For the last couple weeks, residents of Colorado and Nebraska have reported squadrons of large drones flying overhead. The drones are large, with a reported 6-foot wingspan, and their operators and purpose remain a mystery. The Federal Aviation Administration has now opened an investigation into the matter. From the New York Times:
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Some have suggested they might be part of a simple mapping operation, or a land survey conducted by an oil and gas company — but why would such flights run at night?...
The drone sightings started in northeast Colorado around mid-December and have only grown more widespread since then. Almost all the sightings have occurred between sunset and about 10 p.m., though (Palisade, Nebraska resident Missy) Blackman said she had seen them out later one night in Nebraska and, for the first time on Wednesday, during daylight hours. She said she had looked at them through binoculars and did not see any markings, just plain silver and white coloring.
Across the state line in Colorado, Captain Yowell tried to photograph the drones on Tuesday night with the camera he uses to document crime scenes, but came away without a clear image. He estimated that up to 30 drones were flying each night, though not all in the same place...
Sheriff Todd Combs of Yuma County, Colo., said in a Facebook post Tuesday that the drones appeared to be staying at least 150 feet from buildings or people, based on the footage he has seen.
“There are many theories about what is going on, but at this point, that’s all they are,” he said.
"China flight systems jammed by pig farm’s African swine fever defences." That headline from the South China Morning Post sums up this strange story. Gangs in China reportedly send drones to drop material infected with Swine Flu on pig farms. Then, the gangs buy the meat on the cheap and sell it to unwitting customers. (Swine flu rarely passes to humans.) From the South China Morning Post:
The farm, in northeastern China, was ordered last month to turn in an unauthorised anti-drone device installed to prevent criminal gangs dropping items infected with the disease, according to online news portal Thepaper.cn.
The device came to light after a series of flights to and from Harbin airport complained about losing GPS signals while flying over Zhaozhou county in Heilongjiang in late October. In some cases, the ADS-B tracking technology – which determines an aircraft’s position via satellite navigation – failed.
(via Daily Grail)
image: "Main symptoms of swine flu in swine" (Public Domain)
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Polar bears have been at the shit end of the global warming stick for some time now. Food has grown scarce for the massive beasts, causing them to move inland in search of sustenance, eat carcasses they never would have touched in the past and, apparently, look to flying camera drones as a potential source of nutrition. Read the rest
AirCSI is a prototype drone system that scans crime scenes from above, identify possible pieces of evidence, and then collect more detailed images and data of such items of interest. Leading the development of the system is Pompílio Araújo, a researcher at the Intelligent Vision Research Lab at Federal University of Bahia who often assists the Federal Police of Brazil in crime scene investigation. From IEEE Spectrum:
"...AirCSI provides a sketch with the localization of the evidences, as well as a detailed crime scene imagery,” says Araújo. His team used simulation software to test this newer version of AirCSI, and found that using multiple angles to detect evidence is up to 18 percent more effective than using only one angle...
While the researchers have yet to test the new, multi-angle approach beyond simulations, they expect to try it out in a real environment by the end of this year or early next year...
He also plans on developing a way to completely reconstruct crime scenes using the drone footage, creating a virtual environment that investigators can explore indefinitely—or at least until the crime is solved.
"Multi-Perspective Object Detection for Remote Criminal Analysis Using Drones" (IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Letters)
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From Catlech's Center for Autonomous Systems and Technology, LEONARDO (LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne) is a bipedal robot that's uses dronelike propellers to balance and walk around. Eventually, the propellers will boost LEONARDO's ability to jump. The demo video above was just released. The following is from a February article by Evan Ackerman in IEEE Spectrum:
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IEEE Spectrum: Where did the idea for a robot like this come from?
Mory Gharib: For many applications that we’re thinking about for the future, like a flying ambulance project that we have or missions to Mars, there is a huge need for I would say a third party—a robotic partner that can, in very extreme situations, conduct scouting or help people in ways that that either drones or bipedal robots can’t do. That was the whole idea—we need to have a system that basically can defy gravity to go places where other robots cannot. And because this machine is not going to fly in the way that drones do, because it has most of the time its legs are on the ground, it can carry a much heavier battery and payload...
If everything works perfectly, what kinds of capabilities will the robot have?
Soon-Jo Chung: Walking on flat terrain, walking, running, and jumping to overcome small obstacles by using the lift generated by the propellers. And it should be able to in a very soft and stable fashion land after it jumps or flies. The ultimate form of demonstration for us will be to build two of these Leonardo robots and then have them play tennis or badminton.
The Skydio 2 autonomous drone with six 4K cameras and uses AI to "smoothly fly around obstacles while capturing amazing videos and photos." You just attach a small beacon to a person or moving thing and it will follow. Pretty amazing tech for $1,000. Read the rest
A U.S. judge today dismissed a lawsuit by an American journalist who sought to challenge his placement on a drone “kill list” by U.S. authorities in Syria. Read the rest
The fifth annual World Robot Conference was open to the public in Beijing last Thursday, August 22, and this bionic flying bird based on a herring gull was one of the more spectacular sights.
Other robots on show at the annual event in China included robo-superheroes, and Taiji-playing robots.
Rough cut of video from Reuters is here (no reporter narration).
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In MobilBye: Attacking ADAS with Camera Spoofing, a group of Ben Gurion security researchers describe how they were able to defeat a Renault Captur's "Level 0" autopilot (Level 0 systems advise human drivers but do not directly operate cars) by following them with drones that projected images of fake roadsigns for a 100ms instant -- too short for human perception, but long enough for the autopilot's sensors.
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Whiskers are a fantastic natural sensor that enables cats, fish, seals, and many other animals to detect not just direct contact but even air flow indicating an approaching object. In a fascinating example of biomimicry, University of Queensland engineer Pauline Pounds and her colleagues have developed tiny whisker sensors for drones. According to the researchers, the whiskers are well-suited for "navigating through dark, dusty, smoky, cramped spaces, or gusty, turbulent environments with micro-scale aircraft that cannot mount heavier sensors such as lidars." At IEEE Spectrum, Evan Ackerman writes:
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The whisker fibers themselves are easy to fabricate—they’re just blobs of ABS plastic that are heated up and then drawn out into long thin fibers like taffy. The length and thickness of the whiskers can be modulated by adjusting the temperature and draw speed. The ABS blob at the base of each whisker is glued to a 3D-printed load plate, which is in turn attached to a triangular arrangement of force pads (actually encapsulated MEMS barometers)...
It can detect forces as low as 3.33 micronewtons, meaning that the researchers had to be careful not to stand too close to the whiskers while making measurements since the force of their breathing would throw things off. This sensitivity allows the whiskers to detect the wave of air generated by objects moving towards them, perhaps not in time for the drone to actually stop, but certainly in time for it to take other steps to protect itself, like cutting power to its motors. The whiskers can also be used to measure fluid flow (a proxy for velocity through the air), and of course, at slow speeds they work as contact sensors.
Researchers from the University of Zurich's Robotics and Perception Group designed an event camera system for drones. In the video above, the fun starts at 1:25. As explained by IEEE Spectrum, "These are sensors that are not good at interpreting a scene visually like a regular camera, but they’re extremely sensitive to motion, responding to changes in a scene on a per-pixel basis in microseconds. A regular camera that detects motion by comparing one frame with another takes milliseconds to do the same thing, which might not seem like much, but for a fast-moving drone it could easily be the difference between crashing into something and avoiding it successfully."
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My late brother Mark was a transplant surgeon. He told me how sometimes he'd be woken up in the middle of the night to fly to a nearby city to retrieve, say, a kidney, from someone who had just died (frequently in a motorcycle crash), then carry the organ on a plane to another city where he'd install the kidney into a waiting patient, and then fly back home. (He felt it important to personally retrieve the organ that he'd then be transplanting.) I thought of that process while reading about the first drone delivery of a donated kidney that resulted in a successful transplant for a 40-year-old woman who had been on dialysis for 8 years. The drone delivery system was designed by researchers from the University of Maryland and organ donation nonprofit the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. The kidney only traveled three miles but was a major step forward. From the New York Times:
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The team’s leader, Dr. Joseph R. Scalea, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said he pursued the project after constant frustration over organs taking too long to reach his patients. After organs are removed from a donor, they become less healthy with each passing second. He recalled one case when a kidney from Alabama took 29 hours to reach his hospital.
The drone used in this month’s test had backup propellers and motors, dual batteries and a parachute recovery system, to guard against catastrophe if one component encountered a problem 400 feet in the air.
New drone designs enable small UAVs to conserve battery life by taking breaks in unusual locations as opposed to landing back on the ground. Read the rest
Palmer Luckey (previously) the alt-right financier who was made a billionaire by Mark Zuckerberg's decision to acquire his VR startup Oculus, is now running a Peter-Thiel-backed surveillance startup called Anduril Industries, which has won a contract to contribute to Project Maven, the Pentagon's controversial AI-for-drones system (Google's involvement in Project Maven sparked an employee uprising that ended with the relevant executives leaving the company and the contract being allowed to lapse).
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How does a $50 drone compare against a $1,400 Mavic 2 Pro? Well, I was hoping this test would reveal that the $50 knockoff was about half as good as the Mavic. But it turns out that the knockoff is so crappy that it's 0% as good. It can't deal with a light breeze, it loses its radio connection frequently, the camera is garbage, and the battery dies without warning. The Mavic 2 Pro, on the other hand, is a thing of beauty, with built-in GPS so it hovers, and a gorgeous video image.
Image: Indy Mogul/YouTube
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Two drones flying near Newark Liberty International Airport led to a full stop on all flights. The airport, also known as EWR, serves the greater New York City area. Read the rest