Drone Notes: Fighting fires, delivering medicine and going to Mars

by Todd Jones ([email protected]) 75 views 

Editor’s Note: Drone Notes is compiled by Todd Jones, and is published twice a month.

Of all the things for which we can use drones, none may be as altruistic as delivering humanitarian aid. A recent request by the U.S. Agency for International Development shows that this is a very real possibility.

“USAID, the U.S. government’s arm for funding international development and relief projects, is seeking information on the feasibility of using a drone to deliver medical supplies to difficult to reach areas in Ethiopia. The appeal reveals the extent to which the delivery drones concept has taken root and, if implemented in Ethiopia, it could lend a big boost to the creation of drone delivery networks elsewhere.”

According to the article, others have used the technology for such a task.

Move over Mars Rover. NASA has begun exploring the possibility of using drones for a Mars fly over. There is no word on whether The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz will volunteer.

According to the article at NPR, NASA is looking at including a helicopter drone to fly over the surface of Mars, just not in their 2020 mission.

NASA scientist Matthew Golombek would love to send the drone to the distant planet.

“The rover spends a fair amount of time wandering around looking for the good stuff to go analyze. The idea for the helicopter is if you could get that beforehand, then the rover wouldn’t need to wander around, it would know exactly where to go. Where are the best out-crops. Where are the key relations that you want to study,” the scientist noted in the article.

See the short video below about the concept of a Mars drone.

Does the U.S. need a drone air traffic control system?

As the proliferation of drones begin to emerge, the Federal Aviation Administration has teamed up with PrecisionHawk to test the possibility of an air traffic control system for drones.

Guardian’s Mark Harris recently visited with PrecisionHawk who is conducting experiments in rural North Carolina. They are testing a new software protocol called Latas or Low Altitude Traffic and Airspace Safety.

“On an isolated cattle ranch in rural North Carolina – and under the watchful eye of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) – drone startup PrecisionHawk is putting experimental drones in the air alongside paragliders. This is the first time that human pilots have officially shared US airspace with commercial drones,” Harris noted in this report.

The report also includes a comment from PrecisionHawk CEO Bob Young about the level of difficulty.

“Building technology that enables drones to fly reliably and to stay away from airports and other flying objects is stupidly difficult,” Young said. “But safety is critically important. Without safety, you don’t fly, period.”

Harris followed that with this note: If only that were true. The FAA is panicking, just a little bit, about the rapid increase in the number and capability of drones now available to the general public. Drone sightings by pilots in 2015 are set to triple or even quadruple from last year. The FAA estimates that 700,000 more quadcopters will be sold to Americans in the run up to Christmas, prompting a last-minute drone registration program.”

The skies are about to get more crowded with drones. What kind of changes and adjustments will there be?

Matt Simon of Wired Magazine went to World Drone Expo at the San Jose Convention Center in early November, and he saw the future. He also heard lots of buzzing.

Simon describes the scene: “This is the 21st century version of the Wild Man caged and prodded in a freak show, and that freak show is the inaugural Drone World Expo – 75 exhibitors and more than 2,000 drone pros packing the San Jose Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. The overwhelmingly male crowd, which is overwhelmingly wearing branded polo shirts, is here because there’s a mountain of money to be made in this nascent industry, perhaps almost $12 billion a year by 2023. Need a camera system? Look no further. How about lawyers to keep the FAA out of your hair? They’re here too.

“This place sounds like the future – a high-pitched white noise not unlike the hum of bees. The smaller drones sound like mosquitoes. Regardless of what insect they sound like, these machines are big business, because more and more, drones are infiltrating our lives.”

Nick Lavars with Gizmag recently reported on what he believes are the “10 ideas that moved flying robots forward in 2015.”

“Despite the thick layers of bureaucracy that outlaw commercial use in much of the world, fresh ideas itching to put the technology to use constantly come to the fore,” Lavars noted in his report.

The 10 ideas includes drones that drop off critical medical supplies to a rural clinic in Virginia, using drones to start fires in a controlled burning process used by land management services, drones that can build walkable rope bridges, and using drones to deliver aid to war-torn areas in Syria.

“It’s going to fascinating to watch this technology continue to evolve and at some point or another, be deployed on a grand scale,” Lavars wrote. “As the technical capabilities continue to advance and spark the imaginations of big-picture thinkers aiming to solve real-world problems, we’re sure these smart little machines will continue to open up all kinds of possibilities, and we plan on covering them every step of the way.”

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