The Week In Drones: Hunting In Packs, Bothering Falcons, And More

Here’s a roundup of the week’s top drone news, designed to capture the military, commercial, non-profit, and recreational applications of unmanned aircraft.

Theorizing Better Military Drones

Rand Corporation, a think tank that consults the Department of Defense on security matters, published a study about the kinds of drones America needs in the future. Here’s the key nugget:

In the immediate future, expect improved versions of current drones hunting in packs and pairs, instead of any newer drone type.

The Sky Platypus Flies

Advanced Tactics makes the Black Knight Transformer, an interesting vehicle that’s somewhere between a helicopter and a truck. It’s “optionally manned,” which means its a drone if it wants to be and a piloted vehicle otherwise. The form is unusual, and while it passed driving tests last December, it hadn’t flown until last April. Now, there’s video evidence of it doing both:

Beach Creepers

Flying cameras inevitably pose some privacy risks. As first told on Reddit and recounted elsewhere, an older man and a teenager were using a toy camera drone to fly behind women on Virginia Beach, filming them in the process. Reddit user Forthelulzaccount (her online handle, not her real name) confronted the men until they left. This harassment is a real possibility with cheap drones, and the solution isn’t exactly clear. A useful precedent could come from Massachusetts, where in early March a court ruled that present law did not explicitly prohibit the use of cell phones cameras to take compromising pictures in public that violated the privacy of women’s skirts. Two days after the court case, the Massachusetts’ Governor signed a law explicitly prohibiting the practice.

The Robotic Outdoors

Hunters in New Mexico are worried that drone-assisted hunting will cheapen and ruin the sport. The Land of Enchantment already bans the use of manned aircraft “to signal an animal’s location, to harass a game animal or to hunt a protected species” observed from above within 48 hours. At the urging of hunters, the state legislature is considering adding language that makes sure the rules cover unmanned aircraft as well.

Elsewhere in the robotic outdoors, the National Park Service issued a statement on the use of drones at Yosemite National Park, saying that increased drone use in the park is harmful to the experience of hikers, as well as the natural wildlife. Here’s an excerpt [emphasis added]:

Not to downplay the harmful impact of drones on wildlife here, but “angry peregrine falcon defends its family against flying robots” has Hollywood gold written all over it.

A Crash In St. Louis

Last week a small drone crashed into an office building in downtown St. Louis. The drone was a DJI Phantom Quadcopter, which is roughly the Model-T of hobbyist drones, and it crashed into a 30th story window, where it was recovered. Lawyers are already advertising off this accident, which is impressive since both FAA and Missouri law and regulation are unclear on this matter.

The Grand Drone Bazaar

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) is an industry group that promotes all things drone, though they shy away from the term. This week, they had their annual conference in Orlando, Florida. Civilian and defense companies and drones were well represented, as were about a bajillion quadcopters.

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