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Runaway Latvian drone finally found in tree

For half a week in early May, the skies over Latvia were virtually shut down when an experimental drone went missing over the country. At last the drone has shown up, stuck in a tree.

It’s an anticlimactic ending to what had been a dramatic disruption to the Baltic nation. On May 2, local drone company SIA UAVFactory lost contact with its 26kg (57-pound) experimental drone during a testing run. Most drones run on short-lived batteries, so how bad could things be? Well, this vertical takeoff and landing drone flies so efficiently that it could stay aloft for up to 90 hours, the better part of a week.

With no way of knowing where this military-grade drone was off to, the country had no choice but to mostly shut down air traffic. All instrument-dependent flights below 19,500 feet were prohibited. Only pilots flying under visual conditions, where they could keep their eyes peeled for the drone, were able to fly.

It turns out the Latvian drone hadn’t gone far at all. It got stuck in a tree the same day it went missing, authorities now realize after pulling data from the recovered drone. But for weeks, no one knew what had happened to it. Authorities scanned the skies and ground looking for it. At last a passerby spotted the drone and called the local fire brigade to rescue it from its tree fort, reports the Register.

The need to track drones

Though somewhat comical, this incident illustrates how disruptive even a single drone can be to air traffic. It also shows the need for some way to track drones’ whereabouts. In the US, the FAA is currently developing a remote ID program that will require drones to continually broadcast key information such as their location and heading.

The program is controversial due to the FAA’s desire for an internet-based system that could require drone owners to pay subscriptions for data plans. There are also privacy concerns regarding how much data will be collected and who will have access to it. While these are important issues to resolve, the Latvian case does show that some system is needed to identify where drones are at any time.



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Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCaptain.