Monday, December 31, 2012

Canadian International Council and a year-end status report

Earlier this month, the Canadian International Council wrapped up its "Drone Week," which pooled the writings from national policy and technology experts, to help understand how drones could change the air and ground in three different contexts: Kill, Watch, Aid.

Much of this conversation revolved around the proliferation of drones as weapons. As I wrote in my own CIC piece for, "Drones for Good," given the history of media's relationship with technology, this was only to be expected:

If we’re being dictionary-accurate, though, “drone” merely means an airplane or boat guided remotely. The first drone was invented by Nikola Tesla, who wowed audiences in New York City’s Madison Square Garden with a radio-controlled boat in 1898. His audience, baffled and scared by the demonstration, likely had little or no previous exposure to radio technology. It would be nearly a decade until the first public radio broadcast, a live transmission from the Metropolitan Opera House.

A New York Times reporter asked the question that would dog the technology from that day on: What of the military applications for the tiny electric boat? “You do not see there a wireless torpedo,” Tesla replied, offended by the reporter’s suggestion. “You see there the first of a race of robots, mechanical men who will do the laborious work of the human race.
 Combine the public perception of drones with the public perception of the media and journalists, and it's easy to see how drone journalism faces and uphill battle. But, I wrote, limiting domestic drone use would have consequences.

In other news, weather has been particularly miserable for flying drones as of late here in central Illinois.

The cold really isn't the limiting factor here, either. Cold temperatures make it difficult for small gas motors to operate (they rely on glow plugs to ignite the compressed mixture of air and fuel, which requires heat). But lithium polymer batteries are actually fairly resilient to the cold.

The autopilot might be the limiting factor in cold weather, as I'm finding out the ceramic resonator that keeps the autopilot microcontroller in sync can be thrown off by extreme temperatures. However, it's much easier to warm something up than cool something off from an electrical standpoint. Cold isn't fun, but it's not ultimately a deal-breaker.

Wind actually is the biggest problem. It's hard to fly my current fleet of drones in 15mph winds. It's not impossible to fly a drone in that kind of wind, it just requires a bigger drone (an 8 foot wingspan would be nice).

While I'm waiting for the weather to improve, I'm focusing on using drone equipment for other data-gathering applications, and working on drones that I can actually fly indoors. More on that in 2013.