The Drones Are Coming

What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word "drone"?

In the times we we live in, most people would think of this:


This is a predator drone, an unmanned military aircraft used to bomb a particular area from a remote location.  And yes, I think this is what the majority of people would think of when you asked them to describe a drone.

But in a few years there will be a lot more drones.  Some will be used by our government, some perhaps in the agriculture industry, maybe some in the entertainment industry, and plenty being used for a hobby maybe by someone who lives right next door to you.  But mark my words, we will see a lot more drones right here in our back yard in the not too distant future.  Not only should we embrace it, we should do our best to advance the technology.  It might be somewhat controversial at times, but this technology has so much to offer and for much more good than remote bombing missions.  And we'll start to see things take shape with items like the Parrot, shown below.

A Parrot 2.0 drone which you can buy for around $300

A Parrot 2.0 drone which you can buy for around $300

While the military vehicles often used for remote bombing runs are commonly called "drones", the term for the more friendly version that you and I might see more of soon is "unmanned aerial vehicle", or "UAV".  Most UAV hobbyists and experts hate the word "drone" just because it is associated with death and brings up quite a negative feeling when there are actually more positive uses for these devices than there are negative.  

How about this for a few ways we could use UAV's for good:

  • Finding a missing person - Instead of sending a helicopter or plane with a pilot and crew to find someone who might be lost either out in the wilderness or perhaps the ocean when you could send a UAV on the search?  This saves time, money, and gas.

  • Other emergencies - What about a fire in a building?  A UAV could be used to take a look at the scene without putting someones life at risk.  A UAV could also be used to locate and disable an armed suspect again without human risk.

  • Disaster surveillance - With the recent attacks in my hometown during the Boston Marathon this past Monday it got me thinking how a UAV might have helped.  Perhaps they could have more quickly ID'd the attackers from above or at least more easily surveyed the scene to  quickly analyze what help was needed and where.  It is no different than having a camera on a utility pole except that this camera is mobile.  

I think a couple of these bring up the issue of privacy which I think is the biggest thing against UAV's right now.  But what about some even more basic uses for these things?

  • Photography - I would LOVE to strap a camera to one of these things out in the wilderness and get some great aerial footage.  Think of the uses in so many applications.  Extreme sports (or sports in general), realty for taking a picture of a house from all sides, and what getting another angle or view of a large event or concert?  Lots of possibilities here.

  • Deliveries (Short range) - What if you needed something light sent across town?  Sure you could send a courier.  But how about a UAV that can fly there in a fraction of the time?

  • Farming - A large part of farming is identifying potential probelms with huge fields of crops.  Instead of flying a plane over the crop with a pilot like most do, how about a tiny UAV with a nice camera that can scan your crop efficiently and report back to you via a remote video feed or recording?

  • Digital Art - I saw an awesome example of this on The Verge, where multiple UAV's were sent up in the sky to create a logo as an ad for the new Star Trek movie.  Pretty cool.

As you can see there are lots of uses for this technology aside from war.  As I said above I think the biggest concern with this stuff right now is privacy.  Most arguments I here start with someone asking: "What is to stop someone with a UAV from sticking a camera on it, flying it into my back yard, and spying on me from afar?"  To that I say: do you not think this is already happening?  Look up at the sky, take the cellphone out of your pocket.  We are constantly being viewed on satellite and tracked GPS these days.  There are cameras all over the place.  If you think your life is truly private, I would suggest you think again.  Yes this technology will need to be regulated in some way, and that is already starting to happen.  

I think the main thing we really need to get the stigma that all drones and UAV's are evil out of our heads.  There will be some privacy hurdles at first, but this technology can and should be used for good.  As long as we understand and embrace this technology for the right reasons when it does start to become more prominent in daily life (and it will), things will be that much easier to accept and understand.  In fact, I might just go out and buy one to take some aerial pictures during my next camping trip.

Thoughts On The Marathon Bombing

I didn't post anything yesterday as a bit of a moment of silence for those who were killed and injured in the bombings that took place at the Boston Marathon Monday afternoon.  

Such an absolutely awful day for our city.  I remember thinking in the morning that it was such a perfect day for the marathon, the Red Sox game, and just to have a nice holiday.  

I won't go on and on but my main thoughts are for those who have died, those who have been hurt, their families, and everyone who had to experience this first hand.  

A few thoughts:

  • The "news" coverage of this event (if you can call it that) has been horrendous.  Just another example of why today's media outlets are just trying to get eyes on the screen rather than provide real news.  The day the bombs went off I must have heard and seen the same exact information from most major news outlets for the entire day.  Replaying and showing the same information that doesn't provide any real info is not only a waste of our time but obviously designed to sensationalize things even more.  When I wanted real information, I found it on Twitter.  It was just a bummer to see most news outlets churn out the same garbage that didn't provide any real insight into the situation.  I mean, do you really think hearing 20 peoples' accounts of what they saw when they were down there helps anything?  Give me some real info and stop scaring people more by replaying the same unnecessary crap.  

  • Today, a full two days after the event, authorities claim to have zero leads on who did this.  They have asked for cell phone photo and video from people that were on the scene that day.  This makes me believe they are grasping at straws at this point.  This is scary.  Imagine how much cell phone and camera footage they are receiving   Combing through it all will be a super long process.  If they have no other sources of info then go for it.  Those responsible MUST be caught.  It is just crazy to me with the technology we have today, officials are asking for footage from people who were there.  You can expect more surveillance cameras all over the city after this attack.  And I wouldn't be surprised if Boston was one of the first cities to start using surveillance drones, especially during big events like this.  Whatever the process, we need to find who did this and bring them to justice and do as much as we can to prevent something like this from happening again.  Unfortunately to do so we may need to sacrifice some of our own freedoms.

As I am writing this, an eerie tweet just came through my feed and I wanted to include it.  This is obviously not confirmed but just gives you an idea of the things that come through on Twitter before the mainstream news.  Who knows if this is the guy but the picture speaks for itself.  It shows pieces of what was believed to be the bag that held one of the bombs and a man carrying what seems to be a very similar bag.

*Update #2 4.19.13* - I removed the above mentioned embedded tweet and links.  I know now that doing so was wrong.  Without knowing the facts and posting pictures of people it can do harm to them when we have no idea if it was them or not.  It was wrong of me to do so I removed the items. 
*Update 1:06PM EDT* - Some folks have pointed out there are groups on Reddit and 4Chan that are looking deep into the public photos as well.  I don't like a lot of the wording on the 4Chan page but both have some interesting info:

In closing I will say repeat what everyone is saying: we are a strong city and we will not let this destroy us.  The best way to fight back is to not be scared, to go about your lives as you normally would.  We will all get through this and hopefully will come out stronger on the other side.  

This picture by Dan Blakeslee has been going around the net and sums things up nicely,

In China, The Government Isn't The Only Spy Game In Town

After helping the official, Qi bought some bug-detecting equipment himself. Over the next year, he says, he helped more than a hundred friends find more than 300 surveillance devices.

This story from NPR was super interesting to me.  Not only does the Chinese government have one of the most advanced and vast surveillance systems in the world, but a good amount of Chinese citizens actually monitor and spy on each other.    

I hear so many stories about China that boggle my mind.  I would love to visit one day to take it all in, and of course to take a peek at what some call the most innovative country in the world when it comes to technology.