Weekly Roundup 3/4

Researchers at Wake Forest University used drones to create a 3-D model of a major coal ash spill in North Carolina. Credit: Wake Forest University
Researchers at Wake Forest University used drones to create a 3-D model of a major coal ash spill in North Carolina. Credit: Wake Forest University

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At the Center for the Study of the Drone

It has been much remarked upon that the proliferation and integration of domestic drones has serious implications for personal privacy, but how exactly does the law protect privacy? Jared Rankin examines how the U.S. juridical understanding of privacy is based on our societal and individual expectation of privacy, and explores how surveillant technologies shift those expectations.  “Drones highlight, and may well play into, the potential problem with the juridical premises of privacy,” writes Rankin. “Understandings of privacy shift according to norms, and norms are subject to the development and proliferation of technology, which doesn’t always proceed along predictable or planned lines.”


The American citizen that the White House is considering targeting in a drone strike is a man known as Abdullah al-Shami, a “possibly” Texas-born militant who is hiding in the mountains of northwestern Pakistan. According to the New York Times, al-Shami has risen through the ranks of al-Qaeda to become one of the top planners of attacks on targets outside of Pakistan, including against American troops in Afghanistan.

An alleged drone strike killed three people in Yemen, according to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. The strike targeted a vehicle carrying suspected al-Qaeda militants near the town of Shebwan in the central Yemeni province of Marib.

Researchers at Wake Forest University used a drone to measure the scale of what is now considered to be the third-largest coal ash spill in U.S. history. An estimated 35 tons of coal ash and contaminated waste water spilled into the Dan River after a rupture occurred at the Duke Energy coal ash dump in Eden, North Carolina. “Our goal is to help stakeholders deal with the spill and its consequences, and show the technology as a cheap and cost-effective way to monitor the environment,” said Miles Silman, a Wake biology professor who is working on the project. (Winston-Salem Journal)

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is using unmanned ground vehicles to investigate smuggling tunnels on the border with Mexico. Smugglers use a network of storm and drainage tunnels to move drugs and other illegal substances across the border. “If anyone is going to get hurt, it better be that robot,” Tom Pittman, a CBP agent, told the New York Times.

Commentary, Analysis and Art

Ben Emmerson, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, submitted his third and final report on drone strikes and civilian casualties. In the report, Emmerson examines 30 strikes and calls for greater transparency from the United States, Israel and the United Kingdom.

At Popular Science, Kelsey D. Atherton writes that the Pentagon budget signals a plan for a future military with “fewer soldiers, more robots.”

The Palestinian Regional Office of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung published a report on Israeli drones in Gaza which contests Israeli Defence Force claims that its weapons are “precise.”

In a new report from the Center for a New American Security, David W. Barno and Nora Bensahel argue that the U.S. Navy should hold off on incorporating the already much-delayed F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and accelerate plans for developing unmanned aerial systems.

At Defense News, Mark Gunzinger and Bryan Clark argue that the U.S. Navy must develop unmanned carrier-based aircraft capable of operating in contested environments.

Meanwhile, at the Diplomat, Harry Kazianis refutes the claim that unmanned strike aircraft are likely to replace manned aircraft at sea anytime soon.

MediaTown, a Palestinian production company in Gaza, used a drone to capture an aerial video of Gaza.

Netflix mocked Amazon’s drone delivery proposal in a minute-long satirical video. (Wired)

A quadcopter drone captured aerial video footage of thousands of dolphins and whales off the coast of Los Angeles. “Drones are going to change how we view the animal world,” Dave Anderson, the founder of Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari, told NBC Los Angeles.

At Gizmodo, Matt Novak finds a 1924 vision of remote-controlled aircraft being used in war.

Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, an art gallery in Oakland, is currently showing “Remote Control,” an exhibition of drone paintings.

Al-Jazeera published a graphic about Pakistan’s North and South Waziristan provinces, where the majority of American drone strikes take place.

Despite the plan to phase out the U-2 manned spy plane, Richard Sisk at DoD Buzz writes that the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance aircraft is years from assuming all the long-serving U-2’s responsibilities.

In a podcast at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Alice Ross speaks with a Kareem Khan, a Pakistani man whose son and brother were killed in a 2009 drone strike. “This is all a pack of lies saying that drones are targeting any militants or Taliban,” Khan told Ross. “They are not. They are actually targeting mostly innocent tribal people like my son and my brother.”

Know Your Drone

Rolls Royce is developing unmanned cargo ships  that can be navigated from land. According to a company spokesman, these crew-less drone freighters would be cheaper to build and operate, and would consume up to 15 percent less fuel. (Bloomberg News)

Hungarian researchers have successfully programmed 10 drones to autonomously fly in a swarm formation without the intervention of a central command system. (NPR)

Facebook is in talks to acquire the high altitude drone company Titan Aerospace, according to TechCrunch. The internet company is looking to buy the drone maker as part of its Internet.org initiative, a campaign to bring wireless internet to underdeveloped areas of the world. Titan Aerospace manufactures sub-orbital, solar powered drones that are capable of remaining at an altitude of 70,000 ft for up to five years.

In an interview with the Royal Aeronautical Society, British defense contractor BAE Project Pilot and Mission Commander Bob Fraser describes the experience of remotely piloting the Taranis stealth drone on its maiden flight. “It also felt like a bit of an anti-climax because it all worked perfectly,” explained Fraser.

The U.S. Army has issued a Request for Information to develop Counter Unmanned Aerial System technology. The report notes that in the near future, U.S. Armed Forces could be “increasingly threatened” by reconnaissance and weaponized aerial drones. “All levels of detection, decision and defeat should be considered when developing and proposing a capability.”

The U.S. Army awarded a $7.2 million contract to Syracuse-based SRCTec to provide radar systems at several drone test sites. At Fort Drum, New York, the radar will aid in the development of “sense-and-avoid” capabilities of unmanned aircraft. (Syracuse Post-Standard)

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