drones are playing in Ukraine’s fight against pro-Russian separatists.

Also at Defense One, Andrew Hunter and Andrew Metrick argue that the Obama administration’s new policy on drone exports will not lead to the proliferation of American-made drones or even an increase in foreign sales. For more on the drone export policy, click here.

At Boing Boing, Andrew Cockburn posted an excerpt from his new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of High Tech Assassins.

At War on the Rocks, Paul Scharre examines the “human element in robotic warfare,” in the latest instalment of a series of posts on robotics and automation in war.

At Just Security, John Reed argues that the U.S. must be more transparent with respect to the development of its next generation of robotic weapons.

In a panel discussion at Brookings, Gabriella Blum and Benjamin Wittes discuss their new book, The Future of Violence: Robots and Germs, Hackers and Drones——Confronting A New Age of Threat.

At IEEE Spectrum, David Schneider investigates what might happen if a drone struck the engine of a commercial airliner.

At Popular Science, Andrew Rosenblum explains why Canada is so far ahead of the United States in implementing regulations for commercial drones.

At War is Boring, Adam Rawnsley investigates Iranian drone tests over the Straits of Hormuz.

At the Los Angeles Times, Ted Rall argues that drones belonging to the Los Angeles Police Department will soon be a common sight in the skies above LA.

U.K. rock band Muse told Rolling Stone that it has named its new album Drones because “The world is run by Drones [sic] utilizing Drones to turn us all into Drones. Drones explores the journey of a human, from their abandonment and loss of hope, to their indoctrination by the system to be a human drone, to their eventual defection from their oppressors.”

Know Your Drone

The Pakistani Army announced that it has successfully fired a laser-guided missile from an indigenous drone. (Express Tribune)

Aerospace company Exelis unveiled Symphony, a system for tracking drones that fly under 500 ft. (Reuters)

Argentina announced that it has awarded state defense company INVAP a $238 million contract to develop a military drone program. (IHS Jane’s 360)

A team at Swiss architecture firm Gramazio Kohler is using drones equipped with cable spools to weave three-dimensional structures. (Dezeen)

The U.S. Air Force has described how it is using a Global Hawk high-altitude drone as an airborne telecommunications hub, or, as one officer put it, “Wi-fi in the sky.” (The Aviationist)

Polish company WB Electronics has developed a small multi-copter drone, the Bee, that is capable of carrying a small explosive charge. (Reuters)

Christian Science Monitor offers a look at what we might expect in the upcoming DARPA Robotics Challenge.

Google is not looking to pursue military contracts for its robotics companies. Google-owned Japanese firm Schaft, which won last year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge by a wide margin, will not be participating in this year’s challenge. (Wall Street Journal)

Engineers are rewriting code for Boeing’s Little Bird unmanned aircraft in order to make it less vulnerable to hacking attacks. (Executive Biz)

U.S. drone maker 3D Robotics has unveiled the Spektre, a quadcopter designed for industrial use.

Drones at Work

With acceptance letters for the class of 2019 on their way, MIT made a video that imagined what it would look like if those letters were delivered by drones. (YouTube)

The organizers of Austin’s SXSW warned that anyone flying a drone at the music festival places the safety of others at risk and could be arrested. (Time)

Photographer Ryan Deboodt flew a drone into an enormous cave in Vietnam. (PetaPixel)

The BBC used a drone to fly through the unfinished tunnels of Crossrail, a huge underground rail project in London.

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