AUVSI 2013: More Than Just Drones

AUVSI 2013 was in Washington D.C. this year and there were record crowds but it seems a little light to me. The very limited military attendee presence may have had something to do with that feeling. Sequestration has hit military trade shows hard.

Figure 1. Bird Aerospace’s Bird’s Eye fits into a canister that is shot into the air where it explodes and the flying wing assembles itself in a second. The autonomous drone then flies away.

It did seem to stop the vendors who were harking their wares and there was a lot of new and a lot of old at the show. For example, Liquid Robotics had their Wave Glider on display (see Waterborne Robots Stir Up Waves At AUVSI 2013). We saw the original last year (see Wave Glider Wave-Powered Marine Robot – AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2012) and I had written about their new model, the SV3 (see Supercomputer Robot Cluster Sails Into The Sunset), that can be part of a large floating computing cluster.

We saw a number of remotely operated vehicles (ROV) and autonomous robots in action(see AUVSI 2013 at video playlist) but most were on display at the booths where they had limited mobility. It is still not nice to have them flying around. One that was only a demo/prototype that would have been neat to see in action was the Bird’s Eye UAS (Fig. 1) from Bird Aerospace (see Exploding Drones And More At AUVSI 2013).

The Bird’s Eye is a single use UAV that is contained within a canister. The canister is launched and has small explosive charges that open the canister and eject the aircraft that self-assembles with the help of additional charges. The autonomous electric UAV then heads out on a predefined course. The recovered UAV needs to be sent back to the factory for repackaging.

Foam and carbon fibers were in lots of designs like UAVER’s Swallow and Avian drones (see UAVER “Swallow” and “Avian” Carbon Fiber UAVs). Some bungie cords help launch the Swallow and a parachute is used for recovery.

Copters were getting bigger and badder with octorotors a common theme for heavy lifting(see AUVSI 2013 Copters Sport Lots Of Props). There were plenty of quadrotors especially smaller ones but more rotors means more lift and more stability. Some are already being used for shooting movies.

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Group headed by Alaska US Senate candidate releases drone policy recommendations

A state policy group headed by a U.S. Senate candidate recommended that states require a warrant before conducting government surveillance using drones, and that they adopt stricter privacy restrictions than required by federal law.

In a policy paper, the Aerospace States Association (ASA), which met in Washington for an annual conference, called on states to prohibit unnamed aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, from tracking specific individuals without their consent; to limit the use, retention, and “repurposing” of data collected by drones by police departments; and to prohibit them from carrying weapons in commercial airspace.

“The paper we are releasing today, I believe, strikes a fine balance between protecting individual privacy rights as guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment and exploiting the significant economic and humanitarian benefits of UAS technology,” said Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, ASA chairman, told the conference. Treadwell is also the favorite to win the Republican nomination and go on to defeat U.S. Senator Mark Begich.

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Suicide Drones Blow Up With Their Target

Killer drones are getting lighter, smaller and cheaper in order to keep their place on the battlefield as defense budgets are cut and as the U.S. military pulls out of Afghanistan. The latest twist: “kamikaze” drones that blow up along with their intended target.

Two devices were on display at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) trade show in Washington, DC, this week: Textron System’s Battlehawk and Aerovironment’s Switchblade. Both are hand-launched devices that can be carried in a small backpack.

The Battlehawk is made of carbon-fiber wings that curl up into a 22-inch tube launcher. The 5.5-pound device is then flown via an Android-based software app on a smartphone or tablet device to its intended target. The soldier can turn on a video camera, arm the grenade in the nose of the drone and watch as the truck, tank or unfortunate bad guy is terminated.

“It’s a squad-level loitering munition,” said Cathy Loughman, Textron senior program manager. “The soldier is given a target, punches it into the tablet, within a minute and a half, they peel the top off and press a couple buttons on the tablet and off it goes.”

The Battlehawk runs on a small battery-powered propeller. It also has a geo-location device that allows it to follow a target for 30 minutes before the soldier can chose between Abort or Attack modes.

“If there is a sniper three kilometers away,” Loughman said. “This can hit it without calling in air support.”

Once the Afghan war winds down, Textron hopes to convert the Battlehawk into domestic law enforcement device that could carry a bigger battery to fly longer, or even something like smoke grenades for crowd dispersal. The device is going into more testing this fall before a tryout with troops.

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State Officials Argue at AUVSI for Ban on Warrantless UAV Surveillance

Three key associations of state officials are recommending that states pass legislation banning the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance unless the person being tracked has given permission or a warrant has been issued.

The associations also recommended banning UAVs from carrying weapons and emphasizing in state laws that both UAVs and their smaller cousins, model aircraft, be operated in ways that do not “present a nuisance to people or property.”

“Because this technology can use a variety of sensors, and some can potentially loiter for long periods of time without detection, there is concern that government can use these systems to monitor individuals in a way that was not imaged in the Supreme Court 4th Amendment rulings based on the presumption of privacy,” the associations said in a prepared statement.

The prohibition against tracking goes beyond just watching where someone goes, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell told reporters at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI Unmanned Systems 2013) conference in Washington on Tuesday (August 13, 2013).

“I think in this instance we’re talking not just about the optical collection of data but collection of data say from picking up WiFi signals or picking up telephone signals and that sort of thing,” said Treadwell, who chairs one of the three groups, the Aerospace States Association (ASA). “One of the unique and new characteristics of UAV technology is its capability for persistence — and with persistence you can . . . collect lots of information. Though if you are collecting it about an individual without their consent, we are saying you need a warrant.”

The recommendations were crafted in response to public demands that limits be placed on UAVs because of concerns over potential privacy abuses.  The outcry has spurred more than 30 states to consider bills limiting the use of UAVs and, as of June, and at least nine have passed legislation, according the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

Alaska LtGovernor Treadwell_web.jpg

The NCSL, which worked on the recommendations, is made up of members of the state houses of representatives. They worked with the

ASA and the Council of State Governments, which represents the senate side of state legislatures. ASA, whose members are lieutenant governors from states where aerospace is a key economic element, bring states’ executive branch to the table. Having input from all three branches of state government is likely to improve the chances that the suggested measures will be adopted.

AUVSI, which counts much of the UAV industry among its members, weighed in on the recommendations as well, as did organizations focused on privacy including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Law enforcement provided its views as

well through the Airborne Law Enforcement Association, the National Sheriff’s Association (NSA), and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Alaska Lieutenant Governor Mead Treadwell

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake is backing a measure aimed at further testing of so-called drone aircraft for tracking wildfires.

Unmanned aircraft may be used to monitor wildfires such as the recent Yarnell Hill Fire.

The Arizona Republican and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., last month introduced an amendment to a funding bill that would have required the Federal Aviation Administration to add two more test sites for unmanned aircraft in states that have had large wildfires and significant property damage.

The FAA is scheduled to select six sites for unmanned aircraft testing by the end of this year. Arizona and Colorado are among 25 applicants from 24 states to host the testing. Arizona hopes to test unmanned aircraft near Yuma, Benson and Prescott and generate jobs and revenue for the state.

The Bennet-Flake amendment to an appropriations bill for transportation and housing failed on the Senate floor Thursday and its fate is uncertain, said Melanie Hinton, a spokeswoman for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International in Washington.

Congress started a five-week recess today.

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