Military drones are cheap, but they could certainly stand to be a whole lot cheaper. At least, that’s the rationale behind an Air Force solicitation for a “Low Cost Attritable Strike UAS Demonstration,” posted online yesterday. To encourage the design of a cheap and deadly drone, the federal government is willing to reimburse up to $7,450,000 for developing the concept in 30 days.
As they fit into the existing military air fleet, drones like the Predator and Reaper are cheaper than, say, $100+ million F-35s, but that doesn’t mean they’re exactly ependable. Reapers cost about $13 million each. The moderately cheaper Gray Eagle, which is about a half-step between the original Predator and the Reaper, runs about $5 million per drone.
Shipping drones capture the imagination unlike almost any robot. We see visions of skies filled with small robots, worrying and planning for the day packages that come by aircraft directly to our doorstep Yet most drones can’t really carry all that much, and are built for cargoes of around a few pounds. To truly compete with, rather than just supplement, other delivery technologies, drones will need to go bigger.
On January 15th, two unseen assailants disabled the engines of an Airbus 320, sending it crashing into the Hudson River. Thanks to the design of the airplane, the heroic work of the pilot, and luck, everyone on board the flight survived. The assailants perished in the crash, and the whole affair was dubbed “The Miracle on the Hudson.” Was it foul terrorists that conspired against an airliner, hurtling drones to destroy the craft? No, it was geese, migrating in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Not only is Google going to great lengths to provide fast Internet, it’s going to great heights as well. In a new initiative known as Project Skybender, the Silicon Valley giant is looking into employing solar-powered drones to beam down 5G Internet. The highly secretive project is based out of — I kid you not — Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and involves a series of unmanned flying devices that use millimeter-wave radio transmissions. These signals are considered the foundation of next generation 5G Wi-Fi, and could potentially send gigabits of data per second, making for Internet that is 40 times faster than 4G LTE.
This is not Google’s only drone-based Internet delivery system currently in testing — there’s also Project Loon, which seeks to provide Internet to the entire world by way of balloons. But the Skybender Project is focused much more on using breakthrough innovations to bring incredibly speedy Wi-Fi to those of us who can no longer stand for decently speedy Internet.
The millimeter wave technology that forms the lynchpin of the whole endeavor is described as the “future of high-speed data transmission technology,” and is thought to be the basis of a next-generation (read: 5G) mobile network. Google isn’t the only company to be experimenting with this transmission technique — as The Verge reports, Chet Kanojia, the founder of Aereo, has a new startup called Starry that also plans to use millimeter waves for gigabit Internet speeds to customers.
The problem with millimeter waves today lies in their short range and volatility (they don’t stand up well to precipitation or even fog), but Google and others are looking to rectify these issues.
Ultimately, says the Guardian, Google hopes to send a fleet thousands of quadcopters strong to deliver 5G Internet. And while there are no promises yet as to the outcome of these ongoing tests, if they work, we’re in for some breakneck Wi-Fi speeds.
It seems if you control a large portion of the internet, you have vested interest in getting the internet to more people. Both Facebook and Google have been testing aerial devices that would be able to provide reliable wireless internet access in remote locations. Until now, Facebook had Aquila, its solar-powered drone armed with Wi-Fi lasers, and Google had Project Loon, huge balloons with transmitters. Both are supposed to literally beam internet from the sky, but both have been confined to limited tests so far.
And now it seems Google has had other tricks up its sleeves to accomplish this goal, according to a new report by The Guardian. The search giant is reportedly testing multiple solar powered drones, and has been since last summer in a remote New Mexico airspace called the Spaceport Authority, according to the Guardian's sources. The space was originally meant to houseVirgin Galactic aircraft.
The technology allegedly used in the devices is not the cell service used by everyday people — at least, not yet. Google is testing 5G wireless internet, which could transmit more than 40 times faster than our 4G LTE service. However, at the reported transmission frequency, 28 Ghz, the signal would also fall off ten times quicker than 4G LTE, so serious power is required in focusing the transmission.
These optionally-piloted aircraft called Centaur, among other drones fromTitan Aerospace, which Google acquired in 2014.
It's not certain how these drones fit in with Project Loon, but the Guardian does say that they're under the same umbrella of Google's Access team, a group like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Internet.org, which looks to bring internet to the world. There's also Google's Project Wing, a play to deliver packages which has been largely overshadowed by Amazon's efforts in the same area. (However, crossover in this regard seems unlikely, because of the disparate size in drones.)
In any case, the race to provide the next generation of internet just got a little tighter.
In the last year, drones (also known as 'multirotor' craft or 'quadcopters') have made the leap from niche gadget tech for the radio control enthusiast to a piece of serious imaging kit that every photographer wants to get their hands on.
As the Syrian civil war rages on, more and more citizens are displaced by the violence. Every day, refugees stream across the borders of Syria into the neighbouring nations of Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Some even flee into Europe to escape the conflict — but rather than making the journey on foot, many choose to take a shortcut across the Mediterranean Sea and find their way into Greece. It’s a quicker route, but more often than not the boats used to make the trip are rickety and unsafe, and life vests are often in short supply.
More than 4,000 refugees have died at sea since the war broke out, so in an attempt to protect the roughly 2,000 refugees that arrive on the Greek island of Lesvos every day, the local Coast Guard has enlisted the help of a robot named Emily: the emergency integrated lifesaving lanyard.
The Lesvos Coast Guard invited Texas A&M University’s Center for Robot-assisted search and rescue to develop EMILY as a pilot project. The robot has been used to save stray swimmers in the United States, but it has never been tested as a lifesaving resource on the scale of the European refugee crisis. EMILY itself is basically just a four foot long buoy, controlled remotely by a human operator. The cable that tethers EMILY to a boat or shore outpost can extend up to 2,000 feet, so the operator can guide the robot to migrants lost at sea and then reel them in to safety. EMILY also works in conjunction with an array of Fotokites, which are tethered, camera-equipped quadcopter drones that can feed visuals to the operator from up to 30 feet in the air.
EMILY can run at 20 miles per hour for about 20 minutes on a full charge, which is enough time to make a good number of rescue trips. Once the operator guides EMILY to a refugee at sea, both EMILY and the person holding on are reeled in manually, so no propulsion power is needed. Furthermore, with EMILY on the Coast Guard’s team, human rescue experts and lifeguards can prioritize unconscious victims that wouldn’t be able to actively grab on to the buoy without assistance.
The Texas A&M team, the Lesvos Coast Guard, and more than 80 NGOs working in the region all have high hopes for the divide-and-conquer strategy EMILY has enabled. But even so, there are risks involved with integrated robot rescue, including the danger of EMILY’s 2,000 foot tether getting caught in the propellers of uncoordinated rescue boats. Until now, the Coast Guard has prohibited any rescue groups from launching their own boats without express permission for precisely that reason. However, now that the Lesvos Coast Guard has given official consent to the collaborative robot rescue program with EMILY, it’s possible that the rescue effort will be able to keep refugees safe on the dangerous crossing from countries like Syria.
As might be expected, there are a lot of drones on display this week at CES. Almost all of them have one thing in common, however: people can't ride in them. We say "almost all," as there is one exception. Ehang's 184 AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle) is designed to carry a single human passenger, autonomously flying them from one location to another.
Consumer quadcopters aren’t exactly a new development, but CES 2016 is already shaping up to be the year of the drone (at least if you go by the sheer number of exhibitors). Like many other companies lining the floor at CES Unveiled, ProDrone was on hand to showcase its forthcoming aerial drone, the aptly-titled Byrd. However, whereas most drones seek to distinguish themselves in terms of flight time and autonomous features, the Byrd separates itself from the pack with a host of interesting and innovative features.