Game Of Drones: Innovation Or Security Threat

Posted on August 29, 2016

In recent years, drone innovation has been accelerating at such an exponential rate that regulations have struggled to keep up.

The capabilities of this technology is limitless - from the positives such as: filming athletes in a race; delivering medicines to remote places; mapping terrains; or checking the condition of a bridge - to the negatives such as: spying over private property; sneaking drugs or electronics into a prison; or risking lives by flying dangerously close to airplanes.

Image: The DHL test "microdrone md4-1000" for the delivery medicine

Many of these innovations are already providing amazing scientific, economic, and social benefits. But if standards and guidelines are ignored, or if the technology gets in the hands of those who want to cause harm, will the rules be enough to protect ourselves with confidence?

Ethical, privacy and safety breaches are providing strong reason for society to be concerned about the vulnerabilities.

Already in New Zealand there are 2645 registered drone users, 968 commercial drone operators, and 400 registered drone companies. In the US, the commercial drone industry is burgeoning, with researchers predicting it will generate more than USD$82 billion for the U.S. economy by 2025.

A report on "beyond-line-of-site" drones (also called Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAV, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems or UAS), estimates that drones will benefit New Zealand by up to NZD$190 million per year across just three sectors studied - if we can get the regulatory environment and technology right.

The questions are, will the risks outweigh the advantages of drone technology, and do we have sufficient capability and resource to manage infringements?

Drones – the opportunities

Originally used for target practice by the Royal Marines in the 1930’s and 1940’s, drones today are commercially available on a large and increasing scale. For a few years now, they have been helping a number of government, research and industry organisations to gain access to new and valuable data more easily, quickly and efficiently than ever before.

There is still huge potential of this new technology to be explored. And, with our vast multi-level terrain, multiple climates, weather conditions, and low population, New Zealand is one the world’s most active hot beds of drone development. What might have been considered science fiction just a couple years ago, is fast becoming a reality today. For example, in agriculture, farmers are already using drones to monitor their stock and pasture cover remotely - saving them considerable time and fuel.

The average small drone can be launched within minutes and fly over a range of five miles for up to 90 minutes. They can also be fitted with other technology, like high resolution infrared cameras that can zero in on suspected criminals, wildlife, poachers, missing people, or monitor events, and more.

Drones are also being used to help with emergency response and disaster recovery, improving security, helping with pest control and erosive monitoring. There are even trials underway to discover if drones can be used safely for delivering freight direct to the buyer’s door, transporting medicines, and more.

Even in the GIS industry, a low altitude small drone could provide surveyors and GIS professionals with a more cost-efficient alternative to the georeferenced photographs taken by manned aircraft or satellites. More so if the drone is kitted with LiDAR and camera equipment to create a turnkey remotely piloted flying LiDAR scanner that can capture rich and accurate images more frequently and cheaply.

In fact, GIS is predicted to be the second biggest commercial drone market behind aerial photography and cinema, and ahead of precision agriculture.

Image: Top commercial drone industry trends based on DroneDeploy usage data.

One example of this is the research team at Auckland University’s School of Science which specialises in unmanned aerial low altitude sensing and geospatial analysis for ecological and environmental monitoring.

Using a swarm of flying drones, the AUT UAV team is creating high resolution maps of habitats and landscapes, monitoring wildlife behaviour, and examining the human impact on the environment. They are also working with a Swiss company to create 3D mosaic landscapes and turning the images into a virtual reality experience. This allows people to visualise and understand their environment in a way they’ve never experienced before.

Disruptive innovation, or a potentially catastrophic disruption?

Because drones can dramatically lower the cost of data collection and analysis, the pace of development has been phenomenal.

The challenge for policy makers however has ranged from determining how to protect public safety and personal rights, such as privacy and land ownership, as well as areas of national, historical, or natural importance from potential harm caused by drones – either intentional or accidental.

It was only last year when the Civil Aviation Authority in New Zealand announced new rules to improve aviation safety for drone operators, other airspace users, and for the general public and their property - eight years after the first known incident was reported in the country.

And it was just this month that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the US announced new steps to promote the safe integration and innovative adoption of drones across the country.

While the rules may prescribe more explicit constraints upon the use of drones than was previously the case, understanding and abiding by them is another matter. And as more and more drones enter the market, understanding and enforcing compliance will be challenging for both users and the authorities. For example, Amazon and Google's drone package delivery plans have already hit a stumbling block with the new US regulations.

What next?

By 2018 there will be an integration of airspace in New Zealand, where drones will be part of the transport grid. With increasing drones in our skies, the next challenge will be innovating a way to manage the airspace and avoid collision.

Meanwhile, the race is on with innovation in drone technology happening at warp speed around the world, and everyone is joining in from hobbyists to global brands. Amazon has been trialling its Prime Air drone delivery service in the UK, Dominos has been working on various air and land based drones to deliver pizzas, and last but by no means least Facebook is now racing against Google to deliver 5G to unconnected parts of the world with its solar powered Aquila drone that can fly for months.

To ensure their economies don’t miss out on a slice of the lucrative drone pie, governments are providing incentives for innovators to research, develop and commercialise drone technology.

This month the US announced USD$35m in research funding for the National Science Foundation to accelerate the understanding of how to intelligently and effectively design, control, and apply drones to beneficial applications - such as monitoring and inspection of physical infrastructure, smart disaster response, agricultural monitoring, the study of severe storms, and more.


Image: C-Prize UAV Challenge by Callaghan Innovation.

Last year Callaghan Innovation in New Zealand launched the first C-PRIZE UAV challenge - a NZD$50,000 incentivised challenge that aims to advance the commercialisation of innovative drone technology for the screen industry. Team VorTech won the prize for their Gyroscope UAV that uses an innovative propeller design that allows thrust in any direction, helping it hold position in gusty winds.

Like other countries in this drone innovation race, New Zealand has been ploughing funding into firms like Aeronavics to ensure the pace of research and development stays lightning fast.

If users can work around and abide by the new rules and regulations, then the future looks bright for both the drone industry and for society. But if rules and resources fail to protect your personal safety and privacy, what would you do to protect your rights?

- Shelley Grell @ Communicate IT

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies In Business

Posted on August 23, 2016

In a fairly recent issue of the Institute of Directors magazine there was an an article framed around the issue of diversity by David Morrison, former chief of the Australian Army. Leaving the issue of diversity aside, one of the most perceptive quotes was that organisational culture is "the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves".

They become reasons we use to justify our actions or our lack of action. They become self justifying. They define us as different, as special, as a reason to stand out from others. A point of difference. They become self fulfilling prophesies.

We don't have to think things through. We don't have to search for our moral compass, We don't have to confront whether we are doing things well enough. We can just lean back and rest on the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves to get us through. They're comfortable.

Recent research about the fallibility of our long term memory has discovered that when we think about the past, our memories are transferred into our short term memory, edited and photoshopped, before being posted back. The more we think about something, the more often it gets edited. The thought becomes contaminated by the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and in time becomes part of them.

In this upheaval of rapid change, organisations and individuals need to confront the change, to identify the stories  we tell ourselves about ourselves, and to embrace the changes having consulted your moral compass. If the change outside your organisation is faster than the change within, then trouble is not far away.

Google Sets The Bar With Machine Learning As A Service

Posted on May 17, 2016

Recently the launch of one of the most profound and exciting services happened.

It isn’t always obvious when a seachange occurs.

For example, when Apple released the iPod Classic in 2001, who would have thought it would have led to the smartphone transforming the way we do everything from banking to reading the newspaper, following maps, taking photos or videoconferencing. There is no doubt that with hindsight, the iPod Classic was utterly transformational.

Of course the rise of the smartphone wouldn’t have been possible without the transformational effects of Software as a Service (SaaS). Coincidently the idea of SaaS was first conceived in 2001, although it would be several more years before this seedling bore any fruit.

The first significant SaaS offering was Google’s Gmail in 2004. While it wasn’t immediately obvious how the world might be changed so comprehensively in such a short time, it was nevertheless very obvious that it had one huge advantage. You were no longer tied to a piece of hardware in a fixed location to read your email. You had the flexibility to move anywhere in the world and your email went with you.

Within 2 years, this was followed by two Google acquisitions, Writely (later Google Docs) and Google Spreadsheets, now all part of Google Drive. Now the transformation was becoming obvious. People in different parts of the world (or at the desk next to yours) could edit the same document at the same time – no tracking changes, no file locking, no multiple copies of a document. Such a transformational change wasn’t obvious to Microsoft however, who didn’t release Office365 until 2011, a full 7 years after Gmail.

This just underlines how even experts and leaders in their field can be blindsided by Creative thinking that produced transformational results.

In mid April 2016 Google launched Machine Learning as a Service, available to anyone.  Typically, Google’s release has been very low key – just a few selected email invites to try it out for free.

This has the potential to be the biggest change we’ve seen since the iPod and Gmail started the mobile and SaaS revolutions. May be it won’t be as widely used as previous game-changers perhaps, but it has the potential to be more profound with further reaching consequences.

So how does it work?

Neural Networks are combination of data structures and algorithms that supposedly mimic a newborn’s empty brain and set about learning to solve a particular problem. They are now widely used, particularly by organisations like Amazon and Spotify to suggest what you might like to read, listen to or purchase, it allows Facebook to recognise faces in photos, and Google to translate languages.

Neural Network artificial intelligence has been around a long time – since 1948 in fact. Faster computer processing speeds and increased memory have made Machine Learning more effective as well as improved processing algorithms such as backpropagation. Backpropagation is essentially feedback that is passed back to the learning engine so it gets to learn, improve, and recognise.

The huge advantage for computers is that they can control the experiences that they get to learn from and have hundreds of thousands more opportunities to experience a phenomenon than any human ever will.

As we’ve come to expect, Google’s marketing continues to be low key. It’s been largely limited to a 5 match series between one of the world’s best Go players, Lee Sedol and Google Deep Mind. Google Deep Mind won 4-1, with the Korean champion revealing that his solitary win in the 4th game to be one of the happiest moments in his life. Most interestingly, the defining move that led to the win in the second game was a move that Lee Sodel claimed ‘that no human ever would have made’.

This sounds scary, and exciting, in equal measure. How comfortable will we be at trusting a computer to make decisions?

With Go the outcome is very measurable, and the inputs and outputs are very clear and the outcome is known within hours. If we start using Deep Mind with inputs as flawed as the GDP for example, can we trust the decisions that are presented, particularly if they are ones ‘that no human ever would have made’?

And if we use Deep Mind to make decisions that affect the environment where much of the data is subjective, the inputs are polluted with beliefs and personal values, and the outcome may not reveal itself for years or decades, how will we cope? Will we ignore the advice of a system that can clearly outperform the best human thinkers and squander the chance to make wonderful decisions?

Will our personal investment in an existing industry and way of doing things, prevent us from using this technology and allow us to be outflanked by newcomers who have nothing to lose and know no fear?

And just how can we take this new opportunity and apply it in new and unconventional ways?

It’s quite revolutionary and available to anyone. It’s in-your-face!

 - Bryan Clarke


Your Customers Don't Care About Your Journey

Posted on May 1, 2016

Recently we were with some Gen-Y’s who were using Netflix, that disruptive service that revolutionised the entertainment industry as well as the way we thought about doing business.

They thought they would stream 2001 – A Space Odyssey, after all it has been described by critics as one of the greatest films of all time. Asking our opinion, we ventured that although it had been a very long time since we’d seen it, it was “pretty good”.

It was ground-breaking. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, it was the first movie to have big budget special effects. They might be lame by today’s standards but every sci-fi movie since, including the latest Star Wars sequel, has 2001’s fingerprints on it. And in 1968, writer Arthur C Clarke’s ideas were utterly visionary.

To be fair it wasn’t always like that – like many paradigm busters (take Picasso or van Gogh for example) it wasn’t necessarily widely appreciated at the start. In 1968 many critics thought it an “incomprehensible mess” and it didn’t screen in New Zealand until 1973.

The Gen-Y’s were rather underwhelmed. After 30 minutes they switched to another movie. Really, was our advice that off the mark? Were the critics that wrong?

The visionary stuff, like security controlled through voice print recognition, or skyping home from the moon just didn’t do it for the Gen-Y’s. Ho-hum. They’d switched off before they got to the HAL-9000 talking computer (like google navigation) with artificial intelligence that could recognise faces (like Facebook) and play unbeatable chess (like IBM’s Deep Blue).

They simply didn’t understand the technology context of the time. In 1968 it would be over 20 years until the Mouse was invented or Windows developed – GenY’s haven’t known a world without mouses or Windows. In ‘68 there were no communication satellites. The TV news of the day was read out and pictures of events weren’t available for 3 days until the camerman’s videos had returned to the studio, been edited, copied and flown around the world on infrequent flights to be broadcast locally.

Not only did the Gen-Y’s fail to be wooed by Arthur C Clarke’s technology vision, much of which was so on the mark that it is now commonplace, they didn’t appreciate Stanley Kubrick’s direction of the movie either.

It was just toooo sloooow.

Raised on a diet of fast paced action films, with the sensory overstimulation of sub-second scene changes, sound effects, explosions and techno music, the scenes where the space flight attendant gingerly walks down the aisle to Strauss’s Blue Danube waltz to retrieve a weightless fountain pen floating about in the space shuttle seemed painfully tedious to them.

On the contrary, Kubrick did a brilliant job directing the movie, it was just that the social context was dramatically different for the Gen-Y’s.

In 1968, space shuttles didn’t exist, man hadn’t even stood up in a space craft let alone gone for a walk or land on the moon. He did a brilliant job trying to visualise for everyone what weightlessness would look like, what some of the practical problems might be (such as walking, eating or drinking), and what the pace of space travel would be like.

The biggest cultural difference was that ‘2001’ was a film you had to think about in order to understand it. The plot wasn’t handed to you on a plate. Today’s audiences enjoy being shown – thinking is hard work, it takes time and you might not come up with the right answer or insight.

The demand for instant gratification is insatiable. Gen-Y know that you don’t need to know things, Google will find it and Wikipedia will explain it. Nor do you need to think things through. Someone else will have thought it through for you before they blogged. And you don’t need to learn things. YouTube will show you how it’s done.

It’s important to realise that your customers will expect to be treated the same way and that the services and software and support that you provide them will need to meet the same threshold. Oh and fast – really fast. Otherwise they’ll switch off your app as quickly as the Gen-Yers switched off 2001.

It’s easy to take change for granted. To forget that, as Isaac Newton put it, we’re standing on the shoulders of giants and to forget the journey – to turn around and appreciate the scenery that sits behind you, to fully appreciate where you’re at, how you got there and how much fun it has been and despite the challenges, what a great position we have got ourselves in to.

It’s also important to remember that your customers don’t give a damn about the journey that’s happened before they got there. They’re interested in now and what’s next. Don’t let that be ho-hum.

 - Bryan Clarke




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