Amazon unveils hybrid drone prototype to make deliveries within 30 minutes – Ed Pilkington Sunday 29 November 2015 16.01 EST

Retail company’s UAV can fly vertically, like a helicopter, and horizontally like a plane but may still face regulatory obstacles in US, despite safety features

Amazon’s prototype delivery drone could travel up to 15 miles at high speed.

Amazon’s prototype delivery drone could travel up to 15 miles at high speed. Photograph: Amazon

Amazon has unveiled a new hybrid delivery drone that can fly both vertically, as a helicopter capable of landing in customers’ backyards, and horizontally like a conventional plane. The drone can travel up to 15 miles at high speed.

The online retail giant released a video on Sunday in which the prototype is introduced by the former BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson. The film shows the unmanned aerial vehicle rising up from an Amazon warehouse, flying over pristine countryside, then landing on an Amazon logo placed on a customer’s lawn.

The hybrid is conceived as the prototype workhorse for Amazon Prime, the futuristic delivery service that aspires to carry purchases to customers within 30 minutes of an order.

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I Went to the Drone World Expo and Saw the Future. It Sounds Like Bees – MATT SIMON. 11.28.15.

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STANDING IN FRONT of a drone in a mesh cage, a somewhat nervous man with a somewhat Southern accent tells us about his machine, which a pilot is banking left and right and flinging up and down. It’s got a 4K camera and can hit 40 mph. When its battery runs low, it buzzes your phone. It’s not just a “solution,” but a “complete solution.”

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.

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The prototype drones aimed at improving lives 15 April 2015 Last updated at 00:23 BST

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A competition designed to show how drones can be used to enhance people’s lives has been held in Dubai.

Teams from around the world competed for the £700,000 ($1m) prize in the international category of the Drones for Good competition with machines designed to lift heavy objects, fight poaching or clean windows.

BBC Click’s Spencer Kelly reports.

Feds unveil commercial drone rules – By Keith Laing – 02/14/15

Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration is moving to allow commercial drones that weigh less than 55 pounds to be flown in the U.S. under new regulations that were released on Sunday morning.

The proposal, which has been highly anticipated, would greatly increase the domestic use of drones in a long-sought victory for advocates of the technology.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the FAA’s rules will strike a balance the desire for increased drone use and concerns that have arisen about potential privacy violations from the unmanned flights.

“Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace and this milestone allows federal regulations and the use of our national airspace to evolve to safely accommodate innovation,” Foxx said in a statement.

The FAA’s rules define small drones as devices that weigh less than 55 pounds and require them to be operated at heights that are less than 500 feet and speeds that are less than 100 miles per hour.

The regulations also call for drone flights to be limited to daytime hours and conducted only by U.S. residents who are older than 17. Drone operators are also prohibited under the FAA proposal from conducting flights that take the devices out of their line of vision, which is a big blow to companies, like Amazon, that have touted the possibility of using the technology to conduct deliveries.

The rules make drone operators responsible for avoiding collisions with manned aircraft that are in the same airspace as the devices, and the prohibit drone flights that “fly over people, except those directly involved with the flight.”

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the rules are an attempt to regulate the use of non-military drones without stifling the expansion of the new technology.

“We have tried to be flexible in writing these rules,” Huerta said. “We want to maintain today’s outstanding level of aviation safety without placing an undue regulatory burden on an emerging industry.”

Lawmakers who support the increased use of drones in the U.S. cheered the FAA’s announcement on Sunday.

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Drones fly into the political ad wars

Drones, long used in actual warfare, are now being deployed in political battles.

AP Photo

AP Photo

Campaign advertising gurus are using small versions of the unmanned aircraft to shoot footage of a fly-fishing candidate, scenic shots of a downtown and a marina, a pol walking near wind turbines, and other promotional images. But the relatively cheap, flexible technology has its downsides: one nearly crashed into Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, for instance.

And — as in violent conflicts — the legality of using drones for filming ads isn’t totally clear.

Veteran GOP ad-maker Fred Davis, a pioneer of using drones for campaign ads, said the camera-equipped aerial vehicles, many of which are very small, “can do things that even a helicopter can’t do, and … at an unbelievably reasonable price.”

“They can fly through an open window, they can fly inside,” Davis said. “They can fly up and down stairways. They can get really close to things — say, a church steeple or a tree. We’ve done them in factories, where they go through small openings into big rooms in factories.”

Drones have already been infiltrating other realms — Hollywood uses them, news organizations are getting in the game and even Amazon hopes to have a drone delivery service.

It’s hard to quantify how many political ads have been filmed using drones because the technique is still fairly new and its use remains limited to a relatively few firms. But because the cost of using drones has dramatically fallen, ad makers expect their use to increase in the 2016 cycle, including possibly in some presidential campaigns.

Ad makers say drones can give a more polished, cinematographic look with sweeping aerial shots that can make the TV spots stand out from the usual slash and burn of dark negative commercials. They could follow a candidate’s campaign bus down a road, take beauty shots of different places he’s visited and snap images of where he grew up.

“If I was going to do it, I would have two drones come up and fly over the top of the biggest rally of people I could put together and fly right above the guy speaking and over the top of all these people supporting me,” said Casey Phillips, co-founder of GOP firm RedPrint Strategy.

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It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s—AAAACK! – By Seth Stevenson NOV. 27 2014 11:54 PM

The unexpected dangers of drones.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

I’m dreaming of a drone Christmas. Tiny drones tucked into stockings. Bigger drones beneath the tree. A drone for Dad, another for Junior, a third for your cool tween niece.

Anecdotal reports suggest that drones are topping Christmas lists all over. Why are holiday shoppers so excited? 1) These newer-model aircraft are meant to be far easier to fly than their predecessors. 2) They have cameras, allowing for all manner of creative (or mischievous) projects. 3) Folks just seem to be jazzed ever since we started calling these things “drones.”

Rechristening a “remote control toy helicopter” a “drone” suggests that, soon after unwrapping his present on Christmas morning, your teenage son will be executing lethal missile strikes in Yemen. And indeed there’s been a vaguely menacing edge to a lot of recent drone hype. Consumer drones have lately starred in many a techno-dystopian horrorscape: French authorities freaked out when drones mysteriously appeared above nuclear power plants. A New Jersey property owner riddled a drone with bullets when it encroached on what he considered his personal airspace. Kanye West is afraid that drones might electrocute his daughter.

Despite the new, badass nomenclature, remote control aircraft have been around for decades. I suspected these new drones were still just toys with a scarier name, and that buying one made the user less a slick paramilitary operative and more a dorky model plane enthusiast. Thus my plan, as Slate’s gadgets correspondent, was simply to test out a couple of these gizmos and find out which one would make the best holiday gift.

One of the leading consumer drone brands is DJI, and its Phantom drones are hugely popular, so I tried one of these first. When the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ Quadcopter arrived, I pulled it from its box, screwed on its propellers (as though I were assembling a very small piece of Ikea furniture), and folded open its one-page “Quick Start Guide.” The steps looked straightforward. Thinking I’d run a casual, preliminary experiment—maybe send the thing 10 feet in the air and then immediately land it—I walked to a softball field around the corner from Slate’s New York office. After switching on the remote control and the drone itself, I calibrated the drone’s compass as the guide instructed. All systems go. I fired up its four propellers.

Report Questions U.S. Policy On Overseas Drone Strikes – by CARRIE JOHNSON June 26, 201412:03 AM ET

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, in 2010. A new report questions the U.S. policy of using armed drones abroad to carry out attacks on suspected terrorists.

An unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, in 2010. A new report questions the U.S. policy of using armed drones abroad to carry out attacks on suspected terrorists.

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

U.S. strategy that relies on armed drones to kill terrorism suspects overseas “rests on questionable assumptions and risks increasing instability and escalating costs,” according to a year-long study by a group of prominent military, intelligence and foreign policy experts.

The report, released early Thursday by the Stimson Center, concludes that while targeted killing operations might have protected Americans at home, they come at a heavy price abroad: Extremist groups have only grown in influence overseas and “blow back” over civilian casualties is becoming “a potent recruiting tool for terrorist organizations,” in places like Yemen and Pakistan.

“You can have all these tactical successes, where you end up with a lot of dead bad guys, but then you just see the problem proliferating elsewhere because the roots are political and sometimes killing people one by one can … make things worse rather than better,” Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks tells NPR in an interview.

The Task Force on U.S. Drone Policy, led by Brooks and John Abizaid, a retired U.S. Army general and former chief of U.S. Central Command, also urges the Obama administration to be more transparent by releasing information about the number and location of the attacks and the number of people they’ve killed, including civilians.

“The United States should not conduct a long-term killing program based on secret rationales,” the report says.

The new Stimson report comes three days after a federal appeals court in New York released parts of the U.S. legal justification for targeting radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al Awlaki in September 2011. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights, among others, are continuing to challenge the Department of Justice in court to obtain more secret documents about casualties from drone strikes and the legal rationale for carrying them out.

Task force members also want the White House to do more to promote accountability for drone attacks, by creating a nonpartisan, independent commission to review drone policy and examine past lethal strikes for possible mistakes. Administration officials say they’ve developed sufficient checks and balances within the executive branch, without going to court for pre-approval. But the targeted killing of people without charge or trial makes many advocates uneasy about leaving so much power in the hands of a small group of government aides.

“While our military and intelligence communities have grown increasingly adept, both at identifying and confirming the identities of al Qaeda affiliates and at precise and careful targeting, the criteria used to determine who might be considered targetable remain unknown to the public,” the Stimson report says.

The group largely rejects fears that drones amount to “remote control killings” and points out that armed drones amount to a tiny fraction of the Pentagon’s arsenal. But the report says the U.S. needs to take more initiative in limiting and explaining its own actions so other nations that begin to stockpile drones follow suit.

Brooks says the task force wondered how American authorities would feel if foreign adversaries deployed drones to strike against their enemies and then refused to share any evidence about the episodes, as the U.S. has done.

“We thought, gosh, what if [Russian President] Vladimir Putin decided to start using drones to take out critical journalists in eastern Ukraine, for instance, and then said to us, ‘no, no, no they were terrorists, and I can’t give you the evidence, that’s classified, I’m sure you’ll understand,'” Brooks says. “I don’t think we would like that very much.”

The precedent is all the more important because drones are here to stay, the report says.

“I think the most significant thing for us was to demystify drones and make the point they are neither some sort of mystical evil nor some sort of magic super weapon that can keep us safe,” Brooks says. “If we use it in smart ways, it will be good for our national security, and if we use it in dumb ways, it will hurt us.”

PART ONE: WAR ZONES When drones fall from the sky – Written by Craig Whitlock Published on June 20, 2014

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More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic, according to a year-long Washington Post investigation.

Since the outbreak of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military drones have malfunctioned in myriad ways, plummeting from the sky because of mechanical breakdowns, human error, bad weather and other reasons, according to more than 50,000 pages of accident investigation reports and other records obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Commercial drone flights are set to become a widespread reality in the United States, starting next year, under a 2012 law passed by Congress. Drone flights by law enforcement agencies and the military, which already occur on a limited basis, are projected to surge.

The documents obtained by The Post detail scores of previously unreported crashes involving remotely controlled aircraft, challenging the federal government’s assurances that drones will be able to fly safely over populated areas and in the same airspace as passenger planes.

Military drones have slammed into homes, farms, runways, highways, waterways and, in one case, an Air Force C-130 Hercules transport plane in midair. No one has died in a drone accident, but the documents show that many catastrophes have been narrowly averted, often by a few feet, or a few seconds, or pure luck.

“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman told investigators after an accident in November 2008, when he lost control of a Predator that plowed into a U.S. base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth.”

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US to consider drone licences for film and TV – 2 June 2014 Last updated at 17:27 ET

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said there could be “tangible economic benefits”, but cautioned safety hazards must be “mitigated”.

 3d robotics drone

US authorities have said they are considering allowing the film and television industries to use drones.

Seven aerial video and photography firms have petitioned the FAA for exemptions to the agency’s current ban on commercial drone use.

The FAA did not set a timeline for determining the exemptions.

Businesses have been pushing hard for permission to use drones, which are much less expensive to run than manned aircraft.

But the FAA has been cautious, arguing that the US has some of the busiest airspace in the world.

It wants to be sure that drones can be integrated with existing commercial and military traffic.

Congress has given the FAA until 2015 to create rules regarding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones.

They are already commonly used elsewhere in the world, including on high-profile movies, including The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which was filmed in New Zealand.

Brazil seen from above

The BBC has a team that uses a hexacopter to film aerial shots.

Most recently it was used to film shots of Brazil in the run up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Highway to the danger drone! ‘Top Gun’ for carrier-based drones wins Navy’s OK – By Douglas Ernst – The Washington Times Updated: 7:54 a.m. on Thursday, April 24, 2014

The X-47B at its unveiling ceremony in December 2008. (U.S. Navy)

The X-47B at its unveiling ceremony in December 2008. (U.S. Navy)

The Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) system is just what it sounds like: “Top Gun” for drones.

The U.S. Navy issued a “restricted” draft request for proposals for the carrier-based drone on April 17 and has already narrowed down the field of companies vying for chance to work on the project.

SEE ALSO: Drones from the deep: Pentagon develops ocean-floor attack robots

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics and Northrop Grumman have been involved in the project in some capacity, technology website Ars Technica reported Tuesday.

While the Navy seems to have wrestled with what exactly its new drones will be capable of, members of Congress want UCLASS aircraft that could essentially provide the strike capability possessed by humans.

“We believe the current path could limit the capability growth of the system in the future,” Rep. Randy Forbes, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, and Rep. Mike McIntyre, the subcommittee’s ranking member, wrote in September 2013, Ars Technica reported.

“We believe UCLASS should be designed to be an integral part of the [Carrier Air Wing] that can employ in the full-spectrum of the Navy’s power-projection mission,” they wrote.

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