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Apologies for the recent gap in Downloads. We’ve all had our heads down here, working hard to deliver the best drone experience to you that we can, and last week we were proud to unveil the fruits of those efforts — Solo, the world’s first smart drone — at the NAB conference in Las Vegas. At the end of the week we walked away from NAB with both the “best drone” and “best booth” awards from Videomaker. For us, that incredibly enthusiastic and encouraging reception was far and away the best news of the week — and we’re extremely grateful for it — but it was hardly the only news, as you’ll see below.

(Also: If you just want to see a chimp attack a drone with a stick, we’ve got that in here, too.)

Question of the week

Perhaps the most interesting unmanned flight story of the week involved a manned flight: 61-year-old Tampa Bay mailman Douglas Hughes flew a gyrocopter (!) — strapped with 535 letters addressed to US Congressmen — from Gettysburg, PA, onto the lawn of the Capitol Building. It was an act of civil disobedience intended to arrest the news cycle and draw public attention to the issue of campaign finance reform. Hughes apprised officials well in advance of his mission.

Regardless of your feelings about the issue or the method, Hughes’s act raises again the question of no-fly zones and geofencing in Washington, DC — a technological solution that might have unintended consequences of limiting freedoms. Were we to enforce that no-fly zone with mandatory technology — if Hughes’s gyrocopter had been outfitted, for instance, with the same geofencing that DJI applied to all of its quadcopters following the White House drone crash — he wouldn’t have had the chance to execute his nonviolent act of civil disobedience.

As of today, 3DR doesn’t build hard geofence limits into its drones. What do you think about this? In this era of breakneck niche innovation, are companies obligated to use the technology at their disposal to engineer public safety to the best of their abilities (and decisions or agendas), or should we leave such choices up to individual citizens, who then face the consequences of their actions? The fact that no manned helicopter or government authorities forced Hughes to abort the mission (of which they were well aware) seems to be tacit support of his right to exercise his unorthodox nonviolent protest. Should a technology company preemptively shut down what even the authorities themselves would not? The act does raise some serious public safety alarms for DC, but as people from Ghandi to Eugene Debs to MLK, Henry David Thoreau and the suffragettes have shown, civil disobedience can be a powerful, peaceful and effective democratic tool. Should we be concerned that technology might take that tool away?

I’d like to hear from you: roger@3dr.com

And now, the links that matter:

Headlines

This year’s Boston Marathon course was declared a “no-drone zone” last week, so the city used technology that would warn Boston Police Department officers when drones enter the airspace above the 30,000 marathon runners. The system’s sensors listened for the sound of drones, and could alert about 40 Boston police officers via email or text message about an incoming drone. (Biz Journals)

Amazon delivery drones could deliver packages in under 30 minutes for just $1. (Seeking Alpha)

But look out Amazon: After your drone delivery research has been delayed by federal government regulations, here comes — drone delivery by the federal government? Diabolical! The US Postal Service is considering a drone delivery option. (The Federal Times)

Uber, Airbnb and drones: What happens when legal uncertainty meets innovation. (Forbes)

High Tech

This week, 3DR announced Solo, the world’s first smart drone. (TechCrunch)

NAB? More like in a bee! (Ha?) Simulated bee brains have been used to pilot drones, which could one day be used for automated pollination.

Airware launches drone operating system: “Their vision is that any drone running the Airware platform can be configured, deployed, and run the same way as any other — even if the vehicle itself is a completely different drone build by a different company for another purpose.” (The Verge)

Not motivated to jog? A drone can help: “We’ve shown for the first time that a quadcopter can function as a social companion for joggers, and we know that joggers value that,” the researchers said, adding the finding was a surprise. (CIO)

Great interview with Ana Jain of the Superflux lab, discussing a future where private drones help shape city life. (Center for the Study of the Drone)

Say goodbye to changing batteries. IR-LOCK has just announced its Precision Landing hardware for Pixhawk-based quadcopters. The sensor/beacon combo has been demonstrated to achieve 5–30cm landing accuracy, and is designed to be integrated into drone charging platforms.

University of Zurich team (we partnered with the school in the Pixhawk project) develops drones that self-stabilize without the need for GPS. (Robotics Business Review)

Video

We got baboons to fly our drones. This chimp attacks one. Watch closely and draw your own conclusions. (Live Science)

Check out this hilarious and brilliant Craigslist ad for a 2002 Ford Taurus, shot with a drone.

Drone delivering first asparagus stalks of the season in Dutch restaurant PR stunt crashes, burns. Sigh. (Popular Science)