The U.S. government uses them to bomb alleged terrorists in far-away places, tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook are all toying with the idea of using them commercially and, in recent months, they’ve become the secret weapon of many photographers. Whether we see them or not, drones have become a big part of our lives. Drone Beat collects the best and most important drone stories every week.
A year-long Washington Post investigation has revealed that 418 American military drones have crashed around the world since 2001 — a surprisingly high number of incidents. What’s worse, several others have simply vanished.
However, none of those crashes led to casualties, a fact that Frank Pace, the president of General Atomics, one of the leading producers of military drones, is quick to point out when asked about such accidents.
“We’ve never reported a loss of life,” Pace told the Post, “so we’re doing pretty good.”
Nevertheless, others are not so convinced.
In many cases, the reason for the low casualties is the fact that the unmanned planes crashed in deserted areas. In one instance, a drone pilot crashed her flying robot after she failed to realize that it was flying upside down. Other times, the drones have come very close to accidentally killing people.
On Aug. 15, 2011, a 185-pound reconnaissance drone called the RQ-7B Shadow hit a military cargo plane in Afghanistan.
“Holy shit!” yelled the cargo plane’s navigator. “We got hit by a UAV! Hit by a UAV!”
The investigation calls into question the safety of drone flights, and might derail the Federal Aviation Administration’s plans to allow commercial drone flights in the U.S. by 2015.
Be sure to read the whole investigation for more details.
Government moves to ban drones in national parks
The National Park Service (NPS) wants drones out of American parks because it is concerned that the flying robots may be unsafe and bother visitors.
“We have serious concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks,” National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a press release. “So we are prohibiting their use until we can determine the most appropriate policy that will protect park resources and provide all visitors with a rich experience.”
The agency issued a “policy memorandum” directing park superintendents to take steps to prevent people from flying UAVs in all national parks across the country. The agency says the policy is temporary and excludes use by the NPS itself for “administrative purposes such as search and rescue, fire operations and scientific study.”
Drones will soon follow everywhere you go
Forget about dronies, the future of self-obsessed drone technologies are UAVs that follow you everywhere you go.
Some companies are trying to create drone systems that automatically follow their owners. One of them, the Hexo+, was recently described in a Mashable report as a kind of “super selfie machine.”
Another project, apty called the AirDog, is described by its creators as the “first auto-follow action sports drone.” Even 3D Robotics, the drone company launched by former Wired editor Chris Anderson, has joined the new trend by releasing an app called “Follow-Me.”
FAA announces Texas drone test site
And then there were four. After North Dakota, Alaksa, and Nevada, the Federal Aviation Administration announced on Friday that its drone test site in Texas is now operational. The site, which will be located at Texas A&M University’s campus in Corpus Christi, is one of the six designated in December by the FAA.
L.A. Kings fans snatch drone out of the sky during Stanley Cup celebrations
As drones become a more common sight in American skies, more people seem to be venting their anger at them. The latest such episode happened on Friday night, when a Los Angeles Kings fan knocked a drone out of the air during celebrations for the team’s Stanley Cup win against the New York Rangers.
The drone was hovering a few feet above the crowd when some fans started throwing objects — including what appeared to be a shoe — at it. The entire episode was caught on camera by a fan and posted to Instagram.
Drone spies on France’s World Cup team
Someone flew a drone over France’s World Cup soccer team practice last week.
France’s manager, Didier Deschamps, was not amused. Soon after, he filed a complaint with FIFA, alleging that the drone might have been operated by a potential opponent or by a French news agency.
“Apparently, drones are being used more and more,” Deschamps told the BBC. “We don’t want intrusion into our privacy. It’s hard to fight.”
Despite Deschamps’ accusations, the operator appears to be a random fan who just wanted to catch a glimpse of the French team, according to French website BFMTV.