Citing a German news report, Techeye.net reports that Google has purchased small UAV "microdrone" aircraft manufactured by Germany's microdrone GmbH, perhaps for use to augment the company's Street View mapping data. Techeye says:
The UAVs being flogged are mini helicopters with cameras attached that can be flown about all over the place. They're quiet and resemble sci-fi UFOs for the vertically challenged alien.
They can fly up to 80km per hour, so Microdrone CEO Sven Juerss suggests they'll be brilliant for mapping entire neighbourhoods really quickly and relatively cheaply.
Even before Google started data mining on open web networks its Street View operations were controversial, with Google Maps picking up on people who didn't exactly want their faces plastered all over the internet. With the kind of high-angle aerial shots this sort of kit can achieve, it boggles the mind as to the sort of images that may be accidentally captured.
Our take: Skepticism is warranted, and outrage is probably premature.
Our understanding is that FAA certification procedures for civilian UAVs operating in domestic airspace are not yet in place, so it is not clear that the regular operation of such UAVs would be legal -- never mind prudent from a privacy or public-relations point of view.
Meanwhile, the Techeye report, while fascinating, is also single-sourced, with the news of the UAV sale to Google coming from the manufacturer of the UAV -- which is to say, he's hardly a disinterested conduit for information. There has been no confirmation of the sale from Google, so far as we know. (Indeed, Forbes reports a Google spokesperson says, ""This was a purchase by a Google executive with an interest in robotics for personal use.”)
So, while curious and exciting, Telstar Logistics suggests keeping cool pending further information about Google's plans and the regulatory environment that may or may not make such plans viable.
We'll keep our eyes in the skies, but in the meantime, here's some nifty footage of the Microdrone in action, during which we can see just how adept the tiny aircraft is at peeking into the windows of private homes. Oh joy:Images: microdrones GmbH