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UK to give police new powers to ground drones

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The UK government has announced it will introduce draft legislation in the spring aimed at preventing unsafe or criminal use of drones.

Last year it ran a public consultation that recommended addressing safety, security and privacy challenges around drone technology.

Among the measures planned for the forthcoming Drone Bill plus secondary legislation amendments the government has planned are new powers for police to order an operator to ground a drone if it’s deemed necessary.

Police will also be able to seize drone parts to prove it has been used to commit a criminal offense, the government said yesterday.

It had already announced its intention to set out a registration plan for drones weighting 250 grams or more. Yesterday it reiterated that the incoming legislative changes will mean drone owners are required to register their devices.

They will also have to sit safety awareness tests, as well as being required to use certain apps — “so they can access the information needed to make sure any planned flight can be made safely and legally”.

In a statement, aviation minister Baroness Sugg said: “Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops. But if we are to realize the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns.”

“Do not take this lightly — if you use a drone to invade people’s privacy or engage in disruptive behaviour, you could face serious criminal charges,” added assistant chief constable Serena Kennedy, the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Criminal Misuse of Drones, in another supporting statement.

While the UK currently has a Drone Code intended to encourage drone operators to fly safely and responsibly, there have still been multiple reports of near misses between drones and aircraft — and the government clearly feels the code needs to be backed up by new laws and powers.

Yesterday it said it is considering whether to ban drones from flying near airports or above 400 feet — noting these measures could form part of the new regulations.

Safety research it published this summer found that drones weighing 400 grams or more can damage the windscreens of helicopters.

It added that it is also continuing to work “closely” with drone manufacturers to use geofencing technology to prevent drones from entering restricted zones — such as military sites.

Another problematic use of drone tech that has emerged is for smuggling contraband over prison walls. Although it’s not yet clear whether the government wants prisons tp be included in the ‘no fly zones’ manufacturers bake into devices.

“These new laws strike a balance, to allow the vast majority of drone users to continue flying safely and responsibly, while also paving the way for drone technology to revolutionise businesses and public services,” added Sugg.

Also commenting in a statement, Tim Johnson, policy director at the Civil Aviation Authority, said: “Drones can bring economic and workplace safety benefits but to achieve those we need everyone flying a drone now to do so safely. We welcome plans to increase drone operator training, safety awareness and the creation of no-fly zones.”

At the same time as announcing incoming drone regulations draft, the government revealed it’s funding a drone innovation project which launches today — inviting UK cities to get involved in R&D focused on using the tech to transform critical services, such as emergency health services and organ transport, essential infrastructure assessment and repair, and parcel delivery and logistics.

Up to five cities will be able to gain government support for carrying out some drone R&D as part of what it’s dubbed The Flying High Challenge.

The project is being run by Nesta in partnership with the Innovate UK government agency.

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‘Substitute Phone’ artfully satisfies your compulsion to swipe and scroll

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Smartphones are inarguably an addictive class of devices, and not just because they put an endless font of information at your fingertips. The very experience of holding the phone and touching it is itself associated with that pleasure — so much so that you might wish you were doing it even when you don’t want to actually use the phone. That’s when you need one of Klemens Schillinger’s “Substitute Phones.”

The devices, if you can really call them that, are inert pieces of heavy, high-quality plastic in which are embedded stone beads that let you run your fingers along them to simulate various gestures. The beads roll in place, giving a similar frictionless feel but (I presume) also a pleasant little finger massage.

Whether you’re a compulsive swiper, scroller, or zoomer, there’s a model just for you.

“The object, which some of us describe as a prosthesis, is reduced to nothing but the motions,” explains Schillinger’s description of the… object. “This calming limitation offers help for smartphone addicts to cope with withdrawal symptoms. The object as a therapeutic approach.”

Speaking to Dezeen, Schillinger added that he was inspired not only by the disturbing frequency with which he and others tend to consult their smart devices (and for no particular reason, usually), but also the writer Umberto Eco, who when attempting to stop smoking his pipe, substituted a simple stick.

“It was the same thing,” he said, “but without the nicotine, just the physical stimulation. I remembered this and thought to make phones that would provide the physical stimulation but not the connectivity.

The Substitute Phone is the second in a series Schillinger is working on relating to our relationships with our devices. The first is the Offline Lamp, which only turns on when you put a smartphone-size object inside its drawer. Both were created for Vienna’s Design Week earlier this year.

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Let’s talk about commercial drones at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin

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Everyone loves drones, including companies with very specific needs. Drones once were the hot new thing and the perfect birthday gift. But drone makers are now realizing that there’s a bigger opportunity with commercial use cases, from farming to inspection. That’s why we’re excited to announce that three founders of three amazing companies in the drone industry will join us on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin on December 4-5, 2017.

As we already announced, Henri Seydoux from Parrot is going to tell us about his company’s shift. Parrot has been a pioneer in the drone industry. The company took advantage of the accelerometers, gyroscopes, wireless chips and energy-efficient processors that you can find in smartphones to power tiny quadcopters.

But Parrot has also made multiple acquisitions for its commercial drone division. SenseFly, Airinov, MicaSense and Pix4D are now all owned by Parrot. The French company also owns multiple patents on drone technologies and sells integrated software and hardware solutions for firefighters, farmers and more.

Second, James Harrison from Sky-Futures has been building software solutions for drone inspections. The company first focused on the oil and gas industry. When you think about it, it’s so much easier to fly a drone around an offshore oil drilling platform to see if everything works fine.

Other industries also have a hard time keeping an eye on inaccessible sites. If you’re maintaining bridges, keeping an eye on wind turbines or overseeing construction sites, drones can be much cheaper than human inspection. Sky-Futures lets you record, log and share all your observations.

Finally, Clément Christomanos from Uavia has been working on remote aerial inspection. If you’ve ever played with a drone, you know that they have limited battery life and that you need to stay in range.

Uavia thinks this can be an issue if you need to inspect multiple sites around the country. You either need to train people on the ground or send drone pilots. With Uavia, you can control a drone thousands of miles away from your web browser.

Drones receive instructions from traditional cell towers and then go back to charging stations when they’re done. This can replace or supplement surveillance cameras in sensitive areas.

All those use cases are just the tip of the iceberg. Goldman Sachs recently shared a report on commercial drones. There are more than a dozen industries that could greatly benefit from using drones.

Get your Disrupt tickets right now to see the founders of Parrot, Sky-Futures and Uavia tell you everything about the future of drones. You’ll also see the Startup Battlefield competition, in which a handful of startups pitch our judges with the hopes of winning the coveted Disrupt Cup and a cash prize.

You’ll get to chat with plenty of promising startups in Startup Alley, see amazing talks on the main stage, and unwind after a long day at the show with a cocktail and some new friends at the Disrupt after party.

Do you run a startup? The Startup Alley Exhibitor Package is your best bet to get the greatest exposure by exhibiting your company or product directly on the Disrupt Berlin show floor.

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