The US military has drones, lots of them if the daily reports coming in from Afghanistan and Pakistan are any indication. And a handful of law enforcement groups – though less than would like -have a drone or two at their disposal. But on the domestic, non-security front, drones live a in a regulatory gray area. Hobbyists can use them, but commercial entities are not supposed to employ drones for any kind of monetary gain, says the FAA.
Nonetheless News Corp’s The Daily has a news gathering drone aircraft that it’s been flying around, and the FAA is investigating that use to ensure that it complies with all of the nebulous FAA regulations that kind of exist regarding private drone usage.
The Daily has used its drone to capture aerial footage of storm-struck Alabama earlier this year as well as the flooding in South Dakota, Forbes has said. Their hardware: a MicroDrone md4-1000, a micro aerial vehicle that can be fitted with various imagery or sensor payloads (Google has one like it, purportedly to augment its aerial map data).
The question for the FAA, then, is whether or not new gathering (or aerial cartography, for that matter) is considered a commercial exercise. Seems like it would be, but given that the FAA is reportedly considering loosening its drone aircraft restrictions later this year anyhow, The Daily may just get the green light anyhow, opening up a potentially really cool new high-tech means of reporting the daily news.
That would be great news for The Daily, which happens to belong to the same media family as the News of the World which recently collapsed under shady phone hacking allegations. Of course, all of this information is unrelated, because it’s not like you can use a drone to hack a cell phone… Right?
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Only last week the rumour mill was rife with talk of a new class of UAV flying over Beale Air Force base, California. If you have the time to trawl through the speculation, it was soon clear this wasn’t simply a modified MC-12 Liberty as used for surveillance and reconnaissance in Iraq. Sure enough, Northrop Grumman have unveiled their new spy plane, the Firebird. The UAV is filled with high definition cameras, electronic eavesdropping gear and is developed from scaled composites.
The Announcement states:
“Firebird’s universal interface is similar to plugging a memory stick into a personal computer that is automatically recognized without needing to load additional software.
“Not only have we increased the number of ISR sensors working simultaneously in an aircraft of this size, but we can also incorporate various sensors that complement each other – greatly enhancing Firebird’s information-gathering value for warfighters,” said Rick Crooks, Northrop Grumman’s Firebird program manager. “Firebird is an adaptable system that makes it highly affordable because of the number of different missions it can accomplish during a single flight. It’s a real game changer.”
The biggest development is that the aircraft can be optionally manned when required and can carry upto 1,200 pounds, making it versatile for a range of different combat roles. Payloads other UAVs may be comparably higher, but the optional inclusion of an operator, at least as test bed for new sensor technologies could be a major factor that could get NG more than a few orders.
It’s success will be better measured when the aircraft is entered into Joint Forces Command’s Empire Challenge exercise later this month.