Drones, steps forward, with technology, and back, with privacy

January 7, 2016 |

The BBC reports that Intel at the 2016 CES tech show has revealed a collision avoiding drone in CES 2016: Intel drone dodges ‘falling tree’ on stage. Having a drone that is innately able to avoid colliding with structures is a huge advance.  The other part of the story is the release of the Disco drone which can fly for up to 45 minutes and follow a pre planned flight path.  A 45 minute flight range is a big advance for a smallish drone.

It provides:

Chip-maker Intel has revealed a collision-avoiding drone that automatically dodges obstacles in its path.

The device was demoed at the CES tech show where it autonomously detected and avoided a fallen object.

Intel part-owns Yuneec, the company behind the drone, and provided the device’s 3D camera sensor.

The RealSense technology involved uses infrared lasers to detect the distance of nearby things.

Should evasive action be necessary, the aircraft takes it on its own.

Falling ‘tree’

At CES, the Typhoon H drone followed a cyclist through a small course on stage, complete with a handful of mock “trees”.

When one of these obstacles was made to fall in the drone’s path, it dodged it, and thereby avoided a collision.

“The drone was able to stop, wait and go round that obstacle as well – following the rider all the time,” said Intel’s chief executive Brian Krzanich.

 “Any other commercial drone out there would have crashed into the tree.”

The Typhoon H also has a 4K camera which has can pan 360-degrees and take photographs with a 12 megapixel sensor.

Intel said it would be on sale within six months. It is set to cost $1,799 (£1,200).

Commercial possibilities

Features such as collision avoidance are not likely to prevent the kind of tumbles which nearly caught skier Marcel Hirsher last month, commented IHS analyst Tom Morrod, when a drone malfunctioned.

“There’s a safety aspect which is probably not going to go away – things that fly occasionally crash,” he said.

However, he added, the benefits of more intelligent drones are not to be underestimated.

“Things like collision avoidance, self navigation, spatial awareness – all of these technologies that take away the manual control of the drones are enabling drones for commercial purposes,” he said.

“Those could be security or delivery or maintenance, all of those types of applications – that’s going to be what really drives the market.”

Another safety conscious drone at CES comes in the form of Belgian firm Fleye’s device. It encloses its spinning blades within both a shell and a cage to help reduce the risk of injury.

However, as a demo for the BBC proved, it is still possible for the device to swerve off-course and crash.

‘Drone on steroids’

Parrot announced another new drone – one capable of flying much further and faster than helicopter-inspired devices, thanks to a fixed wing design.

The Disco drone can fly for up to 45 minutes and follow a pre-planned flight path via GPS waypoints.

Image copyright Parrot
Image caption Parrot’s new drone can fly for up to 45 minutes

Its on-board camera is embedded into the drone’s nose and captures video in 1080p high definition.

Parrot hopes to make the device available later in 2016.

“This ‘drone on steroid’ speaks to the innovation in this wave of consumer drones,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Research.

“We believe this is a $3bn market opportunity over the next few years and high-octane drones like Parrot’s are a sign of things to come.”

While the technology is advancing the legal protections are stalling as reported in Drone privacy push could stall out which provides:

As companies like Amazon and Google forge ahead with plans to develop their own drones, a White House effort to ensure these unmanned vehicles don’t spy on consumers is sputtering along — and seems destined to produce weak privacy protections that the government will struggle to enforce.

For almost a year, the Obama administration has tried to corral tech companies and consumer groups, hoping they can draft some basic privacy rules before a wave of new commercial drones are allowed to take to the skies and begin delivering packages or snapping photos.

 But the safeguards under discussion aren’t so much new rules as they are general, broad suggestions for companies to be on their best behavior — with little in the way of penalties. That’s already a win for tech giants: Data is Silicon Valley’s lifeblood, and many companies long have lobbied against any restrictions on how they tap troves of consumer information to deliver new services and make money.

And there’s a chance the whole effort could fall apart. The last time the Obama administration sought to broker a consensus around a set of privacy protections, consumer groups walked away over what they blasted as industry intransigence.

“I definitely think that a lot of privacy advocates have been discouraged by how the previous two [administration-led] processes have gone,” said Alvaro Bedoya, the executive director of Georgetown University Law School’s Center for Privacy and Technology. “The fact is that the industry lobbyists who are blocking privacy legislation in Congress are the same industry lobbyists that go and block a reasonable, privacy protective result out of the negotiations.”

The debate over drones and privacy is just one facet of a broader policy battle surrounding the future of these small, unmanned craft. It’s more than just big technology companies that want to operate drones; consumers are snapping up toys, too. Fearing as many as a million new hobby drones could take flight this holiday season, the Obama administration in December issued new rules that require owners to register their craft.

For now, commercial drones are generally illegal, although the Federal Aviation Administration has offered broad exemptions for a long list of companies, including several movie and television production firms. Still, a growing number of companies have grand drone aspirations: Theme park owners want to deploy them to find lost children, for example, and farmers see them as a tool to monitor crops for bug infestations. Google and Amazon, meanwhile, both are making well-publicized plans to deliver packages by air.

When they finally take flight, however, these buzzing vehicles may film, photograph or collect other types of information about individual people down below — and that’s triggered a vigorous debate about the need to impose checks on the new eyes in the skies.

There’s been only scattered congressional interest in drone privacy; Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in 2014 called for regulation after witnessing what she called a drone outside a window of her home, though one report later indicated it may have been a toy helicopter. Otherwise, few lawmakers have shown a desire to wade into the debate. The FAA, for its part, has shied away from issuing its own privacy regulations, prompting a court challenge from the Electronic Privacy Information Center. That’s left it in the hands of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which began an effort to build privacy guidelines by consensus after an order from the president in February.

“We have an opportunity that we don’t typically get with new tech because there are significant and real safety concerns,” said Amie Stepanovich, the U.S. policy manager at Access Now. She urged the participants to strive for a drone privacy “gold standard.”

Yet the process, which held its first meeting in August, is showing signs of discord.

One key proposal from the Center for Democracy and Technology would ensure that drone operators agree to strong, explicit limits on the sort of data they collect and what they do with it. CDT leans heavily toward ensuring that private homeowners, for example, must provide some sort of consent before a drone can hover overhead and collect data.

On the other side, a proposal from the law firm Hogan Lovells would give drone operators broader latitude to operate everywhere from major public spaces like theme parks to the airspace right above a family’s backyard. The firm represents companies with a stake in the debate, but it has declined to name them.

CDT frets that the Hogan Lovells proposal would make it too easy for data gathered by one company’s drone to be shared with other, unrelated firms for marketing purposes. The plan opens the door for an insurance agent using a drone to survey a homeowner’s storm damage to sell images to health care providers or credit companies, the group says.

But companies would have the greatest leeway to operate their drones under a two-page, anti-regulatory approach backed by the trade group NetChoice, whose members include Facebook and Google. For their part, drone makers like Amazon and Google declined to say which proposal they support.

“Prime Air is a future delivery service, not a surveillance operation, and we will respect the privacy of every person, with stringent privacy policies accessible to all,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement.

Some participants believe they’ll overcome their differences in due time. “Everyone in the group really understands the benefits of having these [best practices] for the industry,” said Lisa Ellman, who co-chairs the drone practice for Hogan Lovells.

But as discussions continue, with no deadline in sight, the Obama administration’s track record looms large. Back in June, groups like the ACLU stormed out of the Commerce Department’s yearlong effort to establish privacy rules for facial recognition technology. They charged that tech companies drowned out the voices of consumer advocates — and they specifically singled out NetChoice for resisting compromise. The effort remains unfinished.

Michael Drobac, a senior adviser to the Small UAV Coalition — whose members include companies like Amazon, Google and drone-maker DJI — said his industry this time around had expressed an “overwhelming willingness” to work with privacy groups. But, he added: “Most often what happens is efforts are thwarted because there’s overreach. … We have some advocates who are suggesting an approach to consumer information that betrays a lack of understanding of the digital economy that we are part of.”

In its opening comments kicking off the privacy talks, the Small UAV Coalition pointed to the memo signed by the president, which called only for “high level best practices” on the data that drones can collect.

That’s an important distinction. The administration’s previous efforts to forge consensus around privacy rules hinged on companies actually adopting the text of those proposed safeguards and incorporating them into their privacy policies. That way, the Federal Trade Commission could take action in the event a tech company failed to deliver on its promises. The drone process, by contrast, isn’t supposed to result in anything binding — meaning the FTC has less of a hook to issue penalties.

To NTIA, the president’s approach is “appropriate in light of the nascent nature of the commercial UAS industry,” a spokeswoman said, adding the agency is “encouraged by the diversity of the stakeholder group, the ownership they’ve taken over the process, and the largely constructive nature of the discussions so far.”

Still, privacy groups believe they hold at least one advantage, saying consumer fears, combined with a host of new state and local regulations, have brought companies to the negotiating table.

“The industry does have an incentive to address public concerns,” said Harley Geiger, advocacy director and senior counsel for CDT. “This can help do that.”

One Response to “Drones, steps forward, with technology, and back, with privacy”

  1. Drones, steps forward, with technology, and back, with privacy | Australian Law Blogs

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