This week was capped by a report from New Zealand that a Google wi-fi balloon had tumbled into the ocean, prompting a mistaken rescue attempt.
Earlier in the week, the Washington Post reported: “More than 400 large U.S. military drones have crashed in major accidents around the world since 2001, a record of calamity that exposes the potential dangers of throwing open American skies to drone traffic…”
The Post obtained 50,000 pages of drone accident reports the US Freedom of Information act.
So far, no one has died in a drone accident, including a mid-air collision with a US Air Force transport. But crashing drones have narrowly missed people on the ground.
“All I saw were tents, and I was afraid that I had killed someone,” Air Force Maj. Richard Wageman said. He lost control of a drone in November 2008 that crashed on a US base in Afghanistan. “I felt numb, and I am certain that a few cuss words came out of my mouth,” he told investigators.
Authorities in the US and other countries are being pressed to allow private companies to use the unmanned devices to make deliveries, view real estate or observe crops. The University of North Texas has built drones to help by providing communications in disasters. The United Nations wants to use them on peacekeeping missions.
In the military, drones were introduced to avoid risking lives of pilots in operations aimed at killing terrorists. For civilians, drones can save money both by avoiding paying wages to drivers, but by avoiding traffic congestion.
Google, meanwhile, has promised to pay a New Zealand rescue agency back for the cost of an unnecessary rescue operation.
The chopper was dispatched after a Google wi-fi balloon ditched in the ocean near Christchurch.
A pedestrian saw the 39-foot tall balloon plummeting and thought it was a plane. Some drones are much smaller, more like model airplanes.
Google is using balloons to provide high-speed wi-fi on remote areas. It has launched 30 in the New Zealand area alone. Usually Google says it is usually able to direct the balloons to landing areas when their 100-day life runs out.
More than 400 will be launched around the world. Hopefully none of them will be mistaken for one carrying a boy, as happened in Colorado in 2009 between Denver and Fort Collins. That turned out to be a hoax.