Drones are expendable

This, from Tim Newman, concerning Trump’s threatened-but-then-not-done (or not yet done) retaliatory war against the Iranians, in response to them shooting down an American drone, strikes me as very sensible:

… Now one of the advantages of using unmanned drones is that shooting one down does not require the same response as if a pilot has been killed or captured. That’s the whole point of using them: while expensive, they are expendable to a much greater degree. …

My guess is that Trump is playing to the gallery, the gallery being the discontented people of Iran. He is trying to show, by cranking up the brinkmanship and thereby drawing attention to what he’s doing, that he is on their side, but that their own rulers, seemingly ready to provoke a war with the USA, don’t care about them. Will this work? Is that even the plan? What do I know?

Certainly, starting a war over the destruction of a mere piece of equipment seems to me very stupid, indeed wicked, and more to the point will seem stupid and wicked to many others besides me.

On a more peaceful note, here is a piece about robots as aerial transporters. Rapid progress is being made here, apparently.

Although, this piece is about robots carrying passengers.

It would seem to me that there is particular merit in using drones to transport mere stuff, as opposed to transporting people. With stuff, what’s the worst that could happen? It goes prang, and some stuff, and a drone, gets lost? Provided the transporting is not done too dangerously over built-up areas, few humans are likely to get hurt or killed. That book you ordered from Amazon will take a bit longer to materialise. Boo hoo.

With the passing of every year, destroying stuff matters that bit less, and killing people matters that bit more, and long may that trend continue. Which means that peaceful drones, transporting stuff which is as expendable as they are themselves, seems like a particularly good plan. Passengers? There’s a lot more to go wrong with them on board.

However, aerial robots seem a basically better idea, to begin with, than robot cars that drive along anything resembling regular roads. I get more and more sceptical about robot cars as each deadline for their mass deployment seems to come and go. True, if you lose power in the air, that’s a lot worse than losing power on the ground. But, the air, for now, unless you’re in a war, is a fundamentally more predictable environment than the ground, because the ground is already so very occupied, so full of people wandering about doing their own deeply unpredictable things, often using their own vehicles. The air, on the other hand, only contains admittedly rather undisciplined birds, but otherwise, mostly, much more disciplined and tightly controlled aircraft. Okay, a few small aircraft sometimes go where they aren’t wanted and that can complicate things. But there are, for the time being anyway, no gangs of drunken pedestrians in the sky.

But, like I say, what do I know?

UPS drones and drone vans

Another drone application hovers into view:

Yes, it’s UPS:

“This is really a vision for the future for us,” UPS senior vice president for engineering and sustainability, Mark Wallace, said in an interview with Business Insider.

The drone will work as a mechanized helper for the driver, reducing the number of miles a driver will need to drive. According to Wallace, UPS can save $50 million a year if everyone of its drivers reduces the length of their delivery routes by one mile.

UPS sees several potential usage cases for its autonomous drones. This ranges from inventory control at warehouses to the delivery of urgent packages such as medical supplies. However, this latest test is geared towards the company’s  operations in rural areas where drivers have to cover vast distances between delivery points.

But all this is still some way off:

Currently, the technology [is] still in the testing phase and UPS doesn’t have an exact timeline for its introduction into service, Wallace said.

Timeline being the twenty first century way of saying: time. See also learning curve (learning); learning experience (fuck-up); etc.

I once had a job delivering number plates, in a white van, all over Britain. Much of it was lots of unassembled number plate components in big heavy boxes, to big suppliers, which we delivered direct. And the rest of the job was one-off finished number plates to motorbike shops, which the other drivers often used to deliver by posting them. I always went there direct, because I enjoyed the drive, but either way the economics of those one-off number plates was ridiculous. A drone to do the final thirty miles or so would have been most handy, if it could have been organised. (A digital camera would have been very nice also. But alas, I had to wait a quarter of a century for that.)

The serious point: drones are useful tools for running big and visible and trustable (because so easily embarrassable and controlable) businesses, for example the big and very visible enterprise that provided this. Drones are, basically, tools for workers rather that toys for funsters. They may supply fun, but they will mostly be operated by workers.

In London anyway. Things may be different out in the wilds of the countryside. But even taking photos out in the wilds of Yorkshire involves – I bet – getting some kind of permit. If not, it soon will. Because there will be complaints, and drones are highly visible.

Also audible, yes? Anyone know how noisy drones tend to be? 6K? How noisy is your drone?

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Guess what this is

I’ve been meaning to post this image here for some time:

Guess what it is. If in doubt, look at the categories list below. Then go here, to confirm what you must surely have worked out.

Many have described the event at which this happened as historic, but not because of this. But I reckon what you see in the above picture is what historians will end up being most impressed by, about this event, because it was a very public manifestation of a very impressive sort of technology, which is going to have a very big future.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Droneverts

Incoming from Michael Jennings: One for you.

It certainly is. Apparently, in Mexico, Uber is using drones to advertise itself, by having them hover, with signs, over traffic jams:

Drones to carry adverts, or signs. But of course. The possibilities are endless, and the probability is: lots of complaining, drone destruction, car crashes blamed on drones carrying adverts or signs, etc.

Imagine it. You are going at a speed considered too fast by the Big Computer in the Sky, so it sends a drone out to fly out in front of you, telling you to slow down or be fined. Or more probably, just telling you that you have already have been fined. Ah, modern life. Science fiction just never sees it coming.

By the way, what is that sign saying?

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Anti-drone drones

Indeed:

Anyone trying to fly a UAV over the outdoor sets where the next installment of the Star Wars saga is being filmed in Croatia might be met by drones owned by the production company.

I knew there were such things, but it’s good to actually read about them.

The fun really starts when drones on spy missions like this are also armed, so they can fight off the drones that attack them.

Drone v drone fighting is going to be a spectacular sport, just as soon as it starts getting organised.

When me and the Transport Blog gang visited the Farnborough Air Show, way back when we did, it was good, but it felt rather antiquated. Drone v drone contests – real contests – would liven that up no end.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Aerobots

This is cool, says Instapundit, and he’s not wrong:

For all his joie de vivre, Jardine is a master drone builder and pilot whose skills have produced remarkable footage for shows like Australian Top Gear, the BBC’s Into the Volcano, and a range of music videos. His company Aerobot sells camera-outfitted drones, including custom jobs that require unique specifications like, say, the capacity to lift an IMAX camera. From a sprawling patch of coastline real estate in Queensland, Australia, Jardine builds, tests, and tweaks his creations; the rural tranquility is conducive to a process that may occasionally lead to unidentified falling objects.

Simply put, if you’ve got a drone flying challenge, Jardine is your first call.

So, Mr Jardine is now flying his flying robots over volcanoes. There are going to be lots of calls to have these things entirely banned, but they are just too useful for that to happen.

When I was a kid and making airplanes out of balsa wood and paper, powered with rubber band propellers, I remember thinking that such toys were potentially a lot more than mere toys. I’m actually surprised at how long it has taken for this to be proved right.

What were the recent developments that made useful drones like Jardine’s possible? It is down to the power-to-weight ratio of the latest mini-engines? I tried googling “why drones work”, but all I got was arguments saying that it’s good to use drones to kill America’s enemies, not why they are now usable for such missions.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

You can tell that drones have arrived because now they are being turned into a sport

I like cricket. And I like drones. But which is best?

There’s only one way to find out. Fight.

Actually, all the drone did there was hover, waiting to be clobbered, which, a minute and a half in, it duly was, by Chris Gayle.

What I want to see is a game where drones fight against each other. Or a war. Either would do.

Or, perhaps a demo.

Bloody Enrique Iglesias drone drama

Incoming from Michael Jennings:

Truly, that’s a glorious headline.

Indeed it is:

Enrique Iglesias sliced his fingers on a drone during a concert

The drone was not hostile. It was part of the show, as was Iglesias attempting to handle it. It was just that it all went rather wrong:

“During the show a drone is used to get crowd shots and some nights Enrique grabs the drone to give the audience a point of view shot,” the statement read. “Something went wrong and he had an accident. He decided to go on and continued playing for 30 minutes while the bleeding continued throughout the show.”

Iglesias was semi-treated immediately after the accident.

Definitely a future trivia question in a pop quiz. But the worst that could have resulted from this would have been a couple of missing Iglesian fingers. This (“NY-bound plane nearly collides with drone, FAA says”) could have ended far more grimly.

There will be many, many more drone dramas. They are colossally useful, and accidents buzzing around begging to happen.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

A drone weaving a structure in space

Dezeen reports, here.

Like I say: when drones do annoying things, they can be very annoying, but they are far too useful to ban.

Hey, maybe a drone could have a 3D printer attached to it, to 3D print in the sky!

As Andy said in his comment on this:

I think the answer is micro-controllers …

Yes, once you have clever computers piloting these things, rather than clumsy old humans, they can do almost anything.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog

Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building

First, the BMdotcom headline of the day:

Ukrainian Army Using 3D Printed Drones To Battle Pro-Russian Separatists As Cease-fire Nears

These drones are being used to “monitor”, not for bombing or shooting. Nevertheless, interesting.

In other drone photography news, have a look at the new Apple Headquarters, as it takes shape. This particular movie seems to be friendly, so to speak. Apple would appear to have agreed to it. But what of drone photos and drone movies that are not so friendly?

I first realised that drones would be a big deal when I saw one (with a camera attached) in a London shop window.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog