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The US government and military are spending large amounts of money for drones, maintenance, and drone flights - and not all of it is being done with proper oversight.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) racked up almost $600,000 to purchase six drones, but none of them actually saw any real flight time. There were too many technical issues regarding flight time and maneuverability, according to a federal report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The ATF decided to just scrap its drone program altogether because of the logistical headaches, and a short time later, the National Response Team - an ATF unit - invested $15,000 in five small drones - with no proper oversight. Not only did the National Response Team neglect to get ATF approval, the small unit never bothered to gain approval for a drone flight by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Facebook is working on a new solar drone designed to provide Internet access to billions of people across the world. The codenamed Aquila project is still in the early stages of testing, but Facebook said one test flight was already conducted in the UK.
The Aquila drone weighs less than a car and has a wingspan similar to a Boeing 767, and should be able to fly for months at a time. The drone must be extremely light so it can stay at altitudes higher than 60,000 feet for up to three months at a time.
"Aircraft like these will help connect the whole world because they can affordably serve the 10 percent of the world's population that live in remote communities without existing Internet infrastructure," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.
Amazon has called out the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for dragging its feet in regards to commercial drone testing. The United States runs the risk of falling behind other countries interested in embracing commercial use of drones.
Even though the FAA approved Amazon's drone delivery tests, the popular e-tailer said its prototype became obsolete while waiting for movement in Washington. Commercial drone technology is advancing at a fast pace, and it has become clear that the bureaucratic regulatory process in the US is making a mess of things.
"We don't test it anymore," said Paul Misener, VP for global public policy at Amazon, in a statement in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. "We've moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad. Nowhere outside of the United States have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing."
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has expressed concern that artificial intelligence will advance and eventually spiral out of human control. It's not an uncommon topic among some scientists and technology leaders, as AI development advances at a rapid pace.
"Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people," Wozniak recently said while speaking to the Australian Financial Review. "If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they'll think faster than us and they'll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently."
Wozniak believes it's only a matter of time before computers take over from humans, and that could pose major issues for mankind. If nothing else, people are becoming more aware of AI research, with so many vocal critics worried about long-term safety.
The NASA Opportunity Mars Rover has completed a marathon on the Red Planet of Mars, taking 11 years and two months to complete the distance. The rover landed on Mars on January 25, 2004, and continues to surpass all expectations, as project managers only expected a three-month mission.
"This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world," said John Callas, Opportunity rover project manager at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "A first time happens only once."
Opportunity continues to collect information related to an ancient wet climate on Mars - and while the marathon milestone is impressive, program managers want to continue making scientific discoveries. NASA is using Opportunity for additional bonus extended missions, with a focus on tracking signs of water.
Boeing is working on a force field defense system that seems like something straight out of Star Trek or Star Wars, as the company can now work on its "method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc."
Many US military personnel returning home from the battlefield had no visible injuries, but suffered varying levels of brain damage - enduring shock waves from IEDs, bomb blasts, and other similar attacks.
The system works, according to Boeing, when a selected "by heating a selected region of the first fluid medium rapidly to create a second, transient medium that intercepts the shockwave and attenuates its energy density before it reaches a protected asset."
Swedish police are testing the use of drones, with a special emphasis on SWAT and possible search and rescue operations. It's unknown how many drones the police in Sweden plan to order, but they would be used in select cases, with testing beginning sometime this summer.
Drones could also be used to capture aerial photographs of crime scenes, fire damage, and other carefully chosen scenarios deemed too dangerous for humans.
"Drones are equipped with sensors and technology for video transfer, which would act as an addition to the police helicopters, and there are plans to use them all over the country," a Swedish police spokesperson told Newsweek. "This will be mostly in special units like SWAT teams, bomb squads, and rescue operations if someone gets lost in the mountains or at sea. They could be used for traffic monitoring as well."
An airstrike conducted on March 17 reportedly destroyed a drone being used by ISIS militants outside of Fallujah, Iraq, according to the US military. The so-called "model airplane" was not sophisticated, US military officials confirm.
It's unknown what the extremist group was using the drone for, but it was likely involved in conducting reconnaissance in the immediate area - and It's unknown how many drones the group may have.
"We observed it flying for approximately 20 minutes," said Army Col. Steve Warren, Pentagon spokesman, in a statement to the media. "We observed it land. We observed the enemy place it in the trunk of a car and we struck the car. It was a commercially available, remotely piloted aircraft, really something anyone can get."
There is a popular debate among tech industry executives about artificial intelligence and whether it could one day pose a threat to humans.
However, there is potential that as technologies become smarter, humans could be portrayed as dumber and less skilled than the AI counterparts. Machine learning poses a threat to the human job market, and critics also believe humans could one day be at risk if AI gets out of control.
"I'll be very interested to spend time with people who think they know how we avoid that," Gates recently told Re/Code following a TED talk. "I know Elon [Musk] just gave some money. A guy at Microsoft, Eric Horvitz, gave some money to Stanford. I think there are some serious efforts to look into could you avoid that problem."
The United States military is embracing virtual reality and other advanced technologies in an effort to better train soldiers. The US Air Force and NATO allies will soon participate in the Red Flag mock battles event, though the 2015 edition will utilize a fully virtual war environment.
The test will utilize Live-Virtual Constructive (LVC) integration, using physical trucks on the Nellis Air Force Base to create a more dynamic target mission.
"The benefits to the warfighter of integrating 'virtual' into Red Flags are that it allows us to bring in more of the combat-realistic threat envelope, and we're now able to maximize the air tasking order with the most amount of 'Blue Forces' in both the virtual and live sides of a joint air operations area that is 1,200 by 1,100 nautical miles, compared to the Nevada Test and Training Range which is about 100 by 100 nautical miles," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Voigt, commander of the 505th Test Squadron, in a statement.