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Question of the week

Last October we published a piece on the Syria Airlift Project, an inspiring endeavor led by Mark Jacobsen, a grad student at Stanford and former Air Force pilot, with the mission statement of “using humanitarian drones to end the use of starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war.”

The SAP plans to fly swarms of autonomous APM-powered drones from Turkey into parts of Syria too dangerous for manned flights, delivering lightweight payloads of essential medicines and foodstuffs to the besieged and suffering people there. The SAP has proven the viability of its technology after several months of research in California, and this week they launched an Indiegogo campaign to help them raise the money they need to take this technology to Turkey. After one day, they’ve raised over $10,000 of a $50,000 goal.

The SAP is ambitious, but apolitical — it’s about helping the people. If you want to help them help, please visit their campaign page.

Which brings me to the question of the week:

What do we call these things?

The word “drone” has connotations we can’t ignore. But we also can’t ignore the fact that we do make drones. We also can’t ignore the fact that the word is out there, everywhere — it’s impossible to simply delete, and at this point there seems little practicality or point to a public re-education campaign. To make it worse, we can’t seem to come up with a suitable euphemism — UAV, UAS, sUAS, RPS, quadcopters — none of them sound good (if anything, acronyms make the technology sound even more martial), and we can’t agree on which one’s the “best,” anyway.

And yet here we have drones flying over a war zone in the Middle East — unequivocally for doing good. It’s an amazing, and, to me, incredibly touching turn of technology. The language captures this turn in a particularly poignant way.

So what do you think about the word “drone”? Should we avoid it in the hopes that we can differentiate drones for good from drones for war? Should we embrace it and own it, the way many marginalized groups have successfully embraced epithets, and trust that with more efforts of groups like the SAP “drone” will soon have an entirely new meaning? Or in the middle: Should we maybe always consciously alter it in some way, attaching words like “consumer” or “commercial” in the interest of clarity? It’s not just an academic question — language informs education and public perception.

I’d like to hear from you:

And now, the links that matter:


Did Facebook break the law with this aerial picture? (PC World)

Tokyo police arrested a man who landed a drone carrying radioactive material on top of the prime minister’s office. The man claims it was an act of civil disobedience intended to protest the government’s nuclear energy policy. The sand had only trace amounts of radiation, not harmful to humans. (BBC)

Officials at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area want to keep drones at bay. But it’s a national park — the laws against flying are already on the books. (Marin Independent Journal)

Drones deliver marijuana to inmates in a South Carolina prison. (Fusion)

And the inevitable late-night take on that same story. (NBC)

Drone Laws

(Note: Last week the FAA closed its window for public comments on its Notice of Proposed Rule Making. Lots of folks wrote about it. If you want to dig into that stuff, here’s the best; if you’d rather read about dinosaurs, scroll down immediately.)

What the FAA can learn from Europe’s drone integration roadmap — most notably, let’s get a framework in place for microdrones. (TechCrunch)

But the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority admits its drone rules are out of date: “The whole thing has been troubling me for the last six to nine months,” said Gerry Corbett, directorate of Airspace Policy at the CAA. (International Business Times)

Do the FAA’s proposed rules threaten to stifle American innovation? “Rather than worry about hypothetical harms with relatively low risk, government policy should encourage what is known as “‘permissionless innovation.’” (

Friend of 3DR Matt Waite — the founder of the first university drone journalism lab (and first university drone journalism lab to get a cease-and-desist letter from the FAA) offers his comments on the FAA’s proposed rules — specifically addressing drones in journalism. (Drone Journalism Lab)

The Small UAV Coalition (we’re a member) came out in support of the FAA’s NPRM, but still advocates hard for a specific class for microdrones. (

Does the advent of this new aerial age require the drafting of new privacy laws? The FAA was recently sued over its NPRM by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), because the proposed rules didn’t address privacy. Others argue that privacy laws currently in place extend easily and naturally to drones. (Christian Science Monitor)


As promised: Drones track dinosaur migration patterns across Australia. (Mashable)

South Korea announces development of a VTOL drone that can fly at speeds of 300 mph for 6 hours. They say mass production won’t begin until 2024, but North Korea counters that it already has one that can do 310 mph in a headwind while drawing sky portraits of certain cherished leaders, in color.

IKEA thinks drones will change your whole kitchen landscape. On-demand drone grocery delivery, they say, could potentially make refrigerators obsolete. (Citylab)

The company Matternet will use drones to deliver mail in Switzerland this summer. (Techspot)

Talk about helicopter parenting*!

Video: Dad watches over daughter with drone as she walks to school. (Local 8 News)