Here you will find all the latest news on anything Air-born related!
- Invisible dome detects drones
- Officials cracking down on amateur drone
- License Plates for Drones
You may have noticed that drones have been in the news lately — and by “lately” we mean more-or-less every day for the last several years. The mushrooming use of domestic UAVs and quadcopters is prompting big changes in society, technology and public policy.Earlier this week, for instance, we heard about North Dakota lawmakers legalizing the use of police aerial drones weaponized with rubber bullets, tear gas and Tasers.
That came just days after authorities foiled a plot in Maryland to smuggle contraband — including drugs and a handgun — into a prison yard using a remote controlled quadcopter. Similar smuggling operations have been reported across the U.S. and around the world.Armed Drones Legalized in N. DakotaIt’s clear that drones — an emerging blanket term referring to both military and civilian UAVs — are making waves. And in the marketplace, whenever there’s an action, there’s a reaction.
A European startup is now marketing a consumer anti-drone system that’s designed to detect and report unmanned aircraft flying in a specified range of airspace. The company, Dedrone, is marketing the system to prisons, corporations, event planners — or anyone else concerned about unauthorized drones spying, smuggling or otherwise causing security concerns.The system’s hardware element is called the Drone Tracker. Built into a weatherproof 16-inch platform, the device uses an array of sensors — including video cameras, acoustical sensors and near-infrared cameras — to watch the skies, day and night.
Each Drone Tracker can monitor a patch of airspace in a 120-degree arc of coverage out to a range of 100 meters.Border Cops Fight Drug-Smuggling Drones Dedrone, based in Kassel Germany with an office in Charleston, W. Va., also provides the software system, which uses a browser-based interface and cloud-based data storage. The Drone Tracker is designed to be easily configured and deployed, so that users could set up a temporary drone detection perimeter at public events.
You can read more about the system at the Dedrone website, or check out this promotional video the company put out concerning the drone menace, which has the ominous tone and bombast of a civil defense PSA set five minutes into the future. Nothing wrong with a few scare tactics, right? Marketing!
Officials cracking down on amateur drone pilots who interfere with wildfire fighting efforts.
Five lightning strikes last month ignited forest fires just south of Lake Chelan in Washington state, engulfing more than 22,000 acres and requiring the expertise of 50 firefighters to extinguish. We are now learning that on the first day of the fire, dubbed the Douglas County Complex fire, a drone was spotted by a pilot hampering firefighting efforts for a short period of time.
A pilot, who was gathering additional information about the fire, observed a drone in his airspace before quickly landing by a parked vehicle three miles outside of the fire’s perimeter. Also, while the story ends there, it could have been much worse according to lawmakers and other officials. Just minutes earlier, the reconnaissance mission had been joined by three other fire-fighting aircraft, including a tanker and a helicopter.“Yes, this is really a problem and it’s growing,” said U.S.
Forest Service spokesman Paul Rhynard. “The reason being every time a drone is reported everyone has to stop all air traffic — all flights are grounded and the ones in the air have to turnaround. ”As wildfires continue to rage across Washington state, claiming nearly half a million acres and the lives of three firefighters, there’s another threat that people may not know about: drones.
These devices, often flown by amateur pilots, are increasingly interfering with firefighting efforts across the country, the U.S. Forest Service says.Over the past 12 months, the Forest Service has counted 13 wildfires in which drones interfered with firefighting aircraft, up from only five the year before. This fire season alone has seen 11 situations where firefighting aircraft have either shut down completely or removed themselves from the area due to an unmanned aircraft being used in the airspace.
Only one incident in Washington state has been properly reported to authorities.“Although the majority of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) incursions have occurred in southern California, UAS incursions are not limited to one area; Washington and Utah have also seen UAS activity affect fire suppression efforts,” according to a memo issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Perhaps, the most high-profile example of a drone impacting firefighting efforts was a fire in California’s San Bernardino National Forest that burned 4,250 acres, including 11 eleven structures and 64 vehicles. When the fire was over Interstate 15, five unauthorized drones were flown in the airspace and firefighting aircraft were grounded for the safety of the firefighters for 20 minutes.
During that time, the fires continued to spread.To educate the public on the hazards of flying drones over wildfires, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, recently released a poster with the title: “If you fly, we can’t.” The posters list the dangers of flying drones above forest fires, including the possibility of injury or death to firefighters and hampering their ability to protect lives, property and natural resources.
Additionally, it says that managers may suspend aerial firefighting, which will in turn allow fires to spread. A ScanEagle drone launches at Boeing’s test facility in eastern Oregon. But, for the most part, there’s no ramifications if a person is caught flying a drone.Currently, several government agencies, including the FAA, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Security Council, are working on possible legal actions that can help reduce the issue of drones during emergency response events.
Washington State Senator Maria Cantwell is also drafting a bill that would include a provision that names specific penalties for private citizens that operate drones within temporary restricted air spaces and disrupt fire operations. Cantwell’s press secretary said it’s too early to know what those penalties may be, but the full text of the bill will be out in the coming weeks.
While amateur aircraft have been spotted in the sky, officials are not yet using the aircraft themselves to assist with fighting the fires.
Last year, the FAA approved the use of drones to monitor wildfires in Washington state. But according to the Department of Natural Resources, they don’t own any drones, but are hoping to pilot some soon with the assistance of Boeing.“We hope to eventually have a drone to do that and to not put our pilots in harm’s way. There will be a tremendous benefit. We are getting there slowly,” she said.
Pulsing LEDs on the underside of drones could function as “license plates” that allow law enforcement to trace the operator of a craft endangering safety or privacy.So far this year commercial pilots in the U.S. have reported 650 sightings of drones near their aircraft to the Federal Aviation Administration.
In only a tiny fraction of those reports was the operator identified—and complaints of drones causing danger or invading privacy will surely grow as the small aircraft get cheaper and more capable.Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are now testing a kind of license plate for drones they think could help make drone operators more accountable.
The project, called Lightcense, involves a rectangular array of bright, multicolored LEDs attached to the underside of a craft. The LEDs blink a unique pattern that could be looked up in a database by law enforcement to identify a drone’s owner.The LED license plate is designed to be decoded by a smartphone app, specialized camera equipment in the hands of law enforcement, or even memorized by someone who spies a drone that’s up to no good.
That would provide an urgently needed public accountability mechanism lacking today, says Aislan Foina, director of the Cal Unmanned Aviation Research Lab at the University of California, Berkeley.The FAA is working to finalize rules for people and companies using drones commercially. Many U.S companies, including Amazon and Google, are making plans for services such as package delivery by drone, or drones for surveillance or crop inspection (see “10 Breakthrough Technologies 2014: Agricultural Drones”), but it is still unclear how safety and privacy will be enforced when flocks of drones surround us.
NASA is working on systems to track and manage drone air traffic (see “Air Traffic Control for Drones”). Some manufacturers program their craft with “no fly” zones, for example over central Washington, D.C. Others argue commercial drones should adopt radio locator beacons like those on conventional aircraft.Foina says a license plate model would be more appropriate for the way drones are set to impinge on public space. “If a drone is bothering people, they’re going to call the police, not the Air Force or FAA,” he says. A visual tag also works better than a radio beacon in a situation where multiple drones are in the same area, Foina adds.
The Berkeley researchers first tested their idea by modifying a drone made by the manufacturer 3D Robotics with extra electronics and high-brightness LEDs. In daylight, the license plate’s pattern could be identified by the naked eye from about 100 meters away, and at 150 meters using a custom app on a smartphone augmented with a cheap zoom lens.The researchers are now working on a prototype of a special camera that could be used by police to read drone license plates.
They are also finishing an improved license plate design, in the form of a tough box roughly the size and shape of a smartphone that packages together an LED license plate with a standard aircraft location beacon and a battery. This is intended as a standardized component that could be attached to any drone, and would keep operating even if it crashed. Foina says he has had talks with 3D Robotics about how it might modify its drone’s electronics to support the design, but the company has not committed to doing so.
Todd Humphreys, an assistant professor at the University of Texas, Austin, says the idea could help address what he calls the “urgent problem of tracking down the operators of misbehaving drones.” LED plates might be simple enough that drone manufacturers would accept them without fear of overburdening their customers, he says.However, it would be relatively easy to tape over your license plate, remove the device, or build a drone without one, Humphreys notes.
He thinks building always-on location beacon technology into the radio components used in the drone industry could be a more reliable way of ensuring that most drones, and their operators, are traceable. Foina counters that the way car license plates work shows that it doesn’t necessarily matter if his LED plates are easily disabled. “If a drone’s not blinking you would know it’s not coӧperating with the system, and that’s suspicious,” he says.