by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 10th 2014 3:03am
by Karl Bode
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 5:32pm
from the welcome-to-the-not-quite-Internet dept
Now, news has emerged that Facebook is spending $60 million to acquire drone-manufacturer Titan Aerospace. The idea is that Facebook could use these drones to provide fly-over connectivity for lower income nations. While it makes for good headlines whether that ever actually happens is pretty dubious, given there's a long history of mixed results when it comes to providing broadband by aircraft, whether that's via hot air balloon, Santa sleigh or drone. Really, when it's all said and done, it's an effort to grab a larger chunk of potential ad eyeballs under the pageantry of purported altruism.
Here in the States, we haven't experimented with the idea of free gateway access yet much, though companies like T-Mobile prepaid brand GoSmart have hinted at the idea. Speaking at the Mobile World Congress trade show this week in Barcelona, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that he'd really like to see his expanded free ambitions take off further in additional countries:
"Zuckerberg said that Internet.org, which Facebook and other partners announced last year, is designed to create a reliable program to help "on-ramp" those customers to the Internet by offering a free tier of service, much like 911 on the wired telephone network. "We want to create a similar kind of dial tone to the Internet," Zuckerberg said...Facebook's work with wireless carrier Globe in the Philippines has doubled the number of people there accessing the Internet. He said in that program Globe is making access to Facebook free and then charging for access to other sites. In a separate effort in Paraguay, where Facebook is working with operator Tigo, the number of people using data has jumped 50 percent, and the number of people using it daily jumped 70 percent, by offering free access to Facebook."Usually, these statements are followed by citing a lot of studies about how improved Internet penetration helps developing nations (studies focused on actual Internet access, not Zuckerberg's definition of it). Critics contest these users aren't really being connected to the actual Internet and all that entails. They're being connected to bizarre new walled-garden universes where privacy doesn't exist, connectivity is fractured, and they themselves are the product. Is this helpful if you step back and take a longer view? Folks like Susan Crawford don't seem to think so:
"For poorer people, Internet access will equal Facebook. That's not the Internet—that’s being fodder for someone else’s ad-targeting business," she says. "That’s entrenching and amplifying existing inequalities and contributing to poverty of imagination—a crucial limitation on human life."I honestly find myself quite torn between thinking that any connectivity is better than none (it depends entirely on the implementation of the effort), and the idea that we're establishing a painfully-low baseline of expectation in developing countries in terms of what the Internet is supposed to be. How different is what Facebook is doing from AT&T's sponsored data idea when you strip away a few layers, and if people are introduced to the Internet as a fractured, distorted walled garden at their first encounter with it, what does it evolve into for them down the road?
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Mar 7th 2014 5:03am
from the let's-get-this-going... dept
Current U.S. FAA regulations prevent ... using UAVs [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, like drones] for commercial purposes at the moment.Well, that's no longer the case apparently. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) administrative law judge Patrick Geraghty has unleashed the tacocopters of the world by issuing a ruling that the FAA has no mandate to regulate commercial drones. The case involved the first time that the FAA had actually tried to fine someone, a guy named Raphael Pirker, $10,000 for trying to film a commercial with a drone at the University of Virginia.
The issue, basically, is that the FAA has historically exempted model airplanes from its rules, and the NTSB finds it impossible to square that with its attempt to now claim that drones are under its purview. As Geraghty notes, accepting that leads to absurd arguments about the FAA's mandate over all flying objects:
Complainant has, historically, in their policy notices, modified the term "aircraft" by prefixing the word "model", to distinguish the device/contrivance being considered. By affixing the word "model" to "aircraft" the reasonable inference is that Complainant FAA intended to distinguish and exclude model aircraft from either or both of the aforesaid definitions of "aircraft".The judge notes that while the FAA had some internal memorandum about these issues, it did not put forth a full rule, and thus it is not an actual policy. As a result, the ruling finds that the current definition of aircraft is not applicable here and thus the FAA has no real mandate over this kind of drone.
To accept Complainant's interpretive argument would lead to a conclusion that those definitions include as an aircraft all types of devices/contrivances intended for, or used for, flight in the air. The extension of that conclusion would then result in the risible argument that a flight in the air of, e.g., a paper aircraft, or a toy balsa wood glider, could subject the "operator" to the regulatory provisions of FAA Part 91, Section 91.13(a)....
..... The reasonable inference is not that FAA has overlooked the requirements, but, rather that FAA has distinguished model aircraft as a class excluded from the regulatory and statutory definitions.
This does not preclude the FAA from trying to go through a full rule-making process to try to gain a mandate over commercial drone use, but that will involve a big political fight. It's way easier to block something like that from becoming official than overturning it if it was already deemed the law.
by Glyn Moody
Wed, Oct 31st 2012 12:08am
from the swords-to-ploughshares dept
There is a natural tendency to accentuate the negative when it comes to drones -- concentrating on how these "spies the sky" represent a threat to privacy and civil liberties. But as Techdirt has reported before, there are other applications that many might find not just acceptable but welcome. And that's not surprising: like the Internet, drones are just a neutral tool, and as such can be deployed for both good and bad purposes.
Here, for example, is a fascinating idea: using drones to get medical equipment to people faster than ambulances (found via Chris Anderson):
You create an app that anyone trained in first aid signs up to, creating a mobile community. You then station defibrillator-equipped drones on top of tall buildings across the city, linked by sensors. When someone needs help, they, or someone nearby, sends a request. The nearest first-aider accepts the task, and rushes to the site, and the unmanned vehicle sweeps from the sky, delivering the kit where it's needed.
This could have a big impact on the numbers of deaths from heart attacks. According to the same article in Co.Exist quoted above, 76,000 of the 250,000 deaths caused by cardiac arrest outside US hospitals could have been prevented, had the right equipment arrived soon enough. Now, it may not always be enough to use a drone to deliver a defibrillator to heart attack victims, but it seems likely that many tens of thousands of lives could, in theory, be saved in this way.
And of course the idea extends to many other life-threatening situations -- delivering blood or medicines to places that are otherwise hard to reach in time to save the patient. It's a useful reminder that drones aren't necessarily evil, it's how we use them that counts.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Nov 30th 2011 3:00pm
from the damn dept
Aaron DeOliveira points us to another fascinating example, involving the free-to-play online video game, DarkOrbit. Within the game, there's a special item, known as the 10th drone -- or the Zeus Drone -- that is highly desirable. As you might imagine, to get the 10th drone, you first have to get all 9 previous drones... and some blueprints to make the 10th drone. Apparently, this is quite involved. BigPoint, the company behind DarkOrbit, also tried another tactic: the company has run an occasional promotion, where you can buy the 10th drone for 1,000 euros (~$1,330). Here's the amazing part: apparently two thousand people paid, bringing in about 2 million euros, or $2.7 million. For a single digital item. Update: Or.... not quite. A clarification makes it clear that it did not bring in that much. People did buy, but they had to buy with in-game currency. You can sometimes buy such currency... and sometimes it's discounted. If it wasn't discounted and you had none in the game... then the cost of the drone would have been 1000 euros. As that's not likely to be the case, while the game did still sell 2000 such drones, it was clearly for less money. However, it is still an example of where people can be willing to pay if done right... just not as amazing.
But the real key here is in what they did to make this possible. First, used "free" to get lots of people in the door, connect with them, and make them totally bought into the game, such that they'd be willing to spend. Then, build up the overall "value" of such an item, and then offer it in a way that people really wanted to buy even at what many of us might consider to be an insane price. However, it's a perfect example of how if you really connect with fans, and carefully figure out what it makes sense to charge for... you can do quite well.