Droning on about drones
Once again, drones have been in the news for the wrong reasons, this time grounding aircraft at Gatwick, but there is some good news about drones too.
At the start of the month, Gatwick Airport had to be shut down twice due to drones in the flight paths, and some flights were diverted to other airports. Passengers on one incoming flight from Toulouse said the plane was coming in to land when it veered away from the tarmac at the last minute when the pilot spotted an unknown object in his path. Some flights had to circle over the airport until the problem had cleared. Three flights had to divert to alternate airports, (Bournemouth, Southend, and Stanstead) so that the planes could be refuelled before making the flight back to Gatwick.
As well as the inconvenience to passengers, and possible dangers of a collision, this incident has also had a very significant cost to the airlines in terms of fuel costs and additional landing fees. The drone operator who caused this chaos has not been traced.
These episodes of drones around airports worldwide are now so frequent that they scarcely make the newspapers any more, and many had feared that nothing would be done about the problem until there was a serious collision and injuries. However, the British government has just announced that in future, drone owners will be required to register their aircraft and pass an air safety test. Details have yet to be worked out, but it is a start, and hopefully the EU will follow suit. Chinese drone-maker, DJI, one of the leading suppliers of drones, says it welcomes the announcement.
Meanwhile, in Sweden, the Karolinka Institute is testing the use of drones to deliver defibrillators. If a person suffers cardiac arrest, every minute counts. The institute has found that a drone quadcopter could typically get an automated defibrillator to the patient four times faster than an ambulance crew could get there although it still requires someone on hand who can operate the defibrillator.
The same idea could be used to deliver other urgent medications to hard to reach areas such as insulin, an asthma inhaler, or an EpiPen, and to let a remote paramedic assess an accident victim via drone and advise on immediate first aid whilst the ambulance crew is still in transit. Other countries are also looking into this and in the Netherlands, for example, there are plans to get a drone ambulance network up and running within five years.
In the UK, Devon and Cornwall police has added drones to its aerial surveillance units. It already makes extensive use of helicopters, but the drones, at around £2,000 each, are a much cheaper option. It plans to have a fleet of 18 drones and 40 trained operators by the end of the year and says they will be particularly useful in hunts for missing people where a drone can be quickly deployed for woodland and coastal searches, as well as responding to road traffic accidents. Commendably, the police have very clear rules against the misuse of drones for unauthorised surveillance and privacy impact.
The success of the drone as a consumer plaything means that the word is almost synonymous with quadcopter, and it is easy to forget that there are drone boats too. In Southampton, a group of companies and the University of Southampton are setting up a drone testing range for seaborne drones. The Solent is an ideal area for such a range. It has the benefits of being easy to access, and has relatively sheltered waters so can be used for more days in the year. It has all the features of a busy sea area that a sea drone must cope with, ranging from numerous container ships, Royal Navy warships coming out of Portsmouth, giant passenger liners coming out of Southampton, car and passenger ferries to the Isle Of Wight, small boats, weekend yacht sailors, jet skis, and kayaks.
Aquatic drones are not limited to the surface. In the last few days, an aquabot has been used to enter the submerged wreckage of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant to inspect the damage to the nuclear fuel rods, a toxic environment which would be dangerous for a human diver.
On a lighter note, a drone you might encounter on a sea-side trip is Biki, a sub-£500 submarine drone equipped with a 4K HD video camera which can dive to an astonishing 196 feet. The deepest point in Windemere is only 219 feet, and the English Channel between Dover and Calais is just 148 feet deep. The interesting thing about Biki is that has a "bionic" shape and swims like a fish rather than using propellors, the intention being that this will make it less intrusive on the environment and not spook the other wildlife. Amazingly, even though it is underwater, you can still control it through an app on your phone.
Devices like this are great for people with an interest in the natural world and who want a glimpse of the underwater habitat, but a word of caution. Just because it looks cute enough to have escaped from a Disney movie doesn't mean that it is a toy. I'd hate to hear of people using this to play chase the fish around the pond, or to see if they could tip over a duck. Its amazing technology. Let's do amazing things with it.
27th July 2017
This article comes from the SKILLZONE email newsletter, published monthly since January 2008, and covering topics related to technology and the internet. All articles and artwork in the SKILLZONE newsletter are orignal content. If you would like to receive the newsletter direct to your inbox each month, please SUBSCRIBE here. It is free, and you don't get added to any other mailing lists. It uses best-practice confirmed opt-in only, and you may unsubscribe at any time.