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March 04, 2013

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dsquared

It’s my birthday in May

No. You'll play with it once then lose interest and it will be us that have to look after it. It was all "forty pounds of human eyeballs this, forty pounds of human eyeballs that" last year and you've hardly taken them out of the box.

dsquared

hang on though, second thoughts. At USD1m ~= GBP660k, a China-made drone is roughly the cost of an inner London buy-to-let property. If we combine this fact with Alex's "Simple Plan", we can divert the funds from maybe four or five properties to get hold of three drones and a lot of missiles, and create a housing association that Grant Shapps would *really* have to take seriously.

Richard J

Suddenly the phrase Arm's Length Management Organisation acquires ominous overtones.

Barry Freed

Wasn't Francis Fukuyam's latest hobby DIY drones?You could build one in your shed.

duaneg

I have a friend with one, albeit rather small and unarmed. He won it in a programming contest by writing camera stabilization software for it. Of course the same code could also be used to keep a weapon on target, and apparently the algorithms originated from cruise missile guidance systems. The possibilities are endless!

john malpas

Far too late you are. Your council will be reporting on you with its own drone any time soon.

ajay

You'll play with it once then lose interest and it will be us that have to look after it.

"It followed me home. Can I keep it?"

Chris Williams

All is not lost from the perspective of any Provisional Tennants' Associations out there. Knowledge that it's possible to deploy medium- and short range SAMs from the roof of system-built public housing blocks is a valuable part of the London2012 legacy - and given the number of airbase overruns the FSA is managing these days, I'm sure that there'll be a few of these on the open market in the near term.

Alex

The people you want to ask are AMEE, the carbon-footprint metrics guys, mates of MySociety, because they did a passive-infrared aerial survey for Haringey Council to work out which of their estates were leaking heat. That was with a piloted aircraft, but I'm sure there's some read-across and I think they might even still have the sensor.

also, duaneg!

ajay

a passive-infrared aerial survey for Haringey Council to work out which of their estates were leaking heat.

Which was a good way of detecting cannabis grow-ops (TI scan from a helicopter) until the growers realised and started using heavy insulation.

Alex

"It followed me home. Can I keep it?"

Mohsan, you're a big boy now you run Iranian Air Force ELINT, you can make decisions like that for yourself. Imagine, coming to your mother with an RQ-170.

Alex

As if on cue, it emerges that the Pakistanis have been carrying out their own drone strikes and blaming the Americans: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/world/asia/us-disavows-2-drone-strikes-over-pakistan.html

ajay

More likely to be airstrikes, I should think. No one minds them nearly as much.

Chris Williams

I've always thought it was the other way round, myself. On the other hand, I have a big obsession with anti-imperialism so can be expected to wonder that others aren't as angry about it as I am. YMMV. Do we have any controls we can test either hypothesis on?

ajay

No, no, the Pakistanis have been dropping bombs on people for years and no one has minded very much, but the drones get massive attention.

Chris Williams

Isn't that because it's the Pakistan government dropping bombs on people in Pakistan? Drones (so we thought before today), OTOH, are a foreign government bombing Pakistan, thus more of a big deal?

chris y

Which was a good way of detecting cannabis grow-ops (TI scan from a helicopter) until the growers realised and started using heavy insulation.

And in practice, the principal market for cheap UAVs will presumably be drug smugglers.

ajay

I mean that this may have been a Pakistani air strike pretending to be a US drone strike, not a Pakistani drone strike pretending to be a US drone strike. I'm not even sure Pakistan has any armed drones.

ajay

the principal market for cheap UAVs will presumably be drug smugglers.

Hmm, interesting one. Of course, if they aren't manned then the border guards will feel much freer to shoot them down...

Cian

And in practice, the principal market for cheap UAVs will presumably be drug smugglers.

I imagine they'd be quite easy to shoot down.

Currently it's law enforcement. Small drones with cameras are really cheap, though the range isn't great.

ajay

I imagine they'd be quite easy to shoot down.

True, but if you send over a hundred at a time with a small payload (10kg) each, you can lose quite a few and still make money...

Chris williams

You do realise that this speculation is going to strike fear into the hearts of Columbia's vibrant homemade submarine industry, don't you?

Alex

I don't think that dog will hunt; the percentage of expensive stuff per kilo is surely too high, and the loss rate (just in the sense of not recovered) too great. The sea is big, and it's a great way to move loads.

Alex

As for Pakistan, I think they even have an indigenous surveillance drone. It's basically a light aircraft and some electronics; if you can make a nuclear bomb..

ajay

Hmm, maybe you're right Alex.

Or, hang on, maybe we're thinking about this the wrong way. Sealift to get the stuff into the country, yes, but then maybe micro UAVs to handle replen for the street dealers? ("Re-ups", I believe the term is, m'lud.) Great for security: no more having to drive round in Land-Rovers handing out drugs to your employees.

Richard J

I don't think that dog will hunt; the percentage of expensive stuff per kilo is surely too high, and the loss rate (just in the sense of not recovered) too great. The sea is big, and it's a great way to move loads.

Also, human beings are cheaper.


chris y

Regarding smuggling, I was thinking of this story, which is 40 years old. And this, which is contemporary, but from the Fail. The idea is certainly out there.

ajay

Also, human beings are cheaper.

I dunno about that, actually. Not more than one kilo per mule if they're swallowing the stuff, and you have to pay the mules quite a bit - a bit of googling shows estimates of around $3000 per trip, plus travel costs. It doesn't take much for drones to beat that. Maybe they won't compete against sending chaps with backpacks to cross the Mexican desert, but for balloon-swallowing Nigerians the economics look good.

Cian

The smaller drones have fairly limited range, so it's only going to be good for crossing a border.

I'm also guessing that these things are pretty easy to track. The thing about human mules is that they're mixed in with non drug smugglers. Whereas the intentions of a drone crossing the border are pretty clear.

I think Ajay's onto something though. Also the surveillance possibilities. Worried about a potential bust - send a drone up.

Barry Freed

Homemade submarines are super cool and drones are today's sexy but don't underestimate the dogged reliability of technicals mounted with marijuana cannon.

ajay

The smaller drones have fairly limited range, so it's only going to be good for crossing a border.

Good point. Maybe North Africa-southern Spain might be a possibility? Tunisia-Sicily? Small UAVs today have ranges of about 60 miles (60-90 minutes and a 57 kt cruising speed) with a 1 kg payload (Desert Hawk); assume that's going to improve. Fly them fairly low, and get them to drop their payload off in the desert somewhere along the flightpath at a pre-set GPS location, then you can nip out and scoop it up at leisure. Airbag/crash landing recovery for the drone, and you should at least save the expensive bits (motor, batteries, avionics); you can always 3-D print a new airframe if it gets a bit battered.

ajay

Holy crap, Barry. And this is only the first generation. Five years time they'll probably be launching the stuff from Katyushas.

Barry Freed

...launching the stuff from Katyushas.

Ha! "Where schlachtbummlers relax" indeed.

Jakob

Just popping my massively sleep-deprived (newborn twins on 3-hourly feeds FTW!) head to say that this thread right here is why I love B&T. Also could I second Alex's ! and ask duaneg whether he's got more info on the drone/the coding contest?

Cian

The Desert Hawk is going to be really hard to track, so it's looking more workable.

The street value of 1KG of coke is around $12-15K. So the value of a single trip isn't going to be that high. cost of replacement / mean flights per droneis going to be key here.

Cian

Consumer product

http://www.aeryon.com/products.html

Range is pretty low (and that's going to down considerably once you add a payload). Currently used for filming - there's a neat video on youtube of protesters using it to monitor police actions.

ajay

Cian: that's a tiny rotary-wing job, though - Desert Hawk is fixed wing, and bigger, therefore longer-range.

You're right about the economics. How often can you lose a (say) $30k drone with a $3k payload (yes, street value $15k, but presumably we want to look at replacement cost to the smuggler, not ultimate street value) before it's better than running $3k-a-time human mules with the same payload and losing whatever percentage of them you lose? Too many unknowns...

Cian

Yeah $3K payload was what I was getting at.

The thing is at the consumer level its all rotary. You're going to need fixed wing to transport much, and for the economics to make sense it has to be consumer level (at least in parts, if not the actual drones).

Currently all the interest in consumer drones is for surveillance/filming. So rotary is presumably going to win out there. But we shall see.

duaneg

Jakob: The contest was at EclipseCon Europe, and was sponsored by aibotix, but the prize was not an X6, much to my friend's disappointment. It looks like a much smaller quadrotor prototype.

At the moment it isn't really usable as the control system is basically too low-level for humans. He is working on an improved higher-level control system (i.e. "move in this direction" instead of "more power to left-hand rotors"), but doesn't have a lot of time to devote to it, so I'm not sure how far he'll get.

ajay

The thing is at the consumer level its all rotary.

???

What about all those r/c aeroplanes?

I don't think anyone's going to be building long-range drones for consumer use, though - for a start, there's the control/line of sight issue, and also things like ATC restrictions. So our putative drug traffickers are going to have to knit their own to a certain extent.

Richard J

Congratulations, BTW, jakob. It does get easier. Honest.

(About to do it again for the second time in a few weeks...)

Jakob

Regarding the roll your own option, I think there are enough consumer-level components (servos, GPS modules, embedded controllers) that building an autonomous UAV would be relatively cheap and simple if you had access to a skilled RC modeller and the net; after all, a lot of the issues will have already been solved by other enthusiasts, and it's not like you'd have to worry about ATC. Wasn't there a group that built a transatlantic UAV a couple of years back?

Dave

Wasn't there a group that built a transatlantic UAV a couple of years back?

Ten years ago, apparently:
http://tinyurl.com/3eo9zbf

"On Day 3 of their honeymoon, he later said, 'I told my wife I just had to go out and get some balsa and glue.'"

He was rather more skilled and dedicated than your average dope-runner though, I'd have thought.

alle

Richard — About to do it again for the second time in a few weeks

Oh, uh, congratulations to you and your wives then.

Cian

As the father of 6 year old twins, it does get easier. But man those first 6 months...

Cian

What about all those r/c aeroplanes?

They're not drones though. Nobody is currently building fixed wing drones for consumers, nor does there seem to be much interest. That might change of course, but it hasn't so far.

I bow to Jakob's superior knowledge, but I'd guess there's a difference between craft building of drones (nice, but not really useful for drug running) and the kind of scale you'd need to pull this off.

ajay

They're not drones though. Nobody is currently building fixed wing drones for consumers, nor does there seem to be much interest

What's the difference between an r/c aircraft and a drone, though? I don't think anyone's building autonomous drones of any kind for consumers - they're all r/c in some way, aren't they?

Jakob

I don't think anyone's building kits necessarily, but my thinking was along the lines that if the drug economy can support a submersible-building industry it can probably also support drone builders; basic balsa and glue construction can get decent performance. Of course the cost/benefit may not make it worthwhile, but it doesn't seem impossible.

Where I'd expect to see UAV's first used by the cartels would be for urban surveillance; you can now buy RC foam park flyers with built-in cameras that are not too dissimilar from the handheld gear the armed forces have; though they have limited range and duration, they'd do fine for checking whether there's a load of unmarked vans near your drug deal warehouse.

Chris Williams

If I had a secure package delivery business to run, I'd be investigating GPS-enabled moulded foam gliders, lofted by weather balloons to about 15,000ft, then let go via a barometer. A glide ratio of 10:1 (ie easy) plus some pretty basic software ought to get them headed to a point about 15 miles away with a half-decent payload. Another use for the Raspberry Pi.

dsquared

I think I would probably be looking for a poorly manned customs posts to bribe or intimidate. It's all very well to give the geek element their heads sometimes with a couple of fun submarine projects, but we have a business to run here people.

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