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Drones Sailing Around the World and Delivering Our Mail: Is this Normal?

// Posted by on 02/28/2014 (12:34 PM)

In an article in Wired called “The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around The World,” Adam Fisher discusses the “sailing robot” that has been constructed to travel around the world by sea. Saildrone is “a wind-powered autonomous surface vehicle” that… Read more

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In an article in Wired called “The Drone That Will Sail Itself Around The World,” Adam Fisher discusses the “sailing robot” that has been constructed to travel around the world by sea. Saildrone is “a wind-powered autonomous surface vehicle” that is 19 feet long and made of carbon-fiber. It was released into the San Francisco Bay in October. The engineers of Saildrone programed it so that it would sail to Hawaii, 2,248 miles away, completing the world’s first “no-handed” sail in 34 days. In its journey across the pacific, the drone has been confronted with storms of gale-force winds and has battled fierce breaking waves.

“Above the waterline the boat is painted safety orange and emblazoned with the words OCEAN RESEARCH IN PROGRESS in all caps. The hull is black with bottom paint, and near the bow is the name in a fancy serif: Honey Badger.”

The engineering of Saildrone really mimics that of an airplane more than that of a sailboat. It has a tail just like an airplane does, it is designed to adjust to extreme angular changes, and it is powered completely by wind. Richard Jenkins and Dylan Owens, the engineers behind the Saildrone technology, hope that the structure will prove its sailing abilities so that one day it can be sent to vast, untravelled parts of oceans throughout the world to collect information. Jenkins and Owen both hope that once the technology of the structure is perfected it can be sent around to collect data that will prove that global warming is real. They would do this by monitoring changes in ocean acidification, which is the “key barometer of climate change.” And even beyond that the potential of ocean drones is huge:

“Drones could replace the world’s weather and tsunami buoys. The waters around oil platforms could be sniffed 24/7 for the first signs of a spill. Tagged sharks, whales, and other marine life could be followed and their locations patched into the international marine-traffic control system with a warning to stay away. Protected borders, coastlines, islands, and environmentally sensitive marine areas could be patrolled by drones programmed to photograph any interloping ships.” (Fisher, 2014, Wired)

What’s next for Saildrone? Jenkins and Owen hope to send the structure literally around the world. They have programmed it to travel about 25,000 miles around the South Pole and then in the direction of the equatorial Pacific. The engineers are constructing several more drones, now completely digital and constructionally perfected, to sail across oceans. Hopefully they will provide us with some valuable information about these bodies of water that we couldn’t know about without this technology.

Cleary Saildrone can offer the world a multitude of scientific and security uses; its potential is undeniable. Reaches of the world that are nearly invisible right now could be seen and researched, enabling the world to make infinite scientific advances. This article reminded me of our discussion about recent technology replacing humans. In the case of Saildrone, this is clearly not a danger to the world because people have never been physically able to travel to these places.

For research purposes I definitely support the use of drone technology, and Jenkins and Owens’ creation has provided a perfect example of the type of drone that can only be helpful to the world. I read another article, however, on other perspective uses of drone in mail delivery services for Amazon. USA Today reported in December that Amazon is gearing up to use small, unmanned drone aircrafts to deliver packages in a new program they will call “Prime Air.” The structures, called Octocopers,  would be programed to fly to their destination in 30 minutes or less.

It’s interesting that technologies like this are emerging, but I question whether or not this is a good thing. There’s nothing I like better than to receive my online orders quickly, but I would probably wonder how reliable and safe it is for automated machines to fly through the air delivering our packages. The Federal Aviation Administration would have to play a role in regulating the ways in which the drones operate, but even so I’m not sure how comfortable I am with this idea. The Amazon PrimeAir drone technology is several years away from being able to do this, but the company’s CEO swears that it will happen in the near future.

“Drones have mostly been used by the U.S. military to shoot missiles at enemy combatants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the cost of these unmanned aircraft has dropped precipitously in recent years, making them more accessible to commercial users, such as companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs.” (Barr, USAToday, 2013)

There are laws that the government has passed that do not allow for the free use and construction of drones throughout the US, but many people believe that within the next few years the FAA will begin to allow drones for commercial use. How do you feel about the recent accessibility of drones to businesses and researchers? I personally believe that there should be very strict regulations on the uses of drones; they should be employed for military and scientific purposes, not for entrepreneurs and small companies. The Amazon CEO claims that the company will have a plan for safety and take extreme caution with the aircrafts, but I still wonder how safe this is. And beyond that, do we need our packages delivered in 30 minutes while AmazonPrime offers next day and two day delivery? Is this what our world has come to? Also, PrimeAir could potentially eliminate the job’s of Amazon workers and pose a threat to FedEx and UPS, which Amazon currently relies on for ground shipments. So the way I see it, drones (which people assume are helping businesses) could potentially be detrimental to others.

These articles reminded me a little big of our discussions about high frequency trading and technology taking over the roles of humans. We’ve created technologies to do certain things for us, but now we’ve turned a corner where it appears to me that we have taken it too far. While the Saildrone seems to be a positive use for drones (doing what humans can’t do themselves), the invention of PrimeAir seems to be an excessive use of drone technology. There are many ways to look at this and its hard to saying we should stop using drones altogether because they can be useful in so many ways. I do wonder, though, if one day they’ll be used for everything humans do and could replace us in many areas. That’s a scary thought.

Articles:

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/02/saildrone/#slide-id-152781

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/12/01/amazon-bezos-drone-delivery/3799021/

 


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