Drone pilots and more background on drones

Article in the Economist discusses the pressures on drone pilots – Drone pilots:  Dilbert at war. Article in WSJ gives more background on the range of drones in operation today. First up, the Economist article.

There are serious pressures from being in a war zone for an 8 or 10 hour shift then going home to have dinner with your family in your own home/apartment. You can’t get a brew at the on-base club and decompress with the other crews who also have nothing else to do except hang out with you. Classification levels and operational security requirements mean you can’t discuss anything outside a secure area.

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Accident rates for military drones

The Washington Post has started a major investigative series on drones. First article describes losses in the military. Check out When Drones Fall From the Sky published June 20.

Looks to me like the implied conclusion the authors want you to reach is that drones are insufficiently reliable and unsafe for operation in U.S. airspace.

Several reasons for high loss rate come to mind. Institutional learning curve for brand new technology. Intentionally nonredundancy for an unmanned weapon system moved into use during combat. Not as much safety margins are designed in for unmanned systems in combat zone. Tradeoff of redundancy for reduced cost, increased range, and higher weapon payload.

Some great research from the article:

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More good stuff on the open frontiers in space and technology – 5-5-14

More good stuff on the space and technology open frontiers – SpaceX trying to get some of the military launches, drones in agriculture, and criminals using tech to steal pot and poach rhinos.


4/25 – Popular Mechanics – SpaceX Sues to Break Spy Satellite Launch Monopoly Continue reading “More good stuff on the open frontiers in space and technology – 5-5-14”

More good stuff on the open frontiers – 3-20-14

A few articles on technology, energy, and publishing that are worth a read and a brief comment. Reusable first stages of rockets, several updates on Yutu (Chinese lunar rover), commercial drones, lightly armed drones, and another shale field with big potential.


3/4 – The Feed – Home-Schooling for Higher Ed – Mentioned this idea before. How ‘bout hiring a college professor to privately tutor you for your first year of college. Read the article and think about it a few minutes. Intriguing idea, huh?


3/13 – Technology Review – SpaceX Set to Launch the World’s First Reusable BoosterContinue reading “More good stuff on the open frontiers – 3-20-14”

More good stuff on the open frontiers in space, education, and technology – 12-7-13

Today, twelve articles on education, space, and technology (including Amazon thinking about how to use drones to deliver packages).


12-3 – Via Meadia – Private Sector Warming to MOOCs – Mr. Mead points out that massive open on-line courses Continue reading “More good stuff on the open frontiers in space, education, and technology – 12-7-13”

Autonomous drone lands itself on aircraft carrier

Update Third attempt on 7-15-13 unsuccessful. Frequent failures are the price of innovation. Two successful landings is very cool. 

Here’s an amazing first:  a self-flying drone, the X-47B, took off from land at Patuxent NAS, flew to the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush and landed itself. It was then launched off the catapult and landed again.

Check out the video in the WSJ article: Navy Drone Successfully Lands on Aircraft Carrier.

There wasn’t an operator on the ground controlling the drone – it flew itself. Very cool.

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Lots of drones for lots of individuals and lots of governments

Drones are becoming quite popular for individuals and governments. I haven’t spent enough time talking about drones – their popularity is growing rapidly.

Cheap drones for individuals

For a few hundred dollars you can buy an easy-to-fly drone that can stream HD feed to your smart phone. That according to the video at Spying eyes or a bit of fun, drones fly off the shelves at Sydney Morning Herald.

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Drones doing acrobatics?

Yeah. Today they can.

As Alex Tabarrok says at Marginal Revolution, Acrobatic Quadrocopters, image a micro-drone, specifically a quadrocopter, that can balance a pole, toss it in the air, and have another micro-drone catch the pole in the air.

Check out this video:


link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pp89tTDxXuI#t=17s

The catching ‘copter recalculates the exact position to make the catch 50 times a second. It positions itself at the exact point so the pole will balance and right itself.

Here’s the question – how long do you think it will be until you can go to your local hobby story and buy one of these for under $200?

Scaleable drones based on how a maple seed flies

Ever play with maple seeds? They have a flat, blade-like tail. When they fall, the tail creates lift, generating spin, and the seed floats to the ground quite some distance from the tree.

They were fun to play with when I was a kid. Throw them in the air and they slowly spin to the ground like helicopter in auto-rotation.

Lockheed Martin has developed drones based on the same concept. A small propeller on the end of the tail creates a controllable, rapid spin which allows the drone to fly. A fixed camera on the drone is synchronized to the spin to produce a very stable view from the drone.

Check out this video:


The drone could be scaled down to a small size for recon.

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Privacy issues with cheap drones

Previously discussed the amazing stuff that little drones can do.

This week’s issue of The Economist has several great articles in the Technology Quarterly section.  One in particular that caught my eye – Unblinking eyes in the sky.

The article says drones that police might use for their operations will fit into the trunk of a car and can be had for the price of a police cruiser. Quite a bargain for surveillance in a crisis situation when you might otherwise need a helicopter which costs $1.7M to buy (according to the article) and require 1 pilot & 1 observer at operating cost of $5k or $10k an hour (my wild guess).

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Autonomous drones

Farhad Manjoo describes what a team at the University of Pennsylvania is doing with autonomous drones – the team calls them quadrotors – I Love You, Killer Robots

The drones are very small, autonomous and extremely nimble. They can determine location of nearby drones.

Check out the drones as they fly through windows at various angles:


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