The Dog's Leg issue of Dronin' On 07.22.17
Liquid sea

Hi all –

These are the dog days of summer. Sirius is rising and setting with the sun, the junkyard dawgs have been busy doing their leg thing and I am riffin’ and ramblin’ on where we are and what might be next.

As of Friday afternoon, H.R. 2997 AIRR, the House version of the FAA Reauthorization Bill has not been scheduled to go on the floor next week. The seers at Politico say that the bill won’t go without the votes to pass it in hand. After another week of jawboning and whipping it appears that the centerpiece of the administration’s infrastructure plan is having trouble gathering enough speed to take off.

Two potential thumbs up for the FAA and Airmap who announced Coming This Fall: Automated Airspace Authorization at U.S. Airports. The article links to a supporting story in Forbes by Airmap co-founder Greg McNeal. Automated ATC Authorization For Drone Flights Will Occur At These 50 Airports This Fall.
McNeal writes:

When the first facilities begin providing automated authorizations this fall, we’ll be getting an early look at how UTM will work in the U.S. – and how the American economy can benefit from commercial drone operations at scale. 

But no one said it would be easy. NASA just released their Initial Investigation into the Psychoacoustic Properties of Small Unmanned Aerial System Noise, and it’s a doozy. Researchers found that while the decibel levels of a delivery truck and a drone may be the same, the drone sound is a lot more irritating to the people
they tested.

Does that matter? Consider that there were 119 amendments to the AIRR bill and roughly half were related to aircraft noise. One of those things that is an issue to the folks back home.

Meanwhile, a lot of intense discussions which I am beginning to think suggest that we are reaching an inflection point in the evolution of the commercial
drone business.

Anyone who has read Bill Carey’s Enter The Drones will not be surprised to find Patrick Egan, the editor of the America’s Desk at sUAS News in the thick of it. Anyone who has not read the book needs to if they hope to have an understanding of how we got here.

So, where are we? Here’s my version.

Starting in the early 2000’s up on the Chugach Sea, the FAA made like ostriches and hoped that UAVs would go away. Eventually, two things happened.

The first is that technology, in the form of the smartphone and Open Source, made it possible for almost anyone to build a drone. Not Predators, Scan Eagles or Ravens but little bitty cheap ones. And because they carried cameras, and the camera market was otherwise bereft of shiny objects, they took off.

Which took the FAA completely by surprise! (Other ostrich analogies are deleted.)

This week, Business Insider (whose numbers are as a good a guess as anyone’s) forecasts that there will be 21,000,000 consumer drones in the sky by 2021. Essentially, we now have our Model T in any color you want so long as it is white. As you will see in a little bit, we also have a growing global problem.

At the same time, with all of the bluster and authority of their aerospace background, AUVSI ginned up a study claiming that the US sUAV market was going to be worth US$82B. Seeing safety in numbers – or something like that – the FAA swallowed the forecast hook, line and sinker and took to promoting it, so that now it turns up as gospel everywhere drones are spoken. Despite lots of evidence au contraire, it has become the thing that won’t die.

Not content to ignore the sublime, PwC went for the ridiculous upping the ante by 50% to US$124B. Venture capitalists and the F500 said this is good, let’s get some and hired a troop of DC lawyers to “grow the industry.” Honestly, I have great respect and admiration for lawyers. But for the most part lawyers are not visionaries, marketers or innovators.

To compound the problem, the FAA filled and continues to fill their task forces, ARCs and advisory boards with commercial drone manufacturers and lawyers. (This is an Egan thing.) Then in a sincere attempt to be a good incubator, they do everything possible to minimize the requirements for registration, education and actual piloting skill. Not only has this upset their constituency, it has slowed enterprise adoption. (This is my thing, Standards.)

At the same time, there was an attempt to ride roughshod over the rights and interests of the local communities where drones take off; do their business (that dog thing again) and land.

Over the past 18 months, a number of largely unforeseen things have happened. Notice that I am not writing “as a result” because I am not going to propose correlation or causality. Instead, I am going to point to a fast-emerging trend that for shock value I have hash tagged #dronesRbad.

1) Consumer drones have become the IED of choice in Syria, Iraq and now the Philippines. Together with Russia’s success using (real) drones in the Ukraine, the US military has been forced to completely rethink how they operate. And most of the attention and much of the money in the drone space is now on countering the threat – CUAS.

Check out U.S. Air Force Tests New Counter UAS Program.

2) Instead of recognizing their concerns and working to help them craft a drone neutral solution, the FAA and the “grow the business” lawyers tried to ram NAS down the throats of the states, counties, cities, towns and burghs. So, we now have a giant patchwork quilt that is replicating like a virulent virus. Further fuel will be added to this fire if and when some version of the Feinstein Drone Federalism Bill becomes law.

3) Meanwhile, the leader of the band, DJI, is being challenged on multiple fronts. Despite their best efforts to act like responsible corporate citizens by trying to fence in their users, hackers are now very publicly liberating their drones.

Those of you who know me, know that Apple became my client in 1980 – a few short years after Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak used a “Blue Box” to hack AT&T for free long distance. The traditions of the Homebrew Club and the BMUG are an integral part of the global tech culture. It’s a nasty problem. One that gets into a much larger discussion that I touch on occasionally, of who actually owns a Phantom or an iPhone or a John Deere when so much of the value is the copyrighted software.

Even more recently, a very unpleasant discussion has appeared on Twitter arguing that Chinese manufacturers (i.e. DJI) should not be setting US aviation policy. I can see where this is upsetting to the red meat eaters, but I consider the way that it is being done to be in extremely poor taste so while I feel obliged to mention it, I am not providing names or links.

Unfortunately, few market leaders have done as little to endear themselves to their users or the marketplace as DJI has. Put another way DJI may have Apple packaging, but they don’t have Apple charisma or service. Until now they have resisted taking up the leadership mantle preferring to put their energy into innovating and burying the competition. But after recent events at Chengdu, Galway and other global destinations, that is starting to change.

DJI Condemns Unsafe Mavic Flying Near Tel Aviv Airport takes it head on.

DJI, the world’s leader in civilian drones and aerial imaging technology, condemns in the strongest possible terms a video posted by a drone user that records landing of aircraft at Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airport. The user, Niv Stubenski, claims to have filmed the landings with a DJI Mavic Pro quadcopter.

The article goes on to describe geofencing, willingness to cooperate etc. You can see the air-to-air on the perp’s YouTube reel – the Israeli PD found him and took away his toys. The guy is 20.

WaPo reports that Portugal is “Expediting a law that will introduce mandatory registration and insurance for drones weighing more than 250 grams (8.8 ounces). The measure follows eight near-misses between drones and commercial aircraft at Portuguese airports in June. Airlines have warned of a potential disaster caused
by drones

And this just in from Gary Mortimer. Will UK Drone Fliers Face Mandatory Registration?

Malek Murison writing for addressed the recent spate of hacking reports In Defense of DJI: Why Hackers Are Wrong to Play Games. This is a very even-handed exploration of how we got here. I am pleased to join others in congratulating Malek for taking the long view instead of taking sides:

On several sites, the hacking of DJI drones has been referred to as some kind of Independence Day. But the ironic thing about drone emancipation is that it will inevitably lead to stricter regulations being imposed on the entire pilot community. One incident is all it will take for public opinion to shift dramatically. And when that happens, regulations will tighten and the same pilots who complained about Geofences being enforced today will be left wishing things could go back to how they were.

It is ironic that a week before Malek wrote Media Coverage in the Drone Industry: Perspective Needed. His none too surprising premise?

Dangerous drones make for great headlines. Fear gets clicks.

His advice? “We should all be more wary about the impact poorly-chosen words could have on an industry still finding its way.” Oh, but all those juicy, revenue enhancing clicks… got in the game with A Bleak, Terrifying Picture of Drones Over Denver. The story details testimony by a local lawyer, John Putnam to the Denver City Council’s Safety, Education and Homelessness Committee.

The regulatory landscape regarding drones is in flux, and it would be challenging to determine where FAA and local authority begins and ends.  “We are lacking guidance from the federal level; we are lacking court decisions on this issue, so we’re in a period of trial and error,” he said. 

“The laboratories of democracy that are our cities and counties and states are trying a bunch of these ordinances. They will be challenged, some of them will succeed, some will fail.”

Pure poetry for an attorney.

Which brings us to the question of the week and probably the year – Who’s Advocating For Your Use of Drones? It’s an interview with Patrick Egan conducted by Randy Goers on the Drone Radio Show.

A longtime proponent of drones for small business, Patrick has the bonafides to be a critic of the drone establishment. The thrust of the hour-long interview is that the entrenched interests are not advocates for the people who are trying to make a living providing drone services. People who in Egan’s view have no representation in the corridors of power – and desperately need it.

Not content with a scorching interview, a few days later Patrick let loose with a long, searing editorial Just Say No to Backroom Drone Deals which among other things excoriates the FAA for conducting meetings behind closed doors.

Just recently the FAA announced a new Identification ARC that was chartered in May. While it lists the affiliations, it fails to list the names or who will be the industry co-chair warmer. I think the FAA has no choice but to be a little more discerning with what “experts” they install as the track record has a few blemishes which have eroding public trust and irritated folks in Congress. Members of the aforementioned groups and or the public need not worry about who is looking out for them, as the meetings are all private.

He is not alone in his view that:

If the viability of this industry is waiting on BVLOS and full NAS integration it could take another decade of funding rounds to make happen. The way the Drone company CEO’s are dropping, I don’t know that many of these high flying unicorns (AKA unicornos by our friends south of the border) will make 2018.

I think that the tradeshows have done the most to promote the industry by providing forums where real users can gather and exchange ideas.

This year I am  an official media partner with Drone World Expo which is taking place in San Jose, CA October 3-4 as part of Commercial Drone Week. This is a really interesting event, in no small part because all end-users receive complimentary full conference passes. If you are not an end-user, I am happy to offer you a 20% discount – just register using promo code DBCVIP.

Always important to end on a high note – this week I have three cool videos
for you.

Beware: Camera Drones Are Weak Against Confetti and Toilet Paper offers up two videos that clearly demonstrate just how easy it is for a drone to fall into a crowd of people. Hopefully, the ARC will keep this in mind as they deliberate because as you will see, these are absolutely random unstoppable events that can happen wherever people gather – especially once they figure out just how easy it is to knock a drone down – or have a few drinks.

If you’re hankering for a rumbling analog combustion fix to get your heart pumping, 20 P-51 Mustangs Form 51 Formation and their V-12 Rolls Royce Merlin engines will def get you going.

And for all you sky pilots out there burning to extend your line of sight for miles and miles, turn the noise knob to 11 and watch the old guys show you how it is done. The Who on Jimmy Fallon.

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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