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Google Privacy The Internet Technology

Google Testing an Airborne Camera Drone 182

Posted by kdawson
from the watching-over-us dept.
mbone writes "The Blogoscoped site carries news that Google has purchased a German 'Microdrone' for evaluation (here is the original German version). These devices can take off, fly a mission, and land automatically using GPS. They can carry night-vision cameras or even 'see-through-walls' Far IR cameras. Of course, the maker of these drones assures us that they cannot be a 'Big Brother in the sky' because that is 'verboten.' Is it just me, or is Google entering dangerous airspace here? It seems like the ruckus from a backyard-after-dark addition to Street View could completely overshadow the legal tussles Google has already encountered with its street-level photography." Reader Jaymi clues us to another airborne effort a couple of Google employees are mounting with some help from NASA Ames: the NexusOne PhoneSat project — to determine if low-cost mobile phone components can withstand space travel.
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Google Testing an Airborne Camera Drone

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  • Privacy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by supertrinko (1396985) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:19PM (#33183166)
    As long as the only pictures they take are legal ones from public places (including airspace), I don't have a problem.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jmanamj (1077749)
      Personally, I think it makes total sense for Google to consider a fleet of small, cheap, stable camera platforms that can take detailed pictures of an area and update the Google maps service. Consider how helpful it would be if they were sent out weekly to major construction zones along rodes that cause all sorts of detours and traffic issues, so when you check a route on Google maps you wont be told to take non-existing or unaccessible roads/offramps/turns/etc.
      • Re:Privacy (Score:4, Insightful)

        by supertrinko (1396985) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:33PM (#33183290)
        There is only a need to update the pictures of places that are changing, like your example of a construction site. Constant picture taking of the average persons property is considered harassment.
        • by tsm_sf (545316)
          Constant picture taking of the average persons property is considered harassment.

          This happens all the time anyhow. I'm not certain that actually knowing about it and having access to those images makes it worse. You could argue that the ubiquitous public availability in itself is a bad thing, but I don't think I'm alone in saying that I trust my "neighbor" more than I trust law enforcement or shadowy military organizations.

          But then I'm not claiming that my housing development is still farmland.
      • by WED Fan (911325)
        Cool, my new arduino controlled anti-drone system will get a work-out. O.k., I designed it for crows and animals feeding on my garden, but now I'm going to for really cool surface-to-air tech.
      • by nmos (25822)

        IMHO Cars make a lot more sense for the sorts of places that Google already photographs. Remember they'd still have to send a car out to the general area to operate this thing. The best use for this would likely be places that aren't located along roads.

      1. Think about when only the government had high resolution satilites.
      2. Then think about the services you gained access to when non-government groups got access to the same technology.
      3. Now think of the abuses of power and privacy that the government has used their satellites for over the years.
      4. Now think about the abuses of power and privacy that non-government groups committed who later got access to the same technology.
      5. It seems, to me at least, that the services we received were far greater and the abuses f
    • As long as the only pictures they take are legal ones from public places (including airspace), I don't have a problem.

      It's always heartwarming to see people conflate the unrelated concepts of "legal" and "ethical."

    • Backyard party (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @06:24PM (#33184068) Homepage Journal

      So you don't have a problem with them taking a picture of your backyard party and posting it if you have a privacy fence so its not visible from the street?

      I have a problem with it, and yes i realize its 'air space' but they are crossing a moral line if they start doing that.

  • Can... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Cap'nPedro (987782) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:20PM (#33183174)

    They can carry spy-o-scopes, but that doesn't mean they will.

    In fact, they aren't even mentioned in either linked article as far as I can see.

  • by qpawn (1507885) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:20PM (#33183178)

    It sees you when you're sleeping, it knows when you're awake, it knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)

      It sees you when you're sleeping, it knows when you're awake, it knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.

      So you're saying that Santa Claus is real? That Google is Santa Claus?

      This could get complicated.

      • That Google is Santa Claus?

        Well, both Google and Santa Claus give out all kinds of free goodies, so it's possible. Besides, Santa's been in beta for a while now.

  • Pull! (Score:5, Funny)

    by spywhere (824072) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:23PM (#33183196)
    If I see it above my street, I'll put up a cloud of birdshot...
  • by wagnerrp (1305589) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:28PM (#33183254)
    I don't see how these would be any different than their existing aerial photography. All of the high resolution stuff they have is from planes with cameras at a few thousand feet. I'm guessing they want to integrate this into their existing street view runs. As the van drives around, they launch one or more of these up to refresh their overhead images. After 45 minutes or so, they run low on battery, and fly back to the van for replacement and download. You make the route planning automated, the drivers spend a couple minutes every hour doing maintenance, and now everything Google uses is owned by them rather than licensed from some 3rd party.
    • by garcia (6573) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:45PM (#33183366)

      I don't see how these would be any different than their existing aerial photography. All of the high resolution stuff they have is from planes with cameras at a few thousand feet.

      Their's, not their competitions' who use aerial photographs from about 100m to do "Bird's Eye View". It's much better than Google's and I find myself using Bing's maps more and more. Perhaps this is so that they can do the same sort of thing w/o having to outfit a Cessna.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sznupi (719324)

      Yeah, nice quality (but not "too good" - such drones can't carry really good photographic gear, for starters) aerial photos, frequently updated, lower cost, lesser risk than sending small airplanes for similar shots & in the same places & as frequently; perhaps also a nice way to obtain textures for Google Earth - what's not to like?

      Not everything needs to be about 1984; especially since such photos were already being made. Now they can show more places, and be more current, something which people c

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by phantomfive (622387)
      I can't wait until the day Americans wake up and decide not to be manipulated by outrage anymore. We can face our problems calmly and rationally and actually get them fixed, instead of getting outraged and emotional and doing nothing but giving ad revenue to the people who are trying to manipulate us.

      People will get tired of outrage eventually, right?
      • by nigelo (30096)

        I think the majority of right-thinking people are sick and tired of being told that the majority of right-thinking people are sick and tired.

        I certainly am not. And I'm sick and tired of being told that I am.

  • Please amend "Do No Evil" to read "You'd better 'Do No Evil' or we'll get you!"
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:30PM (#33183268)

    Can't you just place a robots.txt file on your property to tell the GoogleDrone not to index it?

  • One? I expect very high resolution aerial views of the Googleplex office compound then.

  • Can != will (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:31PM (#33183276)
    Yes, the drones can carry long wavelength cameras to see through walls. They could also carry nuclear weapons. Irrational paranoia aside, Google is probably just trying to compete with Bing's Birds-Eye map capabilities.
    • by Suki I (1546431)

      Yes, the drones can carry long wavelength cameras to see through walls. They could also carry nuclear weapons. Irrational paranoia aside, Google is probably just trying to compete with Bing's Birds-Eye map capabilities.

      Irrational paranoia? Who have you been talking to!

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      You're telling me they could also carry nuclear weapons?! Run for your life!

    • by Raenex (947668)

      They could also carry nuclear weapons.

      Rubbish. They carry giant magnifying glasses so they can burn you like ants.

  • by interfecio (1023595) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:41PM (#33183344)
    ...more efficient, and faster to get up to date imagery for maps than to wait and pay for satellite imagery. Military has these planes that fly by themselves to take pictures to update maps. This looks like it's just the civilian sector following lead. I can only imagine that aligning and presenting imagery data from an aircraft is a lot easier and requires less compute/man hours than satellite imagery. Especially if the need is only for new imagery of a small area.
    • actually a fair amount of the imagery comes from aircraft already - it would be hard to believe that the soda straw view provided by this little drone could be cost effective - the coverage rate is so low you'd need thousands of them to get the equivalent coverage of an aircraft

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cheater512 (783349)

        Those microdrones can fly at ridiculous heights.

        For all intents and purposes they are a plane. Just slower, more stable and easier to set up and use.

        • by multi io (640409)
          They must be much less fuel/energy efficient than a real (RC) plane though. These things would have to use their engines all the time just to stay aloft, while an RC plane can essentially glide and use the engines mostly for forward propulsion. A plane can't stop or fly very slowly, so it would be harder to obtain very detailed photographs, but it could probably cover five times the area with the same amount of energy.
          • Granted, but the requirement for a runway makes city use tricky.

            Also a plane big enough to carry a good quality camera with enough battery power for a decent run would be quite dangerous in suburbia in a crash. These drones however would just drop straight down if there was a problem with minimal chance of hitting anyone.

            • by delinear (991444)
              Not sure about the minimal chance of hitting anyone part given that they're likely to be flying over the most populated areas - but maybe some kind of parachute that auto-deploys when the engine dies would minimise danger?
    • I can only imagine that aligning and presenting imagery data from an aircraft is a lot easier and requires less compute/man hours than satellite imagery.

      Since they're exactly the same job - no, I see no reason why there should be any significant difference in the work involved.

      Especially if the need is only for new imagery of a small area.

      True of *one* small area. Multiply that by the (tens of?) thousands of changes annually in the US alone...

  • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @04:48PM (#33183388)

    In fact, there are several. Aside from an RC plane of some sort, all you need is about $100 in parts and some electronics know-how to build your own (basic) UAV.

    Of course, it won't be as sophisticated as a multi-million dollar micro-UAV or one of the Air Force's Predator drones, but medium range (several miles) surveillance, automated take-offs and landings, GPS waypoint tracking, infrared cameras, etc. are not outside the realm of the hobbyist.

    Check out http://www.diydrones.com/ [diydrones.com] to see what I mean.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hkz (1266066)

      In fact, some Dutch OpenStreetMap people are working on their own UAV, also with mapping in mind:

      http://blog.opengeo.nl/ [opengeo.nl]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by deapbluesea (1842210)

      Aside from an RC plane of some sort, all you need is about $100 in parts and some electronics know-how to build your own (basic) UAV.

      While the FAA has recognized that most of these toy UAVs still qualify as RC aircraft (as long as they stay below 400 and fly within line of sight), it is illegal in the United States for a corporation or government entity to purchase or build a UAV for commercial or public use without completing an airworthiness certificate and obtaining a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA [faa.gov].

      Per the FAA:

      Currently, civilian companies may not operate a UAS as part of a business without obtaining a Special Airworthiness Certificate - Experimental Category (SAC-EC). However, this SAC-EC is very limited in scope of operational use. Contact FAA for details or see FAA Order 8130.34.

      So don't expect Google to be flying this over populated areas for quite a long time. Current estimates are abou

    • by blhack (921171)

      Predators do not have automatic takeoff and landing capabilities.

  • No privacy issues here!

    It's useful because you can, ah, make sure your roof is still in good shape and doesn't need shingles?

    Yeah.

    • by Yvan256 (722131)

      Imagine a neighborhood where all the houses are the same size and all the roads are configured in a grid. Using different colors of shingles, you could make bitmap images visible from the sky.

  • by RichMan (8097) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @05:01PM (#33183464)

    I am really surprised news organizations have not started using these to cover situations.

    Live from Irag/Afghanistan/Mogadishu/Pakistan ...

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      It would just give both the military and any terrorists more reason to mistrust and dislike the media.
  • "Is it just me, or is Google entering dangerous airspace here?" Yes, it is just you. Move along. Nothing to see here.
  • two words. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dee Ann_1 (1731324)
    They Live.
  • I can't help but think they only got this just so they would have a cool toy to play with at their Mountain View campus

  • by aitikin (909209) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @05:44PM (#33183808)
    This is the first article linked, emphasis mine:

    German publication Wirtschaftswoche (“Economy Week”) says [www.wiwo.de] that German manufacturer Microdrones has delivered a cam-equipped flying mini drone to Google. Microdrones boss Mr. Juerss is quoted as saying “We have good chances for a long term business relationship with Google” (is he just overly optimistic? Google wasn’t available for comment to the magazine). According to him the drones “are superbly suited to deliver more up-to-date recordings for mapping service Google Earth.” Another potential use mentioned by Juerss is inspecting wind farms.

    If Google continues to exist I guess it’s only natural they continue to expand their tools (same could be said for the world at large), lest laws stop them. For the time being we may want our faces and living rooms blurred, but who knows where we’re headed. Will there be a day where everyone’s non-privacy is our best privacy protection (like a camouflage pattern), or will we be scared to do anything unusual, creative and progressive with so much supervision (like 1984)?

    In the original German article, they mention how some of the drones they've sold have been equipped with IR and thermal imaging technologies, and give you a teaser that you can come back on Monday to read about the companies that already use the technologies.

    Sounds to me like Google is merely trying to vastly improve Google Maps and Google Earth's satellite views with cheap yet efficient technologies, and Wirtschaftswoche is just trying to sell magazines. Of course, who am I to be a naysayer of the tinfoil hat wearing among us...

  • You know Google is going to "accidentally" forget to turn off their wifi sniffers on these guys too.

  • You can crack open a clam with a rock. Or you can crack open another persons skull.
    You can warm yourself and cook meals with fire. Or you can torch someones house down.
    You can shoot food for your family with a gun. Or you can shoot a family.

    Just because the tools become more advanced does not change the moral dilemma that has faced mankind with the proper use of all tools. They can be used for good, or evil.

    The tool itself is just a tool. This article is just hype for the sake of hype.

    • by delinear (991444)
      The argument that a tool is just a tool only works if you know nothing about the person wielding it. A gun is just a gun becomes a different argument if said gun is being held by someone we know is a convicted killer. Now Google's modus operandi is to use sat and street-level imagery to build up services like Google maps, so we can reasonably expect they are investigating the merit of using drones to add to that map data. Even without IR and night vision, that's enough to cause some people privacy concerns
  • 2001 attack (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stimpleton (732392) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @07:53PM (#33184648)
    I was doing papers at university in Satelite imagery in 2001 at time of the trade Towers attack. Our dept had its own image server and direct image purchase ability to many institutions including the satelite owners. We could buy images like you can buy stock photography images of image stock websites.

    The Kronos satellite(50cm greyscale resolution, 100cm truecolor) was turned to snap images of the twin towers and we had those images within some 35 minutes of the 9/11 attacks.

    The point I make is, when there is the capability, and when the desire is there, pretty much anything is achievable. Someone at Kronos Satellite took it upon themselves to abandon the current photography job and turn the satellite to the twin towers.

    Was that person authorised? I have always wondered.
  • This Slashdot post connected a few dots for me. I was reading about Wikileaks this weekend and now this post reminds me of another post a year or so back about how Google is censoring it's Google-maps for various Governments.

    It occurs to me now that censoring Google-maps is a bad idea for governments unless your only trying to block attempts by poor amateur crackpot terrorists. If you have the money you could no doubt get a hold of an uncensored world photo database and then all you would need to do is co

  • OK, I'm thinking these things will qualify as "smart-skeet" and will be welcomed with open arms wherever rifle racks are standard equipment...
  • They can carry night-vision cameras or even 'see-through-walls' Far IR cameras.

    Seriously? If we're gonna talk about equipment that hypothetically *could* be attached to the drone, you might as well say "They could be equipped with toxic case, small bombs, and laser guns. They could launch GPS-guided sharks at unsuspecting people in swimming pools below. The sharks could be injected with adrenaline and be dunked in human blood just prior to being launched."

    They could do all that, or they could just attach a damn camera to it and take some damn photographs for Google Earth.

    • by imsabbel (611519)

      Well, they are delivered to google with infrared and optical cameras.
      The second part is of course pure conjecture and not very realistic, but the first is already realized.

    • by delinear (991444)
      And could the sharks have fricken lasers on their heads?
  • Letting such technology lose may have consequences both good and bad that we can not hope to predict. For example suppose an eye in the sky was able to catch all kinds of thieves and burglars at work and then the public finds out that we do not have the money to put people in prison. That could cause real chaos as more and more people figured that the law lacked the financial capacity to punish them.

  • There is more to the world then residential neighborhoods. They can do national parks, city parks, amusement parks and buildings.
  • ...or did anyone else feel a chill by the juxtaposition of "the makers assure us" that they can't be used for citizen surveillance and "verboten"?

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