The Ended Summer issue of Dronin' On 09.02.17
Ended summer

Hi all –

And so summer ends. Not with a whimper or a bang, but a splash. Good thoughts from Taos Mountain going out to everyone in the ever growing south eastern aquatic complex.

Two thumbs up for the FAA, FAA Supports Drone Assessments for Houston Response and Recovery

By Thursday morning, August 31, 2017, the Federal Aviation Administration had issued 43 unmanned aircraft system authorizations to drone operators supporting the response and recovery for Hurricane Harvey or covering it as part of the media.

Here’s an early taste of stories to come.

It will be fascinating to see how effective drones will be for SAR, repair, insurance and mapping. Plenty to talk about next week for sure when I will be moderating three panels at InterDrone – on Big Data, The Future of Chips and Sensors and The Future of LiDAR.

For a sneak preview of the panel, Partnerships Gone Wild hosted by the very savvy Michael Blades, check out the new post from panelist Kay Wackwitz at It’s an interesting approach to touring the show floor.

There will be UTM panels of course – if you can’t make it I recommend Jeremiah Karpowicz’s interview Defining and Enabling a UTM System for Drones with PK from NASA. It’s succinct and to the point – according to PK, the Phase 4 Technical Capability Level (urban operations) is still on track for 2019.

Just so Mr. Bahr doesn’t ding me again, let me point out that PK will be on hand at InterDrone on a panel with MarkeHoot” Gibson, The Regulatory Environment and Counter-UAS Measures which of course is a big piece of UTM.

Picking up on the Impending Maturity theme from last week’s post, Rotor & Wing has another angle on coming of age, Insitu Drones Can Now Provide Near-Real-Time Wildfire Reconnaissance, Day and Night.

Insitu said the ScanEagle imagery, coupled with FireWhat’s information system can provide near-real-time live, web based video feed of thermal images to FireWhat’s ground-based mobile command centers. FireWhat data can create geo-referenced, high-resolution mosaics in PDF format and digital fire progression/suppression maps.” [hosted on Esri’s ArcGIS platform.] 

I bring this to your attention because it’s another step in the migration of aerospace suppliers into the commercial UAV market. Firefighters are desperate for night time data when the winds are down and hot spots are easier to detect. And their C2 systems are built on Esri. It’s a fine example of the need to understand your customer’s business…

If you want a different view into the future, take a long look at the ScanEagle Type Certificate Data Sheet. Most people expect this to become the new normal for UAVs in the NAS.

Another example of the coming shift is an article in Defense One. Thanks to reader Brad H for Look for Military Drones to Begin Replacing Police Helicopters by 2025. He wonders if we’re headed towards an Internet of Aerial Things…?

By 2025, enormous military-style drones – close relatives of the sort made famous by counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan and Iraq – will be visible 2,000 feet above U.S. cities, streaming high-resolution video to police departments below.

This is a well-researched article that goes into some detail about what will have to be done to satisfy the FAA and what additional rules and certifications need to be put in place. As for me, I think 2025 is a mite early.

An entire issue of MIT Technology Review is devoted to Delivery Drones. It’s a solid overview including Amazon, Zipline and the new sushi (flying fish?) service in Reykjavik. WaPo reports that “Flytrex — an Israeli drone logistics company — claims  to be the “first ever drone delivery system deployed in an
urban environment

Keeping with the fish thing, Australia is Deploying AI Drones to Help Prevent Shark Attacks in both Futurism and Reuters. Many of you will remember that Australia has been deploying drones like the $250,000 Little Ripper to patrol the beaches for some time. (And yes that is the same type of drone that a GPS programming error put in the drink earlier this year.)

Now they are upping the game.

The drones will provide a live-video feed to a drone operator who then uses the shark-spotting software to identify sharks in real time. Studies have shown that people have a 20-30 percent accuracy rate when interpreting data from aerial images to detect shark activity. Detection software can boost that rate to

90 percent.

Worth watching the video to see how “Shark Spotter” works. If it looks familiar, it’s because the same idea has been demonstrated for military applications.

Which in part is why last week, over 100 robotics and artificial intelligence company CEOs signed a letter to the United Nations expressing their concern about the proliferation of autonomous weapons:

Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend…We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.

Sounds like the Lord’s Prayer might work.

Inquiring minds might want to know why all of these very concerned executives persist in building these weapons of (mass) destruction? Paul Scharre, Director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security has a somewhat cynical take on their impact in Cipher, Killer Robots Drive Concern but Odds of Ban Less Clear.

A bigger problem is managing the inevitability that some actors will ignore whatever rules the international community agrees upon… Widespread horror at chemical weapons didn’t hold back Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad from using them.

To make sure you don’t get complacent, ZDNet offers up Cyberwar: A Guide to the Frightening Future of Online Conflict.

Connected thermostats, cameras, and cookers could all be used either to spy on citizens of another country or to cause havoc if they were hacked.”

Do you have a Nest, Roomba or an Echo? Guess what, they might be watching
and waiting. 

The New York Times reports Robot Makers Slow to Address Cyber Risk. Two researchers reported at least 50 vulnerabilities in their study of home, business and industrial robots. The researchers did not report any exploits but went on to say:

“Our research shows proof that even non-military robots could be weaponized to cause harm. These robots don’t use bullets or explosives, but microphones, cameras, arms and legs. The difference is that they will be soon around us and we need to secure them now before it’s too late.”

So it comes as no surprise when Betsy Lillian reports that DJI Launches Bug Bounty Program, Kills Some Third-Party Plugins.

DJI says its new threat-identification reward program is part of an expanded commitment to work with researchers and others to responsibly discover, disclose and remediate issues that could affect the security of its software.

This is a time-honored technique practiced by many major software developers.

DJI has also released updates to its DJI GO and DJI GO 4 apps to address concerns about software elements that transfer data over the internet…

Not everyone is convinced – or perhaps the better word is assuaged. Rob Thompson, who has been blasting away at DJI, just wrote an editorial for sUAS News, Why Should We Trust DJI? Beyond calling them out for denying the existence of a “back door” to customer data, Thompson (who has a dog in the fight @#ChiComms) takes the FAA to task suggesting that:

In light of the Army memorandum, the FAA should review the members of the DAC (Drone Advisory Committee) now for Chinese influence. This raises serious questions about the FAA’s level of security awareness both in cyber security, international espionage and the motives of a few others currently on the DAC to make absolutely certain they have American business interest at heart.

No doubt there is cause for concern. Of course, you could ask why the Army ignored the DOI, DOE and NASA decisions not to use DJI products for these very same reasons.

As a best practice, basic assumptions should be reexamined regularly, lest as Thompson argues, we give away all the high-resolution crown jewels. But before we drown the baby in the bath water, let’s keep in mind that data security is an ever-growing problem with no end in sight. And as we saw earlier in this post, it is hardly unique to drones.

For an eye opening look at what you can do with drone data, and why you might be concerned read this article in the Financial Times, Hedge Funds See a Gold Rush in Data Mining. No one used the word drone but consider:

…They scrutinise 80M credit card transactions every day. Coupled with satellite images that can scan car parks and geolocation data from mobile phones to show how many people are visiting various stores, the investment group can get a real-time idea of how companies are doing, long before their results are released.

There is no doubt that drone data collection is going to be a lucrative business… if it isn’t already. Who collects what and why is definitely worth worrying about.

But let’s be clear. Though no one guessed the extent of it until Kevin and Andrew went to work, DJI has been transparent in their EULA. Furthermore, the FAA is not tasked with reviewing end user licensing agreements, and they have clearly signaled that they do not have a role in privacy.

SO I have a hard time associating the FAA with DJI’s business practices, though to the extent that national security is involved – a very recent development – I agree that they should (now) be mindful of them. As I have suggested before, as concerns mount about security it may be that regulation will be overseen or shared in some way with DHS.

When Congress reconvenes next week, we’ll see the FAA get bounced around like a ping pong ball. It won’t get the headlines that trying to fund the government will – which technically has to happen before the FAA can be reauthorized – but you get the point.

Riddle me this – since the FAA has not had the steady funding stream necessary to develop NextGen (which they started on in 2003), why do we think that they will have the money to build LAANC, UTM or anything else our industry is depending on? There is something to be said for a strategy of partnering with those who have the bank, technology and interest to buy a seat at the table.

End your summer well. Have a great weekend. And a safe trip to Las Vegas.

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


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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