The 2018 CES Show issue of Dronin' On 01.13.18
Intel Inside: Volocopter over Las Vegas

Hi all –

Tough start for all you road warriors – ATL down, JFK flooded and the CES show floor blacked out for two hours.

This week CES, news from DOT, urban air mobility, AI, delivery, data security and Chinese hardware, intriguing details of a drone attack on a Russian airbase which will renew the focus on Title 18 and a very insightful podcast with Marke
“Hoot” Gibson.


A number of people wrote to ask why I previewed CES last week, since from their perspective it is not a commercial show. I spent some time responding and was encouraged to share my answers.

Much of the world’s tech press goes to CES – as so does a good portion of the US lifestyle and general business press. There is no other event in the US, and perhaps the world, that garners this kind of attention on an annual basis. Here are the facts:

  • 170,000 attendees
  • 7,000 media
  • 3,900 exhibiting companies
  • 150+ countries

As luck would have it, drones were all the news (the shiny object du jour if you like) coming out of CES for the past five years – an unbelievable run. As a direct result, our industry grew on the wings of millions of dollars of free PR, which made drones the gift of the year, and got everyone talking about them. Remember advertising is about reach and frequency, and we enjoyed both.

As best we can tell, ~90% of all drones are sold to consumers.

  • Look at the numbers we have from the FAA [see below for an update].
  • Look at the Pew report I cited last week – 50% of people have seen a drone (?!) and 8% own one – that’s like 27 million people!!!
  • Look at the Chinese stretch goal of US$25B in global drone exports I cited last week – those aren’t going to corporate buyers.
  • You might also consider Colin’s recent report in which he says that the majority of corporate customers are flying consumer drones. Why? Because given the current FAA constraints (400’AGL, VLOS then just add a 20Mp camera) they are all you need to do most jobs.

Further helping the cause is the credibility that comes when Fortune 500 companies talk about the market and the future. Very few companies in the world can make the investment necessary to build a 5G network or a
new microprocessor.

So, when companies like Intel and Qualcomm make drone announcements and public bets on the drone future at CES, it is very good for business. To the extent that corporations are people too – or more appropriately all people are consumers – it influences corporate consideration. I maintain that a lot of corporate pilot programs started when Bill, Bob or Jim brought his own drone in to see what it could do.

All of this led to a lot of VC investment. And as an unintended consequence, it is forcing regulators around the world to pay attention and come up with solutions. In short, CES jump started the sUAS industry, basically for free.

I agree that most companies focused on the commercial drone space aren’t there. Good decision. Most have no business going – it’s huge, it’s expensive and for the most part, their target customers aren’t there.

It’s big fun – reader Brad H. was there with some clients and sent in this report:

I walked the floor a little bit in the main hall areas. It’s insane and impossible to take in. The tech and design is amazing.


In fact, CES is such a big deal that DOT Secretary Elaine Chao and her entourage, including FAA Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell, dropped by to speechify. From Morning Transportation’s Thursday issue:

WE’LL TAKE 10: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said a drone pilot program for states and localities [i.e. UASIPP/DIPP] would select “about 10” sites. (In one forum, she said those 10 would be selected out of 210 applications; in another she said there had been 150 “completed” applications – we’ve asked for clarification.)

It amazes me how the FAA continues to be plagued by a lack of transparency. Because of whose idea UASIPP was (you know the safety king) there will be no escaping the public eye. As predicted, a lot of the six volume applications will be thrown out for technical errata and incomplete data. Each required a lot of work on a very short fuse and an intimate knowledge of CONOPS – no doubt it favored the pre-prepared.

Chao said that DOT will report back results from the pilot in a “reasonable and responsible period of time… not next year even” and implement new policies. Check out the video here.

Can’t wait!

Other tidbits: Chao divulged that the one-millionth drone registration will happen this week while talking about what she thinks is the biggest transportation challenge today – integrating new technology into existing systems.

From the press release:

The 1,000,000-total registration figure includes 878,000 hobbyists, who receive one identification number for all the drones they own, and 122,000 commercial, public and other drones, which are individually registered.

Meanwhile, DOT appropriations run out next week.

THE CES 2018 FLOOR did a nice job covering the show.

  • There was a phone case, the Selfly, that turned into a drone – after you take the phone out. I don’t get it either…
  • Autel is trying to stay in the game with the EVO which seems positioned to take on the DJI Mavic.
  • Yuneec has a new recreational fixed wing, a new racer and a new Typhoon.
  • A start-up called Ryze teamed up with DJI and Intel to create Tello, a $99 drone built to teach kids programming skills.
  • And DJI came out with new Ronin and Osmo camera mounts.

One of the few (the only?) commercial UAS software offerings was a slick update from, the first piece of their enterprise roadmap. “An automated flight system to complement the recently released multi-channel secure live video and audio streaming feature.” You can read more here.

To no one’s surprise GoPro CEO Nick Woodman used the quarterly analyst call to announce that the company was done with the drone business, saying that:

“A hostile regulatory environment in Europe and the United States will likely reduce the total addressable market in the years ahead. These factors make the aerial market untenable and GoPro will exit the market after selling its remaining
Karma inventory.”

sUAS News reports that RM Law, P.C. has filed a class action lawsuit. Gizmodo had the winning headline, GoPro Loses Two-Year Battle with the Sky.

Time marches on and new shiny objects are grabbing the spotlight and firing
the imagination.

Since the introduction of the single passenger Ehang 184 at CES in 2016, there has been growing interest in the parallel universe of urban air mobility.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s ‘pre-show’ keynote got the props spinning.

The news is pretty much the same – plenty of flash including the largest ever indoor Shooting Star performance (and more outside weather permitting,) Tony Romo and an apologia for the Spectre and Meltdown exploits which affect every chip since 1995. But the big lead (what the folks at Disney Imagineering call the Weenie) was the Volocopter, which I first introduced in Dronin’ On in October.

If like me, you are wondering what Intel and the Volocopter have in common:

“The Intel® Flight Control Technology used in the Volocopter is based on the intelligence found in the Intel Falcon™ 8+ drone used for inspection, surveying, and mapping, showing the powerful intersection of data and autonomous technology.”

Also making a big splash was Bell Helicopter. GeekWire’s Kurt Schlosser (among many other lucky journos) went for a VR ride in their Air Taxi. Hate Sitting in Traffic? I Took a Virtual Ride in This Air Taxi to See the Future of Urban Mobility. 

Calling it “the future of air mobility,” Bell is teaming with ride-hailing giant Uber for what both companies hope will be a more accessible, reliable and affordable mode of transportation normally reserved for the very wealthy or connected.

Another big news item at CES was cars – which is just a little ironic since the Detroit Auto Show opens today (Saturday 1/13). If you are a car nut, this is
for you. did a terrific job with Big Bets On Autonomous Vehicles: Intel Will Use 2 Million Cars to Map the World’s Roads.

To see the best of the rest, check out the Verge CES 2018 Awards.


Deep in all of this are the two magic letters, AI. Now the not-so-secret secret about AI is that it’s hard and tedious. It’s in its infancy. And there is plenty of hyp. But I found a number of solid articles I thought worth sharing.

Let’s start close to home with WeRobotics Open AI Challenge: Aerial Imagery of South Pacific Islands, the latest idea from Dr. Patrick Meier. Meier as you should know founded the Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) and has been involved in coordinating the use of UAVs for disaster response around the world, notably in Nepal, Vanuatu and now Malawi.

This Challenge reflects the fact that drones generate so much data that it takes too long to analyze it on a timely basis. Thus, the role for AI. Justin Adams reported much the same from the US hurricanes he flew this year in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico.

PwC has written Top 10 AI Technology Trends for 2018. The first one left me gob smacked “1. Deep learning theory: demystifying how neural nets work.” It turns out that they don’t actually know which is amazing – or is it alarming?

Closer to home for some of you will be the Econsultancy’s The Five Ps of AI Strategy for Marketers. Here is the quote that caught my eye:

Anything that you can automate is a good candidate for AI. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, customers will manage 85% of their relationship with the enterprise without interacting with a human.  

It is unfortunate that in 2020, humans will still be required to babysit flying robots.


This section has nothing to do with CES but everything to do with the future.

Amazon did a press release, Best of Prime 2017.

  • More than 5 Billion Items Shipped with Prime in 2017 worldwide
  • Prime members now enjoy unlimited Free Two-Day Shipping on more than 100 million items in the U.S.

Words like staggering, and how much cardboard come to mind.

Which leads to Avionics story, Boeing’s New Electric Cargo Drone Could Transport 500 Pounds. Pay careful attention to this part of the pitch:

“The safe integration of unmanned aerial systems is vital to unlocking their full potential. Boeing has an unmatched track record, regulatory know-how and systematic approach to deliver solutions that will shape the future of
autonomous flight.”

And UST’s story, Insitu Demonstrates Situational Awareness System for UAS.

“This system shows great promise as one of many solutions or “layers” that we are pursuing to increase safety and allow BVLOS flights in the U.S.”

You should be hearing footsteps and things going thump in the night.


I think it’s time to put something in perspective. DJI’s newly released privacy policy is simply another chapter in the long history of US-Sino cyber issues going back to at least 2012. The NYT reported the latest, AT&T Drops Huawei’s New Smartphone Amid Security Worries.

…Last month, a group of lawmakers wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing misgivings about a potential deal between Huawei and an unnamed American telecommunications company to sell its consumer products in the United States.

The letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times, said Congress had “long been concerned about Chinese espionage in general, and Huawei’s role in that espionage in particular.”

Given that China is now the dominant electronics manufacturer, and Huawei is the world’s largest telecomm manufacturer, it’s hard to see how this ever ends.


Imagine you are on a massive Russian air force base in a far corner of Syria. One fine evening someone launches a drone attack at you – not a swarm you understand – just a fleet. And you have no idea at all who did it, or where they came from.

According to WaPo:

More than a dozen armed drones descended from an unknown location onto Russia’s vast Hmeimim air base in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia’s military operations in Syria, and on the nearby Russian naval base
at Tartus.

Russia said that it shot down seven of the 13 drones and used electronic countermeasures to safely bring down the other six. It said no serious damage
was caused.

The Russian Defense Ministry statement said the drones used in the Hmeimim attack came from between 50 and 100 kilometers away…

Here’s the interesting thing being discussed in certain quarters. The Russians have given this a huge amount of play. There are at least five stories in TASS about it, including an early claim that a USN P8 Poseidon, which includes long-range reconnaissance in its bag of tricks, was over the target during the attack.

Hard to imagine the US Army being quite so open. Inquiring minds want to know – what’s the play?

President Putin called it a provocation saying that “These aerial vehicles were disguised – I would like to stress that – as homemade. But it is obvious that some high-tech equipment was used.”

General Staff Reveals Details of Drones That Attacked Russian Bases in Syria is a very detailed debrief by Russian Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov:

“The creation of drones of this class is impossible in an improvised manner. Their development and usage involved specialists, who had undergone special training in the countries manufacturing and using systems with unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Janes360 offered additional details.

Seven were destroyed by Pantsyr-S short-range air defence systems and the other six were intercepted by electronic warfare units. Of the latter, three were landed outside the base, while the other three exploded when they hit the ground.

The MoD said that analysis of the recovered UAVs showed that they were guided by GPS and altimeters and could have been launched from up to 100 km away.

Two recovered UAVs were displayed during the briefing showing the aircraft were homemade, rather than commercial off-the-shelf or hobby types. They were powered by small combustion engines and their wings were made from polystyrene reinforced with wooden slats.

One was seen with racks for four releasable improvised explosive devices (IEDs) under each wing, although Maj Gen Novikov said each aircraft carried ten such munitions. He said they weighed around 400 g and contained the powerful explosive PETN. They appeared to have artisanal impact fuzes.

I spoke with CUAS security expert, URSA Founder and CTO David Kovar who observed that:

“It is in the Russian’s best interest to claim that these are sophisticated devices built and operated by a nation state, even if that is not the case. The flight controller is certainly high-tech but anyone can acquire it, and high school students regularly use such equipment. I think many people would be capable of building the aircraft. The explosives would be hard to build for people I know, but that is to be expected.”

Looking forward the general said:

“There is a real threat of using drones for terrorist aims in any place in the world… Terrorists may use similar deadly drones in other countries, too, and not only against military facilities.” adding that “All the interested parties need to pay attention to such threats and cooperate on the international level to combat them.”

This is going to increase the pucker factor at DHS, DOD and DOJ as well as up on the Hill. Who knows, it might provide a much-needed accelerator (a technical term for pointed footwear) for Congress to get going on a Title 18 rewrite.


Which takes us to The podcast this week with Major General Marke “Hoot” Gibson who recently left the FAA to be the CEO of NUAIR in upstate NY.

Here are a few of his thoughts about the future of CUAS.

(25.05) This is with us now and forever. And I find it interesting we’re here talking about the FAA, but DOD is concerned. DOE is very concerned… But also, public utilities, power lines, refineries, all those are critical infrastructure. And I can tell you right now things like major league baseball, NASCAR, NFL, everybody is concerned about their stadiums and keeping people safe. So, this cuts across all of America.

We need a national discussion because it does go all the way from Disney over to you know nuclear power. And how to how to protect that. And what are we going to be willing to do, what are we going to be willing to pay to provide that.

There is also a fascinating discussion about Remote ID that to me is equally applicable to registration – it’s something I’ve been saying since 2015.

(21:00) Is it a right or is it a privilege to fly in that airspace? It’s like driving a car – you have to have a license right. You have to. People get to know who you are.

And plenty more about LAANC, UASIPP and all the other topics that it is so hard to get the straight scoop on. Hats off. Hoot we miss ya.


Since we’re back in what’s left of the USSR – here’s a stunning portfolio The Vintage Beauty of Soviet Control Rooms. If you love analog, this is for you. Otherwise, go look at the analog face you choose for your Apple Watch.


The 3rd Annual FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Symposium, March 6-8, 2018 at the Baltimore Convention Center. This year, the program will include breakout and workshop sessions that will cover today’s hot topics – including air traffic automation, remote identification and tracking, and expanded operations.” Register here.


In the coming weeks you’ll see formatting tweaks, improved search, then more guest posts through the year (Yes you can.)

My goal is to promote discussion that helps the industry grow. If you are a subscriber, please invite people who are interested in joining the conversation to subscribe. If you are reading, please consider subscribing. You know if each of you invited one person…

Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can find all of the back issues of Dronin’ On here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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