UC Davis tries to rewrite (search) history

Some astoundingly bad PR decisions and some amazingly cool suggestions for drone technology. It doesn’t get any better than the expertIP tech roundup this week.

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Universities and colleges are supposed to be forums for inquiry and pursuers of truth. Not so at University of California – Davis, which apparently tried to delete online search results about the pepper spraying of peaceful protesters.

During the spraying incident, which occurred during an Occupy protest, a UC Davis police officer was recorded spraying peaceful, seated protesters with mace. He was later paid $38,000 in workers’ compensation settlements after receiving hate mails and letters.

The university reportedly spent at least US$150,000 of public money and possibly more on a PR firm to eradicate search results from the Internet, all in its pursuit of the right to be forgotten. It clearly hasn’t worked, though, as people are talking about it more than ever, and it’s still plastered all over YouTube.

Snapchat unapologetic about Marley blackface stunt

This week saw the annual ‘420 day’ roll around again, which is a day of celebration and excessive consumption for marijuana smokers, presumably accompanied by a profound drop-off in economic productivity for the day.

Technology has no particular relevance to this annual weedathon, unless you count sitting on the sofa for eight hours watching Netflix and munching potato chips. However, this year’s 420 day was a little different, thanks to some marketing wag over at Snapchat.

The messaging service launched a Bob Marley filter, which changes the colour of your skin, making you look like the legendary reggae singer, complete with dreadlocks and Rastafarian hat. Essentially, Snapchat launched a blackface app and insulted Marley’s legacy as a musician and peacemaker in one fell swoop.

The Internet wasn’t pleased, and outraged tweets followed. Snapchat doubled down, though, arguing that the whole thing was created with the full approval of Marley’s estate. Depending on whether you think any publicity is good publicity, someone in marketing either got demoted or will be bought extra drinks at the pub this Friday night.

Drones for Australian posties. Canada next?

Australia’s postal service wants to trial drone deliveries next year. The country, which has a lot of remote rural residents, noted that many of these far-flung folks buy products online more frequently than their urban counterparts. It’s inefficient to drive all the way there, but a postal worker could take their packages part of the way and then launch a drone to travel the extra mile or two to their door, Australia Post executives said.

Robert Campbell, president of Mount Allison University and author of a 2008 review of the Canada Post service, said that drones could make sense up here, too. There are many rural areas that get infrequent deliveries, he said, adding that drones could increase that frequency and get people their parcels more quickly.

“This is not about [being] cost effective, this is not a cheaper option,” he told reporters. Perhaps not, but it is the coolest thing we’ve heard in a while. It could also save lives, as it makes it easier to deliver medical supplies more regularly.

Best of expertIP

Speaking of drones, Danny Bradbury posted an analysis this week exploring how flying autonomous devices might revolutionize our lives, if cellular data providers support them.

Outside the military, drones today are mostly restricted to line-of-sight operations, connected to operators via short-range networks. AT&T and Intel are working on building support for cellular links directly into drones, which would allow them to travel further and higher than today’s units. Beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) operations could open new doors in areas such as long-distance delivery and disaster response.

We’d better learn to use them properly, though. There have already been some near misses with drones, including one in Adelaide this week that was flying above the 400-feet limit and nearly collided with a landing aircraft. In France, an Air Lingus plane flew within 150 metres of a drone that was hovering more than 2,000 metres above a town.

That’s at least two incidents in one week alone. You see why we can’t have nice things? And if it continues, governments will probably take them away. The U.S. is already considering a law to take dangerous drones out of the sky, with force.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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