Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Drone Wars

The use of private drones has skyrocketed, yet their owners don't seem to have grasped the serious nature of airspace intrusion over places like airports, nuclear power plants and prisons.
So the gloves are now OFF!
Defence giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin have developed technology ranging from detection systems to more disruptive solutions such as software that forces unauthorised drones to go home or land safely, and laser cannons that shoot unwanted drones out of the sky.
At a demonstration in California, Boeing's compact 2kw laser system took only about 15 seconds to set a drone alight.
Another company has developed software that establishes invisible barriers - "geofences" - around sensitive airspace. When drones hit the virtual boundary, the software overrides the drone's flight controller and forces it to hover. Any drone deployed inside the barrier won't be able to lift off.
It's anticipated the counter-drone industry (both civil and military) could be worth at least several hundred million dollars at this stage, let alone in the future.
Much will depend on how well the technology works. The first step is identifying whether drones are 'friendly' or not. Systems also need to be able to distinguish between slow-moving drones and birds, and the signals from drones compared to cellphones.
It's envisaged that eventually airports, government locations, public swimming pools, defence facilities and the like will all erect "geofences" to inhibit airspace intrusions. Once enough "geofences" intersect, the 'free range' areas for drones will be severely restricted, certainly in cities at least.
So it seems the days of airborne voyeurs roaming wherever they wish via their drones may be coming to an end...

Monday, October 17, 2016

UN Picks Wonder Woman Over Helen Clark

The United Nations recently rejected seven female candidates vying for its leadership, one of whom was NZ's own Helen Clark.
Now, to promote women and girls, it's picked a cartoon character as its mascot: Wonder Woman! Yeup, the comic book figure.
Wonder Woman
Dozens of countries pushed this year for a woman as the next Secretary General, pointing out that the UN pledges to promote gender equality and arguing that it needs to "lead by example". But after months of internal jockeying, the Security Council picked António Guterres, who ran the UN refugee agency for ten years, to be the world's top diplomat.
Now the UN has announced it'll appoint Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador for "the empowerment of women and girls"! That appointment will be made official on Oct.21, when Wonder Woman turns 75, only slightly older than the UN itself.
Too bad Wonder Woman will not actually walk through the halls of the UN. If she did, she'd have to sort out a few internal issues, like peacekeepers who sexually abuse civilians and major military powers that bomb schools. Instead, president of DC Entertainment, Diane Nelson will accept the designation, along with "surprise guests". No word on whether Lynda Carter, who played Wonder Woman on tv, will be there...
Scary Woman
Wonder Woman's avatar (er, that's "image" for those of us who were not born yesterday) will be used on social media to promote important messages about women's empowerment, including gender-based violence and fuller participation of women in public life... ironic, considering nine out of ten senior UN leadership jobs last year went to men. Not to mention, a woman has never led the UN.
Wonder Woman's not the only fictional character to be celebrated by the United Nations: Winnie the Pooh was its honorary Ambassador of Friendship in 1998 and Tinker Bell its honorary Ambassador of Green in 2009.
Not that those factoids or magic bracelets will make Helen Clark any happier about missing the cut...

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Killers Stalk British Countryside

What many citizens have suspected for some time: leopards and pumas are breeding in rural Britain.
New data shows more than one big cat sighting is being reported to UK police every week! There've been 455 sightings of big cats between 2010-2015. Accounts of a black panther stalking Norfolk and Suffolk have featured regularly in news reports.
Since the UK's Dangerous Wild Animals Act came into law in 1977, people have not been allowed to keep big cats as pets. Many big cat sightings are of animals that were kept as pets and released, or perhaps ones that escaped from zoos or were purposely released into the wild.
But big cats must be breeding, as they don't live 40 years in the wild: puma last 8-13yrs and leopards 12-17yrs. There've also been occasional sightings of females with cubs.
There're an estimated 2,000 sightings each year, the vast majority of which are not reported to UK authorities. Some have been dismissed as hoaxes, however a DNA test on hairs found in Lincolnshire found they did come from the leopard family.
Leopards and pumas in the wild live in countryside quite similar to the UK: there're pumas in North America and leopards as far north as Siberia.
So, given that the existence of these big cats seems no longer in dispute, I wonder what the UK approach will be, when one of them is cornered? Police supposedly liaise with the RSPCA...but these particular cats are somewhat more dangerous than your average stray moggie!
One hopes police sharpshooters won't kill them on sight...but what will the fate of these once-legendary rural stalkers be?