Feeds

Google experimenting with spy drones, says German maker

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

High performance access to file storage

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. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Android engineer: We DIDN'T copy Apple OR follow Samsung's orders
Veep testifies for Samsung during Apple patent trial
Windows 8.1, which you probably haven't upgraded to yet, ALREADY OBSOLETE
Pre-Update versions of new Windows version will no longer support patches
OpenSSL Heartbleed: Bloody nose for open-source bleeding hearts
Bloke behind the cockup says not enough people are helping crucial crypto project
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Windows XP still has 27 per cent market share on its deathbed
Windows 7 making some gains on XP Death Day
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
US taxman blows Win XP deadline, must now spend millions on custom support
Gov't IT likened to 'a Model T with a lot of things on top of it'
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.