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1 Dawn of the drone era (Khaleej Times) The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has just come out with the names of six sites across the country where unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can be tested. The agency expects 10,000 small drones to be flying over the US airspace in less than five years, which would be remarkable considering the stiff opposition from most states. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 42 states are considering bills to restrict the use of drones.
But proponents of drones claim that these unmanned flying vehicles would prove useful not just in rescue operations, but also help security agencies in nabbing criminals and provide early warnings of pest attacks to farmers. The opening up of skies for drones will also trigger new business opportunities. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that drones could generate more than $80 billion worth of business annually by 2025, besides creating more than 100,000 jobs.
Jeff Bezos of Amazon has already unveiled plans to deliver packages to customers virtually at their doorsteps by deploying drones. A Chinese company has launched an intelligent drone, equipped with a flying camera, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, which is being sold for as little as $1,200. The quadrocopter can soar 1,000ft high and fly for nearly 30 minutes, while the operator controlling it from the ground can take pictures that can be streamed on to a smartphone.
But the threat posed by the unregulated flying of these vehicles was underlined recently when officials in Beijing had to divert two aircraft and reschedule flights after they detected a drone flying 700 metres above the international airport. Four employees of a firm that had designed the drones were detained by the police. The Chinese have taken to drones in a big way and entrepreneurs are busy experimenting with newer versions of the vehicles.
2 Sharing economy may boost productivity (Aki Ito & Jeff Kearns in San Francisco Chronicle) In the sharing economy, consumers not only save money but also earn a little extra. Ben Palmer in Boston rents his Lexus to RelayRides Inc. members some weekends, making about $100 to $200 a month for a vehicle that he rarely drives. He says the money that supplements his salary pays for the car’s maintenance costs and helps him justify keeping it. “I’ve invested so much into it and it would feel like a loss if I had to sell it,” said Palmer, 29.
The downside to it is the risk that these services lead to a society that needs fewer cars and such other things. If so, it’s unclear whether the smaller rental fees collected in the sharing economy will offset a decline in pricey up-front purchases. One car-sharing vehicle takes about nine to 13 cars off the road, and 2 percent of bike-share members reported the service was somewhat or very important to their decision to sell an automobile or postpone buying one, according to the research of Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Centre at UC Berkeley.
“This has all the hallmarks of a disruptive technology for a bunch of industries that have never had to think about disruptive technologies,” said Nicolas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, a trading services company in New York. He described the change as potentially catastrophic for businesses reliant on an ownership society. “In the near term GDP would take a hit,” he said. Ian Hathaway, formerly an economic analyst with the Federal Reserve, said he is optimistic innovations such as sharing networks will boost growth over time. Some businesses are preparing for a future of more sharing, with General Motors” venture arm investing $3 million in RelayRides, based in San Francisco. “As more people are moving into urban environments with increasing congestion, GM is looking at alternative business models,” said Dan Flores, a GM spokesman.
3 ‘Secret of modern UK: No power anywhere’ (Decca Aitkenhead in The Guardian) Tory MP Rory Stewart feels ordinary Afghans are far more powerful than British citizens, because at least they feel they can have a role in one of the country’s 20,000 villages. “But in our situation we’re all powerless. I mean, we pretend we’re run by people. We’re not run by anybody. The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere. I mean, nobody can see power in Britain. The politicians think journalists have power. The journalists know they don’t have any. Then they think the bankers have power. The bankers know they don’t have any. None of them have any power.”
And this from a man who only two years ago attended the Bilderberg conference, a highly exclusive and secretive gathering of the world’s most powerful bankers, politicians and businesspeople? “Well there we are, you see,” he smiles. “I can tell you, there is nothing there. It’s like the wizard of Oz. This is the age of the wizard of Oz, you know. In the end you get behind the curtain and you finally meet the wizard – and there’s this tiny, frightened figure. I think every prime minister has sort of said this since Blair. You get there and you pull the lever, and nothing happens.”
But that doesn’t mean he thinks he’s wrong to be an MP, and he doesn’t for a minute regret it. In fact he is remarkably cheerful, plans to do the job for at least a decade, and hopes for a ministerial post. “I’m not depressed or disillusioned – I want to be here to see if I can change it. I’m desperate to try to use my life to engage with the spirit of the age, and in the end the thing I grumble about – powerlessness – is the essence of the spirit of the age. So the thing I’d be really proud of would be to change the British constitution in a way that unlocked all that untapped energy in this country.”