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Inside Drones

Inside Drones (May 15th, 2019)

1. Researchers from multiple universities launched an effort to fly drones into supercell thunderstorms in the hope of improving storm forecasts. The goal of the TORUS project — Targeted Observation by Radars and UAS of Supercells — is to better understand supercells, or thunderstorms that spin, and the powerful tornadoes they produce. The project, which involves three universities and a storm laboratory, will cover a 367,000-square-mile area of the U.S. Great Plains, which is one reason it earned the title of "the most ambitious drone-based investigation of severe storms ever." - WAPO

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2. Pensa's AI-driven drone that can check a store's inventory will likely begin appearing in supermarkets later this year. The Washington Post reported that the Austin-based startup and data subscription service has already tested its drones in multiple retail outlets and plans to roll it out into select markets shortly. The company's autonomous drones can fly throughout a store or warehouse and collect data about their inventory, sending its findings to the cloud for further analysis. While the technology will vastly speed up the inventory-taking process, some online commenters noted its potential to take away jobs through automation and autonomous equipment. - WAPO

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3. Two Illinois residents developed a smart mailbox that acts as both a landing pad for drones and receptacle for packages. Valqari's Smart Drone Delivery Mailbox can begin signaling a delivery drone once it's within 100 feet of the landing pad; the mailbox then verifies the authentication numbers to open and accept the package, securing it from outside elements or theft. It can send notifications to shipping companies and recipients that the package was delivered. Co-founder Ryan Walsh said he and his partner noticed a gap in the market several years ago and immediately began applying for patents for the technology; they now have utility patents in 13 countries and territories including the U.S. and China. - NAPERVILLE SUN

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4. A project funded by the European Union would use AI-piloted drones to patrol Europe's borders. The project, called Roborder, envisions swarms of quadcopters that would communicate with each other and ground vehicles, submarines, and boats. The technology would have the capacity to identify people at the border and notify police if they are deemed a threat. While Roborder’s developers have sought to address ethical concerns, critics argue that the project could rely too much on A.I. to make life-or-death decisions. “It’s only a matter of time before a drone will be able to take action to stop people,” said Noel Sharkey, a professor of robotics and A.I. at the U.K.'s Sheffield University. - THE INTERCEPT

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5. Armed drones attacked a major oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia, leading to a spike in oil prices. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih called the airborne attacks on two oil pumping stations near Riyadh an "act of terrorism." Iran-allied Yemen Houthi rebels claimed to have launched seven drones against oil installations in the country. - CNBC

6. Lawmakers in Fort Wayne, Indiana approved an ordinance that requires drone pilots to notify the police before they fly during large public events or in the city's downtown. Those are the locations with "the highest public safety threat and risk to people," Fort Wayne Police Lt. Jonathan Bowers said. - THE JOURNAL GAZETTE

7. Researchers published a paper that describes how event cameras could benefit drones traveling at high speeds. Unlike traditional cameras, event cameras are very sensitive to motion and can respond to variations on a per-pixel basis in microseconds. Specifically, the researchers looked at how perception latency impacts the top speed at which a drone can travel while still being able to maneuver through obstacles. - IEEE SPECTRUM

8. The Phoenix endurance drone underwent a successful test flight in March. The drone, which is the first large variable-buoyancy-powered UAV, can be quickly deployed as a communications satellite. - ATI

9. A new report that predicts people's eating habits in the future envisions drones that would deliver “lab-grown” meat kits or food patches or pills to people at their doorsteps. - THE GUARDIAN

10. With DJI's Spark 2 due out as early as July, Drone DJ offered up some rumored specs. The publication believes the drone will have improved connectivity issues over the original Spark, along with 4K video at 30fps, increased video bitrate, and a flight time of 18 minutes instead of 16 minutes. - DRONE DJ

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Written and curated by Beth Duckett in Orange County. Beth is a former reporter for The Arizona Republic who has written for USA Today, Get Out magazine, and other publications. Follow her tweets about breaking news in southern California here.

Editing team: Kim Lyons (Pittsburgh-based journalist and managing editor at Inside); Susmita Baral (senior editor at Inside, who runs the biggest mac and cheese account on Instagram); and David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).

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