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Question of the Week

A few days ago, Enrique Iglesias made headlines when he grabbed a drone during a live performance in Tijuana and got his fingers badly sliced by the ultra-sharp, whirring props. (It’s apparently a move he performed each night with the drone — turning the drone around so its camera faces the audience.) The singer, numb with his performance high, pushed through and finished out the rest of the concert, at one point painting a heart on his t-shirt in his own blood. Yesterday he underwent reconstructive surgery on the injured hand.

This was far and away the biggest drone story in the media this week. It was so big that it, like Enrique, was a crossover hit — it wasn’t relegated to tech publications, but went mainstream. Obviously this is because it had the viral elements: celebrity; spectacle; danger; blood; man vs. machine (man triumphs). But Enrique and celebrity weren’t the viral elements here — the real viral element was the drone.

Drones are going mainstream. Fast. Perhaps they’re already there, though I’m not sure we’re quite at that moment yet. It’s certainly coming, though. So my question to you is: How do you feel about drones going mainstream? And what does a story like this really mean to you — if anything?

In other words, I don’t think this is simply a silly viral story about a celebrity and drones. I feel instinctively that there’s more to be said about it — whether it’s about safety or sensationalism or the media, this story seems to be part of an undeniable trend, and maybe you thoughtful and funny folks can help me scratch that itch here.

Maybe I’m looking too hard. But let’s have another interesting discussion in the comment section below.

Anyway, you can catch Enrique’s next live performance on July 3 in Mexico City. And you can catch some truly interesting stories right here — the links that matter:

Headlines

If a drone crashes in the desert and no one notices… One of Google’s giant internet drones crashed on May 1, and no one seemed to pick up the story. (Gizmodo)

A man flew a drone over a Philadelphia Phillies Major League ball game. He was detained, but released without being charged, and his drone was confiscated but soon returned. Stadium officials had him erase all the images, citing intellectual property. The FAA bans flying drones within three miles of large baseball or football stadiums. (Yahoo)

The Download has never had a “sports” section, but maybe we should consider it: The Dallas Cowboys are using drones as a practice tool this year. According to head coach Jason Garrett, “This allows you to get a little closer so you can coach better. You can see hand placement. You see where they have their feet, where they have their eyes. I think that’s important. You can look at that and coach them better being that much closer to the action.” (ESPN)

This headline, referring to new funds opened by Airware and DJI, reads, “Drone companies invest in yet more drone companies.” Though we’ve been at that for a while now — and keeping it all open source to boot. (MarketWatch)

In a related story, BuzzFeed is launching its Open Lab for Journalism Technology and the Arts, with a huge emphasis on drone journalism. However, they’re keeping it all open source: “It was extremely important to us that the lab be open source. There are so many closed sourced labs where great ideas from smart people get smothered by the obsession of capitalizing on the idea.” (Buzzfeed)

A Wisconsin man got tracked down by a fire department’s search and rescue drone after he allegedly stole a car from a gas station. He was found lying in some tall grass. (Channel3000.com)

Culture and opinion

Great read. Kenya was apparently in the catbird seat for the commercial drone industry until government regulators shut down operations, reportedly for concerns surrounding the militant group Al-Shabaab. (Quartz)

Celebrated tech forecaster Mary Meeker released her 20th annual “Internet Trends Report.” Among her findings were that the growth of internet use has slowed, while the growth of both drone use and user-generated content have increased. (USA Today)

Interesting thought piece from The Guardian on the duality of robotics: “Robots’ duality — their ability to help or harm people — isn’t lost on their evangelists.”

First-person drone tourism — sightseeing far beyond your line of sight. Helmut Hlavacs at the University of Vienna has developed a system that allows people to control a drone as it visits faraway sites. (New Scientist)

High tech

The highly anticipated Airdog “follow me” drone — built on our platform! — is finally set to launch in August. (Engadget)

GoPro officially announces that yes, it’s getting in the drone game next year. (Apple Insider)

Finally, the X-Wing! A now-famous French DIY-er named Olivier C. has come a step closer to making his Star Wars fleet complete. Previously, he’s built quadcopters in the style of Millennium Falcon, TIE Inceptor and an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Enrique may have gotten the clicks, but in my opinion this story wins the week, hands down: Moth mating habits can help us model drone flight paths for monitoring pollutants. “Our simulations show that random walks heading randomly with respect to wind and changing direction periodically create the most efficient paths for the initial discovery of the plume and consequently the likelihood of the moth locating its source.” (phys.org)

Warmer… warmer…: Robot uses “neural net” to employ deep learning strategies, obviating the need to constantly program and re-program: “In the deep learning design, artificial ‘neurons’ are layered to process sound or image data in sets of patterns or categories, which helps the robot ‘understand’ the data it receives in real time…

‘The key is that when a robot is faced with something new, we won’t have to reprogram it. The exact same software, which encodes how the robot can learn, was used to allow the robot to learn all the different tasks we gave it,’ said project co-leader Pieter Abbeel of UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences.” (Labroots)

Video

A New Zealand man has been using his drone to herd sheep — and coming out with some beautiful footage. Watch his flock trickle like a stream across the flaxen hills — almost an optical illusion. (Daily Mail)