US endorses self-driving cars, with a catch: Feds want to control tech approval, not states

Lexus SUV Google prototype autonomous vehicle in Mountain View, 2015.  REUTERS

Federal auto safety regulators today said that self-driving cars “will save time, money and lives,” but also sent a clear signal that they want the power to inspect and approve technology before it hits the highways, rather than each U.S. state setting its own safety standards.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on a press call today that a new federal premarket approval system "would require a lot more upfront discussion, dialogue and staffing on our part."

The government's statement today is big news for Uber, Google, Apple, and other Silicon Valley firms pouring millions of R&D dollars into figuring out how to swap human drivers for smart machines, or at least allow us to share control in “semiautonomous” setups.

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Criminal entrepreneurship in Mexico's high-tech drug cartels

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Dr Rodrigo Nieto-Gomez is a research professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, studying "criminal entrepreneurship" in drug cartels, who beat Amazon to using drones for delivery by years, use modified potato guns to shoot cocaine and marijuana bundles over border fences, and represent the "true libertarian, Ayn Rand capitalism." Read the rest

Sobering overview of the future of autonomous weaponry

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Sarah A. Topol profiles Mary Wareham and several other experts concerned about the near future of autonomous weapons. Read the rest

Experience Norway's midnight sun by drone

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Michael Fletcher collaborated with Alan Mathieson to capture drone footage of northern Norway's mist-shrouded mountains during this summer's midnight sun. It's like watching a moving Bierstadt painting. Read the rest

UK gives OK to Amazon for drone delivery exploration

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Amazon.com says it has entered into a partnership with the British government to get the nation's aviation authority approval for deliveries via small drones.

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To hell with the Trolley Problem: here's a much more interesting list of self-driving car weirdnesses

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Jan Chipchase has assembled a provocative, imaginative, excellent list of "driver behaviors in a world of autonomous mobility" that go far beyond the lazy exercise of porting the "trolley problem" to self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles, including flying drones. Read the rest

That time London was nearly destroyed by Nazi paleo-drones

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The Nazi V-1 "robot bomb" (AKA the "buzz bomb") was a kind of flying landmine that terrorized London during the Blitz, doing incredible damage to the city, sowing disarray and fear, as this Periscope newsreel makes clear. Read the rest

Drone's eye view photos reveal the racism of South African neighbourhoods

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Johnny Miller is a Cape Town-based photographer who uses drones to capture aerial views of neighbourhoods and cities that reveal the deep, racial inequalities in architecture and city planning between black and white populations. Read the rest

Hey Y'all We're Having a 4th of July Drone Sale in our Store Because America and Freedom

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No, you can't kill civilian noncombatants with them. We only sell happy fun drones.

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Obama says US drones strikes have killed up to 116 civilians, watchdogs say real count is higher

An official instructs two protesters to lower their Reaper drone model as they take part in a protest in Times Square NYC, May 24, 2016. REUTERS
The Obama administration today “partially lifted the secrecy that has cloaked one of the United States’s most contentious tactics for fighting terrorists,” as the New York Times puts it, and revealed that it believes U.S. airstrikes conducted outside established war zones like Afghanistan have killed as many as 116 civilian bystanders. The administration says it also killed an additional 2,500 people in those non-war-zones who were members of terrorist groups.

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Moral economy and software development: software without politics is recipe for totalitarianism

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Maciej Cegłowski (previously) keynoted the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics conference with a characteristically brilliant speech about the "moral economy of tech" -- that is, the way that treating social problems like software problems allows techies to absolve themselves of the moral consequences of their actions and the harms that result. Read the rest

Medieval reenactor spears drone from the sky

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At the Rusborg 2016 Middle Ages festival in Russia, a re-enactor spotted a drone in the sky and did what anyone in the 9th century would: He knocked it out of the sky with his spear.

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Edward Snowden on the accelerating pace of whistleblowing, and what it means for state secrecy

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After Daniel Ellsberg's astonishingly courageous release of the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times, he waited 40 years to meet someone like Edward Snowden or Chelsea Manning, someone else inside who risked everything to expose the wrongdoing they had sworn to oppose. Read the rest

"The world thinks I faked a drone crashing through my office window and into my head"

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On April 7 David Perel posted a video to YouTube, writing: "Drone Smashes Through My 5th Floor Window and Into My Head! While sitting at my desk I heard what sounded like a missile followed by a huge bang and glass all over me. Turns out someone lost control of their drone. Lucky to be uninjured!"

A lot of people didn't believe Perel. On Medium, he wrote about the angry deniers who posted mean comments on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram about the video:

It’s incredible how many glass experts, drone experts, head trauma experts, video experts, psychological experts and experts of any kind exist when the troll nation descends. Experts abound but they all missed a single key fact: I was actually hit in the head by a drone!

The pinnacle of these accusations was a very personal attack from a guy with a ponytail who clearly loves his drones, but not the facts.

It’s now been four days since the incident and I am still fielding calls from news websites, radio stations and Twitter commenters.

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See this drone that draws

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The MIT Media Lab's "Flying Pantograph" is a pen-wielding tele-robot controlled by a drawing interface. From MIT's Fluid Interfaces research group:

A drone becomes an “expression agent” - modified to carry a pen and be controlled by human motions, then carries out the actual process of drawing on a vertical wall. Not only mechanically extending a human artist, the drone plays a crucial part of the expression as its own motion dynamics and software intelligence add new visual language to the art. This agency forms a strong link between a human artist and the canvas, however, in the same time, is a deliberate programmatic disconnect that offers space for exploiting machine aesthetics as a core expression medium.

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Children in Uganda watch a hobbyist's drone fly for the first time, and totally flip out

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The way these schoolchildren in rural Uganda react to a hobbyist's drone flight demo is so delightful. Honestly, my reaction when I first saw a friend navigate his UAV into the air was about the same.

Mark Brandon Smith shot this wonderful video, and tells the tale behind it.

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Killing people with drones is working out great for America, says ex CIA chief

Michael Hayden (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Michael Hayden sure does love him some drone-killing.

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