Tag Archives: flight

Hoverboard or Jet Pack With That Martini?

Personally, I’m still waiting for the advent of Star Trek-like teleportation to get me from point A to point B.

But, in the meantime, and Hyperloop notwithstanding, I’ll go for the hoverboard. It looks like a much more technically finessed product than James Bond’s jet pack.

Check out this Wired report on a recent record-setting hoverboard adventure around and over Saussett-Le-Pins, near Marseille, France.

Video: Franky Zapata set a new record for the farthest hoverboard flight. Courtesy: Guinness World Records.

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Nooooooooooooooooooo!

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently relaxed rules governing the use of electronics onboard aircraft. We can now use our growing collection of electronic gizmos during take-off and landing, not just during the cruise portion of the flight. But, during flight said gizmos still need to be set to “airplane mode” which shuts off a device’s wireless transceiver.

However, the FCC is considering relaxing the rule even further, allowing cell phone use during flight. Thus, many flyers will soon have yet another reason to hate airlines and hate flying. We’ll be able to add loud cell phone conversations to the lengthy list of aviation pain inducers: cramped seating, fidgety kids, screaming babies, business bores, snorers, Microsoft Powerpoint, body odor, non-existent or bad food, and worst of all travelers who still can’t figure out how to buckle the seat belt.

FCC, please don’t do it!

From WSJ:

If cellphone calling comes to airplanes, it is likely to be the last call for manners.

The prospect is still down the road a bit, and a good percentage of the population can be counted on to be polite. But etiquette experts who already are fuming over the proliferation of digital rudeness aren’t optimistic.

Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Massachusetts, says the biggest problem is forced proximity. It is hard to be discreet when just inches separate passengers. And it isn’t possible to escape.

“If I’m on an airplane, and my seatmate starts making a phone call, there’s not a lot of places I can go,” she says.

Should the Federal Communications Commission allow cellphone calls on airplanes above 10,000 feet, and if the airlines get on board, one solution would be to create yakking and non-yakking sections of aircraft, or designate flights for either the chatty or the taciturn, as airlines used to do for smoking.

Barring such plans, there are four things you should consider before placing a phone call on an airplane, Ms. Smith says:

• Will you disturb those around you?

• Will you be ignoring companions you should be paying attention to?

• Will you be discussing confidential topics?

• Is it an emergency?
The answer to the last question needs to be “Yes,” she says, and even then, make the call brief.

“I find that the vast majority of people will get it,” she says. “It’s just the few that don’t who will make life uncomfortable for the rest of us.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said last week that there is no technical reason to maintain what has been a long-standing ban.

Airlines are approaching the issue cautiously because many customers have expressed strong feelings against cellphone use.

“I believe fistfights at 39,000 feet would become common place,” says Alan Smith, a frequent flier from El Dorado Hills, Calif. “I would be terrified that some very large fellow, after a few drinks, would beat up a passenger annoying him by using the phone.”

Minneapolis etiquette consultant Gretchen Ditto says cellphone use likely will become commonplace on planes since our expectations have changed about when people should be reachable.

Passengers will feel obliged to answer calls, she says. “It’s going to become more prevalent for returning phone calls, and it’s going to be more annoying to everybody.”

Electronic devices are taking over our lives, says Arden Clise, an etiquette expert in Seattle. We text during romantic dinners, answer email during meetings and shop online during Thanksgiving. Making a call on a plane is only marginally more rude.

“Are we saying that our tools are more important than the people in front of us?” she asks. Even if you don’t know your in-flight neighbor, ask yourself, “Do I want to be that annoying person,” Ms. Clise says.

If airlines decide to allow calls, punching someone’s lights out clearly wouldn’t be the best way to get some peace, says New Jersey etiquette consultant Mary Harris. But tensions often run high during flights, and fights could happen.

If someone is bothering you with a phone call, Ms. Harris advises asking politely for the person to end the conversation.

If that doesn’t work, you’re stuck.

In-flight cellphone calls have been possible in Europe for several years. But U.K. etiquette expert William Hanson says they haven’t caught on.

If you need to make a call, he advises leaving your seat for the area near the lavatory or door. If it is night and the lights are dimmed, “you should not make a call at your seat,” he says.

Calls used to be possible on U.S. flights using Airfone units installed on the planes, but the technology never became popular. When people made calls, they were usually brief, in part because they cost $2 a minute, says Tony Lent, a telecommunication consultant in Detroit who worked on Airfone products in the 1980s.

The situation might be different today. “People were much more prudent about using their mobile phones,” Mr. Lent says. “Nowadays, those social mores are gone.”

Several years ago, when the government considered lifting its cellphone ban, U.S. Rep. Tom Petri co-sponsored the Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace Act of 2008. The bill would have allowed texting and other data applications but banned voice calls. He was motivated by “a sense of courtesy,” he says. The bill was never brought to a vote.

Mr. Petri says he will try again if the FCC allows calls this time around. What if his bill doesn’t pass? “I suppose you can get earplugs,” he says.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Smartphone user. Courtesy of CNN / Money.

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The Police Drones Next Door

You might expect to find police drones in the pages of a science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick or Iain M. Banks. But by 2015, citizens of the United States may well see these unmanned flying machines patrolling the skies over the homeland. The U.S. government recently pledged to loosen Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions that would allow local law enforcement agencies to use drones in just a few short years. So, soon the least of your worries will be traffic signal cameras and the local police officer armed with a radar gun. Our home-grown drones are likely to be deployed first for surveillance. But, undoubtedly armaments will follow. Hellfire missiles over Helena, Montana anyone?

From National Geographic:

At the edge of a stubbly, dried-out alfalfa field outside Grand Junction, Colorado, Deputy Sheriff Derek Johnson, a stocky young man with a buzz cut, squints at a speck crawling across the brilliant, hazy sky. It’s not a vulture or crow but a Falcon—a new brand of unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, and Johnson is flying it. The sheriff ’s office here in Mesa County, a plateau of farms and ranches corralled by bone-hued mountains, is weighing the Falcon’s potential for spotting lost hikers and criminals on the lam. A laptop on a table in front of Johnson shows the drone’s flickering images of a nearby highway.

Standing behind Johnson, watching him watch the Falcon, is its designer, Chris Miser. Rock-jawed, arms crossed, sunglasses pushed atop his shaved head, Miser is a former Air Force captain who worked on military drones before quitting in 2007 to found his own company in Aurora, Colorado. The Falcon has an eight-foot wingspan but weighs just 9.5 pounds. Powered by an electric motor, it carries two swiveling cameras, visible and infrared, and a GPS-guided autopilot. Sophisticated enough that it can’t be exported without a U.S. government license, the Falcon is roughly comparable, Miser says, to the Raven, a hand-launched military drone—but much cheaper. He plans to sell two drones and support equipment for about the price of a squad car.

A law signed by President Barack Obama in February 2012 directs the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to throw American airspace wide open to drones by September 30, 2015. But for now Mesa County, with its empty skies, is one of only a few jurisdictions with an FAA permit to fly one. The sheriff ’s office has a three-foot-wide helicopter drone called a Draganflyer, which stays aloft for just 20 minutes.

The Falcon can fly for an hour, and it’s easy to operate. “You just put in the coordinates, and it flies itself,” says Benjamin Miller, who manages the unmanned aircraft program for the sheriff ’s office. To navigate, Johnson types the desired altitude and airspeed into the laptop and clicks targets on a digital map; the autopilot does the rest. To launch the Falcon, you simply hurl it into the air. An accelerometer switches on the propeller only after the bird has taken flight, so it won’t slice the hand that launches it.

The stench from a nearby chicken-processing plant wafts over the alfalfa field. “Let’s go ahead and tell it to land,” Miser says to Johnson. After the deputy sheriff clicks on the laptop, the Falcon swoops lower, releases a neon orange parachute, and drifts gently to the ground, just yards from the spot Johnson clicked on. “The Raven can’t do that,” Miser says proudly.

Offspring of 9/11

A dozen years ago only two communities cared much about drones. One was hobbyists who flew radio-controlled planes and choppers for fun. The other was the military, which carried out surveillance missions with unmanned aircraft like the General Atomics Predator.

Then came 9/11, followed by the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and drones rapidly became an essential tool of the U.S. armed forces. The Pentagon armed the Predator and a larger unmanned surveillance plane, the Reaper, with missiles, so that their operators—sitting in offices in places like Nevada or New York—could destroy as well as spy on targets thousands of miles away. Aerospace firms churned out a host of smaller drones with increasingly clever computer chips and keen sensors—cameras but also instruments that measure airborne chemicals, pathogens, radioactive materials.

The U.S. has deployed more than 11,000 military drones, up from fewer than 200 in 2002. They carry out a wide variety of missions while saving money and American lives. Within a generation they could replace most manned military aircraft, says John Pike, a defense expert at the think tank GlobalSecurity.org. Pike suspects that the F-35 Lightning II, now under development by Lockheed Martin, might be “the last fighter with an ejector seat, and might get converted into a drone itself.”

At least 50 other countries have drones, and some, notably China, Israel, and Iran, have their own manufacturers. Aviation firms—as well as university and government researchers—are designing a flock of next-generation aircraft, ranging in size from robotic moths and hummingbirds to Boeing’s Phantom Eye, a hydrogen-fueled behemoth with a 150-foot wingspan that can cruise at 65,000 feet for up to four days.

More than a thousand companies, from tiny start-ups like Miser’s to major defense contractors, are now in the drone business—and some are trying to steer drones into the civilian world. Predators already help Customs and Border Protection agents spot smugglers and illegal immigrants sneaking into the U.S. NASA-operated Global Hawks record atmospheric data and peer into hurricanes. Drones have helped scientists gather data on volcanoes in Costa Rica, archaeological sites in Russia and Peru, and flooding in North Dakota.

So far only a dozen police departments, including ones in Miami and Seattle, have applied to the FAA for permits to fly drones. But drone advocates—who generally prefer the term UAV, for unmanned aerial vehicle—say all 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are potential customers. They hope UAVs will soon become essential too for agriculture (checking and spraying crops, finding lost cattle), journalism (scoping out public events or celebrity backyards), weather forecasting, traffic control. “The sky’s the limit, pun intended,” says Bill Borgia, an engineer at Lockheed Martin. “Once we get UAVs in the hands of potential users, they’ll think of lots of cool applications.”

The biggest obstacle, advocates say, is current FAA rules, which tightly restrict drone flights by private companies and government agencies (though not by individual hobbyists). Even with an FAA permit, operators can’t fly UAVs above 400 feet or near airports or other zones with heavy air traffic, and they must maintain visual contact with the drones. All that may change, though, under the new law, which requires the FAA to allow the “safe integration” of UAVs into U.S. airspace.

If the FAA relaxes its rules, says Mark Brown, the civilian market for drones—and especially small, low-cost, tactical drones—could soon dwarf military sales, which in 2011 totaled more than three billion dollars. Brown, a former astronaut who is now an aerospace consultant in Dayton, Ohio, helps bring drone manufacturers and potential customers together. The success of military UAVs, he contends, has created “an appetite for more, more, more!” Brown’s PowerPoint presentation is called “On the Threshold of a Dream.”

Read the entire article following the jump.

Image: Unmanned drone used to patrol the U.S.-Canadian border. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/AP).

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