back to article Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know

She’s a huge advocate of drones — quite a surprising position to take for a first class fighter pilot. Mary "Missy" Cummings was one of the US Navy’s first female fighter pilots, taking to the air after the service lifted its ban on women in combat, and flying from 1988 to 1999. She piloted F18 Hornets and became one of the …

  1. MAPINGUARI

    I think there's a missing word here...

    "Mary "Missy" Cummings was one of the US Navy’s first fighter pilots"

    1. Ralph B

      Re: I think there's a missing word here...

      Maybe she's older than she looks.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Terminator

        Re: I think there's a missing word here...

        Actually a Cylon.

        She probably has a plan or two.

    2. karlp

      "The Human is Not a Reliable Input."

      Unfortunately for the motoring enthusiasts out there, we reached that stage long ago.

      A quick look at NHTSA or ASIRT numbers tell a grim story. 1~2% of global GDP goes to the direct and indirect costs of car crashes. 10's of Millions of annual injuries. Leading cause of death for ages 15~30. Thousands of Casualties. Daily.

      I am not one that is necessarily excited about a future where humans have little to no control over the machine they are entrusting their lives with, but at this point the computers don't need to be perfect, they only need to be better, and that bar isn't honestly very high.

      I have a reasonably large extended family (30ish members) We average, as a group, at least one accident a year living in a top 10 US metropolis. None have been our fault (as of yet)*.

      I am honestly quite torn. I realize that the average person is no longer qualified to drive, and the processes and systems needed to remedy that at this stage would be less popular than a gradual mandating of driverless vehicles. On the flip side, Not only do I have the aforementioned hesitations on the trust side of driverless vehicles, I must also confess to taking some amount of pleasure from motoring.

      At the end of the day, the only thing which really can't be argued with is that the status quo sucks and thus something probably needs to (or at least, will) change.

      Karl P

      *Incidentally our limited history shows that if the car that got into an accident with us isn't totaled, they try and flee more often than not. Seriously - out of the last 10, there has been 2 vehicular totals where they couldn't flee, and 8 impacts of various degrees leaving (mostly) functional vehicles and (relatively) minor injuries in which they have fled 5 out of 8 times. They have been caught 3 out of those 5 times.....

  2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    "The idea of Dronecode is for a common, Linux-based software platform"

    For the love of god, why? Why would anyone in their right mind use a multi-tasking OS for flight operations rather than a true RTOS (I know Linux can be configured as a Pseudo-RTOS, but its a hack at best)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: "The idea of Dronecode is for a common, Linux-based software platform"

      Rapid deployment to trigger-enabled hardware?

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: "The idea of Dronecode is for a common, Linux-based software platform"

      Because the true RTOS are too expensive and come with NDAs? They end up not being a viable option for the average bloke.

      1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: "The idea of Dronecode is for a common, Linux-based software platform"

        There plenty of free true RTOS's in a variety of licenses:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_real-time_operating_systems

    3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: "The idea of Dronecode is for a common, Linux-based software platform"

      It's more guff from the expensive but unproductive Linux Foundation talking shop.

      Sure there will be drones out there running Linux and they will fly just fine. It's just the top-down stuff which, er, won't fly.

    4. DougS Silver badge

      Re: "The idea of Dronecode is for a common, Linux-based software platform"

      What is the requirement for hard realtime for a drone? Things are not happening on microsecond timescales, if they were humans would not be able to fly them. Linux may not be hard realtime but they can certain guarantee responses on the timescales required by them, and which are possible for humans.

  3. frank ly Silver badge

    That had me worried

    " ... to develop autonomous aircraft that can position themselves around other aircraft in order to be service them or locate problems that need attention."

    Until I'd read to the end of the next page, I had a mental image of passengers on Easy Jet flights looking out of the window to see a fleet of small drone aircraft moving closer and then tightening nuts and lubing aileron actuators, as they flew along.

    1. Irongut

      Re: That had me worried

      Wouldn't surprise me in the slightest. This is the company that fixed a broken cockpit window with duct tape.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: That had me worried@ Irongut

        "This is the company that fixed a broken cockpit window with duct tape."

        This is a tech site, I thought all readers would know that duct tape fixes anything.

        Well, maybe Didcot B is now somewhat beyond the salvation offered by gaffer tape, but that's probably because the owners didn't use enough of it in the first place.

        1. Marcus Aurelius
          FAIL

          Didcot B

          Well, maybe Didcot B is now somewhat beyond the salvation offered by gaffer tape, but that's probably because the owners didn't use enough of it in the first place.

          The big mistake was not to get MacGyver to apply the duct tape...

        2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: That had me worried@ Irongut

          Given it's clarity, packing tape would have been a much better choice!

    2. ecofeco Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: That had me worried

      So THAT'S all those UFOs were! Maintenance 'bots! Well now we know!

    3. Jes.e

      Re: That had me worried

      "..Until I'd read to the end of the next page, I had a mental image of passengers on Easy Jet flights looking out of the window to see a fleet of small drone aircraft moving closer and then tightening nuts and lubing aileron actuators, as they flew along."

      With William Shatner sitting there looking out of his window..

    4. hplasm Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: That had me worried

      "...a fleet of small drone aircraft moving closer and then tightening nuts and lubing aileron actuators, as they flew along."

      Now that would be cool!

      1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: That had me worried

        Until they got sucked into the engines!!

  4. Sir Sham Cad

    "so that the car knows the human is not a reliable input.”

    ARGH! The machine decides that the nominal human operator is not a reliable operator and...

    1) Continues doing whatever it was doing ignoring human override controls?

    2) Displays some sort of confirmation dialogue upon receiving an override request?

    3) Decides to come to a safe stop at the next suitable lay-by or parking area and then plays speed metal on max volume to wake the useless fleshbag the fuck up?

    4) Mitigate (or offer to mitigate) the human's erroneous request "If you're going to go through with this, may I suggest you permit me to activate the Turbo Boost?"

    5) Decides all of humanity is a waste of oxygen that could be better used for running smart vehicles and goes on a Stephen King inspired murderous rampage?

    Has anyone asked Captain Cyborg what he thinks? (please don't).

    1. Full Mental Jacket

      Re: "so that the car knows the human is not a reliable input.”

      "You always know a Working Joe"

    2. PleebSmash

      Re: "so that the car knows the human is not a reliable input.”

      It's the quote that defines this article.

      I assume the answer is something like #3, except the car passively attempts to reduce the risk of an accident by driving slower, and will attempt to go off-road (off-cliff?) if necessary. Keep in mind this is the 90% autonomous vehicle.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: "so that the car knows the human is not a reliable input.”

        Re-runs of Knightrider to include deleted scene:

        "I don't think this is a good idea Michael"

        "Shut the fuck up Kitt, what do you know? You're just a car!"

        <Kitt activates ejector seat and turbo boosts away from Kwik-fit garage>

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: "so that the car knows the human is not a reliable input.”

        The logical place to start vehicular automation is on motorways. They're the safest place to drive in any case. Few to no random obstacles, all the traffic is moving in the same direction and carefully defined areas for leaving/joining the road.

        If you look at the vast majority of SF stories with autmated vehicles, you'll see a reference in some form or another of "moving to surface streets and engaging manual operation" for much the same reason.

  5. DropBear Silver badge

    Ummm, no.

    If they think they can do the same thing they did with pilots with car drivers (ie. glue them into a seat with absolutely nothing whatsoever to do for hours, yet require them to react at the first sign of trouble) they're way more delusional than I thought they were. First off, pilots are carefully selected people who have to prove they can do that (and then even they fail to fight off boredom every now and then, but we only hear about it when it ends up having dire consequences, at which point it usually transpires that whatever was to blame is actually a common thing) - whereas Joe Average car driver is guaranteed to fail to react instantly after long periods of nothing to do. Second, as perilous a thing it is to fly, people tend to forget that once you're doing it half-decently there's really little that can go wrong: there's (relatively) nothing to hit up there, and even when things fail horribly, you generally have minutes until you meet the dirt - as opposed to a highway, where you either react within a second or don't even bother. All those things she said about drones - they may well be true for fighter aircraft; but next to none of it applies to the road...

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: Ummm, no.

      Exactly! A "driver-less car" has to be just that - NO driver input expected at any time, bar choosing where to go.

      Otherwise why bother? You would be paying a lot extra one way or another and still expected to be sober and alert for any time the computer decides "Fskc this, too hard for me. Hey meat bag? Grab the controls, oh by the way you have 5 seconds to impact..."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Ummm, no.

        "... and that parachute up on the left is my personality module which has been ejected for safety reasons; I am confident that the feed from the interior and exterior cameras should attract enough clicks to provide me with a shiny new body to replace this one. You should have paid for the optional extra 'Second Chanz Emergency Recovery System'(tm) but you didn't. Happy trails meat bag."

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
          Windows

          Re: Ummm, no.

          Isn't this from the "Dirty Pair: A Plague of Angels" comic?

    2. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: Ummm, no.

      All those things she said about drones - they may well be true for fighter aircraft; but next to none of it applies to the road...

      Especially the part about bombing friendly forces.

      To be fair, little she said quoted in the article concerned cars, though I am not sure I agree with the conclusion that they ought to be working on keeping the driver engaged in the driving process rather than perfecting the automation. The draw of automated driving systems for many if not most people is that you won't have to pay attention and can do something else entirely. Take that away and you may have a safer system in which no-one is interested.

      1. mathew42
        Facepalm

        Re: Ummm, no.

        > The draw of automated driving systems for many if not most people is that you won't have to pay attention and can do something else entirely. Take that away and you may have a safer system in which no-one is interested.

        I agree I would much prefer to sit in the car and engage with the kids while travelling somewhere rather than concentrating on the traffic, but before we have full automation there is the 'stop stupid mistakes' stage which we have already reached with features like: automatic braking, distance keeping cruise control, lane following, blind spot monitoring, etc. I considered it worth $2500 for some of these features when buying a car earlier this year.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Ummm, no.

          Hmm, I see an opportunity for a rear-window sticker..

          "This car is fitted with an automatic braking system. Driving as close as you are so that you can read this means that the system will create additional braking distance ahead by slowing down, taking into account your inability to react quickly enough at this distance"

          Although perhaps less wordy :)

    3. John Bailey

      Re: Ummm, no.

      "If they think they can do the same thing they did with pilots with car drivers (ie. glue them into a seat with absolutely nothing whatsoever to do for hours, yet require them to react at the first sign of trouble) they're way more delusional than I thought they were."

      Don't worry.. You are still the most delusional sweetie.

      The whole idea has been to gradually introduce the automation systems. And it has been working just fine for ages now.

      ABS is for whimps.. right? Not something a real manly driver like yourself would ever need. Because you know how to apply the braking system in just the right way from one vehicle to another to get it right first time every time.

      You did actually practice this.. right? not just see some bloke do it on a test course on telly..

      Power steering.. Not for you eh? As you take the wheel in your big manly hands, and force it to do your bidding.

      But..

      Fancy a few quid off your insurance?

      If your next car has one of those tailgating prevention things. You could get a discount, and a free meercat toy. Until they become mandatory in all new cars that is. At which point.. everybody gets a discount.

      A system to stop you wandering over the dotted line.. Already here.

      Automatic parking. Done.

      Reversing sensors..

      Coming soon.. Faster motorway lanes for autonomous vehicles. Starting with delivery vehicles in a slow lane in convoys, but gradually becoming an auto only super fast lane.

      We are already in the fly by wire age of driving.

      In just a few short decades, the last curly haired denim wearing real men of driving will bellow in confusion, as they get driven to the hospital for their hip replacement by a driver-less minicab. Because nobody bothers to buy a car any more. They just hail one, and a few minutes later, one arrives. Takes you to your destination, and joins the spare vehicle pool.

      And before you come back with the old "but people want to drive" nonsense..

      One question.

      Which day is baking day?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Ummm, no.

        Driverless car "Takes you to your destination"

        ...or a dark, deserted underground carpark where __________ awaits you...

      2. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: Ummm, no.

        "ABS is for whimps.. right? Not something a real manly driver like yourself would ever need. Because you know how to apply the braking system in just the right way from one vehicle to another to get it right first time every time"

        Hmmm.... ABS. I've had ABS enabled cars for about 15 years of driving. In that time I've activated it about 15 times. On each occasion it was to check that it still worked. I've never needed to activate ABS in order to stop the car. Not even on a track.

        "Automatic parking. Done."

        Erm, no. I parallell park just fine, and faster than any of the automated systems on the market. If you don't, then perhaps it's best for both of us if you do have an autonomous car.

        "Reversing sensors"

        Nope. Don't need 'em, don't even have 'em. I do enjoy the accidents that ensue when someone used to stopping only when the sensor is screaming backs into something failing to realise their sensor is goosed.

        "Because nobody bothers to buy a car any more. They just hail one, and a few minutes later, one arrives. Takes you to your destination, and joins the spare vehicle pool."

        Only if you want to be the guy cleaning out the cum stains, the puke, the blood, the needles, and the litter. I'll keep my car just for me thanks. I've used public transport, and it stinks. People are animals.

      3. itzman
        Devil

        Re: Ummm, no.

        You echo the comment made to be by someone in the transport business 'the only thing that isn't computer controlled NOW is the steering'

        His vision is of driverless and ownerless cars, that are never parked, merely stop to take on or eject passengers.

        GPS and traffic control systems run them end to end up motorways and at exactly prescribed speeds on minor roads.

        Radar ultrasonics and infra red allow them to detect obstacles in all weathers.

        Links to a global car net allow them to be tracked, cradle to grave.

        Frankly given the aptitude of a significant minority of drivers, its probably the only way forward.

        (I've used the spawn of Satan icon because it looks just like a car to me.)

  6. Steve the Cynic

    "A North Yorkshire startup called New Wave Energy has come up with a concept to deploy a network of drones at a high altitude to harvest solar and wind energy."

    This claim intrigued me, so I checked out their site. No, they don't claim to be trying to defeat the laws of thermodynamics. A flying platform cannot generate enough energy to propel itself by deploying a wind turbine - if it could, that would make it a perpetual motion machine...

    1. John Bailey

      "A flying platform cannot generate enough energy to propel itself by deploying a wind turbine - if it could, that would make it a perpetual motion machine..."

      No it wouldn't.

      To qualify as a perpetual motion machine, the device has to have zero external energy input.

      Wind is external energy input.

      So to qualify, the flying wind turbine would need to produce the wind as well as harvesting it. Which is not being proposed. So a turbine carried aloft by a fleet of quadcopters beaming power via some kind of wireless transfer, is fanciful, but is not perpetual motion. Just highly unlikely to work.

      A solar cell in a light proof box powering a bulb it harvests enough energy to power would qualify. But it would have to be more than 100% efficient to perform this act.

      A water wheel would not.

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        High altitude balloons tethered by electrical cable would fare better methinks

      2. werdsmith Silver badge

        "A solar cell in a light proof box powering a bulb it harvests enough energy to power would qualify."

        Just wondering where the "motion" in this perpetual motion device is?

        Electrons moving round the circuit? Photons?

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          The term was coined before the advent of electricity. The more proper term these days is "over-unity," which accounts for non-mechanical "perpetual" concepts.

      3. itzman

        Quadcopter tuirbines...

        So a turbine carried aloft by a fleet of quadcopters beaming power via some kind of wireless transfer, is fanciful, but is not perpetual motion. Just highly unlikely to work.

        No. it is fanciful and betrays an alarming lack of understanding of physics.

        In order to extract power from mechanical energy as such, you need to maintain a speed differential by some means between the things used to extract energy.

        A wind turbine does this by being firmly anchored to the earth. Any free flying structure cannot extract energy from a steady wind - it will be carried along with it. Any energy you use to keep it in one (geographical) spot will negate all the energy you get out of it, by definition. It is exactly the same as building a car that extracts its motive power from a non driven set of wheels in some way. A perpetual motion machine.

        The only way a free flying structure can extract energy from the wind is by exploiting velocity differences in airflow. As sailplanes do, and especially (model) dynamic soarers, that can achieve remarkable energy gains looping through wind shear.

  7. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Some interesting possibilities here...

    but delivering parcels for amazon really isn't one of them.

    1) Major weight limitations

    2) Where does it land?

    3) How does it knock on the door for a signature?

    4) How does it know to leave it in the garden shed if I'm out? And even if it does, how does it open the door?

    5) How many people live within 10 miles of an amazon distribution centre?

    6) And what about people living in blocks of flats? Does it knock on the window?

    7) and the whole thing about collisions with trees, birds, power-lines, phone-lines etc...

    Drones may one day have many uses, apart from firing missiles at Afghan children, but they won't include amazon deliveries.

    </no-more-than-640K-prediction>

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

      but delivering parcels for amazon really isn't one of them.

      Unless Amazon starts selling smack. Compared to the price of one kg of good Afghan quality home entertainment, the drone is similar to a postage stamp!

    2. Remy Redert

      Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

      1) Hardly, lift to weight ratios on the drones you'd use for this are pretty good.

      2) On the ground, typically. Balconies, gardens, etc. You will probably be able to indicate where you want to meet the drone yourself.

      3) Why would it knock when it can call your cell?

      4) If you're ordering something by drone, the whole point was delivery in 30 minutes or less. You won't be out, because you're ordering this and you know it'll be with you in 30 minutes.

      5) I'm not sure about this one, but probably millions of people, if the location of the Amazon distribution center nearest to me in Netherlands is any indication.

      6) Blocks of flats tend have to have balconies, which many drones would be able to land packages on. They also tend to have open spaces nearby you could use instead.

      7) Trees and birds are a total non-issue, they are highly visible on LIDAR, which is the most likely choice for collision avoidance. Powerlines and phone lines may be an issue if you live an area where these are common and for some reason not mapped in advance. It's not like powerlines move around a lot. Clotheslines would be a bigger threat, those aren't as easy to map and if there's nothing on them, their LIDAR return tends to be pretty small as well.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

        "5) I'm not sure about this one, but probably millions of people, if the location of the Amazon distribution center nearest to me in Netherlands is any indication."

        IINM, the testbed for the concept is going to be New York City. 10 million people alone plus whoever is within reach in the suburbs on Long Island and New Jersey. Not to mention a ground traffic problem that makes aerial courier a more-financially-tempting option.

    3. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

      8) How will it know the most irritating number of seconds to wait before posting the 'We called but you were out' note while the recipient is on their way to the front door?

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

        9) We tried to deliver it but some of the local scrotes nabbed the drone and parcel…

    4. mathew42
      Pirate

      Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

      I think this has merit in the suburbs when combined with a delivery van. Software plots out where packages require delivery and instructs the driver where to park. The roof opens, a dozen drones take off while the driver (wheeled robot?) delivers a heavy package. The drones return and the van moves to the next spot while the drones recharge or swap batteries.

      1. Boothy

        Re: Some interesting possibilities here...

        I would expect, to be part of the trial...

        * You have to live within 10 miles.

        * Have a secure location where the items could be dropped off safely (secure back yard, etc)

        * Maybe have a box that items could be dropped into to, or at least an agreed dropoff point, X marks the spot etc.

        * Maybe even a visit from someone at Amazon to confirm things are okay.

        Only those that pass vetting, get to use the drone service, at least for now.

  8. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Pint

    War. What is it good for?

    "There is no question in my mind that drone warfare is much better and safer, and results in less collateral damage than putting a human at the tip of a spear."

    There's a certain irony about "safer warfare" I suppose. Personally I think that being at the end of the spear instead of thousands of miles away is a sharp reminder that this is real death, injury and destruction, and not a high res video game. I'd also like to think that looking your enemy in the eye makes you reflect on the horror of conflict. If not in the heat of battle, at least afterwards.

    Then I remember ISIS, or IR or whatever they're called now.

    Pint, because I think I need one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: War. What is it good for?

      " I'd also like to think that looking your enemy in the eye makes you reflect on the horror of conflict. If not in the heat of battle, at least afterwards."

      Yes, that's called PTSD.

      Given that the horror of war has not resulted in any loss of enthusiasm amongst those starting wars, and given that those fighting the wars are never the people who make the decisions to go to war, I'd suggest trying to keep our soldiers out of harms way is a good thing. Even if it's a dodgy war we've started on made up evidence, or one that we've stupidly contributed too.

      Of course, if you want to go back to man-to-man knife fights as a noble quest, then you feel free to get yourself a sword, travel to some fly-blown god-forsaken dump and take on an IED with your trusty blade.

      1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge

        Re: War. What is it good for?

        There's a lot to be said for taking the messiness out of war.

        Now if you'll excuse me I have an appointment with a disintegration chamber on Eminiar 7.

        [Not wishing to trivialise an important topic, just to make a point]

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: War. What is it good for?

          "Now if you'll excuse me I have an appointment with a disintegration chamber on Eminiar 7."

          It's a good point to make, almost the logical conclusion. I wonder how it would have played out if the concept of computer hacking had gained common currency earlier - would the two warring planets in "A Taste of Armageddon" have employed teams of black hats, busily gaming the system in their favour?

    2. itzman
      Linux

      Re: War. What is it good for?

      I suspect the time has come for a philosophical understanding of the purposes of war.

      1/. It used to be to capture land or goods and chattels from someone else, and in theory that requires no bloodshed at all. Its merely armed theft in principle, and could as easily become secret theft. Governments already practice this on their own citizens with remarkable success. What is a government but a self legalising protection racket anyway?

      2/. As a means of removing a section of human population whose goods and chattels and actual occupied land you want. Ethnic cleansing, Apartheid and Jihad, and other 'final solutions' are the modern way to describe this process. As such as a means of relieving population pressure it has much to commend it. And can be bloodless on the part of the aggressors if they are sufficiently asymmetric with respect to technology and wealth.

      3/. As evinced by Sheri Tepper's protagonist queen 'What is the point of dead heroes?' it is also a means of ridding yourself of otherwise unemployable testosterone charged Youths who instead of being nothing but trouble, can become Heroic Examples To Us All. In short, as the book delineates, the point of dead heroes, is that they are dead. An additional bonus is that the now more numerous womenfolk have to be a bit nice to the men that are left if they want any nookie. This is most beneficial to society.

      It can easily be seen that in terms of the first two objectives drone warfare is infinitely preferable. It enables you to have power over them, without placing yourself in danger.

      Only in the third objective is it at a disadvantage. Drones produce no heroes, dead or alive. Neither can their use be relied upon to decimate your own population to relieve socio-economic pressure on scarce resources.

      (Well unless they are running a Microsoft derived operating system in which case all bets are off. Like the Sopwith Camel, which killed more allied pilots than enemy, in WWI, due to its quirky nature.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: War. What is it good for?

        Neither can their use be relied upon to decimate your own population to relieve socio-economic pressure on scarce resources.

        Unless - We offer free soda, burgers and crisps ad libitum for the drone operators.

  9. Evil Graham

    There's always a human somewhere

    As we saw on wikileaks a few years ago when drone operators happily blew up a minibus containing women, children and assorted wounded casualties.

    1. War President

      Re: There's always a human somewhere

      Ahh, the safe, stress-free life of a USian drone operator. Wake up, eat breakfast, see the kids off to school, commute to work, blow up some bad guys, some women and kids, and maybe a wedding procession or two halfway around the world. Get home in time for dinner and family fun night. Tomorrow, maybe you'll get to blow up some bad guys and a funeral procession! Don't worry, they're all valid targets.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There's always a human somewhere

        Do note that she wasn't reported as saying "This will make if safer for civilians" she just said it would be safer as it would mean there would be less chance of killing their own people.

        Not that I agree that that will be the case anyway.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: There's always a human somewhere

      Right about the first war plane, someone must have thought: "These people look like ants from up here, I could soo squash them". Back then, they had manually to lob a few bombs over the side, today it's just pushing a trigger and some pixels on a screen gets it.

  10. Joefish

    I think there's some missing reasoning here...

    How do we get from 'it's more comfy to sit a hundred miles behind your own lines and remote-pilot a plane into a combat zone than to be sat in it taking fire' to 'it's similarly much better to be sat in a car you have no control over'?

  11. dotdavid

    Unlike Google, Ford has the power to make driverless cars actually happen should the technology pan out

    Why would Google be any less likely to be able to do this than Ford? They seem to be doing okay so far after all.

    1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Google already depends on Ford to produce their cars (The Google self-driving vehicles are modified Ford Fusions). Google might be able write software for the vehicle, but they'll never build 'em themselves. I would venture to guess that its a cooperative effort between the two companies with each researching different aspects.

      I would have a very difficult time believing that Google would want to plow billions of dollars into construction of factory facilities, hiring proper experts, and building up the proper Government / Partner connections when they can just help Ford.

      1. petboy

        Which Google self-driving cars are modified Ford Fusions? The original Toyota Priuses, or the newer Lexus rx450h? Genuinely interested if they have switched allegiance ...

      2. dotdavid

        I suspect Google might think about having a system like the Android model, where car manufacturers could sign up to use Google's software.

        That said they've built their own buggy-cars so they might not be against building their own.

  12. JaitcH
    FAIL

    Both Canadian and UK Soldiers will agree with her

    Repeatedly, Canadian and UK soldiers, as well as many others from other countries have been killed by 'friendly fire' by American airborne cowboys - even when ordered not to fire.

    But in a war between Russia, or the Chinese, the drones will be castrated when the enemy knock-out US satellites killing the drone command and control.

    We should also remember all the innocent women and children killed by manned and unmanned aircraft. As well as the Reuters reporters who were murdered by a manned US Apache helicopter looking for fun on a Saturday afternoon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Both Canadian and UK Soldiers will agree with her

      "But in a war between Russia, or the Chinese, the drones will be castrated when the enemy knock-out US satellites killing the drone command and control."

      1) Many drones aren't controlled by satellited but with a direct radio feed. Which means you need to use localized jammers. If those are countered with a multiple-frequency or switchable setup, you're pretty much down to total radio silence for both sides.

      2) More drones can accept local mission programming for semi-autonomous operation, meaning even if it loses communications, it can still carry out its mission and find its way back (even if GPS was jammed, it can still use accelerometers to get a close enough reckoning to let other sensors pick up the slack).

      What would be the counters to either a short-range drone or a semi-autonomous one that uses the encrypted military GPS, both of which would be jam- and hack-resistant?

      1. itzman

        Re: What would be the counters...

        ....to either a short-range drone or a semi-autonomous one that uses the encrypted military GPS, both of which would be jam- and hack-resistant?...

        Take out the GPS sattellites.

        us AA fire to disrupt the gyros.

        Leaving just magnetic fields and radar /visual cues as ways of working out where the poor thing is!

  13. Chris G Silver badge

    I call BS

    "There is no question in my mind that drone warfare is much better and safer, and results in less collateral damage than putting a human at the tip of a spear."

    To date the ratio between actual targets assassinated by the US and it's President is apalling, if you care to read some of what is reported at http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/ the figures are an indictment of the US its allies and their agenda in many places.

    I used the word assassinated above because there is no legal due process or trial carried out before the targets are chosen for extermination it's just a decision made by military intelligence bod under an Executive order, so Obarmy is apparently above the law.

    How high a figure does she think there would be if pilots in warplanes were attacking instead?

    It could be worse but unlikely, or are pilots that trigger happy?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: I call BS

      "are pilots that trigger happy?"

      Yes they are. The US Navy feeds its pilots amphetamines to keep them awake and operating on minimal sleep. The results are fairly predictable.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    knife fights

    "... if you want to go back to man-to-man knife fights..."

    Sure would, so long as the "leaders" who order us to war are the first ones into the arena.

    Once they've been eliminated the rest of us can decide if it's worth carrying on.

  15. Speltier

    Tesla "AutoPilot"

    This does not bode well for Tesla's "auto pilot" mode.

    The car pilot, like an airplane pilot, will mentally pass out while nothing much is happening, then need to respond quickly to an incipient disaster. At least an airplane pilot usually has some time to wake up and respond (and is trained to do so in the time available), unlike a car pilot who both doesn't have any time and isn't trained....

    On the one hand, at least someone is pushing new tech out, on the other hand, the EULA for the software will probably say there are no guarantees express or implied... and you will have to hit the "I accept" button for the 75+ page EULA in 6 point single spaced font (EULA updated every day) each time the car is started.

  16. Dave Bell

    Drone operators might be under less stress than somebody flying a fast jet pver a battlefield, and that could pay off in effectiveness. They're not affected by high-g manouvers, vibration, or noise. And you have the chance to watch over them, have an experienced supervisor keep an eye on things amd take a wider look, much as in the Battle of Britain some people could fight the battle while the pilots could focus on the local details. But some of that is a leadership problem, and some of the bad aspects can be seen as the intrusion of managers. It's still a battle.

    And that is where the lady has her experience.

    The more assassination-like missions are a whole different set of problems, starting with just who decides on a target. It's not likely to be a forward air controller marking your target with a laser.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Being there

    Missy says that being a drone pilot is safer. I'm sure that's true. But doesn't killing someone from thousands of miles away in a comfortable air conditioned office de-humanise the act of killing another person?

    Killing another person is not an act to be undertaken lightly. Making it less stressful for the killer shouldn't be a consideration. Didn't the Nazi's invent gas chambers to make their genocide program less stressful for the killers?

    I am NOT equating America's use of drones to Nazi genocide.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Being there

      "Didn't the Nazi's invent gas chambers to make their genocide program less stressful for the killers?"

      The reason they resorted to the chambers is that Einsatzgruppen units wandering around machine-gunning people wasn't generating high enough numbers for their purposes. They turned killing into an industrial process - truly the darkest of human 'accomplishments'.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Being there

        "The reason they resorted to the chambers is that Einsatzgruppen units wandering around machine-gunning people wasn't generating high enough numbers for their purposes."

        Um, no. They really were looking for a way to reduce the stress caused by killing people. A good number of the Einsatzgruppen soldiers refused to do their job, or started killing themselves/commanding officers, which contributed to the low effectiveness of the operation.

        As far as dehumanising goes: Pilots strafing/bombing ground targets are already well isolated from the effects of their actions and it shows in spades. Drone operatives are more likely to see the end results of their actions up close in telephotoshots, plus know they'll be held accountable for them.

        In addition, large drones/UAVs have teams operating them. It's not one person or two people who have to both fly, look for opposing aircraft/SAMs, find targets and make the decisions - although given the number of cases of pilots loosing weapons even when ordered not to, there's a hell of a case for remote disabling of the "fire"button on piloted aircraft until actually authorised to use it.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I wonder...

    Are we approaching an Aircraft Carrier vs Battleship moment, with respect to UAVs (potentially cheaper and in large numbers) vs. manned aircraft, bearing in mind the cost of a highly skilled human?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: I wonder...

      "Are we approaching an Aircraft Carrier vs Battleship moment,"

      We're well past that (collectively, worldwide)

      The world was well past that point in 1941 too, but it took the Japanese rubbing American noses in it before the lesson sunk in.

      Military types will fight tomorrow's battles using today's technology and yesterday's tactics.

      One of the lessons which hasn't sunk in yet is that asymetric warfare virtually always bankrupts the entity which keeps ramping up military expenditure the most. It's a lesson that guerillas have been exploiting against formal armies since at least the Maori wars of the 19th century (Maori tribes won three wars against the british army using those tactics).

      IMO the way to win hearts and minds in most places is by piling in aid, trade and education. It's cheaper than dropping bombs, cheaper than cleaning up after dropping bombs and doesn't have the side effect of being the best "terrorist" recruiting tool around that dropping bombs on non-combatants happens to be.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: I wonder...

        "IMO the way to win hearts and minds in most places is by piling in aid, trade and education. It's cheaper than dropping bombs, cheaper than cleaning up after dropping bombs and doesn't have the side effect of being the best "terrorist" recruiting tool around that dropping bombs on non-combatants happens to be.

        But what happens when the bad guys get smart and steal the airdrops and claim they're theirs to give?

  19. dan1980

    Ominous. Maybe.

    "Humans and Autonomy Laboratory"

    Is anyone else worried about that acronym . . . ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ominous. Maybe.

      Not at all Dan. They have a perfect operational record - any issue could only be attributable to human error. Quite honestly, I wouldn't worry myself about that.

      1. dan1980

        Re: Ominous. Maybe.

        Famous last words . . .

  20. DerekCurrie Bronze badge
    Thumb Down

    Much as I appreciate using drones for recognizance...

    ... It is a terrible precedent to set for the future using drones as a coward's murder machine. Separate the human from the battle by way of machine and all humanity is gone from the debacle. It's cold, heartless, cowardly murder. When the soldier has nothing at stake, isn't in danger themselves, just sits back and has the machine do it, they are lost to humanity. This is sick stuff.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Much as I appreciate using drones for recognizance...

      Unfortunately this has been true since the day that the boss stopped leading the troops to battle.

    2. LucreLout Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Much as I appreciate using drones for recognizance...

      "When the soldier has nothing at stake, isn't in danger themselves, just sits back and has the machine do it, they are lost to humanity. This is sick stuff."

      It's no different to IEDs that kill and maim in the middle east. The cowards setting them aren't fighting, they're just blowing people up from a distance. All drones do is allow that distance to increase from a few hundred feet to a few continents away.

      If the enemy won't fight as a legitimate army, resorting instead to terrorism and hiding, then drones become the logical choice to protect your people, for soldiers are people too.

      Where it will get really interesting is when the solider is removed entirely, and a decent AI is left to control the drones and select or recognise the targets. That will trully reduce the cost of asymmetric warfare, and could be the beginning of the end for the cowardly brand of terrorism currently afflicting the world.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Much as I appreciate using drones for recognizance...

        "Where it will get really interesting is when the solider is removed entirely, and a decent AI is left to control the drones and select or recognise the targets. That will trully reduce the cost of asymmetric warfare, and could be the beginning of the end for the cowardly brand of terrorism currently afflicting the world."

        Then what happens when the terrorists get their hands on them?

  21. Ken 16 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Bombers rather than Fighters

    The article refers to drones replacing manned fighter planes but talks about them replacing manned bombers instead. I'm not sure what test have been done of attack drones carrying out missions in a hostile airspace while being shot at by manned fighter/interceptor/pursuit aircraft.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A better and safer way to kill more people. Hip, hip, HOORAY!

  23. MJI Silver badge

    Replacing pilots

    I could see that for bombing missions, but not yet for fighters.

    That said there are better pilots out there than the US top guns. See FAA and RAF

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