Cool stuff on the open frontier of technology: commercial drones, merchant ships without crews, and tiny satellites.


Imagine one of those providing enough bandwidth to allow merchant ships to operate without a crew. Imagine scaling that down to show-box size to allow a company to sell daily images of every spot on the earth. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Imagine one of those providing enough bandwidth to allow merchant ships to sail the world without any crew. Imagine scaling that down to show-box size to allow a company to sell daily images of every spot on the earth. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Technology is advancing at mind-boggling speed:

  • New rules for small drones allow commercial use of drones
  • Drones as bold security guards
  • Cubesats that can count all the cars in all the parking lots of a retailer
  • Research underway for merchant ships that can travel the world without any crew members on board

8/30 – Wall Street Journal – Business-Drone Rules to Take Effect – New rules governing business use of drones up to 55 pounds go into effect this day. Previously, rules required all drone operators to merely register with the feds. New rules allow business use of drones, by licensed pilots, within line-of-site, during the day, with drones under 55 pounds.

Expect more rules to address flight beyond line-of-site, and how to operate when people are underneath the drone.

8/22 – TechCrunch – Drone startup Aptonomy introduces the self-flying security guard – Company has a drone loaded with cameras, lights, loudspeakers, including night-vision cameras. I am sure there will be microphones to pick up sounds and conversations.

It can be dispatched as a remote-controlled security guard.

Pick up an alarm on a motion sensor or the security device? Dispatch the drone to approach the location with or without lights. If the operator senses people who shouldn’t be there, a loudspeaker can address them. Lights could be turned on for shock effect. Keep in mind the video and audio feed will be recorded for later use or be sent to police.

Picture such a drone dispatched to identify whether an intruder is actually present. Picture it warning off intruders after turning on lights and announcing the incident is being recorded. Imagine the drone hovering out of reach yet maneuvering to follow the individuals as they leave.

I can even picture the drone following the intruder to the getaway car and taking pictures of the license plate, driver, and any other occupants of the vehicle as it leaves the scene. Imagine sending a report to the police, with photos, as the incident is underway.

8/14 – Wall Street Journal – Tiny Satellites: The Latest Innovation Hedge Funds Are Using to Get a Leg Up – Want to figure out how sales are going for a retailer in order to decide whether to buy or sell the stock? Would it be cool to visit every parking lot of every store of a retailer, counting the number of vehicles, then comparing the tally of cars in the parking lot to the last few years?

If you could get a close approximation to the number of cars in the parking lot at every store you could make a really good guess on what sales are going to be this month and this quarter.

Imagine the number of people you would have to hire to visit every parking lot, walk through it, get an accurate tally, and the challenge to report back all the information.

In the alternative, just imagine if you could put a few dozen tiny satellites in orbit and count the number of cars in every parking lot of a particular retailer. In fact, you could count the number of cars in the stores of every parking lot of every retailer every day.

Imagine no more.

That is what hedge funds are doing now. Today.

Tiny satellites, sometimes called cubesats that I’ve discussed before, can be launched to do that very thing. One company has about 60 such satellites in orbit to do things like counting the cars in parking lots, looking at how full oil-storage tanks are at the moment, or even assessing the health or productivity of crops.

Unnamed hedge funds and investment companies are eating up that data. With computers that can crunch huge amounts of information, a lot more analysis can be performed more quickly and cheaply than ever before.

This entire new frontier of technology is called “alternative data”, reflecting a vast expansion in what is available for analysis.

The one company mentioned, Planet Labs, currently has 60 satellites up with another 40 planned for launch in 2017. First round of funding was $183M which allowed them to bring 300 staff on board. Article says they have more than two dozen ground stations around the world to pull down all the data. (I can’t even image the amount of data they accumulate every day.)

Article says that at the point they have 100 cubesats in orbit, they will be able to sell daily pictures of every place on the planet.

As you stretch your brain to ponder the commercial applications of daily photographs of any particular place on the plant you want to see, stretch further to consider the ease of intelligence gathering by any government on the planet who otherwise would never be able to afford even one satellite.

8/31 – Wall Street Journal – Ship Operators Explore Autonomous Sailing – Rapid increase in bandwidth even at sea with dropping costs will allow completely autonomous merchant ships to be monitored and controlled from land.

Developers are working on the technology, including a wide range of sensors. Multiple hurdles still need to be cleared, such as security, safety, navigational, and law of the sea.

Removing all the space and equipment needed to support the crew would allow increases in efficiency in addition to removing the cost of staff.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *