The 'Ingenious Or Ingenuous?' Issue of Dronin' On 02.18.17

Hi all –

Exciting news. Colin Snow at Skylogic Research (aka @droneanalyst) has invited me to join his team as a Contributor/Advisor. I am delighted to be in such good company. We are already deep into some interesting projects. But no worries, Dronin’ On will keep on keeping on with the insights, commentary and snark that you rely on to start your weekend!

A relatively quiet week in Dronelandia. This issue is entitled “Ingenious or Ingenuous?” to recognize both the inventiveness and sincerity of the February 9 letter from the Commercial Drone Alliance (CDA) to Dominic Mancini, the Acting Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).  

If your response is ‘what?’ it’s time for a civics lesson. No worries it will be short and highly relevant to you. OIRA is a little known federal agency that analyzes proposed regulation to determine if the benefits of the rule justify the costs. If you need an example, we recently wrote about the overflight NPRM which the FAA sent to OIRA where it crashed.

OIRA is part of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the largest office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States and the one that is tasked with keeping track of spending, revenue and regulation. Those who enjoy keeping score (and I am proud to include many of you as subscribers) will note that Dominic is an Obama holdover and that incoming OMB Director Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) was narrowly confirmed Thursday, February 16. The OMB Director reports to the President, Vice President and the White House Chief
of Staff.

Back to the letter. One way to drain a swamp – or anything else that holds water – is to remove the barriers to progress. The administrations recent 1-in-2 out rule that requires agencies to revoke two regulations for every new rule they want to issue, is intended to do just that. (Note that the edict does not apply to agencies that are independent of the White House like the FCC.)

Surprise, surprise this is easier said than done – here’s why. “It generally takes a new rule to change or remove a regulation that is already on the books. Under long- standing Supreme Court precedent and a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must provide a reasoned explanation when they want to change established policy.

Back to the main event. In the letter, the CDA notes that UAVs should not be classified as manned aircraft, and recommends that the FAA issue rules enabling overflight, night flights and BVLOS and count them as “deregulatory actions.”

Regardless of the merits, the real trick will be getting anybody to pay attention. It is hard to imagine drones anywhere near the top of either Mulvaney or Secretary Chao’s list (careful what you wish for) or that either executive will want to go out on a limb to argue this approach to the bigly in chief.

Those concerned about the ever-growing patchwork quilt should be uneasy about the growing flood of announcements from all levels of state and local government like the one just passed in Orlando restricting drone operations and another in San Diego. Being a proud New Mexican here is a homegrown example.

Proposed New Mexico Senate Bill 167 will be known as the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act”. Part B states that “A person, state agency, law enforcement agency or political subdivision of the state shall not use a drone or unmanned aircraft…to conduct surveillance of a person or of property owned by a person, a farm or an agricultural operation without the consent of that person, property owner, farm or agricultural operation.”

Albuquerque Fox affiliate KRQE reports that “Farmer Janet Jarratt from Valencia County [ population 76,000] asked Sen. Ortiz y Pino (D), to sponsor this bill. For her, it’s about protecting farmers. “We’ve had instances in Valencia County of people being stalked by drone and it’s terrifying,” Jarratt said, adding that those incidents have scared livestock, putting them in danger and have raised concerns of spying on farming practices. There’s also the fear of drones being used for bio-terror attacks by dropping small payloads of chemicals onto farms.”

This bill died in committee two years ago. Whether it passes this time or not, anyone who ignores “privacy, security and safety” because they (still) think that the FAA rules the skies and so has their back, is in my opinion in for a rude surprise. The trend line is going the wrong way.

Buried in a story in Bloomberg Pursuits about the Lady Gaga SuperBowl show was the announcement (revelation?) of a second FAA drone registration database. “Most unmanned aircraft now are being registered in a new, separate online system that the agency has ruled isn’t public information. [As opposed to the ‘five and fly’ consumer database.] It has a total of more than 37,000 additional commercial drones registered since the agency created it a year ago.”

No word as to how the authors discovered this but since December no new numbers have been coming out of the FAA which to say the least is a disturbing trend. My two cents is that the FAA needs to be transparent about licenses and registrations – it is the only data we have to assess the growth of the industry.

Some innovative steps forward in the world of insurance, starting with UAV industry leader Global Aerospace. SVP Chris Proudlove took time out to let me know that “Just FYI, we launched our online insurance portal this week. It is a neat system that allows people to buy an annual policy easily.”This is something that Chris and I have been talking about since we first met because most businesses don’t have relationships with aviation brokers. Here is the press release.

Verifly, the leader in marketing cover online to the consumer and prosumer market is allowing operators to self-certify that they have FAA approval to operate in restricted areas – one assumes mostly within Class B-C-D airspace. They are also offering longer time blocks and higher limits.

If you are thinking about insurance, Terry Miller from Unmanned Risk just sent out an email Underwriter or Broker; Who Works For You? The article seeks to stir up a bit of controversy in the name of sales, though this is in fact a rhetorical question – the broker works for you. If he doesn’t, get another one. Or use Verifly or an online portal. It’s that whole disintermediation thing happening here.

A very well thought out insurance offering from the perspective of a business owner is this tightly integrated policy from Delta Insurance in New Zealand. A single policy covers the complete operating system including hull, ground equipment and payload. No more separate hull, Inland Marine and ground policies – another holdover from manned aviation. Delta also makes it easy to “Package up with other coverages such as employer’s liability, cyber liability, professional indemnity and provide extensions covering statutory liability and liability stemming from privacy issues.” Memo to underwriters and brokers – it doesn’t matter how you write it, what matters to us is how we buy it.

I had the chance to meet Brandon Stark, the Director of the University of California (UC) system’s Center of Excellence on Unmanned Aircraft System Safety when we did a panel together at Commercial UAV Expo. Brandon is the chief cat herder for the UC system overseeing 10 campuses and over 500 drones. Brandon opens What Drones May Come: The Future of Unmanned Flight Approaches stating “As we begin exploring what drones can do, and identifying what social and commercial uses they might serve, the work provides a glimpse into the future of drone flight across the country, and throughout our economy.” Worth a read if you are tired of the average use case.

Another emerging use case is detailed in a story from Motherboard on The Bizarre, High-Flying World of ‘Dronevertising’. “From South America to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, Coke has used drones for viral marketing campaigns, humanitarian causes, and frosty bottle delivery.”

A terrific story Three reasons golf courses are the next drone mapping territory looks at the impact of drones on the moribund golf course business and Microsoft product Course IQ which was announced in October and promises to “Transform the process of golf course design.” Here is the business lesson – like ‘oilngas’, golf is under considerable economic pressure… so enter the drones which were used to map the golf courses in 3D. “The app is designed to help designers better estimate future maintenance while giving an idea of the course’s difficulty and the length of play.” Sounds a bit Watsonian.

This week Microsoft announced the availability of their Aerial Informatics and Robotics platform on GitHub. “This open-source, high-fidelity physics and photo-realistic robot simulator can help verify control and perception software, so that robot designers and developers can transfer their creations to the real world with the fewest possible changes. Quadrotors are the first vehicles to have been implemented in the platform. A camera is an integral part of these systems and often the only way for a quadrotor to perceive the world to plan and execute its mission safely.” Here is the technical paper.

Further advancing their  Airborne LTE Operations (ALO) initiative, Verizon has acquired Skyward with the goal of simplifying drone operations and reducing complexity for operators. Mike Lanman, SVP – Enterprise Products and IoT at Verizon, said: “This acquisition is a natural progression of our core focus on operating in innovative, high-growth markets, leveraging our network, scale, fleet management, device management, data analytics and security enablement capabilities and services to simplify the drone industry and help support the adoption of IoT.” Given the pro-telecom bent of the FCC, it’s nice to have the big guys in our corner. Props to Jonathan Evans and his team.

With all the attention on Intel, US News ran How to Invest in Drone Technology. Still a shortage of pure plays but I think that the advice offered up by Ian Smith of Commercial Drones FM podcast fame who was interviewed for the piece speaks to the maturation of the industry and what success looks like going forward. “It’s becoming less about how cool it is to use a drone, and more about bringing true efficiency and cost-cutting measures to business.”

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On can be found here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter


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