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From the editor's desk: Drones, battle zones and smart homes
16 May 2018, News

It is a morbid but inescapable fact that, throughout recorded history, one of the strongest forces driving technological change is warfare. Famous names from the past, like Leonardo da Vinci, earned a living inventing machines of war. While he might not have been personally inclined to violence, the war economy made that a career well suited to someone of his talents.

Another sobering thought is that even technologies developed for the purpose of war can end up benefiting society in the long run when adapted for the consumer sector. Naturally, this cross-dissemination works both ways – a topic explored by Mouser Electronics’ Mark Patrick in his article on ‘How the aerospace and defence sector is shaping the modern world’.

Exploring these two aspects of modern electronics technology, and the middle ground between them, is something of a theme in this issue. On the consumer side, the Molex article on ‘Evolution of home technology from connected to proactive’ looks at the evolution of the smart home, which will undoubtedly be one of the mega trends in the consumer market in the coming years and decades. As the article notes, this market will be driven by two of the biggest current technological trends: the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

On the other end of the spectrum, we feature electronic warfare in ‘An invisible war waged over electromagnetic spectrum’, with two South African experts on the subject helping to demystify what exactly electronic warfare is, why it is so important in this day and age, and delving into the technologies and weapons behind it.

Straddling the two extremes, the Sierra Wireless article on ‘Navigating a way through GNSS’ gives insight into global navigational satellite systems (GNSS) and the expanding options available to developers. Of course, the best known and earliest GNSS constellation, GPS, was initially developed by the US military and subsequently opened up to the consumer market. Indeed GPS, GLONASS (Russia) and BeiDou (China) are all run by military agencies and made available for civilian use through government consent.

One of the best examples of the cross-fertilisation between aerospace/defence and consumer sectors is unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), more commonly known as drones. From a base of close to zero just a decade ago, the global market for commercial drones exploded into an $8,5 billion colossus by 2016, and is estimated to surpass $12 billion in 2021.

Not all of the headlines have been positive, though. For starters, there are major concerns over privacy when someone can fly a drone, equipped with high-definition camera over your yard and spy on you or your kids. There have also been cases of drones interfering with and distracting pilots of passenger aeroplanes, and even some collisions.

Then there are the more creative use of drones, of which I am sure there are many, but two criminal applications in particular caught my attention. The first involved drugs, weapons and phones being hand-delivered by drone to inmates in British prisons by criminals on the outside. The widespread problem prompted at least one prison to install a very expensive electronic ‘fence’ to disrupt drones’ control signals and prevent them from crossing into prison grounds.

The second case involved an FBI raid on a criminal gang who unleashed a swarm of drones to disrupt the operation by obscuring the view of agents coordinating the raid from an elevated observation post. Not only did they serve as a distraction, but the cameras fitted to the drones provided the gang with a real-time view of the action from overhead. The camera feed was live-streamed to YouTube and accessed by members of the gang with cellular access, to help them coordinate their own actions.

All of which is not to suggest that drones, or any other technology for that matter, are necessarily good or bad in and of themselves, but it goes to show that there is more than one way for technology to be ‘disruptive’.

Brett van den Bosch

Editor


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Further reading:

  • Electronics news digest
    16 May 2018, News
    Overseas    Business • STMicroelectronics achieved a massive 22,2% year-over-year improvement to its net revenue, which totalled $2,23 billion for the first quarter of its 2018 financial year. The company ...
  • Official send-off for SA satellite
    16 May 2018, News
    The primary mission objective of ZACUBE-2 is to demonstrate vessel-tracking services in the South African Exclusive Economic Zone.
  • Company profile: Poynting
    16 May 2018, Poynting Antennas, Telecoms, Datacoms, Wireless, News
    Poynting has evolved its global presence to the point where its main market is now Europe, with 50% of its turnover coming from the Nordic countries in particular.
  • An invisible war waged over electromagnetic spectrum
    16 May 2018, News
    Electronic warfare “deals with the exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum to the maximum benefit of oneself and one’s allies and to the maximum detriment of one’s adversaries.”
  • How the aerospace and defence sector is shaping the modern world
    16 May 2018, TRX Electronics, News
    What was once intended for use in national defence may now be found in every home (think virus protection software or data encryption).
  • Presentation outlines vision for ‘Microchip 2.0’
    16 May 2018, Tempe Technologies, News
    Norbert Siedhoff, European sales director and managing director of Microchip Technology GmbH, Germany, returned to South African shores in early April to address the local industry at a breakfast meeting ...
  • Espressif ships 100 millionth IoT chip
    16 May 2018, ICORP Technologies, News
    Espressif Systems has reached the milestone of shipping its 100 millionth chip for the Internet of Things (IoT) market. Specialising in the development of low-power Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo ICs ...
  • RS releases DesignSpark Toolbox app
    16 May 2018, RS Components (SA), News
    RS Components has unveiled a new app for iOS, Android and Windows devices. The DesignSpark Toolbox app is available to download free-of-charge, and provides a single point of access to common electronic ...
  • TV white space regulations welcomed
    16 May 2018, News
    The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) recently published its regulations on the use of Television White Space (TVWS). The news was enthusiastically welcomed by the Dynamic ...
  • Win a dev board for 8-bit PIC MCUs
    16 May 2018, News
    Dataweek readers have a chance to win a Microchip Curiosity HPC development board (DM164136) – the perfect platform to harness the power of modern 8-bit PIC microcontrollers (MCU). Its layout and external ...
  • Electronics news digest
    18 April 2018, News
    South Africa • The CEO of Denel Land Systems (DLS), Stephan Burger, has resigned after a 36 year career at the state-owned defence conglomerate. He will be replaced in an acting capacity by Ismail Dockrat, ...
  • UCT fund helps engineering student beat the odds
    18 April 2018, This Week's Editor's Pick, News
    Last year the fund assisted 76 engineering students with their individual needs, at a cost of R383 000.

 
 
         
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