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The Military Technology

Troops In Afghanistan Supplied By Robot Helicopter 140

Posted by samzenpus
from the johnny-copter dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Pakistan is still blockading NATO war supplies passing through the port of Karachi in response to last month's killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers by an alliance air strike. But inside Afghanistan, supply lines are about to get a lot safer for NATO's logisticians as an unmanned helicopter just delivered a sling-load of beans, bullets, and band-aids to Marines at an undisclosed base in Afghanistan marking the first time a drone has been used to resupply a unit at war. The 2.5-ton, GPS-guided K-MAX can heft 3.5 tons of cargo about 250 miles up and over the rugged and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan across which NATO troops are scattered and can fly around the clock. 'Most of the [K-MAX] missions will be conducted at night and at higher altitudes,' says Marine Capt. Caleb Joiner, a K-MAX operator. 'This will allow us to keep out of small-arms range.' K-MAX will soon be joined in Afghanistan by Lockheed's robo jeep that can carry a half a ton of supplies for up to 125 miles after being delivered to the field in a CH-47 or CH-53 helo."
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Troops In Afghanistan Supplied By Robot Helicopter

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  • So... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Moheeheeko (1682914)
    If we have a robo-chopper big enough to carry all that.....why not just put guns on the robo-chopper and send it in?
    • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by narkosys (110639) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:50PM (#38453648)

      Never seen a K-Max have you: http://www.kamanaero.com/helicopters/kmax.html [kamanaero.com]

      It is a very narrow single seat helicopter. It can carry heavy loads due to it using two main rotors as opposed to the usual main rotor/tail rotor combination. The ones in the story just happened to be modified to run unmanned.

    • All in due time, Moheeheeko. Right now drones are very susceptible to jamming and satellite failures. Helicopter pilots navigate primarily using ground reference, which robots aren't good at yet. We need a backup to GPS and TACAN. Delivering beans to the wrong location isn't really a problem - just an inconvenience, really. Delivering live weapons (as in, shooting) to the wrong area would result in enough of a public outcry to push the entire unmanned program back a decade.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        ".which robots aren't good at yet."

        not true at all. we have missiles and other auto navigate devices that use terrain references only. In fact, I was surprised to find out the drone we lost didn't use that for specifically the reason we lost it.

    • That's about 3 hours of flight time. So people avoid the chopper for 3 hours and then come back after it runs our of fuel and goes away.

      You need boots on the ground to hold something.

      For cargo though I'd have thought something like this would be better:
      http://www.hybridairvehicles.com/ [hybridairvehicles.com]

      • > For cargo though I'd have thought something like this would be better:
        > http://www.hybridairvehicles.com/ [hybridairvehicles.com] [hybridairvehicles.com]

        For a forward firebase? Are you kidding? That thing would be constantly shot full of holes. Worthless for the purposes described in the article.

        Now, for a rear area base that doesn't come under fire that thing would be great!

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      If we have a robo-chopper big enough to carry all that.....why not just put guns on the robo-chopper and send it in?

      Send it in to do what, exactly?

  • AMERICA FUCK YEA!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Meanwhile, my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Roachie (2180772)

      Protip: Perhaps you should relocate to a district where they design and manufacture say, robotic helicopters?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      In the US we spend more money per student than any other county. Problems like the one you describe occur because too much money disappears into administration. You probably have no money for a new teacher's salary because administrators wanted to redecorate one of their offices.

      That said, you really need to work much harder on your silly flame bait, its not supposed to be so obvious.
      • by rmstar (114746)

        You probably have no money for a new teacher's salary because administrators wanted to redecorate one of their offices.

        Hm, no, more likely the money is sinking into some private company owned by a friend of a legislator.

    • [Meanwhile, my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.] But they do have more employees than students.
      (State of Washington)
      Its been so much better since D.C. took control.

    • by jon3k (691256)
      Meanwhile Khan Academy offers basically a complete curriculum for free. The model of teaching in this country needs to change dramatically. Why are we not using technology to teach our kids not only less expensively, but more effectively? Let students work at their own page with teachers there to assist as necessary. Then maybe break kids out in groups based on their pace to interact and work collectively. We haven't changed how we teach our children in this country in probably 200 years. We can do th
    • Don't forget about our affordable healthcare that is available to everyone.

    • Take it up with the source of your schools funding - your local taxing district.

    • by MightyYar (622222)

      my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.

      Funding probably ain't the issue. With a few obvious exceptions, America's under-performing schools are among the best-funded in the world. Throwing even more money at the problem is almost as stupid as our children.

    • by timeOday (582209)

      Meanwhile, my kid's school can't afford to hire enough teacher for every class.

      The whole point of this thing is to save money. It costs about $1M / year to keep one soldier in a combat theater. Whether those savings are used back home or for more adventures abroad depends on who gets voted into office.

    • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @09:22PM (#38455470)
      U.S. spending on K-12 education per student [mercatus.org] is the second highest in the world (adjusted for local cost of living, PPP). If your kid's school can't afford to hire enough teachers, the problem isn't because they lack funding.
  • by Oxford_Comma_Lover (1679530) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:33PM (#38453402)

    Is the fact that it is flying out of small-arms fire somehow unusual? Why wouldn't our resupply helicopters already fly high?

    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by hedwards (940851) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:40PM (#38453526)

      Because they can't. Helicopters can't generate enough lift to fly out of the way of small arms fire without great difficulty in general. And in places like Afghanistan that are in the mountains and the people firing the small arms get closer they aren't able to.

      • by narkosys (110639)

        Depends on the helicopter. I do believe an A-Star landed on the top of Mount Everest though from what i remember reading it was very tough to do. The less air pressure the less lift, and as in Afghanistan the hotter the air the less air mass available to generate lift. Hell on a hot day in Vancouver, with full manifold pressure in a Bell 47 (think the helicopters you see in M*A*S*H) I was hovering 3 inches off the ground. I have taken said helicopter (built in 1956 btw) To 6500 feet ASL without any pr

    • by nmos (25822)

      Because dropping supplies from 10K feet is likely to crack a few eggs?

    • by mjwx (966435)

      Is the fact that it is flying out of small-arms fire somehow unusual? Why wouldn't our resupply helicopters already fly high?

      Because shortly after you get out of small arms range, you get into big arms range.

  • Just in case you were afraid of a little humanity being left in war.

    • by Solandri (704621)
      Not if everyone has robots! Then we can have robots fight robots. Maybe in the future, global conflicts will be resolved via LAN party in a mutually agreed-upon FPS!
  • GPS-guided? (Score:5, Funny)

    by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:34PM (#38453430)

    The 2.5-ton, GPS-guided K-MAX ...

    Great, soon we'll be accidentally feeding Iran [slashdot.org].

    • Iran spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?
      • by jdastrup (1075795)
        correction:

        Iran CLAIMS TO HAVE spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?

        • How could the drone not know that the signal was coming from a ground based transmitter? The signal should have been greatly muted by the skin of the radar evading drone. I think it is very suspicious that they even knew that the drone was there in the first place. Something is horribly wrong here.
          • Re:GPS-guided? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Jeremi (14640) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @08:04PM (#38454962) Homepage

            How could the drone not know that the signal was coming from a ground based transmitter? The signal should have been greatly muted by the skin of the radar evading drone. I think it is very suspicious that they even knew that the drone was there in the first place. Something is horribly wrong here.

            Here's a more likely explanation: Something on the drone malfunctioned, causing it to lose power and glide to the ground. Iranians found it on the ground shortly thereafter, took it to their favorite gymnasium, and came up with a story that makes them look good.

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Iran CLAIMS TO HAVE spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?

          I believe what they did was even more crude. They jammed GPS signals (trivial to do - ask LightSquared for how). This put the drone in a backup mode of operation (because well, it doesn't have positioning information, and it may not be able to determine last good location before the jamming interf

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The FCC, of course! The perpetrators would be fined for illegal radio frequency use. Meanwhile, once the media gets wind of the "downed" drone occurring on American soil, it will be deemed a terrorist act, so the House and Senate would immediately begin crafting the "No Drone Left Behind Act."

      • by EdZ (755139)

        Iran spoofed GPS signals and tricked the drone to land, undamaged, where they wanted it to land. What prevents someone them from doing the same (or far worse) with Homeland Security drones in the US?

        About 11,500 km.

      • No. They didn't. GPS is but one of many redundant navigation systems the drone had. If the GPS is disagreeing with the INS and airspeed sensors, it would drop the GPS signal in a heartbeat. And those are only the unclassified navigation systems that all military aircraft have. If Iran was capable of tricking the drone into landing, they wouldn't need to send the drone to China to be exploited.
  • Conventional design (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dan East (318230) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:35PM (#38453456) Homepage Journal

    I wonder why the design is so conventional looking? They must have modified an existing light helicopter for remote control. Either that or the standard cockpit style helicopter design is already the most efficient aerodynamically. I was expecting to see what amounted to an engine and gas tank that can fly.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      As the start specifically designing carries for robot only, the design will changes.
      3 generation they will barely be recognizable.

      • Could go either way. Its either going to still look like a typical helicopter (like the Global Hawk still appears more like a manned aircraft) or much more specialized, similar to how the Predator and Reaper drones look nothing like a traditional aircraft.

      • by KhabaLox (1906148)

        3 generation they will barely be recognizable.

        Not true. We'll recognize them from the Terminator movies.

    • by rolfwind (528248)

      Why did cars start out looking like horseless carriages?

    • by Andy Dodd (701) <atd7@co[ ]ll.edu ['rne' in gap]> on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @05:47PM (#38453618) Homepage

      The base airframe (Kaman K-MAX) has been operational since 1991.

      In terms of FAA certification, it's a lot easier to modify an existing certified platform than to create a new one.

      That's why, for example, you see so many different variants of the Sikorsky S-70/H-60 Blackhawk/Seahawk/Pavehawk/otherhawk

    • by Anonymous Coward
      They probably hired Grant Imahara from Mythbusters to modify existing helicopters
    • Probably because they figured that a) they had existing design specs to accommodate a human pilot, b) you can transport people that way, and c), if the enemy is using fancy jamming techniques, a pilot can hop in and to the task manually.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      "Originally designed as a manned civilian craft, K-MAX has been modified by Lockheed to operate with or without a pilot onboard."

    • The design is "conventional looking" because the Kaman K-MAX [wikipedia.org] is a conventional helicopter. If you look closelly you can see the cockpit, with a human pilot seat and human pilot controls. This is a conventional commercial helicopter, specifically designed for the task of transporting heavy loads, which had some of it's production models fitted with extra gear to also be usable as an unmanned aircraft.

  • Keeps personnel away from threats in dangerous areas. Might have a few vulerabilities if they are radio jammed, though. Hope built-in evasive tactics are better than for that captured drone.

    • You mean you hope it has more brains than "GPS signal lost; landing". Who the fark sends in unmanned robotics systems without the ability to dead reckon or navigate via an alternative external landmark (stars/land topography)?

      • by Bucky24 (1943328)

        Who the fark sends in unmanned robotics systems without the ability to dead reckon or navigate via an alternative external landmark (stars/land topography)?

        Forgive my ignorance, but do we actually have that kind of technology?

        • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:30PM (#38454104)

          The SR-71 Blackbird used stars for navigational reference, as it was in service before GPS was available. Cruise missiles have used landmarks for low-altitude "scudrunning" since their inception.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celestial_navigation [wikipedia.org]

          As early as the mid-1960s, advanced electronic and computer systems had evolved enabling navigators to obtain automated celestial sight fixes. These systems were used aboard both ships as well as US Air Force aircraft, and were highly accurate, able to lock onto up to 11 stars (even in daytime) and resolve the craft's position to less than 300 feet (91 m). The SR-71 high-speed reconnaissance aircraft was one example of an aircraft that used automated celestial navigation. These rare systems were expensive, however, and the few that remain in use today are regarded as backups to more reliable satellite positioning systems.

          Celestial navigation continues to be used by private yachtsmen, and particularly by long-distance cruising yachts around the world. For small cruising boat crews, celestial navigation is generally considered an essential skill when venturing beyond visual range of land. Although GPS (Global Positioning System) technology is reliable, offshore yachtsmen use celestial navigation as either a primary navigational tool or as a backup.

          Strategic ballistic nuclear missiles use celestial navigation to check and correct their course (initially set using internal gyroscopes) while outside the Earth's atmosphere. The immunity to jamming signals is the main driver behind this apparently archaic technique.

          Emphasis mine.

          • Forgive the reply to myself. Here is one of the original astrocompass systems used in the B-52 for celestial navigation.

            Automatic Astro Compass Type MD-1
            http://www.prc68.com/I/MD1.shtml [prc68.com]

            If you want to go see one for yourself, they're on display: "There are B-52s on static display, that should have MD-1 systems at: Travis, Castle, March and Edwards fields in CA."

            I should point out that, while these used to be expensive mechanical systems, most of this can be done with software and properly calibrated and redu

            • by drinkypoo (153816)

              I should point out that, while these used to be expensive mechanical systems, most of this can be done with software and properly calibrated and redundant CCD sensors.

              In fact, while these used to be heavy and power-hungry mechanical systems, most of this can be done with lightweight and versatile systems that not only have a smaller power budget and take up far less mass, but which can be installed in a fixed rather than floating context which is more durable, and which can track multiple stars and deliver (in some cases) multiple position fixes per second where earlier systems, like that on the SR-71, only [officially?] provide one to a few per minute. Even better, the

              • I just looked up celestial navigation systems the other day out of curiosity :)

                Me too! I'm assuming that current celestial navigation systems are solid state? Are they available for purchase? Or just for military applications? Details are appreciated =)

                • by drinkypoo (153816)

                  Current systems use CCDs, but AFAIK they're only military. Most people still manage with some software (or even a wheel) and a sextant.

          • by Bucky24 (1943328)
            Cool! Thanks for the info.
            • Almost forgot, not only is there celestial navigation, but also a whole set of tools use can use with accelerometers and gyroscopes to do inertial navigation. While not as good as celestial navigation, inertial navigation is useful when you can't rely on exterior navigation references for a period of time. As the time increases from the moment of initializing your reference point, so grows the errors in your position due to integration drift. Therefore inertial navigation is only useful for short periods of

        • by robot256 (1635039)
          As others have said, celestial navigation has been used for as long as men have looked up at the stars. In fact, every scientific satellite put in space has some sort of "star tracker" telescope to use as an absolute position/pointing reference. There is even a group at NASA working on (open-source, I think) software to both miniaturize the technology for handheld terrestrial use and to generalize it for use on other planets--when astronauts go to the Moon and Mars, they won't have any GPS at all but one
        • Ever hear of a cruise missile? [wikipedia.org]
        • by MightyYar (622222)

          Forgive my ignorance, but do we actually have that kind of technology?

          Pretty sure that actually pre-dated GPS. MPEG came out of terrain-following research for the Tomahawk missile IIRC.

  • The creepy robotic mule had the day off.

  • If the drone helicopter thing works out, we would not need our frenemy Pakistan for deliveries. That is one down.

    If we can fuel them without depending on Saudi Arabia, then we can breath a sigh of relief.

    • by dave562 (969951)

      We will always need Pakistan. Diesel fuel is too heavy to fly into the AO given the rate at which it is consumed. There would have to be a steady convoy of helicopters flying 24/7 to provide the fuel needed.

    • by KhabaLox (1906148)

      Resupply through Pakistan is not very relevant to this story. The lede is a red herring. Those supply routes are for the huge quantities of oil and other supplies the entire NATO/US army needs. This helicopter is doing small, unit-sized resupply runs to remote outposts.

  • I get the whole function over form thing, and I appreciate it most of the time. Heck, I was in the military, so I completely understand that function comes first. But that is one seriously stupid looking helicopter. Maybe other people like it, and if you do, that's fine. But I think it looks like it was designed by herp and derp. Couldn't they have modified a Bell 222 or something cool looking?
    • Sure...it would just be easier to shoot down (because it's wider), couldn't carry as much load, and wouldn't be able to operate at as high an altitude, which is kind of important in places like Afghanistan. Helicopters designed for heavy lifting generally are not as svelte as helicopters designed as status symbols for CEOs. As the Shorts Brothers said in reply to someone criticizing the looks of their (phenomenal, but ugly) cargo airplanes, "If you want to ship something, you put it in a box, right?
    • by jon3k (691256)
      It's based on a real helicopter [wikipedia.org]. So it's form over function in the sense that it was designed to carry a pilot. If the airframe was designed from the ground up to not carry a pilot it would look significantly different I'm sure.
    • I think you all missed the point of what i was saying - I understand and appreciate function over form. I get that it was designed for a purpose. What I'm saying is that it's ugly. Not that it isn't capable of it's role, or that it's a bad design, just that it's ugly. It may be the best damn helicopter for the job, and if it is, then I give my full support (for what that's worth). But I will still stand by my opinion that it is and ugly aircraft. I think some of you took what I said way to seriously,
  • Nice toys but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nojayuk (567177) on Wednesday December 21, 2011 @06:29PM (#38454098)

    A few things to note...

    These remote-piloted helicopters and "flying jeeps" are being deployed in testing because they are thought to be safer methods of resupply than an 11-B driving a truck. This indicates that in Afghanistan, after almost ten years of occupation (longer than the Soviets stayed) most of the country is considered too dangerous for the occupiers to move freely in.

    The second point is that these neat toys don't provide mass logistics supply to the forces in Afghanistan from friendly countries, the convoys of fuel tankers, food and ammunition, the thousands of tonnes of supplies needed each day to keep a modern military force operational. The US yahoos who blew up a bunch of Pakistani troops has cost the NATO forces that safe border convoy route and no technological tricks will restore that conduit. Abject apologies and reparations might help but this is the US who don't apologize for slaughtering other people's troops even by accident.

    Third point, following on from the second is keeping these remotely-piloted aircraft flying is expensive in fuel terms. A truck will burn ten or fifteen gallons of gas or fuel oil to get ten tonnes of supplies a hundred miles. A helicopter burns a lot more fuel to cover the same distance with a much smaller load, and the fuel convoys across the Pakistani border have been shut down after the "accident". The only way to get that fuel into Afghanistan now is to fly it into airbases and that's both a logistical nightmare and also dollar-expensive.

    • Considering the Army is heavily investing in solar because getting fuel in theater is insanely expensive, shipping via helicopter doesn't sound like it's going to scale very well. Can't afford to fix Medicare, but let's keep shipping billions to Afghanistan, where there's not even a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.
    • by molog (110171)

      The US yahoos who blew up a bunch of Pakistani troops has cost the NATO forces that safe border convoy route and no technological tricks will restore that conduit.

      Perhaps I missed something, but wasn't it Afghani soldiers who called the air strike after they received fire from the Pakistani soldiers in an area where the border isn't exactly agreed upon?

      • by gtall (79522)

        Not only that, they asked the Pakistanis whether it they had troops in the area and was it okay to shoot. The Pakistanis said sure go ahead, we not be there.

        My suspicion is that the Pakistanis knew damn well they had troops there, and ordered them to fire into Afghanistan. Then they turned around and sacrificed those troops so they could use it for internal politics.

    • by brit74 (831798)

      This indicates that in Afghanistan, after almost ten years of occupation (longer than the Soviets stayed) most of the country is considered too dangerous for the occupiers to move freely in.

      Actually, the summary says they're using it "at an undisclosed base". How exactly you jumped from "at an undisclosed base" to "most of the country is considered too dangerous", I'm not sure. All you can tell from the summary and the article is that it's dangerous at some bases and on the front lines.

      Also, you ment

  • I realise it's an emotive issue, but step back from the politics for a moment. Yes, really.

    We live in a world with autonomous flying robots. Self-piloting helicopters that can fly to a location, do stuff, and fly home. Do you know what this means?

    Flying cars. That's right, bitches. Flying cars, Real Soon Now.

    It was worth the wait.

    • $$$$$$

      Nope, ain't happening.

    • For a lengthier explanation of the obvious, the reason we can't have flying cars is because they are aircraft, that would cost a fortune to manufacture.

      Furthermore, aircraft, including robot aircraft, require tremendous labor in the form of inspections and maintenance. If you skimp on those, you risk near certain death. (versus a car where if you skip maintenance you only risk death a small fraction of the time)

      Finally, aircraft, ESPECIALLY helicopters need tremendous amounts of light oil to run. This is

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        There's absolutely no reason why you can't use piston engines and run them on gas, which we're never going to run out of. Lubricating oils might become a problem - in fact, I see that as more of a biggie than running out of oil to use for fuel.

        • Even natural gas has a certain cost per liter. A helicopter uses something like 10 times the fuel that a car uses. (I can look up exact numbers if you wish, but I know it's a LOT of energy)

          And the fuel cost is only one part of the problem, a helicopter also needs maintainence for every flight hour.

  • 1) it should blow itself AND THE CARGO up if it goes down anyplace EXCEPT where it is supposed to land.
    2) we should be working on beaming energy. With that approach, we could provide energy into a FOB without sending loads of fuel.
    3) by beaming energy, we can also focus on electric weapons. Laser and rail guns make more sense than a round.
    • by Jeremi (14640)

      1) it should blow itself AND THE CARGO up if it goes down anyplace EXCEPT where it is supposed to land.

      That would rather depend on what the cargo is, don't you think? Certainly any passengers on board wouldn't be happy with your arrangement.

      2) we should be working on beaming energy. With that approach, we could provide energy into a FOB without sending loads of fuel.

      Beamed energy requires a line of sight, which means it won't work over the horizon or through a mountain.

      On the other hand, the military already does use "beamed energy" from the sun to cut down on its fuel usage. When fuel costs $400 per gallon [wsj.com], the cost-benefit decision for running your camp off solar panels gets really easy to make.

      • 1) it should blow itself AND THE CARGO up if it goes down anyplace EXCEPT where it is supposed to land.

        That would rather depend on what the cargo is, don't you think? Certainly any passengers on board wouldn't be happy with your arrangement.

        Do you really think that they will use this to transport humans? I doubt it. I seriously doubt it. It does not have the means to evade. About the only way that I would want to be in one, is for an air ambulance (willing to go into any situation for an evac). But yes, if shot down, I would rather it not blow me up (unless it is right in AQ territory).

        2) we should be working on beaming energy. With that approach, we could provide energy into a FOB without sending loads of fuel.

        Beamed energy requires a line of sight, which means it won't work over the horizon or through a mountain.

        On the other hand, the military already does use "beamed energy" from the sun to cut down on its fuel usage. When fuel costs $400 per gallon [wsj.com], the cost-benefit decision for running your camp off solar panels gets really easy to make.

        Hence the reason why you get it up to say 10 mile beaming so that you can beam it at a slow flying 30K' plane and then have it relay.
        Now, as to solar, you ha

    • by aug24 (38229)

      Two much simpler things first...

      One, medevac capability. Excellent.

      Two, abandon a few of these with what appears to be nice stuff (small arms, slightly damaged; steaks etc), wait till the people you want to kill get used to nicking the kit, then send in stuff with hidden GPS transmitters (don't tell me there's no GSM - just transmit to a drone). Nice.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overland_train

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