Archive for the ‘drone’ Category

For hundreds of years in the skies over Asia, people have used eagles to hunt down prey with deadly results.

That tradition has been in decline for decades, but now the bird’s keen eyesight, powerful talons and lethal hunting instincts are being used to take out a new kind of 21st-century vermin: drones.

The animal-vs.-machine moment is brought to you by Guard From Above, which describes itself as “the world’s first company specialized in training birds of prey to intercept hostile drones.”

The Hague-based company’s latest customers are Dutch police, who have been looking for ways to disable illegally operating drones. A police spokesman told Dutch News.nl that the effort remains in a testing phase, but he called the use of birds to combat drones a “very real possibility.”

“It’s a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem,” national police spokesman Dennis Janus told Reuters.

He added: “People sometimes think it’s a hoax, but it’s proving very effective so far.”

The rise of drone technology has been matched in speed by the rise of anti-drone technology, with companies creating radio jammers and “net-wielding interceptor” drones to disable quadcopters, according to the Verge.

“For years, the government has been looking for ways to counter the undesirable use of drones,” Guard From Above’s founder and chief executive, Sjoerd Hoogendoorn, said in a statement. “Sometimes a low-tech solution for a high-tech problem is more obvious than it seems. This is the case with our specially trained birds of prey. By using these birds’ animal instincts, we can offer an effective solution to a new threat.”

A video released on Sunday by Dutch police shows an eagle swooping in at high speed to pluck a DJI Phantom out of the air using its talons. The drone is immediately disabled as the bird carries it off.

“The bird sees the drone as prey and takes it to a safe place, a place where there are no other birds or people,” project spokesman Marc Wiebes told Dutch News.nl. “That is what we are making use of in this project.”

Said Hoogendoorn, according to Reuters: “These birds are used to meeting resistance from animals they hunt in the wild, and they don’t seem to have much trouble with the drones.”

Janus, the police spokesman, told the Associated Press that the birds get a reward if they snag a drone.

Eagles’ talons, as the New York Daily News points out, are known for their powerful grips; it’s unknown whether they could be damaged by a drone’s carbon-fiber propellers.

HawkQuest, a Colorado nonprofit that educates the public about birds of prey, says eagles have enough power to “crush large mammal bones” in animals such as sloths.

“Scientists have tried to measure the gripping strength of eagles,” HawQuest notes. “A Bald Eagle’s grip is believed to be about 10 times stronger than the grip of an adult human hand and can exert upwards of 400 psi or pounds per square inch.”

According to a study cited by Wired in 2009, raptor talons are not merely powerful, but also finely tuned hunting instruments:

“…accipitrids, which include hawks and eagles, have two giant talons on their first and second toes. These give them a secure grip on struggling game that they like to eat alive, ‘so long as it does not protest too vigorously. In this prolonged and bloody scenario, prey eventually succumb to massive blood loss or organ failure, incurred during dismemberment.’”

A handler in the video, the Daily News notes, claims the birds are adequately protected by scales on their feet and legs, but researchers hope to equip the animals with another layer of defense.

The potential impact on the animals’ welfare is the subject of testing by an external scientific research institute.

“The real problem we have is that they destroy a lot of drones,” Hoogendoorn said, according to Reuters. “It’s a major cost of testing.”

The decision about whether to use the eagles is still several months away.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/02/01/trained-eagle-destroys-drone-in-dutch-police-video/

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There have been tentative steps into thought-controlled drones in the past, but Tekever and a team of European researchers just kicked things up a notch. They’ve successfully tested Brainflight, a project that uses your mental activity (detected through a cap) to pilot an unmanned aircraft. You have to learn how to fly on your own, but it doesn’t take long before you’re merely thinking about where you want to go. And don’t worry about crashing because of distractions or mental trauma, like seizures — there are “algorithms” to prevent the worst from happening.

You probably won’t be using Brainflight to fly anything larger than a small drone, at least not in the near future. There’s no regulatory framework that would cover mind-controlled aircraft, after all. Tekever is hopeful that its technology will change how we approach transportation, though. It sees brain power reducing complex activities like flying or driving to something you can do instinctively, like walking — you’d have freedom to focus on higher-level tasks like navigation. The underlying technology would also let people with injuries and physical handicaps steer vehicles and their own prosthetic limbs. Don’t be surprised if you eventually need little more than some headgear to take to the skies.

http://www.engadget.com/2015/02/25/tekever-mind-controlled-drone/?ncid=rss_truncated

By Peter Shadbolt for CNN

A bio-drone that dissolves after use leaving no trace it ever existed may sound like the stuff of a James Bond film, but NASA and a team of researchers are actually building one.

Made from a substance that combines mushroom fibers and cloned paper wasp spit, the drone might resemble a propeller-powered egg carton, but its designers say it has the ability to fly into environmentally sensitive areas and leave almost no trace.

Lynn Rothschild, the NASA developer guiding students from Stanford-Brown-Spelman working on the project, says the drone could be made to disappear simply by ditching it into a stream or puddle.

She said her interest in unmanned aerial vehicles was sparked by work on environmentally sensitive areas in her Earth Science group at NASA.

“Periodically, UAVs get lost — for example on coral reefs or in other sensitive habitats,” she said in an interview with the project team.

“As I started to hear about this, I thought, ‘Well, wouldn’t it be useful if the UAV was biodegradable, so if it crashed somewhere that was sensitive, it wouldn’t matter if it dissolved.”

The mushroom-like substance known as mycelium, which makes up the chassis of the drone, is being hailed as the new plastic — a plastic that has the advantage of degrading quickly.

The team grew cellulose “leather” to coat the fungal body of the flying craft and then covered the sheets with proteins sourced from the saliva of paper wasps — a water resistant material that the insects use to cover their nests.

The circuits are printed from silver nanoparticle ink in an effort to make the machine as biodegradable as possible.

Despite a heavy preponderance of biological parts, the team said the project had its limits.

“There are definitely parts that can’t be replaced by biology, ” said Stanford University’s Raman Nelakanti.

At its first short flight at the International Genetically Engineered Machine competition in Boston, the team used a standard battery, motor and propellers to fly the drone.

Nevertheless, the team is working on making other parts biodegradable and is studying how to build its sensors from modified E. coli bacteria, the bacteria most commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals.

The team said that ultimately the drone could be sent into areas where it might not be expected to return such as wildfires or nuclear accidents, sending data and never coming back.

While the parts degrade naturally, the team also experimented with enzymes that would help the drone self-destruct, breaking it down further on impact.

Creating a drone that does not infect the environment has been another challenge for the team.

“If you have living organisms acting as biosensors and the plane crashes, there certainly could be problems as the plane interacts with the environment,” Rothschild said.

“Hopefully people could think of this in advance, and design such that this never becomes a problem.

“For example, on crashing, the cells might die. Or the cells could be attenuated. There are all sorts of other processes to keep them from contaminating the environment. But that, to me, is the largest concern with a biological UAV – having living things on the UAV.”

http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/10/tech/innovation/nasa-dissolving-drone/index.html?hpt=hp_c4

The next threat to your privacy could be hovering over head while you walk down the street.

Hackers have developed a drone that can steal the contents of your smartphone — from your location data to your Amazon password — and they’ve been testing it out in the skies of London. The research will be presented next week at the Black Hat Asia cybersecurity conference in Singapore.

The technology equipped on the drone, known as Snoopy, looks for mobile devices with Wi-Fi settings turned on.

Snoopy takes advantage of a feature built into all smartphones and tablets: When mobile devices try to connect to the Internet, they look for networks they’ve accessed in the past.

“Their phone will very noisily be shouting out the name of every network its ever connected to,” Sensepost security researcher Glenn Wilkinson said. “They’ll be shouting out, ‘Starbucks, are you there?…McDonald’s Free Wi-Fi, are you there?”

That’s when Snoopy can swoop into action (and be its most devious, even more than the cartoon dog): the drone can send back a signal pretending to be networks you’ve connected to in the past. Devices two feet apart could both make connections with the quadcopter, each thinking it is a different, trusted Wi-Fi network. When the phones connect to the drone, Snoopy will intercept everything they send and receive.

“Your phone connects to me and then I can see all of your traffic,” Wilkinson said.

That includes the sites you visit, credit card information entered or saved on different sites, location data, usernames and passwords. Each phone has a unique identification number, or MAC address, which the drone uses to tie the traffic to the device.

The names of the networks the phones visit can also be telling.

“I’ve seen somebody looking for ‘Bank X’ corporate Wi-Fi,” Wilkinson said. “Now we know that that person works at that bank.”

CNNMoney took Snoopy out for a spin in London on a Saturday afternoon in March and Wilkinson was able to show us what he believed to be the homes of several people who had walked underneath the drone. In less than an hour of flying, he obtained network names and GPS coordinates for about 150 mobile devices.

He was also able to obtain usernames and passwords for Amazon, PayPal and Yahoo accounts created for the purposes of our reporting so that we could verify the claims without stealing from passersby.

Collecting metadata, or the device IDs and network names, is probably not illegal, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Intercepting usernames, passwords and credit card information with the intent of using them would likely violate wiretapping and identity theft laws.

Wilkinson, who developed the technology with Daniel Cuthbert at Sensepost Research Labs, says he is an ethical hacker. The purpose of this research is to raise awareness of the vulnerabilities of smart devices.

Installing the technology on drones creates a powerful threat because drones are mobile and often out of sight for pedestrians, enabling them to follow people undetected.

While most of the applications of this hack are creepy, it could also be used for law enforcement and public safety. During a riot, a drone could fly overhead and identify looters, for example.

Users can protect themselves by shutting off Wi-Fi connections and forcing their devices to ask before they join networks.

http://money.cnn.com/2014/03/20/technology/security/drone-phone/?google_editors_picks=true

Thanks to Da Brayn for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

f16b

f16

It said that one of the Lockheed Martin F-16 made a first flight with an empty cockpit last week.

Two US Air Force pilots controlled the plane from the ground as it flew from a Florida base to the Gulf of Mexico.

Boeing suggested that the innovation could ultimately be used to help train pilots, providing an adversary they could practise firing on.

The jet – which had previously sat mothballed at an Arizona site for 15 years – flew at an altitude of 40,000ft (12.2km) and a speed of Mach 1.47 (1,119mph/1,800km/h).

It carried out a series of manoeuvres including a barrel roll and a “split S” – a move in which the aircraft turns upside down before making a half loop so that it flies the right-way-up in the opposite direction. This can be used in combat to evade attack.

Boeing said the unmanned F16 was followed by two chase planes to ensure it stayed in sight, and also contained equipment that would have allowed it to self-destruct if necessary.

The firm added that the flight attained 7Gs of acceleration but was capable of carrying out manoeuvres at 9Gs – something that might cause physical problems for a pilot.

“It flew great, everything worked great, [it] made a beautiful landing – probably one of the best landings I’ve ever seen,” said Paul Cejas, the project’s chief engineer.

Lt Col Ryan Inman, Commander of the US Air Force’s 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, also had praise for how the test had gone.

“It was a little different to see it without anyone in it, but it was a great flight all the way around,” he said.

Boeing said that it had a total of six modified F-16s, which have been renamed QF-16s, and that the US military now planned to use some of them in live fire tests.

However, a spokesman for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots warned of the temptation to use them in warfare.

“I’m very concerned these could be used to target people on the ground,” said Prof Noel Sharkey.

“I’m particularly worried about the high speed at which they can travel because they might not be able to distinguish their targets very clearly.

“There is every reason to believe that these so-called ‘targets’ could become a test bed for drone warfare, moving us closer and closer to automated killing.”

This is not the first time a jet has been retrofitted to fly without a pilot inside. The US Air Force has previously used adapted F4- Phantoms for target practice.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-24231077

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

drone

Germany’s national railway company, Deutsche Bahn, plans to test small drones to try to reduce the amount of graffiti being sprayed on its property. The idea is to use airborne infra-red cameras to collect evidence, which could then be used to prosecute vandals who deface property at night.

A company spokesman said drones would be tested at rail depots soon. But it is not yet clear how Germany’s strict anti-surveillance laws might affect their use.

Graffiti is reported to cost Deutsche Bahn about 7.6m euros (£6.5m; $10m) a year. German media report that each drone will cost about 60,000 euros and fly almost silently, up to 150m (495ft) above ground. The BBC’s Stephen Evans in Berlin says using cameras to film people surreptitiously is a sensitive issue in Germany, where privacy is very highly valued.

When Google sent its cameras through the country three years ago to build up its “Street View” of 20 cities, many people objected to their houses appearing online. Even Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “I will do all I can to prevent it”.

Such was the opposition that Google was compelled to give people an opt-out. If householders indicated that they did not want their homes shown online, then the fronts of the buildings would be blurred. More than 200,000 householders said that they did want their homes blanked out on Street View.

A Deutsche Bahn spokesman told the BBC that its drones would be used in big depots where vandals enter at night and spray-paint carriages. The drones would have infra-red sensors sophisticated enough for people to be identified, providing key evidence for prosecutions.

But it seems the cameras would be tightly focused within Deutsche Bahn’s own property – people or property outside the depots would not be filmed, so easing any privacy concerns.

The drone issue is also sensitive in Germany because earlier this month the defence ministry halted an expensive project to develop Germany’s own surveillance drone, called Euro Hawk. The huge unmanned aircraft would be used abroad but would need to be able to fly in German airspace, if only to take off and land on their way to and from the land to be watched, our correspondent reports.

But it became clear that the air traffic authorities were not going to grant that permission. The reasoning was that Germany’s military drones would be unable to avoid collisions with other, civilian aircraft.

Small drones on private land do not need permission from air traffic controllers – big drones do.

So Germany seems to be entering a legal grey area – it is not clear when the flight of a drone may become so extensive that the wider authorities need to intervene, Stephen Evans reports.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22678580

brain

Behind a locked door in a white-walled basement in a research building in Tempe, Ariz., a monkey sits stone-still in a chair, eyes locked on a computer screen. From his head protrudes a bundle of wires; from his mouth, a plastic tube. As he stares, a picture of a green cursor on the black screen floats toward the corner of a cube. The monkey is moving it with his mind.

The monkey, a rhesus macaque named Oscar, has electrodes implanted in his motor cortex, detecting electrical impulses that indicate mental activity and translating them to the movement of the ball on the screen. The computer isn’t reading his mind, exactly — Oscar’s own brain is doing a lot of the lifting, adapting itself by trial and error to the delicate task of accurately communicating its intentions to the machine. (When Oscar succeeds in controlling the ball as instructed, the tube in his mouth rewards him with a sip of his favorite beverage, Crystal Light.) It’s not technically telekinesis, either, since that would imply that there’s something paranormal about the process. It’s called a “brain-computer interface” (BCI). And it just might represent the future of the relationship between human and machine.

Stephen Helms Tillery’s laboratory at Arizona State University is one of a growing number where researchers are racing to explore the breathtaking potential of BCIs and a related technology, neuroprosthetics. The promise is irresistible: from restoring sight to the blind, to helping the paralyzed walk again, to allowing people suffering from locked-in syndrome to communicate with the outside world. In the past few years, the pace of progress has been accelerating, delivering dazzling headlines seemingly by the week.

At Duke University in 2008, a monkey named Idoya walked on a treadmill, causing a robot in Japan to do the same. Then Miguel Nicolelis stopped the monkey’s treadmill — and the robotic legs kept walking, controlled by Idoya’s brain. At Andrew Schwartz’s lab at the University of Pittsburgh in December 2012, a quadriplegic woman named Jan Scheuermann learned to feed herself chocolate by mentally manipulating a robotic arm. Just last month, Nicolelis’ lab set up what it billed as the first brain-to-brain interface, allowing a rat in North Carolina to make a decision based on sensory data beamed via Internet from the brain of a rat in Brazil.

So far the focus has been on medical applications — restoring standard-issue human functions to people with disabilities. But it’s not hard to imagine the same technologies someday augmenting capacities. If you can make robotic legs walk with your mind, there’s no reason you can’t also make them run faster than any sprinter. If you can control a robotic arm, you can control a robotic crane. If you can play a computer game with your mind, you can, theoretically at least, fly a drone with your mind.

It’s tempting and a bit frightening to imagine that all of this is right around the corner, given how far the field has already come in a short time. Indeed, Nicolelis — the media-savvy scientist behind the “rat telepathy” experiment — is aiming to build a robotic bodysuit that would allow a paralyzed teen to take the first kick of the 2014 World Cup. Yet the same factor that has made the explosion of progress in neuroprosthetics possible could also make future advances harder to come by: the almost unfathomable complexity of the human brain.

From I, Robot to Skynet, we’ve tended to assume that the machines of the future would be guided by artificial intelligence — that our robots would have minds of their own. Over the decades, researchers have made enormous leaps in artificial intelligence (AI), and we may be entering an age of “smart objects” that can learn, adapt to, and even shape our habits and preferences. We have planes that fly themselves, and we’ll soon have cars that do the same. Google has some of the world’s top AI minds working on making our smartphones even smarter, to the point that they can anticipate our needs. But “smart” is not the same as “sentient.” We can train devices to learn specific behaviors, and even out-think humans in certain constrained settings, like a game of Jeopardy. But we’re still nowhere close to building a machine that can pass the Turing test, the benchmark for human-like intelligence. Some experts doubt we ever will.

Philosophy aside, for the time being the smartest machines of all are those that humans can control. The challenge lies in how best to control them. From vacuum tubes to the DOS command line to the Mac to the iPhone, the history of computing has been a progression from lower to higher levels of abstraction. In other words, we’ve been moving from machines that require us to understand and directly manipulate their inner workings to machines that understand how we work and respond readily to our commands. The next step after smartphones may be voice-controlled smart glasses, which can intuit our intentions all the more readily because they see what we see and hear what we hear.

The logical endpoint of this progression would be computers that read our minds, computers we can control without any physical action on our part at all. That sounds impossible. After all, if the human brain is so hard to compute, how can a computer understand what’s going on inside it?

It can’t. But as it turns out, it doesn’t have to — not fully, anyway. What makes brain-computer interfaces possible is an amazing property of the brain called neuroplasticity: the ability of neurons to form new connections in response to fresh stimuli. Our brains are constantly rewiring themselves to allow us to adapt to our environment. So when researchers implant electrodes in a part of the brain that they expect to be active in moving, say, the right arm, it’s not essential that they know in advance exactly which neurons will fire at what rate. When the subject attempts to move the robotic arm and sees that it isn’t quite working as expected, the person — or rat or monkey — will try different configurations of brain activity. Eventually, with time and feedback and training, the brain will hit on a solution that makes use of the electrodes to move the arm.

That’s the principle behind such rapid progress in brain-computer interface and neuroprosthetics. Researchers began looking into the possibility of reading signals directly from the brain in the 1970s, and testing on rats began in the early 1990s. The first big breakthrough for humans came in Georgia in 1997, when a scientist named Philip Kennedy used brain implants to allow a “locked in” stroke victim named Johnny Ray to spell out words by moving a cursor with his thoughts. (It took him six exhausting months of training to master the process.) In 2008, when Nicolelis got his monkey at Duke to make robotic legs run a treadmill in Japan, it might have seemed like mind-controlled exoskeletons for humans were just another step or two away. If he succeeds in his plan to have a paralyzed youngster kick a soccer ball at next year’s World Cup, some will pronounce the cyborg revolution in full swing.

Schwartz, the Pittsburgh researcher who helped Jan Scheuermann feed herself chocolate in December, is optimistic that neuroprosthetics will eventually allow paralyzed people to regain some mobility. But he says that full control over an exoskeleton would require a more sophisticated way to extract nuanced information from the brain. Getting a pair of robotic legs to walk is one thing. Getting robotic limbs to do everything human limbs can do may be exponentially more complicated. “The challenge of maintaining balance and staying upright on two feet is a difficult problem, but it can be handled by robotics without a brain. But if you need to move gracefully and with skill, turn and step over obstacles, decide if it’s slippery outside — that does require a brain. If you see someone go up and kick a soccer ball, the essential thing to ask is, ‘OK, what would happen if I moved the soccer ball two inches to the right?'” The idea that simple electrodes could detect things as complex as memory or cognition, which involve the firing of billions of neurons in patterns that scientists can’t yet comprehend, is far-fetched, Schwartz adds.

That’s not the only reason that companies like Apple and Google aren’t yet working on devices that read our minds (as far as we know). Another one is that the devices aren’t portable. And then there’s the little fact that they require brain surgery.

A different class of brain-scanning technology is being touted on the consumer market and in the media as a way for computers to read people’s minds without drilling into their skulls. It’s called electroencephalography, or EEG, and it involves headsets that press electrodes against the scalp. In an impressive 2010 TED Talk, Tan Le of the consumer EEG-headset company Emotiv Lifescience showed how someone can use her company’s EPOC headset to move objects on a computer screen.

Skeptics point out that these devices can detect only the crudest electrical signals from the brain itself, which is well-insulated by the skull and scalp. In many cases, consumer devices that claim to read people’s thoughts are in fact relying largely on physical signals like skin conductivity and tension of the scalp or eyebrow muscles.

Robert Oschler, a robotics enthusiast who develops apps for EEG headsets, believes the more sophisticated consumer headsets like the Emotiv EPOC may be the real deal in terms of filtering out the noise to detect brain waves. Still, he says, there are limits to what even the most advanced, medical-grade EEG devices can divine about our cognition. He’s fond of an analogy that he attributes to Gerwin Schalk, a pioneer in the field of invasive brain implants. The best EEG devices, he says, are “like going to a stadium with a bunch of microphones: You can’t hear what any individual is saying, but maybe you can tell if they’re doing the wave.” With some of the more basic consumer headsets, at this point, “it’s like being in a party in the parking lot outside the same game.”

It’s fairly safe to say that EEG headsets won’t be turning us into cyborgs anytime soon. But it would be a mistake to assume that we can predict today how brain-computer interface technology will evolve. Just last month, a team at Brown University unveiled a prototype of a low-power, wireless neural implant that can transmit signals to a computer over broadband. That could be a major step forward in someday making BCIs practical for everyday use. Meanwhile, researchers at Cornell last week revealed that they were able to use fMRI, a measure of brain activity, to detect which of four people a research subject was thinking about at a given time. Machines today can read our minds in only the most rudimentary ways. But such advances hint that they may be able to detect and respond to more abstract types of mental activity in the always-changing future.

http://www.ydr.com/living/ci_22800493/researchers-explore-connecting-brain-machines