Former NASA engineer Mark Moore will now be working on Uber's flying car project, Uber Elevate. SAN FRANCISCO -- George Jetson, your ride is on its way. Uber has just hired a NASA expert to build out its vision for flying cars Monday. Mark Moore, a 30-year veteran of the space agency with expertise in using electric motors to get a vehicle airborne, will help the ride-hailing giant execute on an expansive white paper it released last fall on developing VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicles. "Uber continues to see its role as a catalyst to the growing developing VTOL ecosystem," Nikhil Goel, Uber's head of product for advanced programs, said in a statement.
Drone use across the U.S. is soaring, and the skies may soon get even more crowded, as the Federal Aviation Administration expects sales of these unmanned aerial vehicles to jump to seven million in 2020 from about 2.5 million this year. Interest in drones for both commercial and casual purposes is raising not only safety and privacy concerns, but also thorny legal questions about where and when drones should be allowed to fly--and who gets to decide. On one side are those who say property owners' rights generally extend up about 500 feet, which gives them the right to prevent drones from flying or hovering over their land. They say drones pose a much bigger threat to security and privacy than jets and airplanes, which travel at higher altitudes, in airspace regulated by the FAA. They say drones represent the next frontier in aviation, and as such, decisions about where and when they can fly should be made collectively, not by landowners through tort law.
Some judges might think you're allowed to shoot down drones that encroach on your turf, but don't tell that to the Federal Aviation Administration. In response to Forbes' questions, the agency says that shooting down a drone is a federal crime. You're still damaging an aircraft, according to the FAA -- it's just that this one doesn't have a pilot onboard. You could face up to 20 years in prison as a result, which is bound to make you think twice about blasting that drone peeping at your backyard.
New rules governing the operation of drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) as they are formally called, in United States airspace came into effect Monday. Called Small UAS Rule (Part 107), they were finalized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in June and cover operating rules for drones as well as regulations for their pilots, and apply to drones flown for both business and pleasure. Drones have been flying around even before Part 107 came into effect, with about 3,000 exemptions already handed out to businesses, but the new rules simplify the process of flying UAS legally. If your UAS weighs under 0.55 pounds or if you are flying it indoors only, you don't require any registration. If your drone is under 55 pounds in weight and you don't fly it at night or above 400 feet and you always keep it within line of sight, you have it simple.
A very, very small quadcopter, one inch in diameter can carry a one- or two-gram shaped charge. You can order them from a drone manufacturer in China. You can program the code to say: "Here are thousands of photographs of the kinds of things I want to target." A one-gram shaped charge can punch a hole in nine millimeters of steel, so presumably you can also punch a hole in someone's head. You can fit about three million of those in a semi-tractor-trailer. You can drive up I-95 with three trucks and have 10 million weapons attacking New York City. They don't have to be very effective, only 5 or 10% of them have to find the target. There will be manufacturers producing millions of these weapons that people will be able to buy just like you can buy guns now, except millions of guns don't matter unless you have a million soldiers. You need only three guys to write the program and launch them. So you can just imagine that in many parts of the world humans will be hunted. They will be cowering underground in shelters and devising techniques so that they don't get detected. This is the ever-present cloud of lethal autonomous weapons. Mary Wareham laughs a lot. It usually sounds the same regardless of the circumstance -- like a mirthful giggle the blonde New Zealander can't suppress -- but it bubbles up at the most varied moments. Wareham laughs when things are funny, she laughs when things are awkward, she laughs when she disagrees with you. And she laughs when things are truly unpleasant, like when you're talking to her about how humanity might soon be annihilated by killer robots and the world is doing nothing to stop it. One afternoon this spring at the United Nations in Geneva, I sat behind Wareham in a large wood-paneled, beige-carpeted assembly room that hosted the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a group of 121 countries that have signed the agreement to restrict weapons that "are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately"-- in other words, weapons humanity deems too cruel to use in war. The UN moves at a glacial pace, but the CCW is even worse.