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Question of the week

This week saw articles titled like “Seven ways drones are ruining everything” and “The dark side of drones” (from Fortune, no less), not to mention the bizarre, unsettling and still unfolding handgun drone saga. But I spent the week in DC (hence the break in Downloads), attending the New America Foundation’s summit on humanitarian drone efforts: protecting property rights and human rights, fostering global development and enhancing emergency response and disaster relief efforts.

In my lifetime, rarely have I seen the emergence of a new technology that so immediately and dramatically polarizes public debate. The atomic bomb did this on a more profound scale, but not even the rise of the internet saw the emergence of such a disparate public rift between lovers and haters.

So my question: How best do we navigate or resolve such a rift? Can you do better than me and come up with some pertinent analogies of other emergent technologies or movements, whether recent or not, that might offer a model for how this debate should or will develop?

Leave your thoughts for me in the comments below!

And now: The links that mattered this week. (And last week. I was busy.)


Flirtey beats Amazon: Last week drone maker Flirtey and NASA used an APM-powered drone to complete the first government-approved delivery in the US. The drone delivered medicine to rural residents in Wise County, Virginia, as part of a non-profit’s annual free clinic in the poor Appalachian region. In the past, medicine has been delivered by car via rough and remote routes with drive times sometimes topping an hour and a half. (NBC)

But Amazon has its sights set higher: At the NASA UTM conference just this morning, Amazon announced its plans to develop a “drone superhighway” in the sky. The project — basically a new air traffic control system that sections off a stratus of the sky for commercial drones — would ideally help drones sense and avoid each other as well as manned aircraft. (The Verge)

Uber is using drones to deliver ice cream to Singaporeans. Now I love drones — I truly welcome their full potential and am willing to take the good with the bad — but no matter our successes, I would forever deeply regret being part of an industry that killed the ice cream truck. (CNET)

The 18-year-old Connecticut man (yes, legally he’s a man) who built the handgun-firing drone that became a viral sensation has been arrested — for a completely unrelated charge: assaulting a police officer. (The drone itself appears to be completely legal; the application is still a matter of investigation.) He claims he was beaten until he vomited, and says he then awakened “in the hospital stripped naked.” And: You may remember this same guy was assaulted almost exactly a year ago by a woman on a Connecticut beach for flying his drone in public. He also caught that incident on video. (Courant/NY Daily News)

Nicole Swart, a 23-year-old pilot from South Africa, became the first African to receive a drone pilot’s license.

Overreaction? Following incidents where personal drones temporarily grounded aerial firefighting operations, two California lawmakers have introduced a bill that would permit firefighters to destroy any drone interfering with their emergency efforts. (KQED)

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority launched a campaign to raise public awareness about drone rules and regulations. (CAA)

The lay of the land

Our co-founder Jordi Muñoz was featured in this great piece from CNET on the future of drones: Apps.

One of the best parts of this job is that I get to type sentences such as the following: Sir Patrick Stewart invests in Kickstarter for drone that harvests whale snot. (Beta Boston)

From your own servos to your own services: As commercial drones proliferate, the sector will see a parallel expansion of companies that provide drone services: “Companies that broker drone services could soon be the biggest players in the U.S. commercial drone economy.” (Fortune)

Sony just launched a drone data services business called Aerosense. The joint venture with Japanese robotics company ZMP will use drones to gather aerial data for tasks such as monitoring, survey and inspection.

Drones could help conservationists spot poachers fishing illegally in Costa Rica. (Tico Times)

This week GE is using the live-streaming platform Periscope to host what it’s calling #DRONEWEEK. As part of the campaign, the mega multinational will stream live drone video of its facilities and normally inaccessible installations such as windmills. You can watch the dronecast on @GeneralElectric, with simultaneous interviews and commentary on @GEDronePilot. (Fast Company)

High tech

BioCarbon Engineering, a startup in the UK, has seeded an audacious plan to use drones to plant one billion trees in the Amazon and South Africa over the next decade. BioCarbon claims that two-operator teams flying seven or eight drones simultaneously can plant about 10 pods per minute — roughly 36,000 trees per day per team. BioCarbon projects that 100 of these two-member teams could plant 1 billion trees a year, covering 500,000 hectares. The article notes that “tropical deforestation plays a big role in global climate cycles,” claiming the accelerated pace of cutting and burning of forests accounted for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the 1990s. (Wired)

A huge congrats to our friends at ConservationDrones for their successful efforts at using drones to locate treetop nests of endangered Chimpanzees in Africa. ( — yeah, yeah, I know.)

And congratulations to our friends at ETH: Their Pixhawk-powered fixed wing solar drone just set a world endurance record of 81 hours. Next challenge: crossing the Atlantic. (DIY Drones)

Hacking Team, an Italian computing and network company, has apparently developed drone-based WiFi hacking software. (Ars Technica)

Samsung’s betting on a “selfie” drone. (

Commentary and analysis

Last week the New America Foundation hosted a symposium in conjunction with Omidyar to discuss the use of and the rules governing the use of drones in various humanitarian efforts: protecting property rights, human rights and global development. The text they assembled is thorough and clear, a must read for anyone interested in this space. (

The first national drone FPV racing championship was held last week at the California State Fair. The big winner was Chad Nowak of Brisbane, Australia. Australia has been noted recently for its vibrant drone racing culture. (Quartz)

On August 3rd, the National Telecommunication and Information Agency will host talks about drones and privacy. The Obama administration charged the agency with hosting these discussions back in February. So far it’s unclear how many parties will participate. The NTIA has previously mediated talks of this kind regarding facial recognition software and mobile app privacy, albeit with debatable efficacy. (PC World)

Photo and Video

Watch Flirtey’s historic drone delivery. (Re/code)

Check out this amazing video of a volcano erupting underwater off the azure coast of Taiwan. (Daily Mail)

Have you checked out Dronestagram? Instagram with wings.