Drone aircraft used to be prohibitively expensive, but now you can buy a camera-equipped drone that talks to your smartphone for under $100. The US Department of Homeland Security has issued an alert that drones manufactured by Chinese firms might have become a little too accessible. The DHS says much of the data collected by these drones ends up on servers in mainland China where the Chinese government can access it.
The agency doesn’t mention any Chinese drone makers by name, but the target is crystal clear. Shenzhen-based DJI makes approximately 80 percent of the drones currently operating in the US and Canada. These range from consumer units that cost a few hundred dollars (the popular Spark and Mavic lines) up to advanced enterprise-oriented models that can cost several thousand dollars. Some police forces have even been using DJI hardware like the Matrice.
In 2017, the US Army ended its use of DJI drone aircraft. At the time, the Army alleged that the company shared infrastructure information with the Chinese government. The DHS advisory is the clearest sign yet that the government is taking aim at DJI because of its near-monopoly in ready-to-fly drones. It notes that the Chinese government requires its citizens to support national security activities, and that could include providing flight data from drones used in the US.
The DHS suggests that consumers be careful when purchasing a Chinese-made drone. Buyers should consider turning off the drone’s internet access and removing storage cards from the devices when not in use.
This alert follows a pair of government actions targeting large Chinese companies. Last week, an executive order barred US telecommunication firms from using equipment made by Chinese companies, a policy that would hit Chinese mega-corporation Huawei hard. The Commerce Department went a step further several days later by adding Huawei to its “Entities List,” which blocks US companies from providing technology to Huawei except under specific circumstances.
The actions against Huawei have thrown the company into turmoil with Google withdrawing support for Android. DJI could be the next target as China and the US continue sparring in the ongoing trade war. For its part, DJI says it gives users complete control over how their data is stored, transmitted, and stored. It also provides drones that do not transmit data over the internet for use by government agencies and industries with sensitive data.
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I drove a drone less than a mile from an international airport recently, and I don’t feel guilty at all.
That’s because the drone I piloted had zero chance of impacting an aircraft. In fact, it can’t fly at all — except underwater. There, in its native element, it flew, in a sense.
Or swam, like a fish in water.
I’ve been piloting my DJI (air) drone for the better part of a year now, and enjoying it, although I have less time than I would like to really develop superior flying skills. Or to impress my teenage kid. But the first time I piloted an undersea drone was at CES 2019.
Until I got a test version of the Gladius Mini.
There’s something magical about driving a drone places you can’t go, whether it’s in the air or under the water. But given that flying drones have been increasingly restricted due to security concerns, it’s fun to try an undersea drone as well.
The Mini is a five-thruster water drone about the size of a small backpack with near-infinite maneuverability in three dimensions and a 165-foot tether. (Radio waves like WiFi don’t work underwater, so you need a wired connection to maintain control and get 4K video of your journey.)
Optionally, you can get a 330-foot or 660-foot tether if you want to go really nuts, but the submersible drone itself is rated at 330 feet of depth.
Just like any other drone, it connects to your phone or tablet, and you control it via an app and a supplied physical remote controller — something like a PlayStation or Xbox controller.
The drone is primarily interesting for my purposes for hobbyist fun.
But it’s professional and capable enough for marina usage like checking out boat hulls without getting wet as well as inspection of underwater infrastructure likes dams and pipelines, according to Chasing Innovation, the company behind the Gladius.
“Many people think of underwater drones as primarily for exploring tropical waters,” Gladius general manager Sage Raterman told me via email. “Like aerial drones, most of the uses are commercial, for inspecting boat hulls, underwater infrastructure, fish farming, industrial tanks and many other uses where daily operations and maintenance under the water are economically important.”
I tried the drone in a local lake.
Unfortunately, this was during a cold snap and the lake was frozen, so the test was somewhat abbreviated, but I can say that the Gladius works as a mini ice-breaker as well as an undersea drone. And that it was easy to control, even under the ice. Fortunately, the drone comes equipped with a bright light so you can see where you’re going, even in darker depths.
One great thing: a water drone is much more forgiving than a flying drone.
Almost every drone flyer I’ve met has cracked up his or her drone at least once, and most have done it a few times. Under water, however, if you do nothing, nothing happens, which gives you some margin of safety. The Gladius has depth control and will stay generally where you want it to be, unless you’re in super-strong ocean currents or a river.
Worst-case scenario, you have the tether which enables you to simply reel the drone in like a fish on a line.
There are some challenges for hobbyists. The sub needs to be charged, of course. So does the remote controller. And so does the base station, making for three separate pieces of hardware that all need charging.
In other words, you’ll need to plan ahead for your undersea droning experiences: this isn’t something you’ll be doing on the spur of the moment.
Add the tether cord itself, and there are a lot of pieces here, which makes everything more complicated, equipment-wise, than air droning. With my flying drone, I can charge one thing, connect it to my phone, and be up and flying instantly.
That said, it all fits neatly into a backpack, so it’s portable.
And because weight is not a problem — the drone is supported by water and doesn’t have to expend constant energy simply to stay in “flight,” the batter lasts for a very, very comfortable four hours or more.
Ultimately from a personal perspective it’s fun to explore areas that without scuba gear, you’ll never be able to see. And, of course, at depths like 330 feet, you can’t even scuba.
From a professional standpoint, however, this is potentially an interesting opportunity to get a fairly capable research or utility sub for less than $1500.
“Aerial drones started with very specific commercial applications, like military UAVs,” Raterman says. “However, with the advancement of mobile and wireless technologies, these were soon made accessible to the average consumer and business owner at a much lower cost and smaller form factor. We think this same trend is happening with underwater drones.”
This, plus educational use, might be the niche that fits best for an undersea drone. Along with, of course, true hobbyists who want to explore the waters wherever they go.
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State drone operations on the rise
State transportation departments are increasingly deploying unmanned aerial systems, according to a new report from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), with 36 state DOTs conducting internal drone missions, up from zero three years ago.
The top five drone missions are gathering photos and video for infrastructure projects, surveying, inspecting infrastructure, responding to emergencies and natural disasters and providing public education and outreach. Other missions include the observation and management of endangered species, traffic monitoring and even mitigating avalanches.
Three state DOTs are participating the Federal Aviation Administration’s Integration Pilot Program, which allows them to fly drones beyond visual line of sight, at night and over people – three operations prohibited without a special FAA waiver.
The North Carolina DOT and its private-sector partners are using drones to deliver hundreds of package deliveries to predetermined docking stations to gather data to prepare for UAS-based package delivery. In June 2018, the state DOT began testing drone delivery of medical supplies to three research hospitals in the Research Triangle area.
“Conventional highways have for 60 years been the backbone of economic development in America,” said Basil Yap, manager of the North Carolina DOT’s UAS program. “Now, state DOTs are helping to plan and build highways in the sky. We know that commercial drone delivery is coming and our research is focused on helping small businesses develop this capability.”
The Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center – part of the Department of Transportation’s DriveOhio initiative — has partnered with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop SkyVision, a ground-based detect-and-avoid system that is being used to track drones to enable beyond-line-of-sight operations. Drive Ohio is also testing monitoring traffic and incident response along the state’s Smart Mobility Corridor — a 35-mile stretch of U.S. 33 threaded with 432 strands of high-speed data, fiber optic line for testing smart vehicles and connected roadway infrastructure.
Kansas is using drones to inspect power lines, railroad tracks and highway pavement in rural areas. To advance the state’s agriculture industry, drones are monitoring soil temperature, humidity, plant growth and irrigation levels in support of precision agriculture. Drone that track heat signatures of cattle are helping ranchers identify sick animals faster.
Drones are also helping state DOTs save money, according to 29 states. Michigan calculated it could save 74% on bridge inspections near metro areas using a drone, a pilot and a spotter. Because no lane closures are required during drone-based inspections, an additional $14,600 in user delay costs would be avoided, Michigan DOT estimated.
The AASHTO survey found that 36 state DOTs have staff dedicated to drones, including highly skilled personnel to manage drone operations. Those 36 state DOTs also reported having 279 FAA-certified drone pilots on staff or approximately eight pilots per state.
To keep up with the demand for drone pilots, 10 state DOTs have teamed up with academic organizations to train new operators, and 72% are now funding centers or programs to operate drones, the survey found.
“The survey is just one example of how state DOTs are investing in the next-generation workforce,” said Carlos Braceras, executive director of the Utah DOT and AASHTO president. “Five years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find any state DOT looking to hire a drone pilot or set up a UAS program—but now we’re doing both of those things in a big way.”
See the results of the survey here.
Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.
Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company’s government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.
Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.
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Im nachfolgenden habe ich die Angebote aufgelistet, die ich für besonders spannend erachte. Darunter befinden sich hauptsächlich Tablets.
Bei den Onlineshops direkt könnt ihr euch aber auch aktuelle Deals anschauen. Über diese Links gelangt ihr direkt zu den Angebotsseiten der folgenden Shops:
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 für 199 Euro inkl. 64GB microSD
Das Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.5 ist im Sommer 2018 erschienen und seitdem sind die Preise schön am Fallen. Wir bekommen hier ein 10,5 Zoll FullHD-Display, einen Snapdragon 450 Octa-Core Prozessor, 3GB RAM, 32GB Speicher und Android 8.1 Oreo. Spannend ist das Tab A 10.5, weil es vier Lautsprecher hat und Samsung vergleichsweise lange Updates verteilt. Nun, bei verschiedenen Shops ist es gerade im Angebot. Amazon bietet es inklusive einer 64GB microSD für nur 199 Euro an. Saturn verkauft es für 229 Euro, doch gibt es gratis einen 50 Euro Gutschein für zukünftige Einkäufe dazu.
Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 mit Tastatur Cover nur 519 Euro
Auch nach erscheinen des Galaxy Tab S5e bleibt das Galaxy Tab S4 weiterhin das schnellste Android Tablet auf dem Markt. Es bietet einen flotten Snapdragon 835 Octa-Core Prozessor, 4GB RAM und 64GB Speicher. Außerdem bekommen wir ein 10,5 Zoll großes Super AMOLED Display, vier Lautsprecher, einen Iris Scanner, und natürlich den S Pen. Per Update ist außerdem Android 9 Pie verfügbar. Inklusive Tastatur Cover ist es gerade bei Amazon für nur 519 Euro im Angebot.
Microsoft Surface Go mit Type Cover & Office nur 499 Euro
Das Microsoft Surface Go ist in meinen Augen das beste 10 Zoll Windows-Tablet auf dem Markt. Es hat ein schickes FullHD-Display, ist sehr hochwertig verarbeitet, und die Leistung ist insbesondere für Office-Arbeiten ausreichend. Bei Saturn ist die Version mit 8GB RAM und einer 128GB SSD gerade für nur 499 Euro im Angebot – sowohl das Tastatur Cover, als auch eine Jahreslizenz von Office 365 Personal gibt es gratis als Geschenkt dazu!
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This smart NavBar action uses an app as the context and casts the relevant information to an active PC. It’s most useful if you want to continue media consumption on the PC of your choice. This could range from opening web interfaces of the apps (Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Chrome) to sending device-specific commands.
What do I mean by “active PC”? This is the computer that has been used recently. I will base my tutorial on ActivePC write-up, so read that up for more details. I will use two ways of detecting the target machine to support more options. In the nutshell, you can cast to the target PC based on:
- location context (WIFI connected, when EventGhost can’t be used)
- system.unidle (EventGhost enabled PC)
In this example, I will use the Facebook app as the context and www.facebook.com page to be opened on the target machine. An icon representing my laptop, desktop, and a work computer will display dynamically in the smarter NavBar. These will update based on the location and the last computer used.
Smart NavBar: Cast to active PC
system.unidle events. These are created automatically when the computer is not used for 1 min or it’s woken up by an input device, respectively. The information which device is active is sent via AutoRemote to back to your phone. At any given time, Tasker knows which was the last used machine.
There is a minute cooldown associated with the idle messages being issued on the machines, so if you change your computer and return to the same machine, the status won’t be posted. You could fix that with some EventGhost magic from this write-up and your creativity.
Cast Facebook to active PC
The Tasker profile is simple, use Application context to show a new NavBar when Facebook is open. The NavBar contains the following configuration:
- task(name of the task followed by active device variable)[1.0]
The Smart NavBar will contain the icon of the active PC and will run the task responsible for sending the information to the PC.
I have created an Entry task which sets the variable %NBactiveApp to Facebook (needed if you going to have multiple apps) and assigns a correct NavBar. The exit task simply resets the NavBar to the default (back, centre, none) settings.
Device Location Profile
Because I promised the contextual control over PC’s that cannot run EventGhost, I can use also WiFi to override this profile. I will create another profile that sets the location to: home, work, or elsewhere. Once again, I will set the %DEVICELOCATION variable as this info can be used in different projects.
The location logic will be as follows:
- work (target my work PC)
- elsewhere (target my laptop)
- home (target the active PC)
If the phone is no longer connected the %DEVICELOCATION defaults to “elsewhere“.
Now that I have the location framework, I can use this to control the active PC profile.
Set Active PC Profile
I’d suggest sticking both profiles (Set Active PC & Device Location) into the “main” folder, as these can be referenced by other projects too! Especially, if you are interested in automating WhatsApp (coming soon).
Note that I have enclosed the Smart NavBar actions in IF statement, these actions are specific to Facebook action. I added the %DEVICELOCATION variable, as my dynamic options will only apply when I’m home. This way I can retain the information about the active PC without actually drawing a NavBar each time.
The active PC is stored in the variable %ACTIVEPC (if you want to know why in CAPS, read this article). Each time I change the computer, Tasker receives an AutoRemote message and updates the variable. To make my life less complicated, each computer name is taken from the Join App. I can use the verbatim spelling of the %ACTIVEPC variable to send messages to Join devices.
NB Facebook Laptop/Desktop/WiFi
The easiest way to update the icon in the NavBar was to create a duplicated task with the same action but different name and the icon.
The location based task is slightly different and uses %DEVICELOCATION to set the correct Join push action:
In this case, the devices are hardcoded! Join Push messages are send based only on the %DEVICELOCATION taken from the Locale profile.
Smart NavBar integration
This is a stand-alone version of the Smart NavBar actions. Once I created the stand alone versions for each NavBar Task I will show you how to integrate it together. The link to that write up will be up soon!
Android NavBar is underutilised in my opinion, so it’s cool to add extra functionality without adding any additional menus. The contextual character of the NavBar means, that the action is there when you need it most. Next up, I will add extra smart NavBar actions to WhatsApp. You can download the standalone tasker project from here.
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