Weekly Roundup 3/21/16

UNICEF and the Malawian government are using drones to transport blood samples. Credit: UNICEF
UNICEF and the Malawian government are using drones to transport blood samples. Credit: UNICEF

3/14/16 – 3/20/16

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

In our new report, “Analysis of U.S. Drone Exemptions 2014-2015,” we studied 2,700 FAA permits for non-recreational drone use to develop a detailed picture of the drone industry. Among other findings, we determined that entities are now intending to use drones for a greater variety of applications than before, and that “Emergency Services” has grown more quickly than any other category of operation proposed by operators. The full report is available for download here.


A drone was involved in a close encounter with a Lufthansa jet on approach to Los Angeles International Airport. According to a spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration, the pilot of the Airbus A380 reported seeing a drone 200 feet above the aircraft, 14 miles east of the airport. (Associated Press) For our report on drone sightings and close encounters, click here.

An inmate at the Western Correctional Institution in Maryland, Charles Brooks, was sentenced to 13 years on several counts of conspiracy and possession of contraband for planning to use a drone to smuggle goods into the facility. Two accomplices, Thaddeus Shortz and Keith Brian Russell, were convicted last year. Brooks is already serving a life sentence. (Reuters)

The family of Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian aid worker killed in a 2015 U.S. drone strike in Pakistan, has sent a letter to President Obama requesting compensation for his death, as well as further information relating to the operation. Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, an American aid worker, were being held hostage by Al-Qaeda at the time of the strike. (Associated Press)

Lawmakers in Japan passed new regulations prohibiting drone flights over sensitive locations, including the Prime Minister’s residence and the Imperial Palace. The law also allows police to destroy drones when necessary. Last year, a man landed a drone on the roof of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s residence to protest Japan’s nuclear energy policies. (Japan Times)

A Heron surveillance and reconnaissance drone operated by the Indian Navy crashed off the coast of Kerala. According to an official who spoke with NDTV, pilots ditched the aircraft after it suffered an engine failure during a routine mission. The Israeli-made Heron is a medium-altitude long-endurance drone.

Commentary, Analysis and Art

The Editorial Board at the New York Times argues that the Obama administration can do more to improve transparency and accountability surrounding drone strikes.

Also at the New York Times, Cecilia Kang writes that Amazon is investing millions in lobbying Congress for policies that will enable its drone delivery service.

At Forbes, John Goglia writes that a Senate version of the bill to reauthorize the FAA includes a provision that would ban students and hobbyists from building their own drones.

A Wired, Missy Cummings argues that the FAA should accelerate efforts to regulate drones.

A study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University argues that the threat posed by drones to commercial air traffic is overblown. (Ars Technica)

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the Army and Air Force’s drone programs.

At Flightglobal, James Drew writes that the U.S. Air Force is struggling to identify a starter-generator issue onboard the MQ-9 Reaper that caused several of the drones to crash in recent months.

At BuzzFeed, Emma Loop profiles a number of Canadian military drone operators who are now suffering from trauma.

At DefenseNews, Burak Ege Bekdil writes that Turkey is seeking create a self-sufficient military drone industry so that it no longer has to rely on foreign technology.

At the Intercept, Cora Currier takes a look at efforts by the family of Givanni Lo Porto to learn more about the operation that killed him.

At the Atlantic, Josef Joffe argues that President Obama is an isolationist who is “in love with drones and special forces.”

Also at the Atlantic, Greg Miller takes a look at how U.S. legal approaches to robots have changed over the years.

At Lawfare, Adam Saxton argues that “autonomous weapons may not blatantly violate human dignity.”

At Business Insider, Barak Rabinowitz argues that Israeli drones will soon dominate the global commercial market.

Know Your Drone

Lockheed Martin has released new details about its proposed prototype for a high-altitude long-endurance stealth drone for the U.S. Air Force, the TX-R. The company would build 30 TX-Rs using cannibalized parts from the Air Force’s Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance drones and the U-2, a manned spy plane. (Flightglobal)

An Israeli startup is developing a parachute system that would safely bring multirotor drones back to ground when they malfunction. (Geek Time)

The French military is developing a prototype of a small long-endurance surveillance drone for patrolling the perimeter of its bases. (IHS Jane’s 360)

The U.K. Ministry of Defense has announced that it will hold a major joint military exercise focusing on drones in October of this year. (BBC)

A team of Swiss engineers has developed a helium-filled drone blimp that could be used as a safer alternative to multirotor drones for covering public events. (Reuters)

A team at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University is testing a long-endurance underwater drone called the CRACUNS that can also fly. (Mashable)

A startup called Scanse is raising funds on Kickstarter to produce a LiDAR unit that costs less than $300. (Gizmag)

Underwater drone maker Hydroid has unveiled an updated version of its REMUS 100 unmanned underwater vehicle with improved power systems and increased endurance. (IHS Jane’s 360)

Pizza company Domino’s has developed a prototype for an unmanned ground delivery vehicle that keeps your pizza warm on the way to your delivery address. (Popular Mechanics)

Drones at Work

UNICEF is testing drones for transporting DNA samples for urgent HIV tests in Malawi. (Vice)

A study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that drones are much more effective for monitoring certain bird populations than traditional methods such as ground counts. (Phys.org)

Fisheries researchers in Canada are testing drones for tracking the migratory patterns of eulachon fish in the Skeena River. (CBC)

Industry Intel

Goldman Sachs released a report predicting that global spending on drones over will top $100 billion over the next five years. (MarketWatch)

Alphabet Inc. is seeking to sell Boston Dynamics, a research company specializing in advanced legged robots. (Bloomberg Business)

The U.S. Air Force awarded General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. a $53.8 million contract to develop and field new capabilities for the MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 aircraft. (Contract Announcement)

The Indian military has finalized a $3 billion plan to procure up to 5,000 drones in the next ten years. (Defense News)

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