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Question of the week

The discussion on last week’s blog was a particularly vibrant one. Thanks to all of you who contributed. The creation of reasonable drone privacy laws will become more and more pressing as the technology proliferates, and it’s great to see constructive discourse like this one.

This week, though, I’d like to blow the whistle. I came across an article in the Sunday Times titled “Terrorists Plan Attacks with Mini Drones.” The article, however, only discusses the potential for bad actors to use drones in an attack. Not any imminent attack, as the headline implies.

And it also turns out that nearly all of the reporting on another popular story from last week, about a new North Dakota law that allows police to arm drones with non-lethal weapons, badly misrepresented the story of that bill. (More on that in the links below.)

This kind of irresponsible sensationalist reporting is rampant — not just about drones, of course, though the topic is definitely one of the more sensationalized. The drone community should do what it can to encourage and spread accurate and reasonable reporting about this technology. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies, but it’s definitely not all bombs and backyard invaders.

So the question of the week: What are your favorite — or the most exaggerated, clichéd or downright inaccurate — sensationalist drone headlines? Blow your own whistles on the comments section below.

And now, the stories from last week that really did matter…


The FAA declared that all US cities hosting the papal visit this week are no-drone zones. (FAA)

The UK will partner with NASA in developing a national air traffic control system for drones. NASA has already been working with several US companies, including Amazon, on developing drone ATC in the states. And did you know: There are about 85,000 commercial, cargo, military and general aviation flights in the US every day. (The Epoch Times)

Rwanda might become the first country with a fully-functional “droneport.” The drones would deliver medicine, food and blood to rural residents. Two-thirds of Africa’s rural residents live more than 2 km from a working road, making deliveries of these essentials problematic. There are also reportedly about 180 million cases of malaria on the continent every year, a deadly disease that can be treated with medicine and blood transfusions — as long as those things can reach the population. (GOOD)

Some truly great, honest reporting here: The new North Dakota law that allows law enforcement to arm drones with non-lethal weapons was actually conceived to limit the police’s ability to arm drones. (Fargo police said they’d never have a reason to arm drones, anyway.) That “non-lethal” clause got added as a condition of the bill’s passage, to the dismay of the bill’s original author, who intended the bill to also prohibit the mounting of non-lethal weapons. He encourages more states to scrutinize their laws: “What I’ve been pitching and no one is really picking up is that contrary to North Dakota being the first, isn’t it intriguing that essentially nearly all of the states already have the ability and it’s legal to weaponize drones? But no one is really talking about that.” (GovTech)

Virginia Tech’s drone journalism testing project has entered phase two. The partnership of 15 news organizations (including the AP, NBC and the New York Times) who are testing drones for journalism will now simulate news events for drones to “cover,” under Virginia Tech’s COA. (

A pair of German tourists — a father and son — were briefly detained and then fined in Moscow for flying a drone over the Kremlin. The spokesperson for the Moscow police said, “You don’t go to prison for something like that.” (Inquirer)

Firefighters in Idaho are testing a drone over a live wildfire this week to determine if it can transmit useful real-time imagery to crews on the ground. (SFGate)

Culture and commentary

NBC also takes on the issue of arming drones. Five states have already passed laws that ban the practice in some form. Try to look past the sensationalist headline; it’s not a bad piece.

Another solid piece of in-depth reporting, this one on how important drone hobbyists have been to the development of the UAV industry: “The geeks, finally, have reclaimed a word; hobbyist means expert in this field. Professional means ‘probably started as a hobbyist.’” (The Guardian)

This is interesting: Sponsored content from BP, posted to the National Journal, about how drones are transforming “the energy business” — but really, BP’s business. (You’d have to pay close attention to notice the real attribution of the article.) The anonymous author makes good points, but in 2006 — when the company apparently first floated the idea of using drones to monitor pipelines — who would have thought that the idea of a multinational oil corporation trumpeting their use of drones could be considered a smart PR move? (National Journal/BP)

Following California Governor Jerry Brown’s veto of a drone privacy act, The LA Times explores options for drone regulation in the United States.

The AUVSI offers an analysis of the 1,400+ section 333 exemptions that the FAA has approved so far. Highlights: California is in the lead; 85% of recipients are small businesses; the approved drones are manufactured across 22 states. (Fortune)

High Tech

The US Navy has developed swarm technology that allows one pilot to control 50 drones at once. That’s a world record. (Daily Dot)

Chaotic Moon, the Austin tech startup you might remember from such non-constructive viral hits as the Taser drone and the spray paint drone, has developed a drone system for law enforcement that’s basically a flying dashboard camera. The system, called “Blue Eyes,” would deploy automatically at traffic stops from the roof of the police car, record the scene and then return to a charging station on the cruiser to upload the video directly to the cloud. +1 to the reporter here for working in the phrase “behind Blue Eyes.” (Biz Beat)

A hacker group called Critical Engineering is developing balloons outfitted with radio signal interceptors that they hope can be deployed as a way for the public to monitor the government’s aerial transmissions of information. (Wired)

Thermal camera maker Flir released its Vue Pro line of thermal imaging cameras, designed specifically for drones like Solo that come with a GoPro mount. “The $1,999 Vue Pro will allow many drone operators, including firefighters who want aerial images to seek out hot spots in burning buildings, or farmers looking to get aerial views of their crops to check for dehydration, to get by with just a basic drone, instead of a $25,000 enterprise drone.” (MarketWatch)


In a Zurich research lab, two drones built a rope bridge strong enough to support a human. The video is mesmerizing. (The Verge)

Watch a drone land on a robot dog. (Popular Science)

Now there’s a video game where you can try to land a Space-X rocket on a drone boat. Nothing’s impossible, right? This is impossible. (Motherboard)