Jan 18 2012

The Internet is a little darker today


Today, Wikipedia, Reddit, and a host of other sites across the internet have gone dark to protest the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA  (the PROTECT IP Act) bills worming their way through the legislature here in the US.

Both bills enable not just government censorship of the internet, but censorship initiated by the private sector, e.g. the MPAA and the RIAA, as a response to what they see as threats to their intellectual property rights.

The bills are both rapidly losing steam. reported yesterday that votes in both houses of Congress have been delayed as protests around the internet have picked up supporters.  On January 14, the Obama administration released a statement which indicated opposition to the most controversial enforcement mechanisms in both bills — DNS blacklisting, the same internet censorship techniques used by Iran, China, and Syria.

“We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.”  — the White House Blog, at

But that doesn’t mean the bills are dead; far from it. Today’s digital protests are important, both as a way to raise awareness of the bills amongst people who might not know much about intellectual property law, and also to register the displeasure of all the internet entrepreneurs and information workers who would be affected by the sweeping legislation.

We at Acceler8or believe both these bills are bad policy with a high potential for abuse, and we stand with the sites which have chosen to go dark today.  We’re a small site, and blacking out for the day doesn’t make much sense for us, nor would it make a ripple in the immense oceans of traffic that make up the internet.  But we would like  to encourage our US readers to take a moment to register their opposition to the bills with their elected representatives.  One easy way is using this page from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to send email to your representatives in Congress.  Another good way is through, where you can get tools to help you advertise your opposition on your own websites.

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.


Dec 13 2011

Quadrotors Will Do Everything (Well, Almost)


About a year ago I wrote an article for H+ magazine on the use of quadrotors for a variety of purposes, ranging from VR telepresence units to sensor platforms for dangerous environments to construction.

So, you can imagine my reaction on reading this article on Singularity Hub.  In short, it’s about a demonstration of robotic assembly, done by quadrotors under computer control, building a 20 foot tall tower out of lightweight foam blocks. Foam might not sound impressive, but it’s a public demonstration, so I’m sure foam was chosen not only because it’s light enough to not place a major strain on the copters, but because it’s soft enough to not cause injuries if the tower falls over. The materials are meaningless however, because it’s the control systems that are the real story. Fifty quadrotors will fly under complete computer control, having to navigate not just the static environment, but the variable obstacle course of all the other quadrotors, the changing environment of the tower being built and maybe even having to dodge the occasional overly curious onlooker. As you can probably imagine, I had to grin. Not even a full year later, and already we’re seeing stories about quadrotors being used as I described.

But I’m not the only one who’s seen how useful quadrotor could be. In a recent blog post, K. Eric Drexler asked “Where are the Parrots?” He looks at the robots used to explore the Fukushima reactor, a pair of Monirobo’s, a track based one armed robot that have a top speed of 2.4 kph, and weigh 600kg, and has to wonder why such clumsy robots were being used when the Parrot AR drone makes a far superior platform for the job. He points out that  many “Very Serious People” are dismissive of “toys”

So I decided to do a review and take a look at what sort of developments have been happening with quadrotors over the last year. First up, I have a video from January of 2011, just a few months after my original article.

As you can see, this features construction with modular materials… in this case, magnetically connectable girders. It provides an illustration of the most basic concept of the quadrotor construction battalion.

However, to really appreciate the potential here I have another video for you

That’s a video of China’s Broad Group building a modular hotel in less than one week. Now replace every human worker in the video with a quadrotor and you can probably guess what the upcoming demo is going to look like.

Precision swarming has also made advances since that first video, as this one from September of 2011 illustrates.

These videos are from the ETH labs in Zurich, and are part of a great series of quadrotor developments they have made, but autonomous flight is not the only kind of developments they are working on.

I found a very interesting video in which they are demonstrating a “control interface” that is entirely virtual, powered by a Kinect.

While I think full “mind control” of quadrotors via an emotive epoch style headset is what will eventually become the primary control interface of an RTU drone, the Kinect demo shows how intuitive we can make the control systems for everyday use of quadroters. This ease of use is one of the primary advantages of using quadrotors as camera and sensor platforms for dangerous environment navigation, like the Fukushima reactors.

There’s lots more interesting videos out there covering the many capabilities of quadrotors, from DIY projects to various university reports, and they all continue to say the same thing I first thought a year ago. Quadrotors are neither a toy, nor a curiosity. They are the first primitive stages of a variety of useful tools that will reshape how we do many things. I’m looking forward to seeing videos of the construction demo, because I love seeing the future be developed right in front of me.

And of course, getting to say “told you so!” : )