On Friday afternoon, President Obama responded for the first time to the revelations of various National Security Agency data gathering programs—from recording all call records in and outside of the United States, to the PRISM program, which reportedly taps into the data streams of some of the largest data hosting companies in the country.
Here’s the gist: Although you, the citizens, have not heard of this, we have substantial oversight on these programs involving every branch of government. Legislators have been briefed (in regards to the telephone data, he said all members knew), and “if anybody in government wanted to go further than that top-line data … they would have to go back to a federal judge,” Obama said.
Basically, if you trust the system, you should trust us.
“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok,” the president said. “But if you look at the details … I think we have struck a nice balance.”
The president also reassured that “no one is listening to your telephone calls” and that although he came into office with “a healthy skepticism about these programs,” he is reassured that they don’t overreach. “The modest encroachments on privacy that are involved … it was worth us doing,” he said.
We live in a beautiful world, and Reid Gower wants to make sure we know it.
Gower spent six months creating this beautiful time-lapse video, shot in five U.S. states and seven other countries, including Austria, Hungary, Turkey, Poland, Germany, Canada and the Czech Republic.
“I was rather naive earlier this spring when I thought to myself, ‘Hey, you’ve got a great travel schedule coming up, why not make a timelapse film?'” he wrote on the Reddit post that propelled his video into virality. “I had never shot time-lapse before and I bit off more than I could chew.”
While on an expedition to Alaska that was run by GoPro and Project Aether, Gower was able to capture the footage from near-space using a GoPro camera housed inside a thermal lunchbox with handwarmers and a GPS attached to a balloon. Most of the footage, however, was shot with a more standard Nikon DSLR.
Gower also described his feelings about the meaning behind the video on Vimeo: “Humans are part of the natural order. We’re risen apes that acquired language and learned to use tools. Skyscrapers and spacecraft may seem unnatural, but they’re just as much a part of the natural order as beaver dams and bird nests. Boring electrical lines hint at the energy solution of a mammalian species. Open your eyes to the world you’ve grown accustomed to, and rejoice in the fact that you can participate in the human project.”
BONUS: Beyond the Horizon: 20 Breathtaking Photos From Readers
The high cost and limited range of electric vehicles can make them a tough sell, and their costliest and most limiting component are their batteries.
But batteries also open up new design possibilities because they can be shaped in more ways than gasoline tanks and because they can be made of load-bearing materials. If their chemistries can be made safer, batteries could replace conventional door panels and other body parts, potentially making a vehicle significantly lighter, more spacious and cheaper. This could go some way toward helping electric cars compete with gas-powered ones.
Tesla Motors and Volvo have demonstrated early versions of the general approach by building battery packs that can replace some of the structural material in a conventional car. Dozens of other research groups and companies are taking further steps to make batteries that replace existing body parts, such as body panels and frames.
The ability to use batteries as structural materials is currently limited by the use of flammable electrolytes, but researchers are developing safer chemistries that could be used more widely. The approach also raises several practical questions: can the energy-storing body panels be engineered so that even if they’re dented, the car will still work? And how expensive will bodywork be? However, automakers could turn to the approach under pressure to sell more electric vehicles and hybrids to meet stringent future fuel economy standards.
Batteries are the single most expensive item in electric cars, so making them cheaper would make electric vehicles cheaper too. But even without significant breakthroughs, new battery designs could make a car lighter.
One example is the way Tesla has designed the battery for the Model S. The metal casing that protects the battery also serves to make the car frame more rigid, reducing the overall amount of metal needed.
This month, Volvo demonstrated another approach using lithium-ion batteries, which are made of thin films of material that are rolled or folded up to form a battery cell. Researchers at the Lulea University of Technology in Sweden in collaboration with Volvo sandwiched these films between sheets of carbon-fiber composite. The resulting structure was used to replace plastic body parts and a small conventional battery on a hybrid version of the Volvo S80. (The car is a “stop-start” hybrid that uses a battery to make it possible to turn off the engine whenever the car isn’t moving.)
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy is spending $37 million on projects seeking to use batteries as structural materials. (The program is called RANGE, which stands for Robust, Affordable, Next-Generation Energy Storage Systems). In two ARPA-E projects, researchers are figuring out ways to design battery packs to absorb energy in a crash to replace materials now used to protect passengers. For example, rather than packaging battery cells into a solid block, the cells could be allowed to move past each other in an accident, dissipating energy as they do.
Most of the approaches being explored so far still use conventional battery cells — the parts of the pack that actually store energy. If safer battery cells can be made, then this would provide even more flexibility in how a car can be designed. You wouldn’t need to enclose them in protective cases or regulate their temperature to prevent battery fires.
“When you’re not obsessed with protecting batteries, you can be a lot more creative. You’re not limited to the architecture of conventional cars,” says Ping Liu, who manages and helped conceive of ARPA-E’s RANGE project.
To this end, several researchers are developing new chemistries that don’t use flammable electrodes, so the batteries could be safely used as door panels. They’re considering replacing volatile electrolytes with less-flammable polymers, water-based materials and ceramics. Once they have a safer electrolyte, the researchers will look for ways to use the battery electrodes in a cell to bear loads.
Volvo has an experimental version of this approach that uses carbon fibers in composite materials to store and conduct electricity but also to strengthen the composites. The device was formed in the shape of a trunk lid. But it could only produce enough electricity to light up some LEDs, so it couldn’t replace the battery in an electric car or a hybrid. A newer version being developed at Imperial College in London replaces the epoxy that ordinarily holds together carbon fibers in a composite with a blend of stiff materials and ionic liquids that can conduct charged molecules. This forms a type of supercapacitor that could store enough energy to be used in place of a battery in a stop-start hybrid.
For electric cars and hybrids with larger batteries, supercapacitors don’t store enough energy. So to provide enough driving range, some researchers are developing lithium-ion batteries that use carbon fibers for one electrode, but use conventional lithium-ion materials for the opposite one. Others have developed a nonvolatile polymer electrolyte to replace conventional, flammable ones. The resulting material will make it possible to “do two jobs with one thing,” says Leif Asp, a professor at Lulea University. Several ARPA-E projects are taking this kind of approach.
These new electrolytes and load-bearing battery cells are likely more than a decade away from being useful in cars, however. It will be difficult to ensure that the battery stores large amounts of energy and can also be strong enough as a structural component.
Asp says the first applications could be in portable electronics, where load-bearing batteries could replace conventional plastic cases. But if car components can one day be made out of such materials, then batteries could finally go from a limiting factor to a selling point.
A model wearing Google Glass backstage at Diane von Furstenberg’s show in Lincoln Center.
Designers didn’t just bring new clothes to Lincoln Center during New York Fashion Week — several introduced new uses for digital technology as well.
Diane von Furstenberg led the pack, surprising in-person and online attendees by showcasing Google Glass — the futuristic eyewear device Google is building — down the runway. Photos were taken backstage using the device, and shared to DVF’s Google+ Page ahead of and during the show.
A short film compiled from video taken with glasses worn by models, Furstenberg and members of her team was released three days later. Tweets about the DVF show were up 160% from last season, making her the third most talked-about designer on Twitter during Fashion Week, according to third-party data from social media agency, Whispr Group.
Beyond DVF’s show, New York Fashion Week, which ended last Thursday, witnessed the appearance of stylish gadgets from the likes of HTC and Rebecca Minkoff. Reporters used short-form mobile video for new kinds of coverage, and several emerging designers teamed up with startup CutOnYourBias to let fans shape their collections. Live streams continued to grow in popularity, with new twists from Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta. For a full roundup, check out the gallery below.
Photos were taken with the device backstage and shared to DVF’s Google+ Page ahead of and during the show. A short film compiled from video taken with glasses worn by models, Furstenberg and members of her team was released three days afterward.
Tweets about the DVF show were up 160% from last season, making her the third most-talked about designer on Twitter during Fashion Week, according to third-party data from Whispr Group.
2. Tech-Infused Accessories
Rebecca Minkoff closed her show with the Steele Jungle Green Audio Clutch, which cross-functions as a wireless stereo that can be controlled by any bluetooth-enabled device, like your iPhone, within 33 feet. It will go on sale this spring.
HTC also debuted a smartphone designed in collaboration with Cushine et Ochs, which will not go on sale.
3. Fan-Voted Looks Hit the Runway
Carlos Campos, Christian Cota, Timo Weiland and Suzanne Rae partnered with voting design platform CutOnYourBias in the month leading up to Fashion Week. Designers submitted sketches of a range of men’s and women’s garments, and fans were invited to vote for their favorites.
Those that received the most votes in each category were then produced and shown in their respective collections. The winners looks were announced on cutonyourbias.com and through Instagram as they came down the runway.
4. Google+ Goes Backstage
Fashion discovery platform Lyst and Teen Vogue beauty director Eva Chen hosted backstage Google Hangouts on startup Lyst’s Google+ page before Rebecca Minkoff’s and Tibi’s shows at Lincoln Center. Those invited into the Hangout were able to pose questions to the designers.
The video and audio quality was poor, but it was a nice use of the medium.
5. Pre-show Livestreams
Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs offered twists on the standard video livestream for their shows.
Oscar de la Renta’s livestream began two hours before the show. Users could view four cameras simultaneously to watch the action in hair and makeup, on the runway, in the PR office and at the venue entrance.
Marc Jacobs’s show was hosted by fashion blogger and humorist Leandra Medine of The Man Repeller, and also included pre-show content.
One of the dreams for security experts is the creation of a quantum Internet that allows perfectly secure communication based on the powerful laws of quantum mechanics.
The basic idea here is that the act of measuring a quantum object, such as a photon, always changes it. So any attempt to eavesdrop on a quantum message cannot fail to leave telltale signs of snooping that the receiver can detect. That allows anybody to send a “one-time pad” over a quantum network which can then be used for secure communication using conventional classical communication.
That sets things up nicely for perfectly secure messaging known as quantum cryptography and this is actually a fairly straightforward technique for any half decent quantum optics lab. Indeed, a company called ID Quantique sells an off-the-shelf system that has begun to attract banks and other organisations interested in perfect security.
These systems have an important limitation, however. The current generation of quantum cryptography systems are point-to-point connections over a single length of fibre, So they can send secure messages from A to B but cannot route this information onwards to C, D, E or F.
That’s because the act of routing a message means reading the part of it that indicates where it has to be routed. And this inevitably changes it, at least with conventional routers. This makes a quantum Internet impossible with today’s technology
Various teams are racing to develop quantum routers that will fix this problem by steering quantum messages without destroying them. We looked at one of the first last year. But the truth is that these devices are still some way from commercial reality.
Today, Richard Hughes and his team at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico reveal an alternative quantum Internet, which they say they’ve been running for two and half years. Their approach is to create a quantum network based around a hub and spoke-type network. All messages get routed from any point in the network to another via this central hub.
This is not the first time this kind of approach has been tried. The idea is that messages to the hub rely on the usual level of quantum security. However, once at the hub, they are converted to conventional classical bits and then reconverted into quantum bits to be sent on the second leg of their journey.
So as long as the hub is secure, then the network should also be secure.
The problem with this approach is scalability. As the number of links to the hub increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to handle all the possible connections that can be made between one point in the network and another.
Hughes and co say they’ve solved this with their unique approach which equips each node in the network with quantum transmitters—ie lasers—but not with photon detectors which are expensive and bulky. Only the hub is capable of receiving a quantum message (although all nodes can send and receiving conventional messages in the normal way).
That may sound limiting but it still allows each node to send a one-time pad to the hub which it then uses to communicate securely over a classical link. The hub can then route this message to another node using another one time pad that it has set up with this second node. So the entire network is secure, provided that the central hub is also secure.
The big advantage of this system is that it makes the technology required at each node extremely simple—essentially little more than a laser. In fact, Los Alamos has already designed and built plug-and-play type modules that are about the size of a box of matches. “Our next-generation [module] will be an order of magnitude smaller in each linear dimension,” they say.
Their ultimate goal is to have one of these modules built in to almost any device connected to a fibre optic network, such as set top TV boxes, home computers and so on, to allow perfectly secure messaging.
Having run this system now for more than two years, Los Alamos are now highly confident in its efficacy.
Of course, the network can never be more secure than the hub at the middle of it and this is an important limitation of this approach. By contrast, a pure quantum Internet should allow perfectly secure communication from any point in the network to any other.
Another is that this approach will become obsolete as soon as quantum routers become commercially viable. So the question for any investors is whether they can get their money back in the time before then. The odds are that they won’t have to wait long to find out.
The NSA leaks perpetrated by Edward Snowden will easily go down as one of the biggest revelations of the year, if not the decade. But the episode also raises new questions about the risk that insiders pose to government and corporate cybersecurity, in spite of the attention lavished on foreign hackers.
Snowden’s case is unique in that it uncovered a previously unknown surveillance apparatus that’s massive in size and scope. It’s not unique, however, in the way the whistleblower did his deed. Two-thirds of all reported data breaches involve internal actors wittingly or unwittingly bringing sensitive information to outsiders, according to industry analysts.
“It’s not an either-or proposition,” said Mike DuBose, a former Justice Department official who led the agency’s efforts on trade-secret theft. “But amidst all the concern and discussion over foreign hacking, what gets lost is the fact that the vast majority of serious breaches involving trade secrets or other proprietary or classified information are still being committed by insiders.”
DuBose is now the head of the Cyber Investigations unit at the risk-management firm Kroll Advisory Solutions. In February, his team authored a report warning that contractors, information-technology personnel and disgruntled employees—all descriptors that fit Snowden pretty well—pose a greater threat than hackers, “both in frequency and in damage caused.”
Not everyone agrees. Even though insiders generally play an outsized role across all reported data breaches, their role in confirmed data breaches is rather small, according to an annual study by Verizon. In 2012 specifically, internal actors accounted for 14% of confirmed data breaches. Of those, system administrators were responsible for 16%.
However common they are, cases like Snowden’s show how devastating one insider can be. The extent of the damage depends on what’s being exfiltrated, and from where, and there aren’t many standards for calculating losses. Most companies estimate the value of their trade secrets based on how much money they sank into the research and development of that knowledge. But for the government, it’s the potential impact on security that takes precedence—and that turns the question into a matter of subjective debate.
Last month, The Washington Post reported that Chinese spies compromised the designs for some of the Pentagon’s most sensitive weapons systems, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship.
If true, the report could have major consequences for national security. But Snowden’s case is equally consequential, if for different reasons, and it bolsters DuBose’s point about the relevance of insiders. Snowden may have rightfully uncovered evidence of government overreach, but if a midlevel contractor can steal top-secret information about the NSA and give it to the public in a gesture of self-sacrifice, someone else could do the same and hand the intelligence to more nefarious actors.
Scientists are engineering a real-life Mighty Mouse that will scurry through fields sniffing out hidden landmines thanks to olfactory superpowers.
The researchers, at Hunter College of the City University of New York, have genetically engineered the animals to be 500 times better equipped than their normal counterparts to sniff out landmine explosives. They hope that these “hero mice” could warn of buried bombs.
Hidden landmines are a deadly reality in nearly 70 countries globally, and detection and removal are expensive and dangerous. Currently, metal detectors, radar, magnetometers and sniffer dogs are used to search for them.
A Belgian organization called APOPO already uses giant African pouched rats as a cheaper way to sniff out landmines. The rats are not genetically modified, but their sense of smell is sharp enough to detect TNT. The bomb-sniffing rats are taught to scratch the ground when they detect a hidden mine (fortunately, they are small enough not to set off the explosives). While the furry minesweepers are effective (with two handlers, they can cover a field in one hour that would take two full days for metal detectors), they need nine months of training to become reliable, a process that costs around 6,000 euros per rat.
The genetically engineered mice, however, are so sensitive to TNT that encountering the molecule is likely to change their behavior involuntarily, so they would need little to no training. Charlotte D’Hulst, a molecular neurobiologist at Hunter College who presented her work at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, used genetic modification to ensure that the mice have 10,000 to 1,000,000 odor-sensing neurons with a TNT-detecting receptor compared with only 4,000 in a normal animal, “possibly amplifying the detection limit for this odor 500-fold,” she says.
Each odor-sensing neuron in a mouse’s nose is spotted with one kind of odor receptor. Usually, each specific receptor is found in one out of every thousand odor-sensing neurons, but about half the scent-detecting neurons in D’Hulst’s mice have the TNT-detecting receptor.
This particular odorant receptor was originally identified by Danny Dhanasekaran, a molecular biologist at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine. Dhanasekaran says that a given odor is usually detected by a handful of different kinds of odorant receptors, which helps natural noses more easily and accurately discern smells. However, by engineering a great abundance of one receptor that detects TNT, D’Hulst and colleagues “could enhance the sensitivity of the system so it can be easily used in operations to detect landmines,” says Dhanasekaran, who is continuing to look for other TNT-type receptors.
D’Hulst hopes this overwhelming dedication to just one odor will provide an easy way to know whether or not the engineered mice have encountered TNT. Recent research suggests that sudden and intense stimulation of the olfactory system will trigger seizures, she says. “We can only hope that our mice will show a seizure behavior … upon detecting landmines. We won’t have to work with food rewards; we will probably use some radio signaling system. A chip implant may track, report, and record their behaviors.” The researchers still need to test the mice in behavioral studies.
Roger Hess, director of field operations for Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, a charity that develops technologies to aid landmine removal, says that while this mine-sniffing method could show promise, it would still depend on detection of trace vapors from the mine. The release of the odor from the ground can depend on soil and water conditions, and the trace of an explosive could be several meters away from where the mine is actually buried, he says. The technique will also not work for mines that have no gaps for the scent of explosives to escape.
“Due to the risk of missing an item, a secondary method would need to be employed,” he says.
Imagine waking up just after midnight to a sky so bright you swear it must be early morning. Imagine seeing the Northern Lights as far south as Cuba or Hawaii. Imagine that the same phenomena behind both has also generated electric fields in the ground strong enough to power small electronics. That’s what happened in 1859, when the earth was struck by the most severe geomagnetic storm ever recorded.
Forget asset bubbles, recessions, or hurricanes—space weather could prove far more economically harmful. A severe geomagnetic storm—a sudden, violent eruption of gas and magnetic fields from the sun’s surface—could prove particularly devastating. If the 1859 storm, known as the “Carrington event,” were to recur today it could cause trillions of dollars in economic damage and take years to recover from, according to estimates.
The sun would sneeze and the economy could shatter.
That’s a worst-case scenario, of course. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden was less dramatic at a space-weather conference hosted by the agency last week, though he did say such events can be “just as punishing as a tornado” and are “a problem that crosses all borders.” Magnetic storms can force Earth’s magnetic fields to go temporarily haywire, overwhelming power grids.
The 1859 event didn’t cause as much damage as it would today—electrical engineering was in its infancy—but it was globally felt. Here’s how a 2008 space-weather report from the National Academy of Sciences described that year’s storm:
From Aug. 28 through Sept. 4, auroral displays of extraordinary brilliance were observed throughout North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and were seen as far south as Hawaii, the Caribbean and Central America in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere as far north as Santiago, Chile.
Even after daybreak, when the aurora was no longer visible, its presence continued to be felt through the effect of the auroral currents. Magnetic observatories recorded disturbances in Earth’s field so extreme that magnetometer traces were driven off scale, and telegraph networks around the world—the “Victorian Internet”—experienced major disruptions and outages…. In several locations, operators disconnected their systems from the batteries and sent messages using only the current induced by the aurora.
In other words, they literally ran the telegraphs from the electrical fields generated by the storm.
The 1859 event may be an extreme case, but there are more-recent examples of such space weather: In March 1989 a geomagnetic storm took down northeastern Canada’s Hydro-Quebec power grid in just 90 seconds, leaving millions without power in the cold for up to nine hours. And a set of “Halloween” solar storms between October and November of 2003 sparked a National Academy of Sciences-led meeting on the societal and economic impact of space weather, which served as the basis of the report.
But it’s not just scientists who are concerned about space weather. Lloyd’s of London, the giant insurer, issued a report on the issue in 2010. In the foreword to the report, Lloyd’s Tom Bolt warned of a scientist-predicted spike between 2012 and 2015. “In terms of cycles, we are in late autumn and heading into winter,” he wrote then. A severe space-weather event could prove devastating, according to the Lloyd’s report.
In the worst case it can permanently damage transformers. In most cases, systems protecting power grids will detect problems and switch off before serious damage occurs. However, this may lead to a cascade effect in which more and more systems are switched off, leading to complete grid shutdown. In these situations it will take many hours to restore grid operation, causing disruption to operations and services, and potential loss of income.
The 1989 storm permanently damaged a $12 million New Jersey transformer. In 1921, a storm 10 times as bad struck. Today, that storm would permanently damage roughly 350 transformers, causing blackouts that would affect as many as 130 million people, according to a Metatech estimate.
An outside analysis conducted by Metatech for the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency found that the effects of a severe geomagnetic storm would not only be widespread, but long-lived. Such an event has “not only the potential for large-scale blackouts but, more troubling … the potential for permanent damage that could lead to extraordinarily long restoration times,” Metatech’s John Kappenman told the NAS report’s authors.
In a globalized world, all kinds of sectors would be impacted by a power failure. Fuel, food, water, sanitation, communications, medical/health, finance, and transportation would all feel cascading effects. Many businesses rely solely on satellite navigation for transportation on land and sea, and cell phones would be vulnerable to interference.
“Impacts would be felt on interdependent infrastructures, with, for example, potable water distribution affected within several hours; perishable foods and medications lost in about 12-24 hours; and immediate or eventual loss of heating/air conditioning, sewage disposal, phone service, transportation, fuel resupply, and so on,” the NAS report found.
Hurricane Katrina caused roughly $80 billion to $125 billion in damage, according to the report. A future geomagnetic storm like the 1859 event could cost 10 to 20 times as much and take up to a decade to fully recover from, according to Metatech’s estimates.
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz is not a fan of Rachel from Card Services.
“Rachel, you are now Public Enemy No. 1,” Leibowitz joked on Thursday at the start of an FTC summit focused on ways to crack down on the not-so-humorous subject of illegal robocalls, which are automated telemarketing calls. Leibowitz said the commission gets thousands of complaints a month about the robocalls from Rachel and the credit card scam her sponsors are pushing, as well as many others.
The FTC summit focused on both technological and regulatory tools to curtail annoying robocalls to consumers from telemarketers. While the calls are often associated with landline phones, robocalls also are migrating to wireless phones as more Americans give up their landline phones and rely only on a cell phone.
Experts who appeared at the summit offered consumers a variety of ways to help reduce the annoying calls. Some of the proposed remedies are as simple as using caller i.d. and signing up for the National Do-Not-Call Registry to screen out unwanted calls or technologies that aim to block such calls. For wireless callers, there are apps that consumers can use to screen out both wireless robocalls and associated text messages, said Andrew Whitt, Verizon Communications director of network operations and corporate technology. But none of these solutions are foolproof.
The FTC said it is aggressively going after companies that call consumers with pre-recorded telemarketing calls without their permission. Violators could face fines as stiff as $16,000 per call. Despite this, there is still enough of an economic incentive for robocallers to chance getting caught, said Kevin Rupy, US Telecom’s senior director of law and policy. Some of the ways they make money include getting consumers to respond to the scams they are pushing, which might promise lower-credit card rates, he said.
The FTC offered up a challenge on Thursday to innovators to come up with a “technological solution that will reduce substantially the number of illegal robocalls both on landlines and mobile phones,” FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director David Vladeck said at the end of the summit.
The agency is offering a $50,000 award to college students or other individuals or small companies who come up with a new solution that blocks illegal robocalls but allows legitimate calls to go through. It must be easy to use and deploy and work much better in tackling the robocall problem than other technologies on the market today, Vladeck said. The contest formally opens on Oct. 25 and the deadline for submitting a solution is Jan. 17. The FTC plans to announce the winner in early April.
“Everyone wants to put Rachel and her robotic colleagues in their rear view mirror,” Vladeck said.
Pakistan’s cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan talks on the phone as a camera-equipped drone hovers outside a parliament in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Aug. 21, 2014.
Image: B.K. Bangash/Associated Press
The U.S. government uses them to bomb alleged terrorists in far-away places. Tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook are all toying with the idea of incorporating them into their businesses, and now they’re a photographer’s secret weapon.
Drones are a big part of our lives, whether we see them or not. Drone Beat collects the best and most important stories every week.
If you want more on Drones, subscribe to the Center for the Study of the Drone’s Weekly Roundup, which features news, commentary, analysis and updates on drone technology.
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Last update: August 22, 11:45 a.m. ET
Will India be the launchpad for Amazon’s drones?
The cities of Mumbai and Bagalore in India might become the test sites for Amazon’s much hyped drone delivery program, known as Prime Air, according to a report by India’s newspaper the Economic Times.
In the United States, drone regulations are thorny and not business friendly for now. In late June, the Federal Aviation Administration specifically called out delivery by flying robot as something that is not allowed. India, on the other hand, would be an ideal candidate for Amazon because the country has no rules regarding the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
“Amazon will not be breaking any laws in India,” Bharat Malkani, an aviation expert and CEO of Mumbai-based Max Aerospace, told Quartz.
Amazon could be planning to start delivering packages via drone as early as October, taking advantage of the days ahead of the shopping-friendly festivity of Diwali.
More U.S. national parks ban drones
In June, the National Park Service issued a memorandum to ban drones from parks across the U.S. But that was just the first step, each park then needed to issue its own ban for it to be effective. Zion National Park in Utah and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona were the first ones to do so.
This week, more have joined in. The National Park Service’s office in Moab, Utah, officially banned drones in the Arches and Canyonlands national parks and in the Hovenweep and Natural Bridges national monuments.
The National Park Service also banned drones from flying over the entire Appalachian Trail.
Yosemite National Park was the first to attempt to ban the flying robots, even before the rule was issued by the National Park Service.
It seems it’s just a matter of time before others join in. As a result, we might miss out on videos like these.
Rescuers use drones in aftermath of earthquake in China
First responders used drones to survey the areas hit by a 6.1-magnitude earthquake earlier this month in China’s Yunnan province.
After the quake, rescuers from the China Association for Disaster and Emergency Response Medicine got some help from a team of pilots at DJI, a large manufacturer of commercial unmanned aerial vehicles based in Hong Kong, as Motherboard reported.
“Aerial images captured by the team were used by workers in the epicenter area of Longtoushan, where most of the traditional buildings in the area collapsed,” the company told Motherboard. “The dense rubble and vegetation have made ground surveying extremely difficult, so using aerial images has helped identify where relief teams can focus on searching for survivors.”
Australian football team uses drones to film trainings
A team in the Australian Football League (AFL) has bought two small drones to film its training from above, according to local newspaper The Age.
The Hawthorn Football Club, also known as the Hawks, bought the drones in an attempt “to find an edge in technology to improve its on-field performance.”
There aren’t a lot of details on how the team plans to use its drones, but the newspaper said they’ll use them to analyze their strategies and plays from a better vantage point.
How will drone photography change society? A look into the past can help predict the future
In a fascinating, must-read article, author Clive Thompson opined that drones — with their high-resolution photo and video cameras — might change photography and society just as much as the first personal camera and the rise of the so-called “snapshot” in the late 19th century.
Drones “allow for entirely new forms of voyeurism: peering into windows, over fences or zooming above public crowds to pick out individuals,” but they are also “creating new aesthetics for picture-taking by everyday people — some of which are strikingly lovely and useful,” Thompson wrote in the Smithsonian article.
“For good and ill, photography is being born anew,” he said.