Eye in the Sky: Dual-Use Drones with MODUS Founder LCDR (Ret.) Dan Hubert

In this episode, A’ndre and Ryan talk to Dan Hubert, former LCDR in the US Navy and the founder of MODUS, about surveillance drones, drones in the private sector, his ‘battlefield to the boardroom’ story, and the broader defense industry in the private sector. Dan provides us with a keen insight on the history of surveillance drones in the US military, and how they have been employed — drawing on his own personal experience as a Unit Officer-in-Charge of UAVs in Iraq. We talk about how drones have contributed to the collection of geospatial intelligence, and the nature of network-centric and information warfare. Dan then takes us into the defense industry in the private sector, where we discuss corporate espionage, the prevalence of geopolitics in commercial usage of drones, and how data privacy can portend to be a significant security risk to the average everyday citizen. If you’re interested in hearing more about Dan’s work with MODUS, you can visit their website here: https://www.modus-ai.com/about/  


ON THE FUTURE OF DATA: “The countries that will have dominance in the future, are the ones that are going to be able to process, analyze and interpret information better than anybody else. Because that means that they have to use less resources or maybe no conflict at all to achieve their strategic objectives and resolve conflict.”

US LOSING DRONE TECHNOLOGY ADVANTAGE: “The US has lost the technological advantage when it comes to automation, innovation around the drone market and a lot of the AI… we’re trying to recapture that right now. And it’s such a sad fact we have sold ourselves away for cheap labor in that regard.” 

ON DATA PRIVACY: “A lot of these drones in the toy market run off your cell phone. A lot of people don’t think about it, but they put their cell phone onto it and they say, “Oh I don’t care that they know where I am flying.” That’s not the point. The point is, where is the rest of the information that’s on your cell phone going? Where’s your bank account info? Where’s your – I hate to say it – your Facebook account going? Your Twitter? Your other pieces of personal information are now open.” 

CHINA GETTING OUR SECRETS: “When you look at China and these other countries, it used to be we defend our bases without giving away a military secret. But what we have learned, what the Chinese have learned is that the more critical piece is getting into our innovation labs. Not just for military secrets… right now the big thing is how fast can we get to a vaccine. Everybody is trying to steal everybody’s information on how to generate vaccines. That’s not a military secret, that’s a corporate espionage secret.” 

ON HACKING DRONES: “You can hack a drone, there’s no doubt about it. It’s getting harder and harder. For instance the drones that we design are built to run on the cellular network. And we do encrypt them so they can’t be hacked in, that’s mostly for safety reasons. Mostly for non-nefarious reasons, if a kid is on the beach with me, he isn’t able to control my drone and I cannot control his. It could have nefarious results so we do make sure our signals are encrypted.”

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT AND THE PRIVATE SECTOR: “The DoD is waking up, where they’re increasing their spending, whether it’s defense innovation units or army labs… all these centers are funding. Which is good. There’s a lean, for better or worse, that if you have VC-backed money, you’re more likely to get these innovation grants than you would in the past… so the military, the government is starting to lean, and say ‘it’s good to have investment, and we want to reward that,’ and I think in the VC world, dependent on who that investment firm is, they’re starting to see that having federal contracts is actually profitable.”

WHERE THE DRONE MARKET IS GOING: “As far as where the U.S. is going, in the drone market, we used to be the technological leaders, and we are losing. Absolutely losing. It’s not really anybody’s one particular fault in terms of bad policy or bad economics. Part of it is that… what we’ve seen from the Department of Transportation and the FAA is a burying of their heads in the sand. Back in 2015, 2013, the FAA didn’t want to engage and bring drones to the airspace… we’d just have to do it and get sued… the US is known for being innovative, and for being risk-takers. What we’re seeing from the FAA, is that they’re more worried about suing and for liability. They’re not providing areas where we can take more risk that are still aviation safe.”

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