Courtesy JACK SMITH IV, BetaBeat.com
Hexacopter-style drones are known for delivering flowers, beer, and, in Jeff Bezos’s dreams if nowhere else, delivering your latest Amazon Prime order. Well, now a drone named CUPID is delivering 80,000 volts through an on-board stun gun.
For one of the more theatrical presentations at SXSW this weekend, software developer Chaotic Moon Studios gave a live demonstration of how its flying drone CUPID handles unwelcome house guests. They did this by tasing their intern.
The powerful, Taser-equipped drone isn’t going to be offered in stores any time soon. It’s part of a series that William “Whurley” Hurley, Chaotic Moon’s CIO, hopes will get people thinking about the social impact of tech developments.
“The things we thought were science fiction aren’t anymore,” Mr. Hurley said, “This conversation isn’t just between innovators, entrepreneurs, legislators – we’re trying to bring the discussion beyond our peers in technology to the people this technology will affect.”
The demonstration was of a hypothetical home-intruder scenario. CUPID can be programmed to sense unfamiliar trespassers when a set boundary line is crossed. It activates itself, takes off, and sends a notification to your phone so that you can view via remote video who the drone is seeing. You then cue CUPID to “authorize” or “detain” the intruder.
The ominous “detain” option causes CUPID to fire barbed prongs, pumping the target with “80,000 volts of awesomeness,” and can keep the electrical current running until the police arrive. The stun gun fries all electronics within a 5 foot radius, save for CUPID’s carefully protected components, of course.
The drone (seen above tasing Jackson the Intern) is built from a commercially available tarot hexacopter, and the drone can be piloted remotely, or can perform its duties on fully automatic mode.
This is where things get legally troublesome. With little-to-no precedent for automatic attack robots, legality is dubious. For the demonstration, Chaotic Moon’s legal team worked with local law enforcement and military to create the most safe testing environment possible, including a team of seven operators (the founder, the range master, the pilot, someone to load the charge, someone to fire it, and two layers of override). They decided fully automatic mode was off-limits for human testing, though Chaotic Moon insists that CUPID is quite capable of going solo.
CUPID’s implications are far-reaching. Such small, armed drones could be used for law enforcement to keep officers out of harm’s way or to automate basic patrol patterns — but it’s not hard to imagine how an airborne Taser could be abused. Similar technology also might be used to bring broadband networks into developing countries thanks to big investments by Facebook.
There’s no indication from Chaotic Moon or other developers that home defense technology like CUPID would be available for purchase or use any time soon, but Mr. Hurley is uncomfortable with the possibilities. “Usually when we finish a project with Chaotic Moon, we’ll open source the project for everyone’s use,” said Mr. Hurley. But not this time.
“Now we’re going to kill it.”
Courtesy Joshua Foust, DefenseOne.com
Scientists, engineers and policymakers are all figuring out ways drones can be used better and more smartly, more precise and less damaging to civilians, with longer range and better staying power. One method under development is by increasing autonomy on the drone itself.
Eventually, drones may have the technical ability to make even lethal decisions autonomously: to respond to a programmed set of inputs, select a target and fire their weapons without a human reviewing or checking the result. Yet the idea of the U.S. military deploying a lethal autonomous robot, or LAR, is sparking controversy. Though autonomy might address some of the current downsides of how drones are used, they introduce new downsides policymakers are only just learning to grapple with.
The basic conceit behind a LAR is that it can outperform and outthink a human operator. "If a drone’s system is sophisticated enough, it could be less emotional, more selective and able to provide force in a way that achieves a tactical objective with the least harm," said Purdue University Professor Samuel Liles. "A lethal autonomous robot can aim better, target better, select better, and in general be a better asset with the linked ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] packages it can run."
Courtesy Colin Lecher, PopSci
Predator Drone US Air Force
The U.S. government, understandably, doesn’t want its drone technology to fall out of the sky and into other peoples’ laps. But being able to hijack a drone and control it? That’s even worse. And a team of researchers has done it for 1,000 bucks.
The University of Texas at Austin team successfully nabbed the drone on a dare from the Department of Homeland Security. They managed to do it through spoofing, a technique where a signal from hackers pretends to be the same as one sent to the drone’s GPS.
We’ve seen spoofing before; it was reportedly used to bring down the drone that crashed in Iran last year. As the researchers point out, we’ll be seeing (or maybe not seeing) more and more drones in the skies as the technology becomes more widely used, so making this technique ineffective will be high on Homeland Security’s priority list.
Innovation in newspaper delivery techniques hasn’t really seemed like a priority in awhile because of the whole death of print thing and whatever. But since drones categorically improve all situations, a local French postal service is turning paper routes into air routes.
The postal service "La Poste Groupe" is using Auvergne, France as a test province for a new drone delivery program that will employ Parrot quadricopters to deliver local papers. Tests officially begin in May and will consist of 20 drones being controlled by 20 postal workers from iOS or Android devices. The goal is for the system to be ready for 7am deliveries.
The program faces problems with battery life and range, because the quadricopters only have a range of about 164 feet and 30 minutes of flight time. No word on whether privacy concerns are being viewed as…a concern. [La Poste via VentureBeat]
Courtesy Mother Jones
If you’re a hacker living in your mom’s basement causing trouble for a world power, can NATO call in an air strike to put a stop to your cybermischief?
That was one question raised this month with the release of the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, a NATO-commissioned handbook that could be the first step toward codifying the rules under which NATO members will wage cyberwarfare in future conflicts. The project had the input of the International Committee of the Red Cross and US Cyber Command.
The Tallinn Manual is not NATO doctrine; it is the result of a three-year project funded by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence and conducted by 20 legal experts working in a private capacity. The document could very well influence future rules of engagement for NATO and governments around the world. But for now, it’s a scholarly endeavor; a follow-up three-year project, which digs even deeper into questions pertaining to cyberoperations and state responses, is in the works.
When details of the manual were first reported in the Guardian last week, the rule was widely interpreted as NATO declaring war on hackers and civilian hacktivists. But in terms of wartime precedent, there’s nothing unique about NATO’s "Rule 29"; civilians who directly participate in hostilities have long been deemed legitimate battlefield targets. So of course the same principle would apply to a hacker in an armed conflict, if the hacker’s actions rose to the level of violence. "If someone is causing planes to crash [in a war] using a computer, it’s not really all that different if they’re using a computer rather than some other tool," Julian Sanchez, a Cato Institute research fellow specializing in technology and civil liberties issues, says. "So, sure; go after Alan Cumming," referring to the actor’s character Boris Grishenko, a backstabbing and chauvinist computer programmer targeted by James Bond and the CIA in Goldeneye.
Despite the fairly mundane nature of the rule, Michael Schmitt, chairman of the international law department at the US Naval War College and director of the project that produced the Tallinn Manual, has been flooded with questions about whether NATO is now allowed to send drones to take out Anonymous hackers who they find annoying. "Frankly, I was surprised that part even caught anyone’s attention," Schmitt tells me. "It’s been generating a lot of blowback. But I can assure you NATO is not going to launch jets to hunt down Anonymous members tomorrow. An unexceptional statement has been taken out of context in rather dramatic ways."
Many of these rules would come in handy in a wartime scenario in which Live Free or Die Hard is happening in real life.
The main reason your average hacker doesn’t need to worry about getting blown up by NATO anytime soon is because the Tallinn Manual (which, again, is not official NATO doctrine) is relevant only to (a) an armed conflict or declared war between two states or (b) a civil war within a state. Rule 29 from the 282-page manual (which you can read here for free) addresses a scenario in which a civilian hacker starts working with one side of a conflict to, for instance, execute operations via cyberspace that would hack into enemy intelligence networks, disable command and control electronics, hinder combat capabilities, or harm or kill civilians. This establishes a high bar for what a hacker has to do to trigger an armed response from NATO commanders. And despite much recent hype about cyberwarfare from state actors (China, North Korea, Iran, Israel, etc.) and the growing costs of cybercrime, much of this NATO-commissioned handbook focuses on the abstract, simply because the realm of modern cyberwarfare is relatively new and has yet to be deeply explored. Many of these rules would come in handy in a wartime scenario in which Live Free or Die Hard is happening in real life.
"Cyberwarfare in the future will become a prominent part of the battlefield when prominent countries come to blows," says Martin Libicki, an expert in cyberwar and senior management scientist at the RAND Corporation. "But for now, at least, you don’t just automatically send your drone in after hackers. That’s not the way it works. The worst people like Anonymous are doing nowadays is weapons of mass annoyance."
There’s a real-world test case for this. In the summer of 2011, individuals identifying themselves as Anonymous claimed to have hacked NATO’s website, perhaps as indirect reprisal for the FBI’s arrest of over a dozen alleged hackers. Under current NATO structure, as well as recommendations made in the Tallinn Manual, such a breach would absolutely not warrant violent retribution. "Can you imagine Luxembourg, Estonia, the United States, France, and Spain, getting together and agreeing through the process that NATO demands, and going to the North Atlantic Council, and deciding to drop a bomb on some ordinary hacker?" Schmitt says, with a hint of irritation. "Are you kidding me?"
However, this is where the hypotheticals get a bit muddled. Suppose a civilian hacker who has taken sides in an armed conflict is waging cyberwar remotely from a neutral country. Suppose a terrorist used his or her MacBook Pro to sabotage a major city’s traffic lights in a time of peace, resulting in mass carnage? When discussing such hypotheticals, experts often point to analogous situations such as the bin Laden raid or modern drone warfare. But this is still all uncharted territory. "The real problem here is not whether the basic rules of war should apply when cyberspace is involved; the real problem here is that the rules of war have, for the most part, a long traditional of being defined through kinetic warfare and physical conflict," Sanchez says. "But we’ve found that in some cases when we’ve tried to apply the laws and rules of war to cyberspace, that translation is not always so obvious."
But as for the conspiracy theories sprouting up regarding the recently published Tallinn Manual, the situation isn’t murky. "If somebody defaces my or NATO’s desktop, that’s hardly direct participation in armed conflict, and NATO would not be allowed to resort to armed force," Schmitt says. "It would make great TV, though—pure Hollywood."
NATO did not respond to requests for comment, which I can only assume indicates they have already sent a drone to vaporize my laptop.