Weekly Roundup 3/31

A still from a video at Internet.org demonstrating how Facebook plans to deliver Internet access with drones. Source: Internet.org
A still from a video at Internet.org demonstrating how Facebook plans to deliver Internet access with drones. Source: Internet.org

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

Last year, protesters flew a small drone outside the house of Senator Dianne Feinstein. Now Feinstein believes that small, privately-owned drones pose a greater threat to domestic privacy than any other emerging technology. Alex Pasternack explores the complex questions and concerns around small drone proliferation in the U.S. “The dangers that a peeping-tom drone poses to the public,” writes Pasternack, “seem to pale in comparison to the risks posed to the public by a drone that runs out of batteries at 500 feet above a crowded city, that collides into another drone in crowded skies, or that crashes into an airliner during a landing.”


The United Nations Human Rights Council voted in favor of a resolution that urges member states to comply with with international law when using military drones. The resolution, which was introduced by Pakistan, is based in part on the recommendations of Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism, who has suggested that U.S. drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan may violate international law. The United States, Britain and France voted against the measure. (Reuters)

A new test center for unmanned aerial vehicles has opened in Spain. The Air Traffic Laboratory for Advanced Unmanned Systems, Europe’s first drone test center, will be used for testing small- and medium-sized drones. The center was developed by the Sevilla-based Center for Advanced Aerospace Technologies with funding from the European Union, the local government and several aerospace companies. (Aviation International News)

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg revealed that the company will test solar-powered, high-altitude drones as a platform for delivering internet access to remote areas. The revelation was part of the company’s announcement that it has created a Connectivity Lab to develop a variety of “connectivity aircraft for its internet.org initiative. “We want to explore whether there are ways from the sky to deliver the Internet access,” said Yael Maguire, engineering director for Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, in an interview with the New York Times.

A report on military drone use by the Defence Committee of the British Parliament calls for greater transparency from the British government, noting “apparently inconsistent answers by ministers” in response to questions about the country’s weaponized drone program. The report also cited “misunderstandings and misinformation” as the source of public anxiety over the use of unmanned systems. (The Guardian)

The United States Navy is sending an undersea drone to aid the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. The Bluefin unmanned undersea vehicle can explore the ocean at depths of up to 15,000 feet. Ten American military and civilian personnel will accompany the drone to Australia, where a major search effort is based. (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Boeing Insitu surveillance drones are on standby to aid the search effort taking place at the site of a landslide in Washington state. (King5.com)

Officials in Kenya announced that they will begin using drones to fight elephant and rhino poachers in Tsavo National Park. The surveillance aircraft will be deployed to combat what Kenyan officials say are sophisticated criminal networks that take advantage of the high demand for ivory. (Reuters)

The Alaska Board of Game voted to ban the use drones for big game hunting. Some hunters use camera-equipped drones to spot game; Alaskan officials fear that the practice will become widespread as the cost of the technology decreases. (Anchorage Daily News)

Commentary, Analysis and Art

At The New Republic, Yochi Dreazen predicts that drones will play a significant role in the next Arab-Israeli war. “It may be that we’re well past the point where deterrence is possible,” writes Dreazen.

At Defense One, Patrick Tucker lays out three conditions that need to be met before robot soldiers start appearing on the battlefield.

At The Guardian, Shane Hickey interviews Andreas Raptopoulos, the CEO of Matternet. Raptopoulos plans to use drones to deliver aid supplies to remote areas in the developing world.

At Foreign Policy, Dan Lamothe considers the recent decline in drone strikes in Afghanistan as the NATO mission there winds down.

At Geographical Imaginations blog, Derek Gregory selects key passages the British Parliament’s  report on military drones.

In an episode of VICE on HBO, Suroosh Alvi explores the impact of drone strikes on America’s reputation in Pakistan.

At The Bridge blog, Don Vandergriff argues that the NATO and American military doctrines minimize human agency in a centralized command structure. “Being a mechanical conception, [synchronization warfare] emphasizes hardware over people,” writes Vandergriff.

Swarms of quadcopter drones are featured in car manufacturer Subaru’s latest advertisement.

Know Your Drone

The U.S. Navy has completed testing of its Triton high-altitude surveillance drone, which is scheduled to be introduced in 2017. During testing the Triton reached an altitude of 59,950 feet. In a single mission it can cover an area of 2.7 million square miles. (NAVAIR News)

Russian television channel 1tv.ru aired a brief video clip of a Russian prototype military drone. Few details about the drone, which is called Altius, are available; analysts predict that it will be used for strike missions, among other tasks. (The Aviationist)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will soon begin developing systems for drones to share information and to function with greater autonomy. “Using collaboration algorithms, [drones] can provide services to each other, such as geolocating targets with long-distance sensors and guiding less-capable systems,” wrote DARPA officials in the project description. (ArsTechnica)

Engineers from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at the University of Sheffield are testing a small drone made entirely from 3-D printed components. (Eureka Magazine)

Meanwhile, Adam Clark Estes at Gizmodo notes that such technology could be used to produce on-demand swarms of disposable drones.

The U.S. military announced that it is moving forward with plans to test systems for deploying capsules containing military hardware, including drones, around the the seafloor at depths of over 2.5 miles. When needed, the capsules would rise to the surface and release the drones for surveillance missions. (TIME)

And spoof news site The Onion has put together a diagram of “How a Predator Drone Works.” According to the diagram, the Predator has a “little cockpit for chipmunk pilot,” a kickstand and a “broadsword for hand-to-hand combat.”

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