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It’s never been hard to pirate movies, but for a long time, one collective has made it easier to watch the latest blockbusters than any other: YIFY. By focusing on speed, better quality rips and small file sizes, the group quickly grew to become the number one source for illegal movies, catering for the needs of millions of content pirates around the world. However, the YIFY name may soon fade into obscurity after it was revealed that its leader had been traced and named in a New Zealand lawsuit following a joint operation between the MPAA and its “international affiliates.” While many believe that its releases won’t be missed, YIFY’s shutdown will leave a big hole in the piracy market and have a knock-on effect on streaming services like Popcorn Time — at least until another group steps up.
The rise of YIFY
Before YIFY, there was aXXo. aXXo was the alias of an individual who specialized in leaking DVD-quality rips of new movies to torrent sites that were nearly always encoded in files under 700MB. There were many imitators, but none could match the speed or breadth of aXXo leaks. When the prolific pirate signed off in 2009, it took YIFY around a year to begin uploading torrents to sites like PublicHD, KickassTorrents, 1337x, The Pirate Bay, and ExtraTorrent. According to records on KickassTorrent, the first YIFY upload was a DVD rip of Toy Story 1 & 2 in 2010.
It took around a year of third-party uploads for YIFY to gain enough momentum to launch its own website, which you may know as YTS. In an interview with TorrentFreak, its creator, who was today revealed to have run the website from a house in Auckland, New Zealand, revealed that the group’s mission was to “bring Hollywood films to the masses at smaller file-size.” The group used the x264 video standard to encode movies at around the tenth of the size of a ripped Blu-ray disc. YIFY justifies its operation by saying it lets “users from all parts of the world, who have bandwidth or hard drive limitations, download and enjoy this content.”
Google Trends data shows the rise in YIFY searches over the past four years.
Some members of the torrenting community are quick to dismiss the quality of YIFY releases. The group’s Full HD (1080p) releases have been criticized for lacking visual detail and sound clarity, with 5.1 audio support notably absent. It’s clear, however, that YIFY’s releases are significantly better than the “CAM rips” that are uploaded by groups who send people into theaters to film movies. YIFY makes some trade-offs to get its file sizes down, and community diehards may not have been impressed, but its quality was more than enough for the masses.
The knock-on effects
If you head to any popular movie torrent site right now, you’ll notice that the majority of high-definition releases are YIFY uploads. The Pirate Bay, for example, lists 72 YIFY movies in its Top 100 HD movie section. In five years, over 4,500 infringing titles have been shared on such sites, and before the group was shut down, new movies would appear every few hours.
With YIFY gone, torrent sites face becoming stagnant as the pace of new releases drops. What also hasn’t been considered is the effect the group’s demise will have on streaming services like Popcorn Time and Kodi movie streaming plugins. While the MPAA and Hollywood studios have successfully shut down various forks of the Bittorrent-based platform, users have flocked to its many copycats. But there may soon be a dearth of new movies to stream.
That’s exactly what the MPAA wants, of course, but in the huge game of whack-a-mole that is internet piracy, downloaders will hope there’s another aXXo or YIFY waiting in the wings. In contrast to Scene or P2P groups, which operate in cliques and aspire to be the first to leak a Hollywood blockbuster, YIFY operated on an access-for-all basis. That’s not to say that other torrent release groups can’t capitalize on the void left by the New Zealand-based movement. There are plenty of private torrent trackers where content is siloed, but it appears that most public teams do not have (right now) the same access to movies that YIFY enjoyed.
According to the New Zealand Herald, YIFY’s unnamed owner was served with a multi-million dollar lawsuit on October 12th, which was subsequently settled out of court. With 3.4 million unique visitors and 43 million views on the YTS website in August alone, YIFY has become the biggest piracy bust in New Zealand’s history. If TorrentFreak‘s sources are to believed, the accused may be “working on an agreement to minimize their harm, possibly in exchange for information.” That could mean we see more MPAA action against movie pirates in the very near future.
It’s been two years since Apple announced its plot to put your iPhone’s core features inside the dash of your car, but only now is its CarPlay software becoming available in lots of new models. In brief, CarPlay allows you to connect your trusty iOS device to a vehicle’s infotainment system to make things like texts, maps and music accessible from the console. Sure, the goal is to provide an easier way to use your phone on the road, but it also nixes the distraction of swiping through screens on the phone itself. To put CarPlay through its paces, I hit the highway for a 7.5-hour road trip in a 2016 Camaro SS, a model that’ll arrive soon at your local dealer. From Philadelphia to Raleigh, North Carolina, I used it to navigate, find food and stream in-car entertainment along the way. This first version of Apple’s software for the car is certainly useful, but as I found, there’s room for improvement.
While CarPlay does a lot to minimize distractions while you drive, we’d like it even better if Google Maps were supported, and if you could use voice commands to control third-party apps.
What is CarPlay?
If you missed the chatter surrounding Apple’s in-car project, here’s a brief refresher. CarPlay makes the items you use most on your phone accessible through the vehicle’s built-in touchscreen infotainment system. This means that your contacts, text messages, music streaming, podcasts and, of course, calls are all available without having to pick up your handset. What’s more, the phone and text options are voice-controlled by default to further cut down on the would-be distractions. Apple’s software doesn’t replace the infotainment setup that comes with your car, though. Instead, it adds the option to the existing kit, with the stock features always just a few taps away. If your phone is plugged in when you start the vehicle, however, CarPlay will load over the standard system.
Chevrolet isn’t the only manufacturer that’s putting CarPlay inside some of its vehicles — Honda, Cadiallac, Audi, Jeep, Ford, Subaru and others plan to offer it — but Chevy is one of the first to market. If you’re not ready to buy a new car, aftermarket systems from Alpine, Kenwood and Pioneer can bring the software to your current ride at a fraction of the cost. Of course, CarPlay itself is completely free to use; you just need a vehicle or stereo deck that’s equipped to handle it.
When you first settle into the driver’s seat, you have to plug your iPhone in using a Lightning cable and one of the car’s USB jacks. After saying “yes” to the push notification asking for the okay to launch CarPlay, you’re up and running. That’s really it in terms of setup. There’s no app you have to download or a switch you have to flip in the phone’s settings. You simply plug it in and it works. I’ve reviewed Bluetooth speakers that took longer and were way more complicated to get working. If you’re familiar with the iPhone, you can easily use CarPlay without having to learn how it works or how to set it up. And yes, Apple and automakers are working toward nixing the required cable, but chances are if you get behind the wheel of a CarPlay-equipped vehicle anytime soon, you’ll want to make sure you have that accessory handy so you can connect.
Let’s start at the home screen. It’s here where you’ll see options for making calls, sending texts, finding directions and playing those all-important road trip tunes. As I’ve already mentioned, you can head back into the car’s proprietary system at any time, but as long as your iPhone is connected, CarPlay will appear as a menu item when you need to return. In addition to the calling and texting tools, there are shortcuts to Apple Maps, Apple Music, podcasts, audiobooks and whatever’s currently playing over the speakers. If you have CarPlay-compatible apps on your phone (Spotify, in my case), those will appear here as well. As for third-party apps, big names include Audible, Audiobooks.com, CBS News, iHeartRadio, MLB At Bat, Overcast, Pandora, Rdio, Spotify and Stitcher. Don’t expect to employ Google Maps, though, as Apple’s navigation software is the only option. Yeah, I was bummed about that, too. To be fair, Apple Maps is far better than it used to be, but it’s still not as good as Google’s navigation software — in my opinion, anyway.
While the app icons are just a tap away on the car’s touchscreen, the options and content that CarPlay actually pipes in are quite limited. Normally, this would be a bad thing, but I found it’s another feature that cuts down on distractions. Sure, you have to pre-plan a bit if you don’t want to choose from the top 10 podcasts from iTunes or listen to a Spotify playlist you’ve already saved. But it keeps you from perusing menus when you should be paying attention to the road. Want to search that Carrie Underwood album from a few years ago? You’ll have to pick up your phone to do it. After you stop the car, of course. The whole system is quite speedy overall, and I only noticed CarPlay struggle to fetch content when I was in a spot with limited 4G coverage.
The options to make a call or send a text are voice-driven by default with the help of Siri. In fact, Apple’s virtual assistant is here to lend a hand with a number of things, but best of all, perhaps, is the ability to call home or respond to a text without having to type with one hand and drive with the other. Don’t expect to dictate email responses or browse the feed of your go-to messaging or social apps, though. CarPlay won’t pull in that content, and that’s probably for the best.
Speaking of texts, when you get one, a notification pops up at the top of the touchscreen. Tapping on it will alert Siri and the virtual assistant will offer to read the message. Should you so choose, you can respond by speaking your message intended for the sender. Siri repeats what you said so you can catch any errors. Pretty standard stuff if you’re familiar with iOS. It took me a bit to get the hang of it since I drive an older car that lacks fancy voice controls, but once I began to speak clearly and loudly, I didn’t have any further issues. Also, CarPlay won’t display the actual text messages, so you won’t be tempted to glance down and read them yourself. In any case, because this is Siri we’re talking about, this feature is useful for sending short quips, but you’ll likely want to avoid any lengthy back and forth.
From the home screen you can also ask Siri to do things like look up directions. Sure, you can type in an address manually — either on the car’s display or by picking up your phone — but a simple “Hey Siri” also does the trick. Again, it’s way less distracting while the car is in motion. Once you ask it to find you a route, it usually offers more than one option for you to choose from. Just tap the one you want and you’re off. To get back to the home screen to play some music or to update your significant other on your arrival time, you just hit the familiar-looking circle home button in the bottom-left corner.
In fact, holding the home button or pressing the voice control button on the steering wheel will poke the virtual assistant to handle a number of tasks like playing music or grabbing the weather forecast. Siri doesn’t dip into third-party apps, though, so you’re on your own when it comes to finding the Spotify playlist or Pandora station you’re looking for. To keep you from swiping through a bunch of menus or tapping the back arrow a few times, there’s a handy Maps icon in the top left for easy access.
If you’ve spent time in a car that has a touchscreen infotainment system, you know that the user interface is typically pretty awful, design-wise. While CarPlay wraps the in-car system with its clean aesthetics and typography, the usability isn’t as good as it could be. The tabbed menus and limited scrolling that I mentioned before force you to jump from app to app a bit. Those limitations can also cause you to spend more time than you should looking for the Spotify playlist you’re after. Here’s what I mean: I have over 20 playlists saved on the streaming service, but when I scroll through them, CarPlay only shows the first 10 or so. Looking for something at the bottom of your list? It won’t be that easy to access. Basically, this looks a lot better than the default interface and limits your access to apps on your phone, but sometimes the simplicity can become its own distraction.
While the limited access to content and the lack of third-party messaging apps are a bit frustrating, I can understand the reasons for trying to keep distractions to a minimum. CarPlay puts the stuff I tend to use most while driving on the dash and within reach. This means I can play some Big Grams on Spotify or send a text without so much as looking at my phone. In fact, I didn’t pick up my 6s once while the car was on the highway from Philly until I pulled into my driveway in central North Carolina. I didn’t have a reason to reach for it unless I was stopping to get out. Sure, the software could still create a distraction for those who spend too much time futzing with it, just like a phone or anything else you might have on you. For me, though, it was a safer way to interact with my handset on a solo road trip. Despite a few quibbles with the design and overall usability, CarPlay is still a better way to interact with your phone from the driver’s seat than having it in your hand.
We’ve seen Swiss daredevil Yves Rossy (aka Jetman) fly his carbon fiber jet wing over Rio, and above Dubai with his protege Jetman Vince Reffet. The latest video from the fearless aviators sees Rossy and Reffet share the skies with something a little bigger — an Emirates A380 airliner. Once again, the flight takes place over the Palm Jumeirah and Dubai skylines. We can only imagine the duo gives the A380 pilot constant heart palpitations as they deftly manoeuvre around the plane (y’know, with its jet intakes and all that).
As insane as the stunt may look, it was, of course, carefully choreographed. Cruising at just 4,000 feet (“just” for the plane, that’s pretty high for flying people) the trio flew in two holding patterns while a fourth object in the sky (the film crew in a helicopter) kept distance 1,000 feet above. The A380 couldn’t be more different from the jet wings worn by the pilots though. The Emirates craft pumps out 70,000 pounds of thrust per engine with a max speed of 490 knots, making the wearable-wing’s 88 pounds and 170 knots seem like a mild breeze in comparison.
Trying to save a few bucks by purchasing offbrand cables? We’ve all done it — but there’s something you should know about new USB Type-C connectors popping up on cellphones (Nexus, OnePlus), laptops (Macbook, Pixel), tablets (Pixel C) and even Apple TV. The reason why they can charge so many devices, is their ability to transmit currents up to 3A, which could be 50 to 100 percent more electricity than older standards. That’s why Google engineer Benson Leung has been putting various USB-C cables sold on Amazon to the test. He worked on both of Google’s recent Pixel devices that use the new cable to charge, and found that many of the cables advertised as Type-C aren’t actually suited for use with the laptop. They might not be wired properly to charge a laptop, or they don’t accurately identify the power source — something that could damage your laptop, USB hub or charger.
As for why this is such a big issue, Leung told me that “every new plug, connector and cable now has to be certified to be 3A compatible.” That’s fine, and when everything plugged is USB-C but when you mix up cables with a C connector on one end, and older A or B connector on the other, adapters and legacy cables should use lower 1.5A or 2.4A charging. Not all of them do, which can cause problems since the charger on that end might not be rated for 3A charging.
For an example of how companies can fail to meet the standard, check out this review of a TechMatte USB-C to MicroUSB adapter:
Specifically, these adapters do not charge the Chromebook Pixel 2015 because the adapters leave the C-C lines floating, where the specification requires a Rp pullup to Vbus to identify the cable as a legacy adapter or cable.
Please see the document named “USB Type-C Specification Release 1.1.pdf”
section 126.96.36.199.4 for a description of why the Rp pullup is necessary.
Please also see Section 4.11 and the following note :
1. For Rp when implemented in the USB Type-C plug on a USB Type-C to USB 3.1 Standard-A Cable
Assembly, a USB Type-C to USB 2.0 Standard-A Cable Assembly, a USB Type-C to USB 2.0 Micro-B
Receptacle Adapter Assembly or a USB Type-C captive cable connected to a USB host, a value of 56 k’
± 5% shall be used, in order to provide tolerance to IR drop on V BUS and GND in the cable assembly.
In other words, since you are creating a USB Type-C plug to a USB 2.0 Micro-B receptacle assembly, you must use a resistor of value 56k’ as a pullup to Vbus. This cable does not do this.
Please let me know if there is any more information I can provide about why these adapters are problematic.
If you are a consumer looking for a cable that is compatible with Pixel, do not use this one.
So what can you do? (Other than keep an eye out for reviews by “LaughingMan” on Amazon.) Leung has posted instructions that can help Pixel owners test the specifications of USB Type-C cables they’ve connected to the laptop, but that only helps after a purchase. Companies like FREiEQ, Belkin and iOrange have all produced cables that Leung found passed his tests. Beyond that, he advises that your best bet for now is to buy first party cables from the likes of Google and Apple.
Earlier this year, Pebble released two new smartwatches: The Time and the Time Steel. Both feature color e-ink displays, an updated “Timeline” interface, support for voice replies, and a new accessory port that promises to increase the watch’s functionality over time through third-party “smart straps.” But two watches wasn’t enough for Pebble. In September, the company unveiled yet another new model: the Pebble Time Round. As its name suggests, it’s basically just a circular version of the Time, and will be available in stores starting November 8th for $249. It’s also thinner, lighter and the strap comes in both 14mm and 20mm widths, making it ideal for smaller wrists. But with this more fashionable look comes a couple of concessions: it has much shorter battery life than its predecessors and isn’t nearly as water-resistant. The Time Round is, without a doubt, the best-looking device the company has ever put out, but those tradeoffs lessen its value considerably.
Thin, lightweight design
Color e-paper is easy to read under bright light
Potential for third-party "smart straps"
Reduced battery life
Less water-resistant than previous models
Expensive for what it is
The Pebble Time Round is without doubt the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made. It’s slim, lightweight and fits smaller wrists well. Unfortunately, that fashionable design comes at a cost: It has far shorter battery life than previous Pebbles and you can no longer go swimming with it. Seeing as how you can get a more feature-rich watch for around the same price, we mainly recommend the Time Round for people who care more about style than substance.
One of the first things I noticed about the Pebble Time Round is that it looks and feels almost exactly like a regular watch. Even though I liked the style of the Time and Time Steel, their square faces and somewhat thick chassis still betrayed their smartwatch roots. The Time Round, on the other hand, looks indistinguishable from most other wristwatches. In particular, the 38.5mm diameter watchface combines with those relatively slim straps to make the device ideal for those with smaller wrists. Its slim 7.5mm-thick design, all-metal chassis and smooth beveled edges also help make this feel like a premium device. Speaking of the sort, the default strap is made of leather, which I like, but you can opt for a metal bracelet for $50 more. The device is available in black, silver and rose gold.
Perhaps the biggest downside of the Time Round’s design is that thick bezel surrounding the display. Unfortunately, that’s the case for all of Pebble’s watches because many of Pebble’s apps are only designed for a 1.25-inch screen. Fortunately, the Time Round does offer a few different bezel options — there’s a white one with five-minute markers, for example, and a black one with three-hour markers — to add a bit of style and function to an otherwise empty space.
As for that display, it’s the same color e-paper screen as on the Time and the Time Steel. It’s certainly not as rich or colorful as brighter OLED panels, but it’s still perfectly functional. You can adjust the brightness all the way from “Low” to “Blinding,” and you can also enable the ambient light sensor so that it’ll trigger the backlight only when necessary. E-paper offers a couple of benefits over traditional LCD: The Time Round is much more legible under bright sunlight, and the watchface is always on without having to flick the wrist and activate the screen. But while the Time and Time Steel touts a week or more of battery life thanks to the low power requirements of e-paper, the Time Round is only rated for one or two days of battery life, thereby negating one of e-paper’s biggest advantages.
The rest of the Time Round’s design is similar to the Time and the Time Steel. The button on the left acts as a back and backlight button, while the three buttons on the right are used to navigate through the watch’s interface. You can also map them as quick-launch shortcuts to certain applications if you press and hold down on them. Flip the watch around and you’ll find a couple of charging pins that double as a smart accessory port for third-party “smart straps” that add additional functionality to the watch. For example, you could get a smart strap that adds GPS, a heart rate monitor or even extra battery life. I haven’t had a chance to try them just yet (many of them are still in development), but the idea of a smartwatch getting better over time thanks to extra smartstraps is pretty intriguing.
As with the other Pebble devices, you can also easily swap out the straps of the Time Round with other 14mm or 20mm options. It has a microphone for voice memos and voice replies, an accelerometer, a backlight and a vibrating motor.
While the Time and Time Steel are water-resistant up to 30 meters and can be worn while swimming, the Time Round can not. As Pebble puts it, the Time Round is only “splash-resistant” — you can still get it wet, but it shouldn’t be submerged in water. The company also doesn’t recommend the Time Round be worn in the shower. That might not be a big deal for some, but it could be a dealbreaker if you’re looking for a device to track swim laps.
The software in the Time Round is identical to that of the other Pebble watches, so if you’re already familiar with Pebble’s new Timeline interface, there won’t be anything new here. But just in case you need a brief refresher, I’ll go over the highlights.
The interface we have here essentially arranges all of your events, notifications, reminders and news in chronological order. Pressing the up button will let you look at past notifications, for example, while pressing the down button would offer a peek at future calendar events. The idea here is that you no longer need to open an app to find out desired information. So instead of launching ESPN to find out when the Warriors are playing next, you can just peek into the future to see that the game is scheduled for 7:30pm the next day.
In order to install apps and watchfaces on your Pebble (as well as get any sort of notification), you’ll need to pair the watch with a phone. To do this, simply download the Pebble Time app for Android or iOS and follow the instructions to pair the watch. Not all apps will work with the Time Round right off the bat due to its circular design, but we’re told that there are already 90 compatible apps and over 275 watchfaces, and I suspect that number will grow over time.
Other neat features include a “Quiet Time” function that lets you disable notifications on certain days or at times when you don’t want to be disturbed. You can also set an alarm, enable or disable vibrating alerts, and choose which app you want for activity tracking (you can only enable one fitness app at a time). As for what you can do when you receive an incoming text message notification, that depends on what phone you have. If it’s an iPhone, the most you can do is dismiss the text message. But if you’re on Android, you’re able to respond with either a list of canned responses, an emoji or a dictated voice message. That said, we’re told that Pebble is working on an iOS solution too, so stay tuned for that.
Performance and battery life
The Pebble Time Round is a simple smartwatch and as such, isn’t bogged down by the usual litany of menu trees that have been known to plague more complicated wearables. The performance is pretty smooth and I didn’t experience too much lag when scrolling through different pages. The communication between the phone and the watch is pretty snappy too — whatever change I made on my handset was reflected almost instantly on the watch.
It’s the Time Round’s battery life that is its biggest downside. One of Pebble’s most touted features across much of its product line is its long battery life — the Time lasts about a week while the Time Steel squeezes out 10 days before needing a recharge. Not so with the Time Round. In order to create such a thin, lightweight design, Pebble had to cut down the Time Round’s battery life to only two days at most. In my first test, where I used the watch extensively with High brightness, I whittled down the Time Round’s battery life to 20 percent in just under 24 hours. The next day, I lowered the brightness to Medium, and it wasn’t as bad: only about 50 percent after 24 hours.
The Pebble Time Round’s biggest competition might be its own cousins. You can get exactly the same functionality in the Time and the Time Steel for the same price or less — the Time Steel is $249 while the Time is around $199 (The base price of the Time Round is $249). Sure those watches won’t be as thin or light, but the battery life will be much longer and they’ll be much more water-resistant too. Basically, if you’re contemplating which Pebble to get, you have to decide on whether looks and style is worth trading battery life and water-resistance.
Feature-wise, the Time Round doesn’t really compare to other modern smartwatches. It doesn’t have a touch screen or NFC or GPS and is thus not quite as robust as most Android Wear devices. That’s why its $249 pricepoint is a little problematic. For $30 more you can get the upcoming Fossil Q Founder, while for $50 more you can get the latest and greatest Moto 360. Heck, you can even spend way less for a decent Android watch — the ASUS ZenWatch 2 starts at only $149.
And while the other Pebble watches can hold battery life as its big trump card, the Time Round doesn’t have that luxury — it lasts maybe a day or so more than the other Android Wear watches, which isn’t that big of a difference to merit losing all the other features too. Both the LG Watch Urbane and the latest Moto 360 last about a day, while the Samsung Gear S2 eked out about two days before running out of juice. Indeed, the only real advantage the Time Round has over these other Android watches is its slim, lightweight design and the potential for those third-party smart straps.
The Pebble Time Round is the most elegant smartwatch Pebble has ever made. It’s thin, light and comes in widths that would fit even the most slender of wrists. Its circular, all-metal chassis and options for both leather and metal straps make this a device to behold. Yet, Pebble made significant tradeoffs to achieve such a slim design. The reduced two-day battery life is a big blow; worse, it negates one of the few factors that made previous Pebble watches so unique. Designing it to be less water-resistant feels like a misstep as well. That wouldn’t even be such a big deal if the Time Round didn’t cost $249, which puts it in the same price class as more feature-rich Android Wear watches. In the end, the Time Round is really only for those who want a pretty smartwatch regardless of the compromises.
The thought of a fire-starting robot would normally have us fleeing in terror, but we’ll make an exception for this one. Researchers are developing a drone, the Unmanned Aerial System for Fire Fighting (UAS-FF), that helps contain and prevent fires by dropping ping pong-sized flaming balls. If you need to burn grass before it fuels an uncontrolled blaze, you just program the drone to drop its chemically-ignited cargo in a specific pattern — you don’t have to send in a costly aircraft or face the risks of starting fires on the ground. It’ll be a while before you see UAS-FF in service, but it’s already nice to see a drone that helps firefighting instead of getting in the way.
Killer robots are at the heart of popcorn fare like the Matrix and Terminator movies, but there’s a serious debate underlying it all: do we want to trust fully autonomous machines with lethal weapons? Some would argue that it’s just too risky, and the United Nations has accordingly held its first meetings discussing a potential ban on the concept before it ever gets off the ground. Critics (including the UN’s acting European head, Michael Moeller) argue that deadly robots may not consistently obey humanitarian laws, particularly in tricky situations; they may do things that are logically sound, but morally flawed. There are also worries about accountability, since it may be difficult to hold armies and police forces directly responsible for deaths at their robots’ hands.
It’s not a single-sided argument, of course. While few would demand no-questions-asked approval of warrior ‘bots, there is a concern that we’re letting sci-fi get to our heads. The notion of a fully independent, death-dealing automaton isn’t necessarily realistic for arms dealers — there may not be much pressure to update the UN’s rulebooks any time soon. The meetings could be premature, then, but it’s arguably better that humanity establish its position before it’s easy to put robots on the battlefield.
Lockheed Martin’s and Kaman’s K-MAX helicopters are known for pilotlessly transporting cargo in Afghanistan, but it might soon be saving lives and nature in the US, as well. The companies have demonstrated an autonomous K-MAX with firefighting capabilities in front of federal officials on October 14th near Boise, Idaho. While there was a pilot onboard during the flight, he had his hands up most of the time, indicating that the aircraft can fly on its own. Within an hour-and-a-half, the chopper completed seven tasks, including scooping up water and dropping it on targets.
Feds want to use autonomous choppers to fight wildfires, as they the can fly at night and even in low visibility (e.g. when the smoke gets too thick), without endangering pilots’ lives. The K-MAX used for the demo flight can be controlled remotely, though it can also fly on its own — even if it loses its connection with ground control — so long as it’s preprogrammed with a route and a destination. It’s equipped with three communication methods and has two different satellite links, as well. Authorities are still considering other companies’ choppers for the project, but Interior Department’s Mark Bathrick said autonomous helicopters could be battling wildfires as soon as next summer.
As wildfires scorched sections of California Interstate I-15 last week, firefighters found themselves hamstrung and unable to deliver aerial water coverage for nearly 20 minutes because a couple of schmucks were flying their quadcopters directly overhead. In response, Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) and Senator Ted Gaines (R-El Dorado) have introduced Senate Bill 168. The bill would grant “immunity to any emergency responder who damages an unmanned aircraft in the course of firefighting, air ambulance, or search-and-rescue operations.” The bill will also levy stiff fines and potentially even jail time for people whose UAVs inhibit an emergency response.
This isn’t the first time that drones have caused havoc over wildfires in recent months. Aircraft couldn’t take off to fight the Lake Fire last month and were similarly delayed by an errant drone hovering over the Mill Creek Canyon Fire on July 12th. “Drone operators are risking lives when they fly over an emergency situation,” Assemblyman Gatto told KCAL 9. “Just because you have access to an expensive toy that can fly in a dangerous area that doesn’t mean you should do it.” The bill does not stipulate how firefighters would deal with offending drones. My guess: water cannon.