What you need to know about police drone surveillance at protests against police brutality

Technology writer Faine Greenwood has a great piece in Slate about the expansion of police drone surveillance fleets. While there are still many, many reasons to worry about abuses of drone technology and mass surveillance in general, Greenwood takes a look at the legal, technical, and practical limitations of these policing methods. Greenwood essentially argues that, as much as American police officers love to think of themselves as special military tactical forces (often treating normal-ass citizens like enemy combatants), they're really just cosplaying, and their use of drones is part of that:

Unlike a Predator—which is capable of staying aloft for more than a day—these small drones usually have short battery lives, from as little as 16 minutes, when carrying a very heavy camera, to 35 minutes when carrying a lighter sensor. (Drone evasion tip: If you think you’re being followed, duck under a shelter or a convenient tree. You can probably wait the drone’s battery out.)

Police drone users are largely not exempt from the same rules that other drone users must abide by, which include restrictions on flight over people, at night, and beyond the pilot’s “visual line of sight.”

[…]

While a police drone can certainly chase someone for a bit, that doesn’t mean police can readily use drone-collected imagery to identify who that person is. In my research for this piece, I couldn’t find a single example of U.S. law enforcement using facial recognition technology and drone imagery to identify someone in the real world. This almost certainly isn’t because police don’t want to, or because they’ve been legally barred from doing so.

Read the rest

Delivery drones could hitch rides on public buses

Delivery drones could someday hitch rides on public buses to dramatically extend their range in cities. Stanford’s Intelligent Systems Laboratory and Autonomous Systems Lab modeled such a system to see if it even makes sense. According to their research paper, it does. In theory, anyway. Evan Ackerman writes in IEEE Spectrum:

The first thing to understand about this paper is that it’s not trying to solve any of the practical problems surrounding the real-world deployment of a delivery network involving drones and buses, like how you’d get a drone to land on a moving bus, for instance. What the paper is about is how you’d get a potential network of drones and vehicles to operate efficiently, and how big of a difference that might be able to make in a package delivery context.

In a metropolitan area like San Francisco, the idea is that you’d have a bunch of package depots scattered around the city. You’d also have a bunch of drones, and every day, you’d need to figure out how to get all of those packages where they need to go in the minimum amount of time, using the existing bus routes and schedule to boost their range when necessary. And when I say “you,” that’s where this research comes in, because it’s solving a big optimization problem that involves which drones make which deliveries in what order, when they should use buses, and for how long. It gets more complicated too, because there are conflicts that have to be resolved when buses can only carry a few drones at a time and you don’t want the drones occupying the same space on the network at the same time.

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How do you count more than 60,000 sea turtles?

More than 64,000 endangered sea turtles are gathered in the world's largest nesting area near Raine Island, Australia, but who's counting? The Great Barrier Reef Foundation, that's who. Their researchers used harmless white paint to mark around 2,000 turtles and then flew a drone overhead. By determining the ratio of marked to unmarked turtles, they could then accurately estimate the total population. From BarrierReef.org:

“We’re taking action to improve and rebuild the island’s nesting beaches and building fences to prevent turtle deaths, all working to strengthen the island’s resilience and ensure the survival of our northern green turtles and many other species," [said Great Barrier Reef Foundation Managing Director Anna Marsden...]

The research paper’s lead author Dr Andrew Dunstan from the Queensland Department of Environment and Science is excited to share his work.

“Trying to accurately count thousands of painted and unpainted turtles from a small boat in rough weather was difficult,” Dr Dunstan said.

“Using a drone is easier, safer, much more accurate, and the data can be immediately and permanently stored[...]”

“In the future, we will be able to automate these counts from video footage using artificial intelligence so the computer does the counting for us.”

"Use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for mark-resight nesting population estimation of adult female green sea turtles at Raine Island" (PLOS ONE) Read the rest

Why is Customs and Border Protection flying a Predator drone over Minneapolis?

Buzzfeed News reporters obtained the explanation offered by United States Department of Homeland Security's CBP to congressional staffers who asked why it decided to fly a Predator Drone over Minneapolis during the protests over the killing of George Floyd. Read the rest

Drone disguised as hummingbird infiltrates a swarm of monarch butterflies

PBS Nature's "Spy in the Wild" series employs spy cameras outfitted with animatronic animal disguises to capture intimate imagery of wildlife. In this clip, a drone wearing a hummingbird costume infiltrates a swarm of monarch butterflies in the mountains of Mexico.

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Mysterious drone flies over New York park warning people to "maintain a social distance"

New Yorkers spending time at a park on Saturday were told to "maintain a social distance" by a mysterious drone flying overhead.

“This is the Anti-COVID-19 volunteer drone task force. Please maintain a social distance of at least six feet. Again, please maintain social distancing," said the drone. "Please help stop the spread of this virus. Reduce the death toll and save lives. For your own safety and your family's safety, please maintain social distancing. Thank you for your cooperation. We are all in this together."

According to The Hill, nobody seems to know who was behind the drone's "volunteer task force."

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating whether a drone filmed telling New Yorkers to socially distance over the weekend was violating aviation regulations, an official for the agency told The Hill on Monday.

The Hill was not able to determine whether such a "volunteer drone task force" exists, and it appears no party has come forward to claim responsibility.

An official for the New York Police Department told The Hill that it was not behind the drone.

They also noted that it is illegal to fly drones in NYC except for in a few areas authorized by the FAA.

Although not as creepy as the drones who scolded unmasked folks in China back in January, it's always unsettling when a drone has something to say. Read the rest

Drone flyovers of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle

Vice shot drone video of the nearly deserted streets of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. I live LA's San Fernando Valley, and when I walk in the hills I still see plenty of cars driving on the freeways and Ventura Blvd, though.

Image: YouTube Read the rest

An eerily beautiful drone video of shutdown San Francisco

Dan Denegre (Space Race Studio) used his DJI Mavic 2 Pro drone to shoot this eerie yet beautiful video of San Francisco on pause. The soundtrack is "La Guitarra Triste" by Cast of Characters.

"Thankfully few people are outside (I wasn't even close to a person), but seeing the shops boarded up is tough to see," Denegre writes. "I made sure the drone wasn't a nuisance to anyone while shooting this short documentary of this...very weird time in San Francisco."

(Thanks, Imaginary Foundation!) Read the rest

Drone walks dog

Vakis Demetrious posted this clip from Limassol, Cyprus. He writes:

5th day quarantine.

Stay Home Safe but don't forget your dog happiness..

(And yes, I understand that if the dog wanted to run off, it could easily pull the drone right along with it.) Read the rest

Creepy video of drones in china scolding those who aren't wearing masks

Drones are now hovering over people in the streets of china, scolding those who aren't wearing face masks to protect them from the coronavirus, and it's quite eerie. Watch the video in the tweet below from the Communist Party's Global Times of the different folks the drone calls out, including an older woman: “Yes, auntie, this is the drone speaking to you. You shouldn't walk about without wearing a mask. Yes you'd better go back home and don't forget to wash your hands.”

Source: The Washington Post Read the rest

US Interior bans Chinese drones and UAVs with made-in-China parts over espionage concerns -- with few exceptions

Order says data collected ‘could be valuable to foreign entities’

The United States Interior Department today introduced a no-fly rule that covers pretty much all Chinese drones, and all unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) made with Chinese parts, with some narrow exceptions. The big fear is espionage. Read the rest

Building and testing a drone made almost entirely from LEGO parts

On the highly-recommended Brick Experiment Channel, "BEC" (the unidentified, silent LEGO engineer you never see or hear) tries his hand at building a quad drone using LEGO bricks and other LEGO components. The only non-LEGO parts he uses are the battery, the receiver, the flight controller, and a motor driver circuit.

For the flight controller, BEC used the Matek F411-mini. For the motors, he used four LEGO L-motors [88003-1].

Besides the cool LEGO drone he ends up with, I love watching his experimentation and iterative process. And like many fellow 'tubers such as Jimmy DiResta and Primitive Technology, the un-narrated video is kind of mesmerizing to watch as you hear only the sounds of making. Read the rest

Robot bird with real pigeon feathers to improve agility

PigeonBot is a robotic bird outfitted with real pigeon feathers that move to reshape its wings like an actual bird. Developed by researchers in Stanford's LentinkLab, the remote-controlled PigeonBot demonstrates how morphing wings improves flying agility. (Video below.) Their resulting technical paper is the cover story in the current issue of the journal Science Robotics. From Science News:

Birds can modify the shape of their wings by fanning out their feathers or shuffling them closer together. Those adjustments allow birds to cut through the sky more nimbly than rigid drones....

Researchers bent and extended the wings of dead pigeons to investigate how the birds control their wing shape. Those experiments revealed that the angles of two wing joints, the wrist and the finger, most affect the alignment of a wing’s flight feathers. The orientations of those long, stiff feathers, which support the bird in flight, help determine the wing’s shape. Based on those findings, the team built a robot with real pigeon feathers, whose faux wrists and fingers can morph its wing shape as seen in the pigeon cadavers.

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Mystery drone squadrons flying over Colorado and Nebraska

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:

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.

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"China flight systems jammed by pig farm’s African swine fever defences"

"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) Read the rest

Polar bears are eager to know what a camera drone tastes like

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

Protestors use laser pointers to bring down police drone

As William Gibson wrote, "The street finds its own uses for things."

More in this vein:

• Hong Kong protesters use lasers to blind security cameras

• After student arrested for carrying laser-pointers, Hong Kong protesters stage "stargazing" laser-protest

(Thanks, UPSO!) Read the rest

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