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Spy satellites, drones, help experts discover lost city in Iraq founded after Alexander the Great

Archaeologists have harnessed spy satellite imagery and drones to help identify the site of an ancient lost city in Northern Iraq.

Experts at the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme have been working at the Qalatga Darband site, which is 6.2 miles southeast of Rania in Iraqi Kurdistan. Backed by U.K. government funding, the project involves archaeologists from the British Museum and their Iraqi counterparts.

Qalatga Darband was first spotted when archaeologists analyzed U.S. spy satellite imagery from the 1960s that was declassified in the 1990s. Experts at the British Museum used the data to map a large number of carved limestone blocks at the site, indicating substantial remains. A drone survey highlighted other buildings that may be buried at the site.

The site, which overlooks the Lower Zab river at the western edge of the Zagros Mountains, is part of a historic route from ancient Mesopotamia to Iran. Alexander the Great passed through the area in 331 B.C. when his army was pursuing Persian King Darius III after defeating him at the battle of Gaugamela. The site was also at the eastern edge of the Assyrian Empire in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C., according to the British Museum.


Statue of a nude male discovered at Qalatga Darband  (© Trustees of British Museum)

Excavations at Qalatga Darband have given archaeologists a fascinating glimpse into the life of the ancient city. Initial analysis suggests that the city was founded by the Seleucids, who inherited the empire of Alexander the Great. Hellenist, or Greek, influences, were still strong in the region during the Seleucid era. The site is thought to have survived the subsequent overthrow of the Seleucid Empire, when Qalatga Darband came under Parthian rule.

“A systematic collection of surface ceramics has been carried out, analysis of which has for the first time established that the site can be dated to the first and second centuries BC,” explained the British Museum, in a press release. Excavations revealed a large fortified structure at the north end of the site, stone presses that may have been used for wine production, and Greco-Roman architecture, such as the use of terracotta roof tiles.

When archaeologists investigated a huge stone mound at the southern end of the site, they found the remains of a large building, which given the presence of smashed statuary, may have been a temple for worshipping Greco-Roman deities. The smashed statues include a seated female figure that may be the Greek goddess Persephone and a half life-sized nude male figure that may be Adonis.

A nearby site, Usu Aska, has revealed a fort tentatively dated to time of the ancient Assyrians. A grave cut into the Assyrian remains contained a coin dating to the time Parthian King Orodes II, around 57 to 38 B.C. “The discovery of a fort dating to the time of the Assyrian period will generate information on a corner of the empire which is virtually unknown, while the discovery of a city established in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great is already yielding evidence for the fundamental changes wrought by the advent of Hellenism,” explained the British Museum.

The Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme was set up in 2015 in response to the devastation wrought by the Islamic State.

During its reign of terror, ISIS launched a series of wanton attacks on sites of historic and religious importance across a swathe of Iraq and Syria. Last year, for example, ISIS released a video that showed militants using sledgehammers and drills to destroy artifacts in Iraq’s Mosul Museum.

In 2015, ISIS took control of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and subsequently demolished some of its best-known monuments, such as the Temple of Ba’al. The jihadists, who beheaded the city’s former antiquities chief, also used Palmyra’s ancient amphitheater for public executions.

Last year, a Christian saint’s bones were reportedly unearthed amid the rubble of an ancient Syrian monastery destroyed by ISIS.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Falcon Shield launches electronic attacks to take control of drones

Artist's impression. (Credit: Credit Finmeccanica-Selex)

Artist’s impression. (Credit: Credit Finmeccanica-Selex)

A new technology unleashes electronic attacks on enemy drones, enslaving them to its will.

Made by Finmeccanica-Selex ES, the Falcon Shield technology lets the good guys gain control of drones and land them safely.

Related: Anti-drone shoulder rifle lets police take control of UAVs with targeted radio pulses

Recently unveiled, Falcon Shield finds, fixes, tracks, identifies and defeats drones. Mini-drones are becoming a growing security concern, as evidenced by the quadcopter drone that crashed onto the White House grounds earlier this year.

The threat

Small-sized drones are cheap, widely commercially available, simple to assemble and easy to fly. These micro drones can be hard to detect and stop and could be used to attack targets by carrying threats like explosives or chemical and biological weapons.

The Falcon Shield is an adaptable system that can be deployed to protect VIPs. It could also be used to protect military convoys and patrols. Falcon Shield doesn’t need to be at a fixed location, and different versions of the technology can be carried by an individual or a vehicle.

On a much larger scale, Falcon Shield can be used to protect a military base or a skyscraper that acts as headquarters for a big corporation.

Related: The laser cannon that kills drones

Falcon Shield monitors an assigned area to detect potential threats and protect a specified location by going through five stages of engagement.

In the first stage, Falcon Shield locates both the drone threat and the ground station controlling it. The tech then uses this data to guide the next stage. To “fix” the target, radar and electronic monitoring work together with an electro-optical infrared camera.

The camera and radar then track and identify the threat. In the final phase, Falcon Shield focuses on defeating the drone. When Falcon defeats a drone it doesn’t just jam it. It seizes control of the drone.

How the technology takes control of the drones is shrouded in secrecy … but take control it does.  Say a micro drone is targeting a VIP, for example, the good guys can fly it away from the target. They can force it to land at a safe location where a team can investigate and fully neutralize the threat.

Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at wargames@foxnews.com or follow her on Twitter@Allison_Barrie.

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Navy tests flying/undersea drone


 (Naval Research Laboratory)

The U.S. Navy is working on a submarine-fighting drone that can operate both in the air and underwater.

The Flimmer (Flying Swimmer) is the brainchild of the Naval Research Laboratory. The drone, it says, can reach operational areas more quickly by flying over the surface of the water.

After successfully examining the performance of a “Test Sub” that combined a traditional submarine shape with a traditional aircraft shape, scientists  applied their findings to a flying version of the  NRL’s WANDA (Wrasse-inspired Agile Near-shore Deformable-fin Automaton ) drone.

According to the NRL’s Spectra magazine,  “Flying WANDA” has four fins and a wing, with the two aft fins mounted on the tips of the wing. Test flights confirmed Flying WANDA’s stability and control, and scientists have started testing the most effective “landing mode,” or splashdown, to protect the fin mechanisms.

“Experimentation with the Flying WANDA configuration continues,” wrote Dan Edwards of the NRL’s Electronic Warfare Division, who is leading the Flimmer project. “Future flights will explore the performance envelope using the fins as active control surfaces in the air and will continue the landing work.”

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Archaeologists use drones to study Peru’s ruins

Archaeologists use drones to study Peru’s ruins

By Megan Gannon

Published August 26, 2013

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    Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian archaeologist with Lima’s Catholic University and an incoming deputy culture minister, flies a drone over the archaeological site of Cerro Chepen in Trujillo August 3, 2013. (REUTERS)

To get a bird’s-eye view of ancient sites, archaeologists often turn to planes, helicopters and even hot air balloons. But today researchers have access to more agile and less expensive technology to map, explore and protect archaeological treasures: tiny airborne drones.

In Peru — the home of Machu Picchu and other amazing ruins — the government is planning to purchase several drones to quickly and cheaply conduct archaeological surveys in areas targeted for building or development, according to Reuters.

Archaeologists working in the country have already been using small flying robots to study ancient sites, including the colonial Andean town Machu Llacta, and the San José de Moro burial grounds, which contain the tombs of Moche priestesses. Some researchers have even built their own drones for less than $2,000, Reuters reported.

“It’s like having a scalpel instead of a club,” Jeffrey Quilter, an archaeologist at Harvard University, told the news agency. “You can control it to a very fine degree. You can go up 3 meters and photograph a room, 300 meters and photograph a site, or you can go up 3,000 meters and photograph the entire valley.”

Cheap and effective drones could be a boon for Peru’s culture ministry, which has a modest budget and is tasked with protecting more than 13,000 archaeological sites that are threatened by looters, squatters and illegal mining, according to Reuters.

Elsewhere robots have enabled archaeological discovery. A remote-controlled robot the size of a lawn mower recently found burial chambers inside the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, an ancient pyramid in Mexico. And in Russia, researchers used a miniature airborne drone to capture images that could be used to create a 3-D model of an ancient burial mound.

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Personal Drone for $700

As if the proliferation of thousands of drones over foreign and now domestic airspace was not enough of a loss of privacy and rights, we now enter an era of personal drones.  As with all things, the abilities will go up and the cost will go down from here.  Having your own fleet of spy drones could be as common as your I-phone or droid is right now.  It’s a scary new world of technological innovation that will have to be absorbed to see how it truly effects us all.  I for one, do not think it is a good idea that my neighbors can fly drones to my window, over my pool, or watch my backyard barbecues.  With simple variations they can be modified to be armed, making future worries about gun control seem obsolete.  You decide.

The GPS-stabilized Phantom isn’t exactly a toy, but that doesn’t stop it from being serious fun.
By Clay DillowPosted 03.04.2013 at 2:01 pm10 Comments
DJI's Phantom In Flight

DJI’s Phantom In Flight Also pictured: NYC’s famous Flatiron Building. Dan Bracaglia

It’s a sign of the times when new consumer-grade, commercially available remote-controlled drones just show up unsolicited at our offices with an invitation from the manufacturer to take them for a spin. Drones are big news these days, their reputation alternately buoyed and tarnished by their efficacy as machines of warfare and the lack of solid legalities governing their use, and likewise by their limitless potential across a range of commercial applications and their similarly limitless potential for abuse where personal privacy is concerned.

But aforementioned concerns notwithstanding, unmanned aerial systems will soon be everywhere and DJI Innovations’ Phantom is the kind of system that will surely be a part of that shift. Designed for neither industry nor government, the Phantom is a pretty serious UAS designed for you and me–the average consumer that simply wants to fly. So you can imagine the unrestrained glee with which we unboxed this unexpected arrival in the afternoon post.

DJI is a maker of flight control systems for UAS as well as a handful of complete unmanned aerial vehicles, mostly geared toward aerial photography applications. Most of these platforms are somewhat complex and quite expensive–in other words, best suited for commercial customers or the most serious and well-heeled hobbyists. The Phantom is DJI’s attempt at packaging its technology in a way that is both inexpensive and user-friendly, so much so that anyone can get into unmanned flight. It’s certainly not the only consumer-oriented UAS (see ourearlier review of the Parrot AR Drone 2.0) or the least expensive–in fact, it’s a few hundred dollars more than other recreational RC quadcopters. But Phantom lives in a space between the toy quadcopter you might pick up for the kids at Brookstone and the professional-grade hardware that aerial photographers or search and rescue authorities might use.

The features that set it apart: serious range and altitude, a durable construction that withstood the serious abuse (both intentional and unintentional) we threw at it, and a satellite-based stabilizing capability that proved quite effective. But that’s not all there is to the Phantom; there were a few aspects of this product that we found clumsy, non-intuitive, and unnecessarily difficult. So if you’re seriously interested in this kind of technology I strongly recommend you read all the way to the end of this post where Phantom gets a chance to redeem itself, because I’m going to lead off with all the things I didn’t like about this otherwise incredibly fun little machine.

It’s Not Really “Ready To Fly”: Consumer products should be relatively easy to use right out of the box, and indeed DJI describes Phantom as an “all in one solution ready to fly.” But unboxing the drone is not so simple. Attaching the legs with a phillips screwdriver, attaching the propellors with the provided fasteners–this is all stuff that’s expected when you purchase something with “some assembly required.” But actually transitioning from an open box to a vehicle that’s “ready to fly” requires a bit more work. The “Quickstart Manual” is a densely-worded 16 pages long. The battery charging procedure requires its own set of instructions. The calibration process (that is, the process that orients the vehicle’s assorted gyros and accelerometers, as well as syncs it up with various GPS satellites–more on those later) requires some steps that seem nonsensical, like “flip this switch ten times” (ten times!). We don’t mind a learning curve, nor do we mind a little assembly, but “ready to fly” is a stretch.

We Don’t Speak Robot: The basic interface between user and machine is a standard RC helicopter-style controller, the dual-joystick kind that has rotor throttle and vehicle rotation pegged to one joystick and lateral movements controlled by the other. But that’s where the simplicity ends. Much of the rest of the machine-human communication is conducted through a blinking LED on the rear of the ‘craft that speaks in something of a colorized morse code that you, the user, must memorize if you don’t want to keep the quickstart manual (16 pages!) next to you at all times. In different flight modes, the blinking colored lights and their many patterns mean different things. Example: When syncing Phantom to GPS satellites, one yellow blink means you have more than six GPS positioning satellites at your disposal. If you have exactly six, you get a yellow blink, followed by red. Less than five? One yellow, three reds. Exactly five? One yellow, a pause, two reds. Switch to a different flight mode, and the language (and color pattern) changes. It’s kind of like Richard Dreyfus communicating with the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind with all those blinking lights and tones. That is to say, it’s kind of annoying.

The Controller And Aircraft Don’t Talk To Each Other Enough: Aside from the fact that it’s kind of huge, we don’t take issue with Phantom’s handheld RC controller. If you’ve ever flown a RC helicopter, you’ll take to it immediately. One thing we loved about the latest Parrot AR Drone is that in “Absolute Control” mode the user can always control the drone from his or her point of view–that is, no matter which way the “front” of the drone is facing, it will always travel forward, backward, left, or right respective to the direction the pilot is facing. Phantom’s controller lacks the hardware that makes this kind of intuitive flight possible, and while it does have a couple of helpful flight modes (“Home Lock” and “Course Lock”) that peg the directional orientation of the drone either to it’s point of takeoff or the direction it’s facing at takeoff (respectively), if you are walking around and turning as you fly the drone–and you’ll want to–it’s pretty easy to lose that intuitive link between the direction you are facing and the direction the drone is facing.

No Built In Camera, No Drone’s-Eye View: Adding features adds expense, and in the case of aircraft they can also add weight which reduces performance and flight duration. But cameras are so small and cheap these days–the Parrot AR Drone 2.0, the most popular comparable recreational quadcopter, comes with two built-in HD cameras–that we were struck by the fact that the Phantom has none. While it does come with a mount for a GoPro camera (sold separately), that means that it also doesn’t offer a drone’s-eye view, which is one of the more fun aspects of the Parrot and a nice way to pilot the vehicle beyond line of sight (which we aren’t endorsing, since doing so violates FAA rules–but still).

Battery Life: I’d preface this complaint by pointing out that there is nothing about Phantom’s battery life that is not absolutely par for course. Phantom runs on a small, dense lithium-polymer brick that takes roughly 45 minutes to an hour to charge fully. DJI claims a full charge is good for ten to fifteen minutes of flight time. That’s not very long. The good news: we found that we were able to squeeze even a little more flight time than that out of our machine (perhaps because on these flights we were not carrying the added weight of a camera). And fifteen minutes is about average for this kind of product. So this isn’t really a complaint about Phantom, but it is something you should be aware of before you invest in the thing. Somebody please invent a better battery already.

Phantom: All Lit Up

Phantom: All Lit Up:  Dan Bracaglia 

This Drone Knows Its Place: Now that the negative stuff is out of the way, let’s plunge into the many things Phantom gets right. First of all, the unique thing about Phantom is its GPS stabilization. That is, when in GPS flight mode Phantom is actually locating itself in space via several GPS satellites, and this allows for some very stable flight characteristics. With GPS enabled, you can be running Phantom at a dead lateral sprint and then let off the directional control. Phantom will actually pitch slightly in the opposite direction of travel (like applying brakes) and then correct itself back to the point in space where you first let off the accelerator (with GPS disabled, Phantom will right itself and cease acceleration when you release the directional control, but its momentum will continue to carry it some distance). Likewise, with GPS enabled Phantom can hover very precisely even in moderate winds, helpful for capturing aerial photography or video (more on that in a moment).

A good way to test this is to trigger the failsafe landing mode, which returns Phantom to its point of origin should it lose communication with the controller. Flying it on a soccer pitch adorned with plenty of painted lines for reference, we cut the power to the controller several times. Each time Phantom ceased lateral motion, climbed to sixty feet, slowly returned to the airspace over its point of takeoff, and landed itself on the ground below. Even with a stiff breeze blowing it never missed the mark by more than a couple feet, well within the standard margin of error for GPS technology.

It’s GoPro Ready: We love the GoPro. It goes pretty much anywhere, even where the user can’t or won’t, and returns amazing video and still images. Disappointed as we are that there’s no built in camera, the addition of the included GoPro mount is a nice compromise for the user who wants to quickly and relatively cheaply turn Phantom into an aerial photography rig (see some of what we captured with ours in the video below).

It Goes Fast, It Goes Far, It Goes Really, Really High: If I haven’t yet mentioned that this thing is really fun to fly, let me drive home the point here. Other quadcopters are fun, but this thing really moves. DJI lists its maximum flight velocity at 10 meters per second or roughly 22 miles per hour, but it sure feels a lot faster when you’re skimming across the surface of a body of water or careering around a tree-filled park (not recommended). The maximum operating range is listed at 300 meters, or more than three football fields–far enough to get beyond the line of sight that, by the way, the FAA strictly demands you maintain between you and your UAV at all times. The FAA also demands you keep it below 400 feet, so we’re not even going to tell you how high it goes (as law-abiding citizens we couldn’t possibly know), but suffice it to say that it goes very, very high. Very.

Crashes Hardly Slowed It Down: While we didn’t intentionally try to break our Phantom, we did do some questionably intelligent things with it, like fly around our office (we really don’t recommend indoor flight). At one point during an outdoor flight we failed to tighten one of the propellor fasteners down adequately after some on-the-ground maintenance and threw a propellor at roughly 50 feet up, sending our Phantom tumbling from the sky (and providing some excellent video). We crash-landed it several times. We broke propellors (DJI provides spares) and cracked our GoPro mount. But the vehicle itself shows no signs of slowing down.

$679. There are a handful of authorized vendors listed on DJI-Innovations’ website, or you can order from the company directly.

If it seems like the top half of this review was overly critical, well, it’s a review and this is a first-generation product. The bottom line is: This is a really, really fun machine. To be fair, some of the hardware and setup complaints, like the multi-step battery charge procedure, likely stem from DJI doing its best to use generic, off-the-shelf components to keep the cost down. And while the user interface takes a while to get the hang of, make no mistake–I personally found this UAS to be a whole lot of fun, and so did the many Popular Science staffers here that piloted it.

At nearly $700, DJI’s Phantom is no cheap toy and it shouldn’t be treated like one (in fact, it’s a little too complicated a machine for unsupervised use by children). But that’s the point. It’s a UAS that lives in a space somewhere between the toy recreational quadrotors already on the market and the far more serious multi-thousand-dollar unmanned hardware that is aimed at government and commercial work. These technologies are already taking to the sky for some applications and will only proliferate as the FAA further opens up the national airspace to UAS opeations in the next few years. Phantom exists in a pretty empty space right now, but we’d be surprised if it stays that way for long.

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