We are just now beginning to see the possibilities of orchestrated drone swarms and how they can be used for entertainment. In the not too distant future firework shows in American will be replaced with organized drone shows and halftime shows at the Super Bowl will showcase a synchronized display of visuals that align with the entertainment.
Shit is getting real. Last Friday, near a cornfield in North Dakota, four underage men were pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving. The four men hopped out of their car and bolted into the cornfield. Grand Forks police didn't follow them: Instead, they put a drone in the sky.
"One of them was walking through the cornfield. It took about three minutes to find him," Alan Frazier, Deputy Sheriff in charge of the Grand Forks Police Department's unmanned aerial vehicle system unit told me. "The other was found on a second flight, after maybe 25 minutes."
The two other suspects were apprehended at another time—they had the unlucky distinction of becoming the first Americans ever tracked down and arrested with the help of a police quadcopter.
The Qube drone that was used to chase down four DUI suspects last weekend. Image: Author
That it happened around Grand Forks is not a surprise.
Two years ago, a cattle rancher near there was arrested with the help of a Department of Homeland Security Predator drone, becoming the first man arrested in the US with the help of a drone. These four men become the first to be arrested in the US with the help of a local police drone (as of 2013, there were roughly 24 police agencies using drones).
Two weeks ago, in something of a coincidence, I sat in a conference room in Grand Forks as Frazier pitched me and several other journalists on the force's use of drones.
To start off the presentation, he pulled up this video, made by AeroVironment, the company that makes the Qube, the drone that Frazier and his team and several other police departments around the country use:
Frazier called the video, in which a fugitive is tracked down with a drone, "a little Hollywood," but that's essentially what happened there, last week. The Grand Forks Police Department is the first in the United States to get Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly at night, and last weekend's mission was the very first time the department had ever used the Qube at night on a mission.
"There's a misnomer that these are covert spy tools," Frazier told me when I was in Grand Forks. "We utilize them for events that are already occurring. We look for felony suspects, we do further analysis, we use them for totally overt missions. There's no plans to use them covertly."
DOES HE HAVE A REASONABLE EXPECTATION OF PRIVACY? IF SO, THEN WE'D SEEK A SEARCH WARRANT.
"That's not to say they can't be used for covert missions, but they haven't been," he added. A video he showed us pitched the Qube as a "powerful surveillance tool."
The back of the "UAS Unit" SUV. Image: Author
Tim Schuh, the police officer most often tasked with actually flying the thing, says it's been used about a dozen times in the last year—only once while actually looking for a suspect (before this last case). "We're not flying over downtown looking for trouble," he said.
Still, the department seems a bit gung-ho about drones in a way that many others are not. Frazier balked at the idea that the department should or would get a warrant before flying one. (California Gov. Jerry Brown just vetoed a bill that would have required police in the state to get a warrant before using a drone).
A fourth suspect has remained unnamed because he is believed to be under 18. Image: Valley News Live
When I asked Frazier if he thinks a warrant should be necessary, he said, "absolutely not. We do a quick litmus test—'does he have a reasonable expectation of privacy?' If so, then we'd seek a search warrant."
So far, the drone had been flown on 11 different occasions, only once to search for a fugitive (it wasn't successful that time). It's been used to monitor flooding, look for missing persons, take videos of a sexual assault scene, take photos of a murder scene, and once to get photos of a traffic accident scene.
After telling us about the drone program, Frazier took me outside, where Schuh was on hand to show off the Qube's capabilities. The Qube lives in the back of a police SUV that's marked "UAS Unit." Schuh set it up, and the Qube, a quadcopter not much bigger than the white Phantom drones that have become so popular with hobbyists, took off and immediately began sending footage back down to the ground station.
At this point, the process has become routine. Maybe that's why, when those four men ran off into the cornfield, police didn't chase them, Frazier said. Instead, the drone was called in and found them.
"From there, it was just like any other foot pursuit," he told me. "You chase them down and take them to jail."
Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios have partnered to develop a short film featuring 10 quadcopters in a flying dance performance. The collaboration resulted in a unique, interactive choreography where humans and drones move in sync.
Get an exclusive look at the story behind the short film SPARKED: a collaboration between Cirque du Soleil, ETH Zurich, and Verity Studios. SPARKED demonstrates how state of-the-art technology can be used to combine human actors and quadcopters in a symbiotic, choreographed performance.
The Aeryon Scout and Clearpath Husky are used to demonstrate indoor and outdoor flight test results of a decentralized controller for automated docking.
The ‘Projector Drone’ is capable of beaming news, games, film and advertising onto the world around it. This proof of concept build is able to fly for 12 minutes at a time, features its own on-board data storage and a 500 lumens LED projector. We are already working on more sophisticated features including live streaming data, gimbal integration, ultrasonic sound capabilities and improved flight time. Source
The Drone That Will Change Graffiti: An Interview with KATSU. KATSU is an artist and a vandal and a clever hacker too. His work pushes our idea of what can be achieved with the graffiti artist’s limited tool-set. Having established himself as one of New York City’s most prolific and imaginative taggers in the 1990s, he garnered admiration from the arts community (and condemnation from the authorities) when he pioneered the fire extinguisher spray can, which has permitted him to expand the scale of his art by orders of magnitude. He famously demoed it at “Art in the Streets,” a 2012 show at the the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, when, without invitation, he left his multi-story calling card on the side of the museum. Source
CUPID drone features an 80,000 volt stun gun. Tech company Chaotic Moon have shown their smartphone-controlled drone called CUPID, able to detain a subject by using an 80,000 volt stun gun. The power output is so strong, it creates an electromagnetic field large enough to ruin any electronics within a five foot range. The electronics in the drone itself are shielded in a Faraday cage. There’s a video up here of the drone ‘detaining’ an intern. Source
The Latest Advancement in Ice Fishing From Lakemaid Beer. Drone delivery of beer right to your doorstep. It’s should be arriving soon in a fish house or ice shack near you. Each bottle will feature one of 12 Lakemaids properly attired for the cold, winter months. And each bottle cap will feature Lakemaid Beer’s new unique winter bottle cap icons for hours of fun in the ice-fishing shack. Source
By the middle of this century, U.S. Army soldiers may well be fighting alongside robotic squadmates. General Robert Cone revealed the news at an Army Aviation symposium last week, noting that the Army is considering reducing the size of a Brigade Combat Team from 4,000 soldiers to 3,000, with robots and drones making up for the lost firepower. Cone is in charge of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the part of the Army responsible for future planning and organization. If the Army can still be as effective with fewer people to a unit, TRADOC will figure out what technology is needed to make that happen.
While not explicitly stated, a major motivation behind replacing humans with robots is that humans are expensive. Training, feeding, and supplying them while at war is pricey, and after the soldiers leave the service, there’s a lifetime of medical care to cover. In 2012, benefits for serving and retired members of the military comprised one-quarter of the Pentagon’s budget request.
To understand what Cone is proposing (besides robot soldiers), we need to understand two fundamental building blocks of the modern U.S. Army. The first is the nine-man squad, almost the smallest useful unit of force. For some purposes, it can be split into two smaller fireteams, but the Army designs vehicles with the nine-man squad in mind, and then writes doctrine for how these squads (some with, some without vehicles) will move and fight.
The second building block worth knowing is the Brigade Combat Team. It’s the smallest large unit that can be sent into combat independently. If the Army can reduce number of people in squads, it can reduce the total manpower everywhere, and it can acquire vehicles that are both smaller and cheaper. In order to reduce manpower without reducing fighting ability, the Army will need to make sure that Brigades have everything they need to be just effective. In order for that to happen, Cone said the Army will “need to fundamentally change the nature of the force, and that would require a breakthrough in science and technology.” Cone expects this to happen by 2030 to 2040.
This is a huge change under consideration, but the Army already has some robot warriors on hand. In October, the Army tested multiple remote-controlled gun-firing robots. Bomb squad robots were used Iraq and Afghanistan to dispose of IEDS. BigDog, a robotic pack mule now owned by Google, received funds from DARPA for further development. The RQ-11 Raven drone is a remote-controlled scout, tossed into the air like a javelin, that streams video back to soldiers, letting them know what’s lurking behind the next hill.
Moving from the adoption of new technologies to actually making doctrine that relies on the new technology would be a huge step for the military. Cone’s comments suggest that the military is at least willing to consider a day when soldier and robot will fight alongside one another.
The Cyclodrone will fly in front of and behind cyclists to warn them of upcoming danger and help alert drivers. Maybe a drone-filled future isn’t so bad after all.
Someday in the not-too-distant future, you might take a bike ride with a couple of drones—one flying in front, one in back—to protect you from nearby cars. As you ride around tight corners, the “Cyclodrone” will shine a beacon of light to warn drivers that you’re there, hosting a tiny camera to record any accidents.
The design is one of several concepts from a team at frog design that wanted to rework the current evil image of the drone. “Drones are taking a beating in the press, being characterized as spies and assassins,” says Cormac Eubanks, who developed the Cyclodrone. “At frog, we are more fascinated by the design potential at the leading edge of technology. We believe now is the time to explore how drones could be a force for good.”
Along with the Cyclodrone, the designers suggested that drones could be used to help firefighters find victims in burning buildings (and even automatically lead those victims to safety). Another variation could help find victims in avalanches or deliver rescue packages to lost hikers. A final design could help farm remote, difficult-to reach areas, doing everything from scouting out locations to fertilizing the soil and harvesting crops.
It might take a little while before all of the ideas could actually be produced. “Some of the ideas are workable today, while others are a little more visionary and will require advances in battery, sensor, and materials technology to be feasible,” Eubanks says.
The Cyclodrone could be made today, but would be tricky for longer rides, since the battery would need frequent recharging. The designers considered the possibility of using a generator on the rear sprocket of the bike to keep the battery charged.
In its current form, it also might not be as convenient for a simple ride around town, since you would need to pre-program your route into the device so the drone in front knows where to go. The drone in back, however, could follow the bike by using the GPS in the cyclist’s phone as a guide.
Why not just use stronger lights attached to the bike itself? “Lights work great at night, but during the day they need to be unbelievably bright to be visible in sunlight. During the day, our visual systems are more sensitive to moving physical objects,” Eubanks explains. On a blind curve, the milliseconds of extra warning that the drones provide might be enough to save a life.
As drone designs rapidly evolve, Eubanks predicts that it won’t be long before more positive drones are on the market. Already, drones are being used to protect endangered wildlife.
The public image of the drone might take a little longer to catch up. “Here’s an analogy: When the automobile first appeared people were wary of the technology and not sure how it would integrate into a world that had evolved without it,” he says. “It took decades before it became fully ingrained in our social fabric. Drones will probably need a similar acclimation period.”
Remote-controlled drone that flies and is in the form of a dragonfly - video embedded below:
With the BionicOpter, Festo has technically mastered the highly complex flight characteristics of the dragonfly. Just like its model in nature, this ultralight flying object can fly in all directions, hover in mid-air and glide without beating its wings.
The Distributed Flight Array: Summary. The Distributed Flight Array is a modular robotic vehicle consisting of multiple autonomous single-rotor units that are able to drive, dock with its peers, and coordinate with one another in order to drive and fly together. Source
The astounding athletic power of quadcopters. In a robot lab at TEDGlobal, Raffaelo D’Andrea demos his flying quadcopters: robots that think like athletes, solving physical problems with algorithms that help them learn. In a series of nifty demos, D’Andrea show drones that play catch, balance and make decisions together — and watch out for an I-want-this-now demo of Kinect-controlled quads. Source