Weekly Roundup 8/19

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Speaking at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that drones should only be used for surveillance and intelligence gathering, and that they should always be deployed in compliance with international law. (Economic Times)

According to Egyptian security officials, an Israeli drone killed five Islamic militants in the Sinai Peninsula. (Washington Post)

In response to a 2010 lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Obama administration continues to argue that, while the Central Intelligence Agency has a number of documents about U.S. drone operations, public release of the documents would harm national security. Any public release “would benefit terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda to know with certainty the specific intelligence activities that the CIA has or has not been authorized to engage in,” according to a CIA official. (Huffington Post)

The Foreign Minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari, has asked the U.S. government for armed drones to help fight Islamic jihadists, whose attacks have claimed over 3,000 lives in recent months. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies earlier this week, Zebari said,“one of the key messages we have here is really we need your support, your cooperation on the security side to fight al-Qaeda to enhance our capabilities.” (BusinessWeek)

A group of conservationists called The Black Fish are flying drones to hunt for fishermen that use drift nets, an internationally banned practice. Vice Magazine profiled the group in a report about activists who use drones.

Officials in the Florida Keys are considering using drones to spot mosquito breeding sites as part of an effort to eradicate the insect. Michael Doyle, the head of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, said that the machines would assist ground inspectors by targeting the breeding grounds for “smart bombing” in an effort to sterilize the mosquitoes before they mature. (The Globe and Mail)

The Department of Transportation in Pennsylvania has purchased a drone to monitor the changes in sinkhole geology. The spokesperson for the office told The Patriot News that the drones are “a cheaper alternative” to using one of the state’s fleet of manned aircraft.


Commentary, Analysis, and Art

In a review of the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013 Convention, the world’s largest trade conference for unmanned technology, Brian Fung explores the industry’s attempts to improve the public image of drones. “If they succeed in changing the narrative, drone manufacturers will have paved the way toward what some experts think is a $400 billion business in waiting.” (Washington Post)

Cora Courier investigates whether the U.S. makes condolence payments to the families of civilians killed by drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan. (Alaska Dispatch)

In the September cover story for The Atlantic, Mark Bowden gets an inside look at the U.S. targeted killing program, and considers the difference between traditional war and the current program to dismantle al-Qaeda. “When you consider the alternatives, you are led, as Obama was, to the logic of the drone,” he writes.

Stephen Whisler, the artist behind the fake “Speed Enforced by Drones” signs, continues to make drone art. His newest creations are blue-tinted drawings of Predator drones, which, in an interview with the Global Post, he calls “the new watchtowers of the state.”

David Weigel at Slate.com explores why unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturers are so reluctant to call their products “drones.” And Konstantin Kakaes, also writing for Slate.com, argues that merely discontinuing the use of the word “drone” won’t address the controversy surrounding their use, nor will it counteract the public pushback against domestic drone use.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation, an international charity based in England which promotes non-violence, is making a Drones Quilt. Each participant decorates a fabric square with his or her name and the name of a person killed in a drone strike. The organization will send the quilt to the English Parliament “to advocate on behalf of those killed needlessly,” according to the website’s description.


Know Your Drone

The Washington Post reports that, according to recently released government documents, two prototypes of unmanned aircraft were tested at Area 51 in the early 1960s.

At the AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013 convention, hundreds of companies came together to show unmanned systems technologies. The convention was largely dominated by products for military applications, such as QinetiQ’s MAARS, a gun-mounted rover, and Flir’s hyper high-resolution surveillance systems. However, the industry is also adapting to increased demand for unmanned technologies for civilian and commercial applications, such as iRobot’s Remote Presence Robots. Flightglobal put together a daily magazine, the Unmanned Daily News, to report on the innovations on show at the convention.

Of particular note at Unmanned Systems 2013 was Titan Aerospace’s Solara atmospheric satellite, a solar-powered surveillance drone that flies for up to five years at an altitude of 60,000 ft.

A number of states were exhibiting at the convention as part of their efforts to attract drone manufacturers to their territories. Many of these states remain in contention for one of the FAA’s six drone test sites. (Politico)

As the FAA struggles to stay on schedule in its efforts to develop rules governing the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in domestic airspace, the organizers of the Burning Man festival have developed their own set of rules, which includes such regulations as “operators will avoid flying during the Temple burn.” (sUAS News)

The Department of Defense wants to put lasers on drones to defend against Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile attacks. (Aviation Week)

Two companies, InventWorks and Boulder Labs, are developing drones that, by spotting the exact location of weeds, can offer farmers a more efficient and environmentally friendly form of controlling unwanted plant growth. (Daily Camera News)

A drone was used to deliver the ring to a bride in front of 100 “astonished” guests at a wedding in San Francisco. May the union last. (Washington Post)


At the Center for the Study of the Drone

Kurt Schmidlein reflects on Obama’s embrace of targeted killing, and considers American policy in the context of an evolving world stage. “While canvassing for Obama in 2008,” he writes, “I argued over and over that the antics of Bush and Cheney, horrors like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, had created more terrorists than we had managed to kill. By 2012, Democrats and Republicans, and a great quantity of commentators, were convinced that Obama was doing the same.”

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(Photo: Attendees at Unmanned Systems 2013 watch a promotional video at the Lockheed Martin Pavilion)

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