Tag Archives: UAV

The Underwater Drone Helping Search for Flight MH370


Bluefin-21 is in the water after being craned over the side of Australian Defense Vessel Ocean Shield to begin using its side-scan sonar in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on April 14.

If wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is ever discovered, an underwater drone could very well be the first thing to spot it.

The Bluefin-21 was contracted by the U.S. Navy to dive into the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia and scan the ocean floor for pieces of the plane that went missing on March 8 with 239 people onboard.

The drone was forced to resurface on April 16 due to a technical issue, according to a press release provided to Mashable by the Joint Agency Coordination Center, a search organization the Australian government created to help find the missing Malaysia airliner. Officials downloaded the drone’s memory once it was above water but, so far, Bluefin-21 has turned up nothing significant.

Built by Bluefin Robotics but owned and operated by Phoenix International, this autonomous underwater vehicle takes instructions from a ship’s radio before diving up to around 2.8 miles underwater. The remains of flight MH370 might be much farther down, but at that depth Bluefin-21 can blast the ocean floor with a sonar beam.

Data picked up from the sonar will be delivered once the drone resurfaces. Jim Gibson, General Manager of Phoenix International, told Mashable that if Bluefin-21 finds what might be a debris field, someone will switch out the vehicle’s sonar instruments with photo-taking equipment and send it back down to see if the clutter comes from the Malaysia Airlines plane. Bluefin-21 scans from side-to-side, and can spend about 16 hours at the bottom before coming up to re-juice.

The ability to swap equipment is key to why this particular drone wound up searching for flight MH370.

“It’s easily transported, unlike a lot of the other AUVs that are one piece,” Gibson said. “You can’t disassemble them, you need a special launch and recovery system to get them in and out of the water and everything else, and they’re quite heavy.”

The ’21’ refers to the drone’s 21-inch diameter, according to the Bluefin Robotics website. It’s a little over 16 feet long and weighs around 1,650 pounds when it’s not in the water. Once it hits its lowest depth, the vehicle travels about three nautical miles per hour and can scan about 15 square miles of ocean floor per day. It stores all that information into its four gigabytes of memory.

Despite the technical hiccup early on April 16, Bluefin-21 was redeployed later that day.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/16/underwater-drone-mh370/

Are Drones Really Dangerous To Airplanes?

Imagine boarding a plane. Economy class. Theres a kid behind you kicking the seat. You put on headphones and try to tune out the world. Immediately after takeoff, you feel a thud and hear an explosion over the sound of your music. The plane lurches. You look out the window at the planes engine and see fire and black smoke. Terrifying, right?

Thats the fear that animates the Federal Aviation Administrations hostile approach to drone regulation. The agency, required by Congress to finalize permanent regulations of commercial drones under section 332 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act by September 2015, has missed that deadline. So far, the agencys only efforts appear to be issuing rules under a more restrictive part of that law, section 333, intended to be in effect temporarily until the FAA finished the final ones. And it has imposed a requirement that people register noncommercial model aircraft, a move criticized as onerous, and currently facing a court challenge.

But drones dont pose much of a risk to traditional aviation. Though there is always a risk when you board a plane that an object will be ingested into an engine, our research shows that the problem is far more likely to be a bird than a drone.

Colliding with aircraft

There are on the order of 10 billion birds in U.S. airspace. Although efforts are made to keep them away from airports, where they pose the biggest threat, pilots, airlines, airports and others voluntarily reported 13,414 bird-aircraft collisions on the FAAs dedicated wildlife strike website in 2014, split about equally between passenger jets and other aircraft including helicopters and small planes. Rarely, these collisions are serious enough to take out a jet engine. In 2014, birds were reported ingested into engines only 417 times, and only 112 of those reports indicated any damage to the aircraft.

A bird strike on an airliner causes engine failure.

Meanwhile, to date, no modern quadrocopter, commercial or otherwise, has ever collided with a manned aircraft in U.S. airspace. The FAA has raised the alarm about drones in the airspace, and now receives over 100 reports of unmanned aircraft flying near other manned aircraft or airports per month. However, as the Academy of Model Aeronautics has noted, many of these sightings do not reflect any danger to passengers. Analyzing 921 reported incidents, a study at Bard College found that in only 158 of them did a drone come within 200 feet of a manned aircraft. In only 28 incidents did pilots even decide to take evasive action.

Harming aircraft passengers

My colleague Sam Hammond and I extrapolate from wildlife strike data to estimate the danger that drones pose to manned aircraft and the people aboard them. We estimated how often drones will strike manned planes by assuming that drones are roughly equivalent to birds that they are of similar size, and that drone operators are at least as able to avoid aircraft as birds are.

There are vastly more birds than drones in the U.S., and birds spend far more of their time aloft than battery-powered drones, which need to recharge and are often left unused for days at a time. However, we could calculate a frequency of aircraft strikes per hour of bird flight. Assuming the rate is the same for a drone, we estimate that drones are likely to collide with manned aircraft once every 374,000 years of drone operation.

Not all collisions cause damage to the aircraft, much less harm to people flying in it. We focused on 2-kilogram birds, because this is the weight being discussed as a possible threshold for a lighter class of drone regulation. About one in every five aircraft that hit a bird weighing around two kilograms experienced at least minor damage. There was at least one person injured in the collision for every 500 aircraft struck by a 2-kilogram bird.

In other words, if there were a million 2-kilogram drones operating in the airspace 24/7 with as much awareness of human aviation as birds possess, there would be an injury to a human passenger onboard a manned aircraft once every 187 years.

Teaching drone pilots to be responsible

So drones are safe if their operators have at least as much cognitive capacity as birds. Its true that the dumbest humans may deliberately fly drones in the path of airliners. Enforcing prohibitions on this is difficult. To keep airspace safe, the FAA needs a two-pronged strategy of operator education and technological solutions to manage a more crowded airspace.

The agency has undertaken some educational efforts. For example, it partnered with AUVSI, a trade organization, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, a hobbyist association, to create a website called Know Before You Fly, which provides accessible and easily comprehensible guidelines for safe and legal operation of drones.

The FAA also launched a dedicated smartphone app, B4UFLY, that uses the phones geolocation feature to inform the user of the restrictions on and requirements for flying a drone in the area.

Unfortunately, the app is laughably bad, currently receiving a 1-star rating on the iOS app store. The reviews complain of restrictions being erroneously reported for landing strips that have been out of service for years. Drone operators report being instructed to contact a control tower, but the app provides no phone number. Other times, users are told to contact completely unattended helipads.

The agency should prioritize giving operators accurate information about where they can and cant fly, and it should provide users with a quality app experience so that they actually consult the app. The private sector has joined the effort. One such service compiling this type of information is AirMap, with a mobile-optimized website hobbyists can use to determine where they are not supposed to fly.

In addition to education, the agency should focus on short-run and long-run technological solutions to the problem of an increasingly crowded airspace. In the short run, a technology called geofencing is promising and has already been adopted by drone manufacturers such as DJI and 3D Robotics: drones are equipped with GPS and know to keep themselves out of places it is illegal for the drone to fly, such as near airports; in the Washington, D.C., area; in national parks; or near crowded stadiums.

Advancing airspace interconnections

In the longer run, the FAA should focus on modernizing airspace for the likelihood that even manned aviation will benefit from the technologies currently developing in the unmanned sector. While most drones are currently remote-controlled, the ultimate vision is that they will be autonomously piloted and communicate with each other to avoid collisions.

That same type of machine-to-machine communication and onboard computerized decision-making has the potential to greatly increase the safety of manned air transportation by eliminating pilot error.

To increase the safety of unmanned and manned aviation, as well as of the mixture of the two, the FAA should accelerate its plans to incorporate this new model of airspace management into the system. Engineering and field testing done by NASA is a great first step, but airspace modernization should be a central theme in the FAAs approach to drone integration.

As our wildlife strike study shows, drones themselves arent the real threat. If the FAA wants to make American airspace safer and more conducive to innovation, it should leverage education and technology instead of outright prohibitions and unenforceable registration requirements.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/are-drones-really-dangerous-airplanes

This Drone Could Help Get Rid Of The World’s 110 Million Landmines

Ten people are killed or lose a limb to a landmine or explosive war-relic every day. With existing technologies, it would cost around $30 billion and take over 1,000 years to remove the worlds remaining 110 million active landmines. The problem deepens when you consider that the vast majority of these landmines are in war-torndeveloping countries.

However, a team of British scientists has developed a drone that could dramatically speed up this process and make it safer, while being a bit easier on the pocket.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and Find A Better Way, a British charitydedicated to funding the safe removal of landmines and explosive remnants of war. They have developed an aerial drone capable of scanning huge areas for mines in a quick, safe and effective way.

The UAV uses hyperspectral imaging techniques, which pick up the subtle irregularitiesin ground vegetation. The presence of landmines and theexplosive chemicals often have an effect onhow vegetation grows, giving an indication where they are likely to be.

As explainedby Dr. John Day,the projects leader,in a statement:Living plants have a very distinctive reflection in the near infrared spectrum, just beyond human vision, which makes it possible to tell how healthy they are.Chemicals in landmines leak out and are often absorbed by plants, causing abnormalities. Looking for these changes might be a way of discovering the whereabouts of mines.

He added, Infrared light can also assist detecting man-made objects on the surface of minefields, as they do not produce this infrared reflection. Unexploded ordinances or camouflaged mines on a green field can be difficult to see in normal light, but infrared light can make them stand out from surrounding foliage.Drones taking infrared pictures to map suspected danger zones may provide a quick and safe way to tell if an area is likely to be hazardous.

To demonstrate the drones prowess, the researchers took their drone to Old Trafford, the stadium of U.K. team Manchester United Football Club. To scan an area the size of a soccer pitch by conventional means would usually take months. However, the drone managed to fully scan and map the whole pitch in under two hours. Fortunately, no mines were found.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/drone-could-help-get-rid-worlds-10-million-landmines

Amazon’s New Delivery Drones Unveiled In Video With Jeremy Clarkson

The age of drones is well and truly upon us. Their uses in art, war, and discovery have been moving fast, but their commercialuse as delivery-bots has long been hovering around. However, things appear to be on the move again:Amazon has just released a video revealing the closest and freshest look at their drone delivery plans yet Amazon Prime Air. Oh, and Jeremy Clarksons in there, too.

Amazon Prime Air canfly for distances of 24 kilometers (15 miles) at heights of less than 122meters (400 feet). According to the video, it willbe able to deliver orders within 30 minutes or less, provided you’re in the right area.In the future, they plan for there to be a family of Amazon drones different designs for different environments.

Thisdesign is much different to earlier proposed prototypes. These newermodels appear to be a hybrid of the hovering helicopter-like drones that can rise vertically and the more conventionalairplane-style drones. Although be prepared for this to change, as Amazon said they have 12 different prototype styles beingdeveloped attesting sites in America, the United Kingdom and Israel.

Amazon received approval for its drone delivery plans in the United States by the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) in March 2015.However, as WIRED pointed out, flight regulations in the U.K. will make it harder for Amazon Prime Air to roll out in the United Kingdom.

The FAA have estimatedthere will be 7,500 small commercial drones in the skies above the United States by2018.

Read more: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/amazons-new-delivery-drones-unveiled-video-jeremy-clarkson

China Tests Autonomous Smog-Busting Drone

As the air pollution situation in China worsens, local officials are turning to drones in a desperate move to combat an environmental crisis threatening to choke the country’s booming productivity.

The test of the new drone was successfully conducted at an airport in China’s Hubei Province on Saturday, giving the country a glimmer of hope that there might be a technological answer to the historic levels of smog currently plaguing the country.

China’s drone is equipped with airborne catalyzers to disperse smog and has the ability to create artificial wind currents, two tools the country hopes to use to reduce the overall effects of air pollution.

China Drone

But despite its lofty mission, the unnamed drone, which was reportedly manufactured by a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, isn’t very impressive visually.

Rather than the sleek military drones we’ve become familiar with, or even the amateur quadcopters that are becoming increasingly popular, China’s smog-busting drone looks like an throwback to the WWII era.

But despite its somewhat retro apperance, according to one of the engineers affiliated with the project, the drone features autonomous navigation controls that allow it to fly in even the heaviest smog conditions. Additionally, the drone is equipped with a parachute, allowing it to safely land in the event it malfunctions during a flight.

China Map

Image: Google Maps

No plans have been announced as to when or even if the drone test will become a full-fledged part of the country’s pollution management policy.

China’s pollution has reached new highs in recent years, with the most recent episode, which occurred in February, forcing cars off the road due to poor visibility.

BONUS: Shanghai’s Disappearing Skyline: 21 Images of Record Pollution