Tag: drones

UK wants to geoblock prisons

jailThe UK Ministry of Justice, is becoming rather worried at the number of illegal drone activities at prisons and is apparently working with drone manufacturers to include prison coordinates in pre-programmed no-fly zones.

A report on Prison Safety and Reform presented to Parliament said that the MoJ will ‘trial, together with industry, the inclusion of prison coordinates in no-fly zones which have the potential to be programmed into the majority of drones on the market.  Apparently it has no plans to make the information publically available so the drone flying friends of the lags don’t know if the drone they have paid out for is geoblocked.

While currently the number of attempts to deliver contraband over the walls of a prison by drone is still far outnumbered by conventional methods incidences are increasing. In England and Wales, there were two  in 2014, and 33 in 2015.

The MoJ report notes that the increase in numbers may be due to improvements in awareness and reporting of incidents, but that it also reflects the growing knowledge of the technology and availability of drones to the average buyer.

If a prison is designated by the manufacturer as a no-fly zone, the drone will be automatically repelled from flying over the coordinates for the prison area. This does mean  releasing prison GPS coordinates to the public which creates a security problem. Some manufacturers offer an opt-out function on their drones, which allows a user to override pre-programmed geo-fencing coordinates. Other No-fly zones currently include military airspace mainly used for fighter pilot or weapons training, and very few other areas as defined by the National Air Traffic Service in the UK. Prisons are considered ‘restricted space’, as are nuclear facilities, but neither have no-fly coordinates programmed by the manufacturer prior to sale.


Isis weaponised consumer drones

dji-phantom-vision-2-plus-004Islamic death cult, the Islamic State, has been buying off the shelf drones and packing them with explosives.

Kurdish forces fighting the Islamic State in northern Iraq last week shot down a small drone the size of a model airplane. Thinking it was an observation drone they took it to their base to have a look at it only to find it was rigged with explosives and blew up.

According to the Pentagon, the Islamic State has tried to use small drones to launch attacks at least twice, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential flying bomb.

The terror group has used off-the-shelf surveillance drones on the battlefield for a while but now it looks like they have finally created a usable weapon.

American military analysts and drone experts say that the Pentagon, which still has not worked out how to take down drones was slow to anticipate that militants would turn drones into weapons.

Apparently the Pentagon does have expensive and sophisticated devices to stop drones attacking its own troops but has not given these to the Kurds or Iraqis. Officials said they have ordered the Pentagon agency in charge of dealing with explosive devices — known as the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization — to study ways to thwart hostile drones.

The Islamic State is using simpler, commercially available drones such as the DJI Phantom, which can be purchased on Amazon for slightly over $1000. The group attaches small explosive devices to them, essentially making them remotely piloted bombs.

What is worrying is that a European or American terror cell might do the same thing and conduct a remote control terror attack on a city.

UK allows drones

While it is still years away in the US, Amazon is allowed to try drone delivery in the UK.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority gave Amazon permission to test several key drone delivery parameters. This includes sending drones beyond the line of sight of their operator in rural and suburban areas, testing sensor performance to make sure the drones can identify and avoid obstacles and allowing a single operator to manage multiple highly-automated drones.

In the US, commercial drones weighing up to 55 pounds can fly during daylight hours but they must remain within sight of the operator or an observer who is in communication with the operator. The operators must pass an aeronautics test every 24 months for a certificate as well as a background check by the Transportation Security Administration.

But apparently the UK is a leader in drone innovation, after all we recently promoted one to foreign secretary and this is mostly because Amazon has a Prime Air research and development facility in the country.

Amazon’s goal is to use drones to deliver packages up to five pounds to customers in 30 minutes or less. Of course with Britexit something costing five pounds a pound will end up being the pound.

Nvidia releases Jetsons for drones and robots

what-you-can-learn-from-the-jetsons-about-home-automation-image-0Graphics card maker Nvidia has lifted the kimono on its Jetson TX1 developer kit which it hopes will encourage people to build drones and robots.

The credit card sized TX1 kit is the size of a credit card but has a 1 teraflop of horsepower.

Jesse Clayton, product manager at Nvidia said that robots and drones require autonomous and smoother navigation capabilities, and the TX1 will help.

The TX1 has 256 graphics cores to process images so Robots can recognize objects and avoid collisions using “deep-learning” algorithms and image processing engines.

Clayton said Nvidia was also providing a software development kit for theTX1, including a debugger, compiler, libraries and other tools. The SDK will help programmers load applications that allow robots and drones to be truly autonomous.

The software uses Nvidia’s CUDA parallel programming framework, and taps into technologies such as OpenCV, OpenVX and Nvidia’s VisionWorks for image recognition. The board also supports OpenGL and OpenGL ES graphics standards.

The board can connect to more powerful cloud services for post-processing of images, Clayton said.


The TX1 is three times faster than last year’s original Jetson board, which delivered 300 gigaflops of horsepower. It uses the Tegra X1 chip which Nvidia is putting under the bonnets of cars and tablets. They use 64-bit ARM CPUs.Additional specifications include 4GB of DDR4 memory, 16GB of storage, Ethernet, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The developer board will be available starting on November 16 for $599 through online retailers like Amazon and Newegg, it will be in the shops next year.

Kate Bush is the best way to deal with drones

97334cab7b3dc626b77b25cb6f686dacWho would have thought that Kate Bush would be the inspiration for knocking drones out of the sky>

Apparently some drones have a problem with resonance so if you conduct an experiment of sound on them you could cause them to crash.

Components inside drones are susceptible to certain pitches .

Researchers at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) in Daejon, South Korea, analysed the effects of resonance on a crucial component of a drone, its gyroscope.

A gyroscope keeps a drone balanced, providing information on its tilt, orientation and rotation, allowing for micro-adjustments that keep it aloft. Hobbyist and some commercial drones use inexpensive gyroscopes that are designed as integrated circuit packages.

Gyroscopes have been designed to have resonant frequencies that are above the audible spectrum, said Yongdae Kim, a professor in KAIST’s electrical engineering department. But others are still in the audible spectrum, making them vulnerable to interference from intentional sound noise.

Matching the resonant frequency of a gyroscope causes it to generate erroneous outputs, which have an effect on its flight, Kim said.

Researchers attached to a drone a small, consumer-grade speaker that was wirelessly connected to a nearby laptop.

The drone takes off normally, but when the right noise is played through the speaker, it smacks into the ground.

“When the gyroscope starts fluctuating, it affects the rotor speed directly,” Kim said.

At 140 decibels, it would be possible to affect a vulnerable drone up from around 40 metres away, Kim said.

There are a variety of sound-related offensive and defensive devices already on the market. For example, the LRAD Corporation makes the 450XL, which it terms an “acoustic hailing device.”

It can be mounted on a vehicle or a tripod and can project a voice message up to 1,700 meters so would be a good way of delivering an attack on a drone at close quarters.

China and USA rattle their techie sabres

ChinaThe Chinese government has reacted to US moves that ban the export of some technologies by imposing its own export bans on products sold to America.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Chinese companies making supercomputers and high end drones will have to get an export licence before they’re allowed to sell kit to the USA.

Chinese supercomputers which rattle along faster than eight teraflops will need an export licence from the Ministry of Commerce

High end drones from Chinese company DJI will also require a licence to be exported to China, according to the Journal.

But Chinese firms will only require an export licence if they’re looking to sell high powered drones that have a flying time of over an hour.

The USA blocked the export of computer components used in the world’s most powerful supercomputer, the Tianhe-2.

Google top engineer dies on Everest

Everest_North_Face_toward_Base_Camp_Tibet_Luca_Galuzzi_2006One of the high profile casualties from the appalling Nepal earthquake was top Google engineer Dan Fredinburg.

Fredinburg was the lead engineer who worked on many of Google’s most exciting projects during his eight years with the company.

He was killed by an avalanche on Mount Everest triggered by Nepal’s devastating earthquake, he apparently suffered a major head injury.

The 33-year-old Google engineer had been documenting his Mount Everest Climb on Twitter and Instagram.

Fredinburg was a key player behind many of Google’s more interesting products his job at Google was entrepreneurial product and program management expert. Specifically he was dedicated to using data science and connected devices like drones, smart appliances, and wearables to protect and improve the environment and human rights.

He had most recently worked on Google [x], the company’s semi-secret futuristic lab and his Instagram tagline reads: “I want everyone to think like Google [x] and have the heart of an adventurer.”

Fredinburg worked on projects such as Google Loon, the company’s balloon-based Internet access effort and self-driving car. He also was involved in Google Street View Everest, leading expeditions to gather imagery of the Khumbu region around Mt. Everest.

Lawrence You, Google’s head of privacy, broke the news about Fredinburg’s death to colleagues. “Sadly, we lost one of our own in this tragedy.  Dan Fredinburg a long-time member of the Privacy organization in Mountain View, was in Nepal with three other Googlers, hiking Mount Everest. He has passed away. The other three Googlers with him are safe and we are working to get them home quickly.”

Google.org is committing $1 million to the Nepal crisis response team.

Human rights activist detained under UK terrorism laws

A Yemeni human rights activist for the charity reprieve was held at the British borders under an anti-terrorism law, Schedule 7, the same used to detain Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda.

Schedule 7 was penned in a vague manner which made it open to abuse. But, as TechDirt points out, even its author Charles Falconer said it is being used in a way that was never intended.

Baraa Shiban claims he was held for an hour on Monday night and questioned over his political views and his charity work. He was headed to the UK to deliver a speech on security, diplomacy and aid.

“I was stunned when the border agent said I was being held simply because I came from Yemen,” Shiban said. “It was even more shocking when he spent the entire time asking me about my human rights work and about Reprieve, the charity I work for. Is the UK the kind of place that human rights activists are fair game for detention, intimidation and interrogation?”

A spokesperson for Sussex police said the force is satisfied “our actions were legitimate, justified and proportionate and were carried out in accordance with the act”.

David Miranda, Glenn Greenwald’s partner, was held at the UK border for hours under Section 7 and had personal items seized by authorities. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, meanwhile, said British agents showed up to the Guardian’s offices to physically destroy hard drives suspected of containing material related to the Edward Snowden leaks. In an editorial, Rusbridger suggested the British state did not understand the global nature of technology, and that simply destroying equipment is no longer enough to silence a story.

Reprieve has done extensive work exposing the CIA’s drone strike programme which it calls the “death penalty without trial” and the “new face of state lawlessness in the name of counter-terrorism”.

Yemen, where Shiban is from, has been a target of the programme.

Earlier this year, banks investigated UK telco BT over alleged links to drone warfare. At the time, Reprieve’s CSR advocate Catherine Gilfedder said: “BT’s response to date has been to refuse to address how the US government uses the company’s systems.  

“If the company is playing a key role in the US’ illegal drone war, then its investors and its customers deserve to know,” Gilfedder said.

Drone creep filmed woman's house and refused to stop

In Capitol Hill Seattle’s complaints blog, a woman has reported a stranger flying a drone near her house and refusing to leave. 

“I initially mistook its noisy buzzing for a weed-whacker,” the resident said. “After several minutes, I looked out my third story window to see a drone hovering a few feet away”.

Her husband approached the man, but he insisted it was perfectly legal to fly an aerial drone over her garden. The pilot was using a drone equipped with a camera and wearing glasses, which transmit the images he was observing using the UAV, and claimed to be doing research.

“We are extremely concerned,” the resident said, “as he could very easily be a criminal who plans to break into our house or a peeping tom”. She called the police but they did not pursue the pilot after he left, and is wondering if there had been any other sightings of the pilot around the Capitol Hill area.

The mysterious drone operator may be perfectly right. Legislation on new technologies can often take some time to catch up with the technologies themselves, and it’s perfectly possible he was technically operating within the law.

As the Atlantic notes, talking to a Harvard public policy expert, there would be multiple questions to determine the legality of the drone – like what type of drone it was, and how it was flown. It could have been flown in accordance with FAA regulations. And, crucially, what exactly was being photographed, and if that was in line with the First Amendment.

This case hammers home the immediate extent of privacy violations made possible by camera-equipped UAVs, but many more Americans are worried that drones operated by the state could be even more intrusive.

In a recent radio interview, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg alluded to approaching a new age with even less personal privacy where drone use is just an every day reality for surveillance organisations. “We’re going into a different world, uncharted… you can’t keep the tide from coming in,” Bloomberg said

So while consumer creeps may use legal loopholes to conduct their “research” over your back garden – the State itself expects to have a full fleet of UAVs, some with facial recognition, and up to 10,000 commercial drones over US skies by 2020, as the FAA predicted earlier this year

Of course, drones will also commonly have less menacing uses – like efficient search and rescue in remote areas, for example. 

US Navy wants to take out drones with lasers

The US Navy has a long tradition of knocking things out of the sky and ever since the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to engage in mass “tokko” suicide attacks, and it has been thinking about new ways to shoot down anything that doesn’t have some stars and stripes on it.

Practically every warship deployed by the US Navy over the past few decades features Phalanx CIWS turrets and a number of point defence missiles, specifically designed to bring down sea skimming anti-ship missiles. However, such systems tend to be quite bulky and expensive. Using an ESSM or RIM-116 missile to shoot down a tiny drone is out of the question, as a single RIM-116 costs $440,000.

In addition, marine units that hit the beach cannot rely on ship borne defences, so they would be exposed to enemy drones, which are difficult to intercept. With that in mind, the Navy is now offering cash to private outfits to develop laser systems, small enough to be fitted on top of a Humvee.

The entire system should weigh less than 2,500 pounds and it will feature a 25 to 50 kilowatt laser, Wired reports. Since most drones are incredibly light and built using materials that don’t react well to heat, the idea should work.

However, it is rather ambitious. Powering a 25 kilowatt laser on top of a small truck sounds like a tall order. Wired reports that even small ships have trouble generating enough power for 100 kilowatt lasers. A small system installed on a Humvee would probably need to rely on an external source of power, or it would need at least 20 minutes to recharge between shots.

This means that any enemy with more than one drone has a good chance of penetrating the defences, while marines rush to recharge the laser.