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.

New Drone Laws

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According to Bard College (who is keeping a running total of local drone laws) there are now over 130 local laws in place for drones across the nation. Almost every week there is a new law being proposed or a new law being enacted.

The most recent major drone regulation to go into effect is in San Diego. Due to its natural beauty, beaches and other tourist attractions San Diego has been a hot spot for drone activity and local authorities thought it was best to regulate drones use for safety issues. San Diego took a common sense approach and basically took existing FAA regulations on drones and made them part municipal code so police can fully enforce them.

This is in contrast to cities like Orlando, Florida that are adding extra lawyers of control to existing FAA regulations. For instance, even though the FAA has an official drone registry, the city of Orlando requires those who want to operate inside of its city limits to pay a fee and register with the city.

Then there is a proposed law from Toms River, New Jersey which would effectively ban drone flight below 400 feet. The city says it is doing this to limit aggressive real estate agents who have been using drone video to show off properties. The city also says it would still allow drone flight, but there needs to be consent from the owners of the property that is flown over. The real questions here is does Toms River even have the authority to ban flight below 400 feet?

UK Launches Special Drone Squad to Crack Down on Prison Smuggling

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In both the US and the UK drones are an increasingly popular way for criminals to smuggle contraband into prisons. You don’t have to stuff Ziplock bags in unmentionable places, you don’t have to bribe guards—all you have to do is buy a drone and tape drugs and cell phones to it.

Every year in the UK prison officials are seeing an increase in smuggling via drones and now they are doing something about it. Earlier this week Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah announced that the UK was creating a special drone squad (consisting of both normal police and prison police) to address the problem head-on.

Gyimah told the press, “The threat posed by drones is clear, but our dedicated staff are committed to winning the fight against those who are attempting to thwart progress by wreaking havoc in establishments all over the country.”

According to UK government figures there were 33 cases of drone smuggling into prisons in 2015 and an unreleased “large increase” in 2016. The new special drone squad will work with various law enforcement agencies in the UK to try to reverse the expansion of drone smuggling.

It is our guess that although this new squad will give it their best, they probably don’t have that much experience with drones. And even if they do, there are easier ways to secure locations from illegal drones use. They could use geofencing or hire the services of experts like Dedrone.

Can a Drone Help you Get a Tinder Date? Yes, yes it can!

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The varying uses for drones are growing everyday. Now you can add securing a date. Abhimanyu Ghoshal, a tech blogger from India recently got a date on Tinder with the help of a drone.

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Ghoshal was quite proud of his achievement. According to his blog post, he suggest to his potential date that they build a Flybix drone kit together and then test it out. The Flybix is a easy to put together kit with basic electronics and a variety of Lego block that snap together to form the body of the mini-drone.

OK now we have heard it all! I guess if drones are being used to score dates on Tender that means they are getting mainstream?

Surprise! Drone Sales Double

A new report from the NPD Group reveals that drone sales more than doubled (up 117% to be exact) from February 2016 to February 2017. That’s a big jump, clearly showing the strength of consumers drones in the market. These sales numbers include the a wide variety of drones from $50 mini-drones (which are really just toys) to the $3,000 DJI Inspire 2.

Here are some useful tidbits from the NPD report:

  • During the holiday season drones with a price tag between $50- $100 saw a significant uptick in sales.
  • For drones in the $300-$500 price range, there is a clear consumer demand for premium features.
    • Drones with auto pilot capabilities sold nearly five times more quickly.
    • Drones that feature follow mode functionality sold 19x more quickly.
  • During the first two months of 2017…
    • Drones with a price tag over $300 drove 84% of dollar sales and nearly 40% of unit sales.
    • Drones sold for $1,000+ saw the highest rate of sales.

In roughly the same time period from January 2016 to January 2017 the number of drones registered with the FAA when up by 123%. And according to the numbers in the last two months over 100,000 more drones have been registered with the FAA.

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.

Drone Crash Compilation

The folks over at PC Magazine have put together a list of their top 11 drone crashes (which they call disasters…jeez guys calm down!). There list has some of our favorites including the guy who flew into the Seattle Space Needle and the video shown below of a guy who made the maxim effort to save his drone from a watery death after a battery failure!

A lot of these are crashes are the result of pilot error or stupidity, but some do show legitimate dangers when drones fail and crash because of battery failures or naturally caused reasons like birds and weather.

If you want to see more crashes check out the video below. Our favorites are at minute mark  2:28 when a bird takes out a drone, minute mark 4:51 when a pumpkin fired out of a cannon hits a drone and the scary moment at minute mark 10:06 when a terrible pilot crashes a drone through a window unto someone’s desk!

Remember to be smart and safe when you fly!

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.