Feeds

Google experimenting with spy drones, says German maker

'Sky View' brewing, or just fresher Google Maps?

Top three mobile application threats

Global small-ads colossus Google is trialling a small battery-powered camera drone of a type previously used by the UK police and special forces, according to reports. It's thought that the flying spyeyes might add a new dimension to the company's controversial "Street View" picture database, compiled by fleets of camera cars driving along roads.

The drone in question is made by German maker Microdrones GmbH, formerly in the news as supplier to the Merseyside police - and, it seems certain, previously to elements of the UK special forces. Microdrones chief exec Sven Juerss told German biz mag Wirtschaft Woche at the weekend that his firm has supplied one drone to Google already and that he has hopes of orders for "dozens" more in future.

"The UAVs are well suited to provide more timely recording of the map service Google Earth," said Juerss, suggesting that his products would supplement the aerial photography and satellite pics used by Google as a display option in its Maps and Earth apps.

Predictably, however, privacy advocates feared that the drones would instead be used to provide an ultra-intrusive variant on the firm's controversial Street View service, which tacks on imagery from camera cars to Google's mapping products (which also, famously, slurp up data on local WiFi nets as they go).

A battery-powered md4-1000 quadcopter can stay up for over an hour, navigating autonomously the while, supplying pictures of a large area as it passes over. Alternatively such a machine can hover in place as an airborne spyeye, though this would forfeit any serious area coverage.

In the UK use of small, lightweight UAVs of this type was formerly unregulated under a provision allowing model and toy aircraft enthusiasts to pursue their pastimes without red tape. However, following the furore over the Merseyside police machine, the UK rules were amended such that any aircraft capable of surveillance - no matter how small - must be registered with the authorities.

The likeliest use of the new Googlecraft would seem to be the production of aerial photography more cheaply than the ads colossus can buy it from the usual suppliers, so furnishing Google with yet more cheap searchable content to drive eyeballs to its adverts. Such imagery doesn't seem likely to be significantly more intrusive than existing offerings.

Nonetheless, the drones' silent operation and previous use by police and secret military units seems sure to trigger a fresh panic among those concerned over privacy - and it's certainly true that Google has form in this area, albeit regarding electronic rather than visual data in recent times. ®

Seven Steps to Software Security

More from The Register

next story
NO MORE ALL CAPS and other pleasures of Visual Studio 14
Unpicking a packed preview that breaks down ASP.NET
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Put down that Oracle database patch: It could cost $23,000 per CPU
On-by-default INMEMORY tech a boon for developers ... as long as they can afford it
Google shows off new Chrome OS look
Athena springs full-grown from Chromium project's head
Apple: We'll unleash OS X Yosemite beta on the MASSES on 24 July
Starting today, regular fanbois will be guinea pigs, it tells Reg
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.