Monday, January 18, 2021

In the Time of Pandemic, Drone Delivery Lands

 In this time of global pandemic, greater drone adoption is driven not by technological advancement, but by the utility of drones. When major players such as Walmart and Amazon throw their hats in the ring, one can count on fast adoption of new ideas. For example, the retailing giant Walmart has undertaken  drone trials, one to deliver select grocery and household essentials, and another to test delivery of certain health and wellness products. They have expended into drone delivery of at-home COVID-19 self-collection kits, to provide  contactless, testing options. And Amazon inches closer to FAA approval.

We read,

Dire times drive innovation. In this instance, the innovation is not in technology, but in policy. While some argue that drone technology wasn’t mature enough to be trusted at large scale – and cultural questions around privacy, noise and annoyance have hampered the expansion of flights – a societal and governmental shift in evaluating acceptable risk is driving greater implementation. With air travel down nearly 90% and dramatically fewer cars on the road due to shelter-in-place orders, the risks drones might present in the air and on the ground are significantly reduced. Meanwhile, pressure has been mounting to streamline drone use to deliver vital goods, support social distancing and enable essential workers to operate with greater efficiency and efficacy.

Read more here...

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved American Robotics to become the first company to operate smart drones without needing on-site pilots or spotters. American Robotics, an industrial drone developer based out of Massachusetts, will still need a human pilot overseeing each flight’s takeoff remotely, so the process isn’t technically 100% autonomous, as the Verge notes. Still, the decision brings the U.S. one step closer to seeing fully automated commercial drone flights.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Air Mobility is the Key Phrase when it comes to Autonomous Flying Taxi's

As many onlookers congregated, Chinese drone maker Ehang showed off its autonomous air taxi in the US. The all-electric two-seater took flight for five minutes above a test track south of Raleigh, North Carolina

As the world’s leading autonomous aerial vehicle (“AAV”) technology platform company and the UAM industry pioneer, EHang has proprietarily developed a complete suite of intelligent aerial logistics solutions, including the EH216L heavy-lift AAV for short-to-medium-haul aerial transport, the Falcon medium-sized AAV for urban express delivery, the unmanned aircraft systems, take-off and landing control sites and intelligent self-express service machines. With abundant operating experience, service workflow and practical data, EHang made significant contribution to the groundbreaking for the Standard based on its industry expertise and valuable insights. 

EHang is based in Guangzhou, a major city in southern China. Its EHang 216 drone has carried out demo flights in Seoul, and the aircraft has also been recently tested in Canada at a special drone-testing facility in Quebec.

The Verge has more...

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Seditionists Had Unfettered Access to Congressional IT Systems

After Wednesday's invasion by protesters, America's Capitol building is now grappling with "the process of securing the offices and digital systems after hundreds of people had unprecedented access to them," 

Rioters could have bugged congressional offices, exfiltrated data from unlocked computers, or installed malware on exposed devices. In the rush to evacuate the Capitol, some computers were left unlocked and remained accessible by the time rioters arrived. And at least some equipment was stolen; Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said in a video late Wednesday that intruders took one of his office's laptops off a conference table...

Former Senate sergeant at arms Frank Larkin, who retired as Senate sergeant at arms in 2018, adds that cybersecurity is the next priority after physical security. In spite of this, the mob Wednesday had ample opportunities to steal information or gain device access if they wanted to. And while the Senate and House each build off of their own shared IT framework, ultimately each of the 435 representatives and 100 senators runs their own office with their own systems. This is a boon to security in the sense that it creates segmentation and decentralization; getting access to Nancy Pelosi's emails doesn't help you access the communications of other representatives. But this also means that there aren't necessarily standardized authentication and monitoring schemes in place. Larkin emphasizes that there is a baseline of monitoring that IT staffers will be able to use to audit and assess whether there was suspicious activity on congressional devices. But he concedes that representatives and senators have varying levels of cybersecurity competence and hygiene.
It's also true that potentially exposed data at the Capitol on Wednesday would not have been classified, given that the mob had access only to unclassified networks. But congressional staffers are not subject to Freedom of Information Act obligations and are often much more candid in their communications than other government officials. Security and intelligence experts also emphasize that troves of unclassified information can still reveal sensitive or even classified information when combined... Kelvin Coleman, executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance, who formerly worked in the Department of Homeland Security and National Security Council... adds, though, that for now the most important thing congressional IT staffers can do is account for which devices were stolen and begin a mass effort to reset passwords, add multifactor authentication to any accounts that don't already have it, wipe and reimage hard drives when practical, and comb monitoring logs for signs of access or exfiltration.

There is more information at Wired.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Enjoy Your Bananas - They Are Going to Go Extinct

The bananas you so love will soon vanish into the mists of time. The world's Cavendish variety of bananas are threatened by a strain of Tropical Race 4 fungus which is expected to wipe them out. The Cavendish is of one of a number of banana cultivars and include commercially important versions such as 'Dwarf Cavendish' and 'Grand Nain'.

The $4 billion-a-year worldwide banana export trade is almost entirely based on vast plantations filled with genetically identical Cavendish clones. It is the supermarket banana’s lack of genetic diversity that has put it at risk, perhaps even (as some scientists say) at risk of extinction. A similar situation with another crop, the potato, set the stage for the great Irish famine of the 1840s, after the high-yielding potato varieties favored by Irish farmers fell prey to an airborne fungus that turned whole fields of tubers black and rotten overnight. Today, similar pests are stalking the banana. 

Read more at the Smithsonian Magazine...

Monday, December 28, 2020

Goes Both Ways - Fast! Robotaxi purpose-built from the tarmac up...

 The Zoox Robotaxi Is a Bi-Directional autonomous vehicle, built specifically to be a robot car.  

We learn over at Yanko that the Amazon-owned Zoox...

... is a conventional cube-shaped with a unique bi-directional ride sans any steering wheel – having the capability to smoothly navigate tight spaces without much fuzz since it comes with a 4 wheel independent suspension system. The fact that it can move in any direction (independent turning wheels) and does not need to reverse (remember it is bi-directional) gives it an advantage on urban roads as it measures just 3.63 meters. 

The interior of the autonomous ride has charging ports and a small display is quite minimalistic with emphasis on passenger safety as there are next-generation airbags enveloping the passengers, providing five-star safety standards by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. 

To further enhance the safety of the riders, the vehicle is decked in six LIDAR pucks, multiple sensors, and cameras for a 270-degree field of view – covering the blind spots and having the ability to see objects 150 meters away en route for a safe ride. And it can achieve a top speed of 70 miles per hour, so you can rest assured of arriving at your destination on time.