Army Blows Drones Out of the Sky with a Laser!

Recently conflicts in the Ukraine and Syria have clearly shown the danger that small drones (UAVs) can pose to military units on the ground. To adapt to this threat the US Army has been testing a Stryker Infantry Carrier Vehicle that has been refitted with a laser and electronic countermeasures that can track and disable drones.

High-tech cameras and jamming devices can detect drones, track them and even disable them. If for some reason the drones still keep on coming the Stryker is equipped with a Mobile High Energy Laser (MEHEL) that lets it blast the drones out of the sky. In two test sessions the laser-equipped Stryker was able to successfully blast over 50 drones out of the sky—a number beyond what was expected. Besides shooting down drones, the army also plans to use the laser to blow through defenses and even stop incoming rockets and artillery shells.

While there are more cost effective anti-drone technologies, the Stryker’s ability to identify, track and disable a drone with a single platform could make it a useful tool to protect soldiers from the threat of drone strikes.

Navy Drone Take Important Step Towards Autonomous Operations

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The Navy plans to put its new MQ-4C Triton long-range patrol drone into service sometime next year. The drone is based off the same design as the Global Hawk, but new software upgrades give it the ability for enhanced autonomous operations.

The Triton will come with a Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) which will allow its operator to identify and avoid other aircraft independent of any other air traffic control data. The new software upgrade will also allow a single drone operator to control multiple drones at the same time.

The Navy has successfully tested the new software and while it does not make Triton drones completely autonomous, it’s an important step towards fully autonomous flight. Given criticisms of its drone programs the various military branches are taking a cautions approach towards introducing autonomous operational ability for their drone fleets.

Given a robust TCAS, it’s possible that the Triton drone will be allowed to operate in same airspace as civil aircraft traffic—something the Global Hawk cannot do. Whether for civil or military application, the end game for TCAS, or sense and avoid systems like it, is for drones to operate by themselves. So keep an eye out for further software upgrades for the Triton if you are interested in how the military is moving forward with this technology.

Do Walmart and Target Have a Secret Weapon to Beat Amazon on Drone Delivery?

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We all know that Amazon is the clear leader in online sales and that it is also pushing hard to make drones deliveries a reality. It looks like they have the upper hand, especially when you consider that their nearest rivals in online sales—Walmart and Target—are far behind them in developing drone delivery.

But Walmart and Target have a secret weapon that could, if properly used, give them an advantage against the empire of Jeff Bezos. What is that secret weapon, you ask? Their stores!

Both Walmart and Target have thousands of store and distribution centers throughout the nation that could easily accommodate a drone delivery center.

The good folks over has Business Insider Intelligence have put together some interesting info using data from users of The Weather Company App. They found that 49% of users of the weather app live within 6 miles of a Walmart store and that 47% of users live within 6 miles of a Target store. In both cases, around 15% of purchases these individuals made where under $10 and likely would be light enough to deliver by drones. Walmart’s own numbers are even better. On a recent blog the mega retailer said that 70% of the US population lives within 5 miles of a Walmart store.

In comparison only 44% of people live within 20 miles of an Amazon fulfillment center, beyond the range of current drone delivery technology.

There are a lot of ifs here, but if either Walmart or Target can realize this potential and get in the drone delivery game, things could heat up real quick!

From Target Drone to F-35 Wingman

Drones have revolutionized how war is fought and as drone technology evolves further, their influence only grows. A new drone in the development for the US Air Force will shake things up even further.

In the summer of last year, the US Air Force awarded Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. a $41 million contract to develop Low-Cost Attritable Strike Unmanned Aerial System Demonstration (LCASD). Basically, they want Kratos to develop a cheap rocket-powered drone that can act as a wingman for expensive state-of-the-art fighters like the new F-35.

But Kratos is not starting from scratch, instead they are redesigning a popular target drone, the Kratos Defense’s BQM-167A. Here is what the the Air Force is expecting for the drone.

  • Approximate a fighter jet’s capability to conduct high-g-force maneuvers.
  • Fly 1,500 nautical miles in a combat radius.
  • Launch and land without runways.
  • Carry a 500-pound weapons payload — sufficient for two GBU-39 small diameter bombs, or up to four Hellfire missiles.

Kratos is planning on building these drones for a little as $2-3 million a piece, which makes them incredibly cost-effective for what they can do.

Drone Deliveries Move Forward in China

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One of China’s largest eCommerce business, JD.com, is at it again. In the next three years the company plans to open 150 drone launch facilities in China’s southwestern Sichuan province in an effort to create a local drone delivery network. Sichuan’s mountainous terrain has for centuries made travel and delivery a difficulty to isolated rural communities, now drones can change that.

Drone Dossier has reported on JD’s work before. Since June of 2016 they have been making live drone deliveries in four test areas throughout China. They are also working directly with Chinese authorities to set up a drone traffic management systems in the areas they operate.

JD has a variety of drones to deliver packages with the largest supposedly able to lift upwards of 50 kg and they are developing ones that can lift around 500 kg! JD’s CEO Richard Liu recently said that drone deliveries would reduce the costs of shipping freight by 70%, compared to conventional truck delivery.

JD is also streamlining the way its uses drones, deciding not to make deliveries to individual address, but instead deliver to one of the thousands of local distribution centers that is has both in cities and in rural areas.

The video below shows JD’s concept. In it a man orders diapers online from a local village. The order then goes to the nearest drone-capable distribution center which packs up the diapers and sends them to the local village via an autonomous drone. Notice that the JD drone in this video is a tri-rotor drone and it appears (3:34) that the box has hooks that latch unto the drones chassis itself to secure the package during transit. The drone drops the package off at another smaller JD distribution center where a local employee picks it up and literally walks it over a few houses to the guy who order the diapers online.

Drones Are Now Used to Build Bridges

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Forget observing construction projects, workers in China are now using drones to assist in building massive bridges.

In China’s Sichuan Province workers are currently building the Xingkang Bridge that when completed will be nearly a mile long and hang over 600 feet above the raging Dadu River. The southwestern province is famous for its river gorge valleys that impede travel.

The first step in creating these massive suspension bridges is to run a pilot cable across the expanse the bridge will traverse and then use this pilot cable to rig up larger and larger cables. Usually a helicopter or boat would be used to run a pilot cable. But this time a drone is being used.

In December, Chinese engineers used a large 6-rotor drone to carry the pilot cable to the other side of the bridge structure. The engineers claim this method is over 100 times more efficient and 80% less costly than traditional methods—not to mention safer. This is also not the first time China has used drones in this manner to help construct bridges.

Such innovative uses of drones show their ability to make things more efficient and cheaper—which when you think about it, are the two keys in making a technology stick. It will be interesting to see what other ways drones can aid construction project.

Canon Drone?

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World famous camera company Canon is making the jump into the drone world! Last September the Japanese camera maker partnered with Prodrone Co. to produce a drone that will be branded under the Canon name and be equipped with Canon cameras.

This week Canon started to show off their new PD6E2000-AW-CJ1 drone (please change the name Canon, please!) on their Japanese website. The drone is supposedly designed for search and rescue operations and is equipped with Canon’s high-end ME20F-SH camera.

There is no official announcement on when the drone will be available for sale, but the rumors suggest that when it does it will be in the $20,000-$40,000 price range…ouch!

Canon is the latest camera maker that is taking a stab at drones and they better hope they learn from the mistakes of companies like GoPro. According to reports, Canon hopes to sell $4.5 million worth of drones by 2020.

Farmers Insurance Uses Drones in North Texas to Assess Hail Damage

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Insurance companies across the nation are looking into using drones to assess insurance claims. One area where the benefit of drones is immediately obvious is in inspecting property and rooftops for damage after a major storm.

Before drones a claims inspector would have to climb a ladder unto a potentially dangerous roof to assess damage. It was an arduous process that could take hours. Now drones can perform the same task in as little as 20 minutes without putting a claims inspector in any danger.

This week, Farmers Insurance was testing the use of drones to assess hail damage on selected houses in the Denton, Texas area. According to Farmers Insurance spokesman Chris Pilcic, “We’ve been engaged in numerous test flights in a number of states to better understand how UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] technology might serve as an additional tool to our claim teams. So far we are pleased with the progression of our research and development.”

Farmers Insurance has been looking into using drones for a while, but this test in Denton marks the first time that have put that plan into action. The Insurance Council of Texas is following such testing and their spokesman Mark Hanna perfectly summed up the impact drones could have on the insurance industry when he said, “For a lot of insurance adjusters, the ladder might soon be a thing of the past.”

California Start-Up Aims to Change the Cargo Industry With a Drone

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A start-up in the San Francisco bay area is aiming to shake up the way cargo is delivered with drones. Natilus, Inc. is building a 30 foot drone cargo plane prototype that they hope to get airborne later this year.

Natilus aims at creating drones as big as 140-feet that are capable of carrying over 200,000 pounds of cargo at half the cost of current jet cargo planes. The sturdy carbon fiber drone is designed to take off from water and also land in water before taxiing to a dock to unload its cargo. This eliminates the need for ground-based infrastructure like large landing strips.

But how the drone really saves money is its ability to fly for longer times at slower speeds than any commercially available jet. Because of factors like pilot fatigue, normal cargo planes travel at higher speeds and in the process burn more fuel, making the trip faster, but also much more expensive. Because the Natilus drones will be autonomous, this is not a concern. The company uses the following cost comparison to get an idea of how this new drone could change the way cargo is transported.

Time and cost of shipping 200,000 pounds of cargo by:

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The prototype of the Natilus drone is not yet built, but if this start-up can get things right they have the possibility of changing the way cargo is transported. Natilus plans on flying cargo drones between California and Hawaii by 2019.