Distracted driving, domestic drones, and a camera faster than the speed of light

Molly Wood Dec 14, 2011

Distracted driving, domestic drones, and a camera faster than the speed of light

Molly Wood Dec 14, 2011

A lot of people have smartphones with built-in web browsers. If you’re using one to read this while you’re driving, the National Transportation Safety Board wishes you would cut it out. The Board has gone one step further, in fact, by recommending that all states ban the use of cell phones for browsing, texting, or even talking. The ban extends to hands-free devices as well.

But are hands-free devices really all that bad? You have both hands on the wheel, presumably. David Strayer of the University of Utah, who has studied this issue, says that when you’re talking on the phone, “you fail to see about half of the stuff that you normally would have seen, and it doesn’t matter if you’re handheld or hands-free. Your crash risk when you’re talking on a cell phone is about four times higher than if you weren’t. And to put that into context, that’s the same level of crash risk that you see if someone is at a .08 blood alcohol level, so it’s pretty substantial.”

Turning from cars you drive to planes that have no internal pilot, you may have heard of unmanned drone aircraft being used in Afghanistan or Pakistan. How about North Dakota? It turns out the same planes used on spy missions and attack missions overseas are being used on citizens here in the U.S..  An unmanned Predator B drone was used in an investigation that led to five arrests in North Dakota.

It’s believed to be the first time a drone operation in the U.S. has resulted in an arrest.  Joseph Vacek is a professor of aviation at the University of North Dakota and says it won’t be the last time, “I know at least ten law enforcement agencies right now who have geared up and have either bought drones or have plans to do so. The one thing that’s stopping it is a regulation by Federal Aviation Administration that says you can’t actually use drones unless you have special permission and they’re very hesitant to give that.”

Vacek says the FAA’s reluctance is all about safety concerns but once those issues are resolved, we can expect to see a lot more drones in the air, watching over all of us. That brings up the issue of privacy. “One interesting thing is that privacy law probably is not going to stand in the way of domestic use of drones,” says Ryan Calo of Stanford’s Center for Internet and Society, because most of it happens in public, in open fields, and historically privacy law has not allowed you to have reasonable expectation of privacy in public.”

But Calo says that the presence of drones is very different than the presence of, say, police helicopters, which are sent up to investigate one particular thing. A fleet of drones can have a constant 24/7 presence in the air. “The drone is a very visceral reminder that our privacy is being violated,” says Calo, “and to have them flying around our cities, I think that’s going to force a conversation about privacy law that’s ultimately healthy.”

Also in this program, a camera that capture the movement of light particles. You know in movies when a spaceship jumps to hyperspace and the light forms long streaks? Yeah. That. They’ve built something that can photograph that for real.

Here’s the video:

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