Hi all –

Remember this tune?

Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobblestones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy
Ba da da da da da da, feelin’ groovy

My inbox piled up with the tragic Uber news. Everyone was wondering, what will this mean??? What’s clear is that the companies testing autonomous vehicles are operating in a completely different, essentially completely unsupervised mode than the aviation industry.

Then came what IMO is the real game changer – Facebook and Cambridge Analytics. Ba da da da over flight proponents, my prediction is that privacy is about to be back in vogue.

Could it be that feeling groovy has been interrupted by a temporary dose of reality brought on by moving too fast…?

In this issue, we’ll look at both. We’ll also look at the latest industry forecast from the FAA, and Harrison Wolf makes the case for certification. Plus some
tasty Tidbits.


To start things off, Betsy Lillian has what appears to be a scoop in the world of drone publications, Coast Guard Claims ‘Near-Miss’ Between Helicopter, Drone.

According to a Coast Guard press release, a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew from Air Station Port Angeles was conducting low-level training 300 feet in the air when the crew maneuvered to miss what they thought was a bird. The object ended up being a drone, and the aircrew estimated the drone to be only 50 feet away, the Coast Guard reports.

The Coast Guard says the airport confirmed that the drone had not been authorized to fly within a five-mile radius of the airport, as is required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

While Washington watched the snow come down, the Omnibus was packed with enough pork for everyone. The bill includes a six month FAA extension. Tucked into the 2,200+ pages is something called the CLOUD Act, which will creates a significant change in access to cloud data. GeekWire has the details.

If the Symposium was all about “Open for Business”, the annual FAA Aerospace Forecast Fiscal Years (FY) 2018-2038 is all about demonstrating that there is business to be done. Of course the big number that everyone looks for has nothing to do with drones:

  • “The FAA forecasts U.S. airline enplanements (passengers) will increase from 840.8 million in 2017 to 1.28 billion in 2038, an increase of more than 400 million passengers.

That’s 50% growth over the next 20 years – good news for the commercial aviation industry which drives US$1.5 trillion and contributes 10 million jobs according to Airlines for America. Best get that infrastructure thing funded so that people can get to and from the airport.

The report includes a section devoted to UAS.

The forecast also highlights the phenomenal growth in the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), often referred to as drones.   

  • The FAA projects the small model hobbyist UAS fleet to more than double from an estimated 1.1 million vehicles in 2017 to 2.4 million units by 2022. 

After watching topsy grow for three years, it is time to revisit the short-sighted thinking that led to the original 2015 rule. It is essential to put something in place that will, in fact accomplish the original goal of ensuring a modicum of education, and support the new goal of facilitating enforcement.

To me, that is a registration system linked to point of sale, certification and Remote ID. The other criteria – which is strictly business – is putting in place a system that can scale for the next ten years – 5 – 6 million drones?

How about commercial? 

  • The commercial, small non-model UAS fleet is set to grow from 110,604 in 2017 to 451,800 in 2022.
  • The number of remote pilots is set to increase from 73,673 in 2017 to 301,000 in 2022.

Attentive readers who have had their first cup of coffee, will notice that the number of commercial, small non-model UAS exceeds the number of Part 107 RPICS by 50%. Here’s how this sleight of hand is accomplished…

  • We assume that one pilot is likely to handle 1.5 units of non-model sUAS.

If you take the current number of RPICS (73,673) and the current number of commercial drone registrations (110,604) you get a similar ratio. Right now, the FAA does not appear to have a better way of relating RPICs (Database A) to commercial drone registration (Database B.) This is something that should be fixed since it will help to grow the business.

The real trick will be growing the RPIC number five fold. Only market demand can do that.

  • Non-model activities may require over 300,000 new remote pilots in 5 years, providing tremendous opportunities for growth in employment associated with commercial activities of the UAS.

Meanwhile the RPIC growth curve continues to flatten out. We have no way of knowing how many RPICs are simply adding a 107 to their day jobs; and how many are venturing out as independent drone service providers. This would be an important metric because right now the independent operators are the most likely source of trained pilots.


Harrison Wolf, the Drones Project Lead for the World Economic Forum, came out with an important article in Business Insider that looks at the implications of these numbers. Millions of Drones Will Make US Air Traffic Unmanageable Within a Few Years Unless We Rethink Some Basic Rules.

The first thing that grabbed my attention is this mindblowing observation:

Google and Amazon are one year out from becoming the largest aircraft manufacturers in the world – disrupting one of the most stable duopolies in existence. At the moment, two companies make up 76% of the market share of passenger aircraft. 

Even if it’s five or ten years out –  it is still astonishing. What the rest of the article addresses is how the FAA will deal with this through certification. If you want a clue, look at the language in the FAA forecast for a “commercial, small non-model UAS fleet”. That defines a category – both inclusive and exclusive.

Harrison explains that:

Legacy aviation legislation and regulation had been written to protect those on the ground by protecting those in the sky. With drones, it may be tolerable to have failures so long as they are considerate of population density, airspace environments, and include protective systems that are reliable. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), overseeing the certification of these aircraft admits, “Existing airworthiness standards have developed from years of operational safety experience with manned aircraft and [thus] may be too restrictive for UAS in some areas and inadequate in others.” 

What he proposes to address the problem is:

Given the diversity of use cases for drone technologies, a standardized benchmarking approach should be created for certification. In other words, drone designs that meet certain high standards would be granted the most access to airspace, while those that cannot meet that standard can only operate where failure is more tolerable (ie, over the ocean, a field, etc).

This parallels what Frank Mellott, a retired naval aviator and safety expert argued in a guest post here 18 months ago 333, 107, Recreation & 101 – A Dangerous Regulatory Mess!

The current operational limits for drones is upside down – those with the least demonstrated knowledge (part 101) are permitted the widest operational flying limits! Not only is this counter-intuitive, it’s downright dangerous.

We recommend that the FAA follow it’s own time honored graduated pilot licensing scheme: recreational, private, commercial, and ATP. So that operational privileges are commensurate with demonstrated knowledge and skill.

Bringing these two concepts together is going to happen – it’s just a question of how fast and how gracefully. Nowhere is this need for certification going to be greater than in the use of autonomous systems in the NAS – which brings us to this week’s tragic event in Arizona.


A certain caution and skepticism should be applied here, just as it should have been applied to the recent helicopter accident in South Carolina. Here are some things that struck me about the accident

  • There was an observer/driver behind the wheel. (I’ve got the video for you)
  • WIREDreports that Google StreetView shows the intersection where Sunday’s death took place as the meeting of four five- and six-lane roads—hardly a place built with walkers at front of mind. The Tempe police report the woman was outside the crosswalk.

With the caveat that you may not want to watch this if you have an active imagination, here is a link to the videos. One shows the car’s point of view – you can see the woman enter the crosswalk. She doesn’t appear to see the car. (The tape cuts just before impact.)

The other is perhaps more disturbing, it shows the driver and it is pretty clear that he is not paying attention. Though one article does note that it is unclear what other functions the driver may be tasked with performing as part of the
test protocol.

With that benefit of the doubt given, it is decidedly poor optics. I think that the MIT Technology Review summed it up pretty neatly: Uber’s Safety Driver Was Distracted Before Its Crash.

A video published by police raises serious questions about Uber’s robo-taxi tests.
The news: The video shows that Uber’s safety driver was looking down, not at the road, before the car hit the victim. She was in view before the collision occurred.
What it means: That suggests the vehicle—fitted with laser, radar, and camera sensors—should probably have spotted the victim, even in the dark. That’s the point of lidar.[sic] It may mean sensors or software were not working properly.
What it means: This all calls the safety of Uber’s vehicles and the standard of its safety drivers into question. Both issues could set back testing of other vehicles.

Even though the investigation has yet to be completed:

  • azcentralreports “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway” Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle after viewing the footage.

Predictably, the world is dividing into two.

The ‘slow down. you move to fast’ crowd will direct their focus at the Senate where the bipartisan AV Start bill is currently hung up. Senate Hits the Brakes on Self-Driving Car Legislation Over Safety Concerns is an interesting report because it was written in February.

A global group of 20+ automotive marques, plus the tech upstarts, are in hot competition with billions at stake, each with a lot of proprietary information to protect. That is a powerful lobbying force to hold off regulation.

I don’t know the history well enough to make the case, but I suspect that in some ways this must be analogous to the early days of aviation where “lessons were written in blood.” Ultimately rules, regulations and procedures were put in place that addressed each lesson. But that didn’t happen until long after Orville and Wilbur took their first flight, and Amelia took her last.

There is no analog in autonomous vehicles to the FAA’s SMS – safety management system. Given how fast this is set to scale, that is something that needs to be implemented so that data from this incident, and future incidents, can be “learned from” and applied to rulemaking.

Meanwhile, the bulls are going with ‘we are paying the price for the future’.

Gizmodo has We Need To Be Okay With Self-Driving Cars That Crash,
Researchers Say

People are freaked out about sharing roads with self-driving cars, particularly when those cars crash (never mind the distinct possibility that they can be hacked). But according to new research from the RAND Corporation’s Science, Technology, and Policy program, waiting for self-driving cars to achieve perfection before allowing them on public roads will lead to more overall fatalities in the long run.

“There are two questions we need to answer: How safe do they need to be? And how will we know?” Nidhi Kalra, a senior information scientist at RAND, explained. According to her research, self-driving cars only need to be a little bit safer than the average human driver in order to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Sara Baxenberg writing in IoT offers a look at what’s at stake in Four Key Points for Regulators in the Wake of the First Self-Driving Car Pedestrian Fatality. Her fourth point is the most relevant to UAS:

Autonomous vehicle technology has wide-ranging applications.  Hampering the development of self-driving cars would have consequences not only for the automotive industry, but for a broad variety of technologies.  From unmanned aircraft systems to trucks and ships, sense-and-avoid technology is key to a future of autonomous vehicles and transportation. Self-driving cars provide a critical platform for developing the kind of sensor and software packages that will be necessary to move each of these industries forward.

Arizona Says Not Time to Rein in Self-Driving Cars After Uber Fatality…A 2015 executive order by Governor Doug Ducey paved the way for companies to test autonomous technology without interference by the legislature. More than 600 self-driving vehicles are now testing on Arizona roads, according to the
governor’s office.

On Tuesday, Arizona’s director for policy and communications at the state’s department of transportation, Kevin Biesty, said existing regulations were sufficient and that the state had no immediate plans to issue new rules.

Morning Transportation reports that the Omnibus includes:

R&D for autonomous vehicles would get a $100 million windfall, with at least $60 million of it directed toward demonstration grants. That’s 50% more than the proposed 2019 drone budget.

All things considered given the relative economic impact I have to say that we are doing well.

Consider the latest from Pew Research:

Americans had concerns about self-driving cars before fatal Arizona accident Slightly more than half of U.S. adults said last year that they were somewhat or very worried about the development of driverless vehicles. A majority of U.S. adults also said they would not personally want to ride in a driverless car if they had
the opportunity.


You already know that privacy is a huge issue, and that drone privacy is a specific concern. For this week’s addition to the ever growing patchwork quilt, UAS Trespassing Bill Heads to Virginia Governor’s Desk. You can read the details if you want (the bill doesn’t seem as though it will be particularly effective) but here is what caught my eye:

The drone legislation passed in the House by a vote of 81-14 [split 51-49 R] and in the Senate by a vote of 40-0 [split 21-19 R]. 

These are resounding majorities that have nothing to do with party lines. To me it shows that the elected representatives are listening very carefully to the concerns of their constituents.

So what’s this have to do Facebook? Through some lax or lacksadaisical or perhaps cynical programming decisions made by Facebook, a few hundred thousand participants in an online survey enabled researchers to gather data on their 50 million closest friends.

In his painfully worded post, Zuck wrote:

This was… a breach of trust between Facebook and the people who share their data with us and expect us to protect it.

Think about it.

  • 50 million people are waking up to find out that they got burned for liking someone.
  • 50 million people are digesting the news that they may have helped to elect the least popular President in American history.
  • 50 million people have been reminded again (if they weren’t already as Target customers, government employees, Equifax listees and on ad nauseum) that the custody of private data is a very delicate thing.

The FAA has made it clear that privacy is outside it’s purview. (No argument.) I am with those who argue that states already have privacy laws on the books, and that practically speaking, there is no question that states are better able to enforce such laws

But then there’s this part. The FAA controls the airspace from the ant hills to the heavens. Which means that any rule that the FAA makes, impacts the states – and can create a burden.

The notion that drones will be allowed to fly over public events for either hobby or commercial purposes without the consent of the participants – or an obligation to notify them – poses not only a safety risk, but a privacy risk.

Despite repeated public opposition, I recognize that public safety and law enforcement agencies, particularly the former, can make unique arguments for overflight. And the press has certain inalienable rights so a way must be found to accommodate them, once people are able to distinguish press drones from all other drones.

I am far from alone in this opinion. And that is why I think that of the two events this week, the Facebook breach is the more egregious and the more significant to the UAS industry. Testing will resume, money and private interest rule the day.

But people are increasingly unwilling to surrender what is left of their privacy and their rights. Right now, overflight cannot demonstrate benefits that outweigh those concerns. And there is no equivalent pile of treasure or organized private interests. Facebook is just another nail in the coffin.


Ignore the Delivery Hype, IoT Will Fuel Explosive Drone Growth for Business Use. I think this is a great observation: The marriage of IoT and drones eliminates the dependency on specific locations or specific devices for placing IoT sensors, as well as monitoring, managing, and collecting data from those sensors.

Here’s one that should come as no surprise, DJI Seeks Pre IPO Funding.

Deal of the year – the result of years spent working with Komatsu. Skycatch And DJI Announce Global Agreement To Deliver High-Precision Custom Drones
For Komatsu

File under there goes another one, Ehang Files for Bankruptcy in the US.

Props to Raytheon, High-Power Microwaves and Lasers Defeat Multiple Drones During US Army Exercise.

Building out the U-Space concept, SESAR Sets Out Roadmap for Drone Integration in Europe.

And a really knock out presentation from DroneRules.eu that was created for A Webinar for Professional and Recreational Drone Users.


Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition 2018 – San Francisco April 25-26

AUVSI XPONENTIAL 2018 – Denver April 30 – May 3

Countering Drones Middle East – Aman May 8-9

Energy Drone Coalition Summit – Houston June 20-22 – I still have free passes and discounts

Drones for Security and Beyond – Bogota August 22-24

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issue of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter



























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