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This hole-digging drone parachutes in to get the job done

A new drone from the NIMBUS group at the University of Nebraska can fall out of a plane, parachute down, fly to a certain place, dig a hole, hide sensors inside it, and then fly away like some crazy wasp. Robots are weird.

The goal of the project is to allow drones to place sensors in distant and hostile environments. The system starts on a plane or helicopter which ejects the entire thing inside of a cylindrical canister. The canister falls for a while then slows down with a parachute. Once it’s close enough to the ground it pops out, lands, and drills a massive hole with a screw drill, and leaves the heavy parts to fly home.

Drones can only fly for so long while carrying heavy gear so this ensures that the drone can get there without using battery and escape without running down to empty.

“Battery powered drones have very short flight times, especially when flying with a heavy load, which we are since we have our digging apparatus and sensor system. So to get to distant locations, we need to hitch a ride on another vehicle,” said NIMBUS co-director Carrick Detweiler to Spectrum. “This allows it to save energy for return trips. In this video we used a much larger gas powered UAS with multiple hours of flight time, but our same system could be deployed from manned aircraft or other systems.”

The drone can even sense if the ground is too hard for digging and choose another spot, allowing for quite a bit of flexibility. Given that these things can land silently in far off locations you can imagine some interesting military uses for this technology. I’m sure it will be fine for us humans, though. I mean what could go wrong with a robot that can hide things underground in distant, unpopulated places and escape undetected?

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Despite promises to stop, US cell carriers are still selling your real-time phone location data

Last year, four of the largest U.S. cell carriers were caught selling and sending real-time location data of their customers to shady companies that sold it on to big spenders, who would use the data to track anyone “within seconds” for whatever reason they wanted.

At first, a little-known company LocationSmart was obtaining (and leaking) real-time location data from AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint and selling access through another company, 3Cinteractive, to Securus, a prison technology company, which tracked phone owners without asking for their permission. This game of telephone with people’s private information was discovered, and the cell carriers, facing heavy rebuke from Sen. Ron Wyden, a privacy-minded lawmaker, buckled under the public pressure and said they’d stop selling and sharing customers’ locations.

And that would’ve been that — until it wasn’t.

Now, new reporting by Motherboard shows that while LocationSmart faced the brunt of the criticism, few focused on the other big player in the location-tracking business, Zumigo. A payment of $300 and a phone number was enough for a bounty hunter to track down the participating reporter by obtaining his location using Zumigo’s location data, which was continuing to pay for access from most of the carriers.

Worse, Zumigo sold that data on — like LocationSmart did with Securus — to other companies, like Microbilt, a Georgia-based credit reporting company, which in turn sells that data on to other firms who want that data. In this case, it was a bail bond company, whose bounty hunter was paid by Motherboard to track the reporter down — with his permission.

Everyone seemed to drop the ball. Microbilt said the bounty hunter shouldn’t have used the location data to track the Motherboard reporter. Zumigo said it didn’t mind location data ending up in the hands of the bounty hunter, but still cut Microbilt’s access.

But nobody quite dropped the ball like the carriers, which said it would not to share location data again.

T-Mobile, at the center of the latest location-selling revelations for passing the reporter’s location to the bounty hunter, said last year in the midst of the Securus scandal that it “reviewed” its real-time location data sharing program and found that appropriate controls in place. To appease even the skeptical, T-Mobile chief executive John Legere tweeted at the time that he “personally evaluated the issue” and promised that the company “will not sell customer location data to shady middlemen.”

It’s hard to see how that isn’t, in hindsight, a downright lie.

This time around, T-Mobile said it “does not have a direct relationship” with Microbilt but admitted one with Zumigo, which, given the story and the similarities to last year’s Securus scandal, could be considered one of many “shady middlemen” still obtaining location data from cell carriers.

It wasn’t just T-Mobile. Other carriers were also still selling and sharing their customers’ data.

AT&T said in last year’s letter it would “protect customer data” and “shut down” Securus’ access to its real-time store of customer location data. Most saw that as a swift move to prevent third-parties accessing customer location data. Now, AT&T seemed to renege on that year-ago pledge, saying it “only permit the sharing of location” in limited cases, including when required by law.

Sprint didn’t say what its relationship was with either Zumigo or Microbilt, but once again — like last year — cited its privacy policy as its catch-all to sell and share customer location data. Yet Sprint, like its fellow carriers AT&T and T-Mobile, which pledged to stop selling location data, clearly didn’t complete its “process of terminating its current contracts with data aggregators to whom we provide location data” as it promised in a letter a year ago.

Verizon, the parent company of TechCrunch, wasn’t explicitly cleared from sharing location data with third-parties in Motherboard’s report — only that the bounty hunter refused to search for a Verizon number. (We’ve asked Verizon if it wants to clarify its position — so far, we’ve had nothing back.)

In a letter sent last year when the Securus scandal blew up, Verizon said it would “take steps to stop” sharing data with two firms — Zumigo, and LocationSmart, an intermediary that passed on obtained location data to Securus. But that doesn’t mean it’s off the hook. It was still sharing location data with anyone who wanted to pay in the first place, putting its customers at risk from hackers, stalkers — or worse.

Wyden. who tweeted about the story, said carriers selling its customers location data “is a nightmare for national security and the personal safety of anyone with a phone.” And yet there’s no way to opt out — shy of a legislative fix — given that two-thirds of the U.S. population aren’t going to switch to a carrier that doesn’t sell your location data.

It turns out, you really can’t trust your cell carrier. Who knew?

Miku watches your baby (and your baby’s heartbeat) while you relax

Using technology that sounds like it comes straight out of Predator, Miku is a new baby monitor that watches and senses your baby’s vitals in real time. The system not only broadcasts a secure feed of your baby’s sleep time but it also analyzes the heart rate and breathing without wearables.

The system uses military technology to sense the baby’s vitals and it will store video even if the Wi-Fi goes out.

The Miku Baby Monitor uses patent-pending AI and machine learning technology called SensorFusion, which combines optical and wireless sensing to build a full and accurate picture of the baby’s critical health metrics with no wires or wearables. Beyond breathing and sleeping patterns, these sensors track temperature and humidity levels to ensure the baby’s environment is stable. Miku’s technology and corresponding app work with smartphones from anywhere in the world and sends instant alerts when it matters most, giving parents a tranquil peace of mind.

The app also records data over time, giving the parents a better understanding of sleep patterns and the like. Developed by CEO and new parent Eric White, the Miku builds on White’s experience building gear and software for the Department of Defense, ITT, L3 and Picatinny.

The team believes the monitor will also work will with elder care as well, allowing worried children to keep an eye on their parents.

“The Miku Baby Monitor is only the beginning for us,” said White. “As a new father, I know there is a huge need for this level of technology and sophistication in a product people entrust to help care for their loved ones. The applications for Miku’s technology are limitless.”

The Miku is available for order now and costs $399.

Verizon and T-Mobile call out AT&T over fake 5G labels

AT&T recently started a shady marketing tactic that labeled its 4G network as a 5G network. Now, rivals Verizon and T-Mobile are not having any of it.

In an open letter, in which AT&T is not named directly, Verizon says in part “the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist.” TechCrunch agrees. The advantages of 5G networks are profound. The next generation of wireless networks will bring more than just increased speeds and AT&T’s current campaign of calling a 4G network a 5G network clouds the water.

T-Mobile is more direct in its criticism of AT&T. Because that’s how T-Mobile rolls. Watch.

This isn’t the first time AT&T has employed this mislabeling campaign. The wireless carrier did something similar prior to launching its LTE network and it was shady then and it’s shady now.

Disclosure: TechCrunch is a Verizon Media company.