What an old Patriots NFL game reveals about Amazon Prime Air

Amazon recently announced plans to try to develop the ability to deliver packages with autonomous flying machines. It’s funny, I blogged about the same idea back in April. The venture will face huge challenges. One of them is safety.

Thirty-four years ago today, a fan was killed at a Jets-Patriots game by a flying lawnmower.

No, really.

Some nut combined a lawnmower’s body and a model airplane’s machinery for the half-time show. It crashed into the stands and hurt two people, killing one of them. I don’t think this is the one that was at the half-time show, but it probably looked a lot like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNWfqVWC2KI

(Links via Bob’s Blitz. The Jets won, by the way.)

The point is that these things can be dangerous, especially if there’s no one piloting it. Amazon’s promo video at the top shows the drones delivering things in perfect weather, but there’s no mention of how it would handle strong wind, rain, snow, vandals or thieves. Drones also raise important privacy concerns. Lawsuits about faulty or misused drones are inevitable. (The Jets were sued for having such a dangerous halftime show.)

Despite the challenges, there’s definitely a place for drones in the private market. Amazon is also testing out using robots for warehouse sorting and loading. This year Mesa County, Colorado saved almost $10,000 by doing an annual air survey of a landfill with a drone instead of a piloted craft. There are places where drone delivery can definitely be useful: In Alaska, things often have to be delivered by air anyway.

A hundred years ago, it would have seemed crazy to suggest that mail could be delivered through the air. Today, regular first-class interstate mail is delivered by airplanes every day. All mail is Air Mail.

The military has already begun to use drones for delivery.

See a flock of endangered birds led to safety by a daring pilot – Live!

OperationMigration

Sometimes a species is so endangered their numbers can only be increased by raising some of them in captivity. Birds raised this way never learn to migrate right.

Operation Migration is a project to help endangered birds learn to migrate by leading them along the right path with an ultralight aircraft they’ve been taught to follow.

They’re in the middle of a flight right now and you can watch them in action:



Live streaming video by Ustream

You’re all wrong: The ISS is the 8th Wonder Of The World

They say the Great Wall of China is the only man-made object you can see from space. That’s not true, but if you turn the idea on its head you have something that IS true: The world has about 1,000 functioning satellites right now and they’re the only man-made objects you can see from anywhere in the world. The International Space Station is by far the most awesome of them. Look up at the right time tonight and you’ll see it. It’s the real eighth wonder of the world.

Lists of the wonders of the ancient world always include a big pile of stone blocks called the Great Pyramid. Lists of the wonders of the modern world usually include the Golden Gate Bridge and Canada’s CN Tower. Those are cool enough, but miles above them is a football-field-sized flying mansion and laboratory that the world’s 16 most powerful nations united to create. It literally runs circles around all the other wonders.

Space_tracy-caldwell-dyson-in-the-cupola-module-of-the-international-space-station-observing-the-earth

It’s a stepping-stone into the rest of the universe. It’s the only wonder of the world that brought the world’s nations together in cooperation. It has a giant robot arm that on Earth could lift 220,000 pounds. They make their own air from water up there. It has brought us some amazing new scientific achievements, including finding clues to the mystery of dark matter. More than 300 astronauts from around the world have worked and trained up there, preparing for the future. Like Kennedy said about the mission to the Moon: “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

If you live in the middle of the U.S. (Wichita specifically), the International Space Station will fly directly above your head tonight at about 6:28.

You can find out when it’s visible in your area using a tool called The Astroviewer. Or find out from NASA. Looking up you’ll see what looks like a lone star following its own path across the sky.

So tonight, look up.

And realize that this is what they’re seeing when they look back down at night:

If you could see the Earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night, it would look to you more splendid than the moon.

-Galileo Galilei

Give thanks tonight that we live in a world of such wonder.

Today, a satellite built by high school kids was launched into orbit

minotaur-1-rocket-launch-hawaii-satellite-team

NASA launched 29 satellites on a single rocket today.

It’s a triumph of miniaturization and it’s the first step into a world where average people can put things into orbit.

All but one of the 29 are CubeSats, from groups around the country. They’re tiny satellites weighing no more than three pounds each and costing very little.

The main satellite was the Air Force’s $55 million ORS-3, built to help the military test new ways to automate satellite deployment. Everything’s getting automated these days.

The rest of the satellites all do a bunch of different things.

The Firefly satellite studies lightning, which strikes somewhere on Earth about 100 times a second. Firefly aims to help reveal how and why lightning can in rare cases produce bursts of gamma rays, which are normally only produced in stars or in nuclear bombs.

The satellite built by students at Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia isn’t quite so lofty, but it’s still pretty great.

From the Washington Post:

Students anticipate that the satellite will stay aloft transmitting messages and live telemetry data — about its position in space — back to Earth for at least three months. The satellite is equipped with miniature solar panels and could remain in low-Earth orbit for up to two years.

Ultimately, the satellite is expected to fall into the Earth’s atmosphere and burn up, at which point the voice synthesizer will be programmed to say “I’m melting.”

Wonderful World pt 1: “You’re sitting in a CHAIR in the SKY!” …”Yeah, but it doesn’t lean back very far.”

The Link: Louis C.K. and the miracle of flight

The Story:

Louis C.K. has a comedy routine that sums up my feelings: “Everything’s amazing but nobody’s happy.”  I grew up in a house below the flight path that planes took while descending to the runway.  All those years, it never occurred to me how weird it was that there were people from around the world flying above my head several times a day.

We’re surrounded by the most excellent things in history, but we take them for granted. Psychologists say that people tend to get inured to their situation because of “regression to the mean.” (Yale psychologist Paul Bloom gives a good but lengthy explanation of the science of happiness.)

But it’s important to appreciate what’s right under our noses.

Like Louis Armstrong said, it really is a wonderful world.