Google has scrapped its initial drone design because it was difficult to control and is now working on a new version, according to Astro Teller, head of the Internet company’s Google X research lab.
Teller told the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex., that Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin encourage such failures, so researchers can learn from the mistakes and try different technologies and strategies.
In August, Google unveiled a drone-delivery system called Project Wing that the Internet giant was testing. The prototype had a five–foot single wing that sat vertically on the ground and then turned horizontal after take-off. The design was supposed to combine the benefits of vertical, hovering take-offs and landings with the speed of wing-based flying. In the test, the drones carried supplies including vaccines, water and radios to farmers in Queensland, Australia.
The drone was mechanically simpler than other types of drones, but it was harder to control, Teller said on Tuesday. It didn’t hover well in high winds and its cargo shifted too much when the wing moved up and down, he explained.
Google began working on drones in 2011. It’s not clear when it began experimenting with the single-wing design, but Teller said half the team “knew it was the wrong answer” after eight months. After 18 months, about 80% of the team thought this, he added.
The team debated whether to scrap the design or test it quickly in public. Brin told the team they had five months to make deliveries to real people, which wasn’t enough time to come up with a different design, so the team went ahead with the Australia test with their existing prototype, Teller said.
“Even though Sergey’s five-month thing prolonged the problem, it created an end date for it,” Teller said. “It’s possible without that we would have extended the wrong thing even longer.”
Before the Australia tests, the team was already working on a new design that moves away from the single-wing-based approach, he noted
“They’re now working on that vehicle,” Teller said. He plans an update on the status of this new drone later this year.
March 19–The Federal Aviation Administration today issued an experimental airworthiness certificate to an Amazon Logistics, Inc. unmanned aircraft (UAS) design that the company will use for research and development and crew training. The FAA typically issues experimental certificates to manufacturers and technology developers to operate a UAS that does not have a type certificate.
Under the provisions of the certificate, all flight operations must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours in visual meteorological conditions. The UAS must always remain within visual line-of-sight of the pilot and observer. The pilot actually flying the aircraft must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification.
The certificate also requires Amazon to provide monthly data to the FAA. The company must report the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions, any deviations from air traffic controllers’ instructions, and any unintended loss of communication links. The FAA includes these reporting requirements in all UAS experimental airworthiness certificates.
U.S. aerospace company Exelis Inc. is close to unveiling a low-altitude surveillance system for drones, the latest sign of how a “highway in the sky” is likely to evolve.
The system, whose existence has not been previously reported, shows how Exelis and other companies are racing to create technology that enables drones to safely fly over long distances to do everything from inspections of remote pipelines to surveys of crops or delivery of packages.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration recently proposed regulations that largely ban unmanned aircraft systems from many of those tasks by requiring that remote pilots keep the drones in sight. This is giving foreign companies the chance to leap ahead of the U.S. in figuring out how to best exploit drone technology.
But the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is working with Exelis and other companies, universities and government agencies, to develop an air traffic management system that could persuade the FAA to allow flights beyond the line of sight, provided the operator is using such a tracking system.
Exelis’ products, called Symphony UAS-Vue and RangeVue, are significant because Exelis has a head start on competitors: It has the exclusive right to use a data feed it already supplies the FAA to track manned aircraft, using 650 ground stations. It will augment the feed with lower-altitude data that pinpoint drone locations, says Exelis, which is being taken over by communications company Harris Corp in a $4.75 billion deal.
“For any drone that needs to go beyond line of sight, this is a potential solution,” Edward Sayadian, vice president of civil aerospace systems at Exelis, told Reuters.
Exelis said it plans to announce the products this month and make RangeVue available this summer at some of the six sites the FAA has set up to test drones. The company developed the system quickly in the last six months, and hasn’t yet set prices.
On 5-6 March 2015, the “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems: Framing the future of Aviation” conference took place in Riga, Latvia. This event was organised by the Ministry of Transport of Latvia and the Civil Aviation Agency of Latvia, in cooperation with the European Commission, during the Latvian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The event brought together the main players involved in the RPAS industry’s development in Europe (Members of the European Parliament, European Commission representatives, Directors General of civil aviation authorities of the EU Member States Data Protection Authorities and leaders of the manufacturing and service supplying industry) and found broad agreement on the main principles to guide the regulatory framework to allow civil RPAS operations throughout Europe from 2016 onwards.
These principles are summarized in the Riga Declaration on Civil RPAS (Drones), which was made public at the end of the conference by Violeta Bulc, European Union (EU) Commissioner for Mobility and Transport, in the presence of Margus Rahuoja, Director for Aviation and International Transport Affairs, Directorate General Mobility and Transport, European Commission. The UVS International delegation attending the conference consisted of 25 persons, representing the national RPAS associations in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, as well as various other association members.
“The aviation manufacturing industry, the potential users of the remotely piloted aircraft systems, and also public authorities understand that promoting affordable civil RPAS is a project of great opportunity for the European economy. The benefits of the development of the services provided by RPAS will be enjoyed by a vast range of European citizens through new jobs and innovative services. Therefore Member States will have to immediately take on the work on the regulation of RPAS in order to bring more certainty on how the RPAS industry should develop.
In order to plan the investments, the industry has to see clearly what the requirements are that manufacturers and operators have to meet. At the same time, society must be certain that their fundamental rights to privacy and data protection are respected,” pointed out Anrijs Matīss, Minister for Transport of Latvia.
Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Mobility and Transport said: “Drones are the talk of the year, which is why we’ve come together in Riga, to find out how we, as a society want to live with drones. Of course we cannot adopt new rules and regulations here today. It will take some time. But we have made our intentions clear in the “Riga Declaration on Civil RPAS (Drones)”.
On one hand, industry needs to know which direction the rules are going to make investment decisions. On the other, citizens need to know how we’ll uphold their safety, security and fundamental rights, for them to accept that drones will become more common in their daily lives. As regulators, we have a clear responsibility to address these issues – society expects nothing less from us. I am convinced that this conference has made a great contribution to this objective and that we’ve moved one step closer towards allowing drone operations everywhere in Europe — from 2016 onwards.”
Since 1993, 20,000 people have died in the Mediterranean Sea while fleeing war-torn Africa for the safety of European shores. Now, the world’s first private maritime search and rescue operation is doing everything it can to help them. And they have already saved thousands of lives.
The UN estimates that 207,000 people tried to clandestinely cross the Mediterranean last year. A number that’s accelerating rapidly as conflicts on that continent grow worse. Migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq are adding to their numbers as they travel from the Middle East to Libya before enlisting human traffickers to smuggle them into Europe.
Forget the politics for a second, these are hundreds of thousands of men, women and children taking to the sea aboard what are often unsafe, overcrowded vessels that catch fire and sink and on which they may have inadequate access to food, drinking water and medical supplies.
Pope Francis offered prayers for the victims and called on his followers to help, stating, “Let’s unite our efforts so that tragedies like this don’t happen again. Only a decisive collaboration of everyone can help and prevent them…It is a disgrace.”
In response, the Italian government launched Mare Nostrum, but an American businessman living in Malta, close to the main smuggling routes, also heard the plea.
Christopher Catrambone is an immigrant himself, having moved his family to Malta from his native New Orleans to flee the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Last year, he and his wife Regina say they invested“nearly 50 per cent of our savings” — $US7.5 million — to purchase a 130-foot search and rescue ship, two drones and two inflatable boats, then put them to sea complete with a crew of technical and medical experts. “No one deserves to die at sea,” reads the Migrant Offshore Aid Station’s call to action.
At sea, MOAS patrols the main smuggling route between Libya and Italy, using its two Schiebel CamCopter S-100 drones (above) to search for migrant-carrying vessels that may be in trouble. Each CamCopter is capable of operating at speeds up to 150mph and can remain aloft for over six hours, making the potential search area huge.
If they find a vessel that may be in need of assistance, MOAS then decides to either respond itself aboard the Phoenix I mothership (above) or call in the Italian Coast Guard if the boat in question is in imminent danger. Those extra eyes in the sky are one of MOAS’s main functions, providing additional search and surveillance capabilities to augment the Coast Guard’s own. Identifying at-risk vessels that may be in need of assistance before their situation becomes critical.
“When a migrant vessel is spotted by one of MOAS’s camcopters, we immediately provide visuals to the appropriate official Rescue Coordination Centre to help ascertain the vessel’s condition and the migrants’ needs,” explains the NGO. “We then assist as directed.”
The Phoenix I’s main mission is distributing humanitarian aid to refugees in-transit: water, food, medical aid and medical supplies. If it finds itself in a position to pull migrants off a sinking ship, MOAS is prepared to and has bring them onboard the Phoenix, but then defers to Italian authorities to decide where those refugees are taken.
“MOAS follows the laws of the sea which oblige all vessels to help in case of distress,” it states. “Thus, MOAS will rescue migrants if it is asked to do so by search and rescue authorities or if the situation is an immediate matter of life or death. But our primary aim is to prevent loss of life at sea, not to ferry migrants from one point to another.”
MOAS is able to liaise closely with authorities in part because it employs ex-government and military officials to run its operation. Its director Martin Xuereb, for instance, was formerly the Chief of Defence for Malta while the ship’s captain was formerly that country’s Search Mission Coordinator. Catrambone himself is a defence contractor, providing medical services and insurance to companies operating in war zones.
“There are many larger NGOs trying to reduce poverty and conflict in Africa and beyond,” MOAS explains. “Many also work on integration and asylum once refugees reach Europe. However, at the point where migrants are most vulnerable – when it is a clear matter of life and death – there is an immediate need to act.”
“Last year, 3419 men, women and children died while making the dangerous crossing to Europe…mostly by drowning or dehydration,” the organisations says. During its first 60 days at sea alone, MOAS aided about 3000 people.
Want to help? MOAS relies on donations to supply migrants with emergency rations, water and medical supplies. You can help them buy those supplies through its website.
There could be as many as 150,000 drone jobs in Europe by the year 2050, says a report out today from the EU Committee of Britain’s House of Lords. Those jobs include piloting as well as manufacturing and other support work. In the US, the drone industry has claimed there’ll be a similar bonanza. But there are a couple of catches.
First, people need to know how to fly them. In the UK, commercial drone pilots need a form of aviation license, and regulations ban them from being flown over built-up areas or crowds, or out of sight of the pilot. But the aviation industry is still worried. It has said that “leisure” users might at some point cause “a catastrophic accident,” which could damage the growth of the industry, the report says.
Then, there’s the problem of public perception. Drones clearly make people nervous, even though there’s a world of difference between the small commercial devices and the massive military drones that patrol the skies over war zones. The unexplained sighting of drones above Paris last week had a city that had recently experienced a terrorist atrocity immediately on edge.
While small drones are already increasingly used for filming and photography by journalists and movie-makers as well as enthusiasts, they also have less visible uses: farmers surveying their fields to plan crop rotation, estate agents taking aerial shots of houses, and infrastructure companies checking on cables and or bridges. All of these make privacy a particularly fraught issue. To deal with that, the report calls for pilots to be made aware of rules that protect ordinary people from having their private lives inspected or their data collected.