light chasing the land

Hi all –

Got to start with huge props to Ted Bahr and the entire BZ Media team for selling InterDrone to Emerald Expositions, the largest B2B tradeshow producer in North America. Congratulations. is pleased to again be a media partner for what promises to be the industry event of the year – September 6-8 in Las Vegas. I am delighted to pass along a $100 conference discount to Dronin’ On subscribers – just use code FLYIT for the $100 discount when you register.

There are an awful lot of moving parts this week on both the regulatory and business side. I hate to say it but it looks like 2017 is shaping up to be a tough year for a lot of people.

President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget cuts funding for the Transportation Department by 13 percent. Central to that is privatizing Air Traffic Control and the NextGen program thus removing some 35,000 souls from the Federal payroll. The proposal sets up a showdown in the Senate in September over the FAA Reauthorization bill.

This is a high stakes game involving the union, the airlines, the Congress and everyone in the flying public. In 2016, National Air Traffic Controllers Association CEO Paul Rinaldi who represents 14,000 controllers testified in favor of privatization before the House Transportation Committee saying “We no longer have a stable, predictable funding stream, and this uncertainty has caused serious problems in the system. We have experienced 24 short-term extensions of authorization, a partial shutdown of the FAA, a complete government shutdown and numerous threats of government shutdowns.”

Think about the implications of that statement relative to the orderly development of UAV regulations over the next decade. Unfortunately we are not going to get out of this unscathed. Here’s one reason why.

Leah Froats writing for Drone360 headlines her article THE FAA CAN’T FUND DRONES: Overworked and underfunded, the FAA admits it can’t keep up. Admittedly it’s a click bait headline, but the story offers a good look behind the formation of the third DAC taskforce which I’ve been reporting on for the past
few weeks.

What’s new here is the actual document given to the DAC which reads in part “The requirement to meet UAS needs is outpacing the Agency’s resources. Without additional funds, the FAA will not be able to keep pace with the dramatic growth in public, industry, and business demands for UAS operations.”

Now the bad news. “The backlog of waivers is worse [than the backlog of Section 333 exemptions] due to an even higher public and industry demand.” It goes on to say that the Administration doesn’t have the funds to build an automated system to handle waiver requests. So much for that idea. Read the whole thing.

On Capitol Hill, The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hosted “Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Innovation, Integration, Successes, and Challenges,” on Wednesday. Here is an excerpt from Miriam McNabb’s summary for

Chairman John Thune (R-SD) introduced the hearing, setting a positive tone towards speeding up drone integration and working toward incorporating supports for integration in the permanent FAA Reauthorization Bill.

Ranking member Bill Nelson (D-FL) agreed that the advance of technology could help, but his written statement set the tone of “safety first” by saying that while commercial drones hold “great technological promise,” they raise “important questions concerning safety and security.”  In addition to mentioning reported near misses around airports, the Senator introduced the specter of drones and terrorism, saying that he is “concerned by the prospect of drones being usurped by terrorists to target critical infrastructure and Department of Defense sites around
the country.”

Also in limbo are the UAV provisions in the H.R.636 – FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA) also brought to you by Messrs. Thune and Nelson. Christian Ramsey, VP Business Development of uAvionix has authored a piece Remote Identification – The Next Big Hurdle for Drone Regulations which brings into focus how to answer the fundamental question Who is that, and are they allowed to be here?” It’s timely because FESSA says that the FAA must “define requirements for remote identification of aircraft systems by July 15, 2017.”

Ramsey predicts that “Given where we are today, it is unlikely that any new draft drone regulations will be published until this issue is solved. The industry in the US – maybe the world – is on hold.” Keep in mind that this is all an argument for his ADS-B product line but play it against Nelson’s comments.

At long last an idiot finally got whacked in Seattle – not by the FAA, but by the local court. “A man who was found guilty of reckless endangerment after his drone injured two people during Seattle’s 2015 Pride Parade, including a woman knocked unconscious, was sentenced Friday to 30 days in jail.

City Attorney Pete Holmes, who had sought 90 days of jail time, said in the release that he views the faulty operation of drones “as a serious public-safety issue that will only get worse,” noting the increasing prevalence of drones on the market. “Operators should know that we will continue to go after them when they disregard public safety.”

For all you patchwork quilt haters, watch this bit of sleight of hand by Jason Snead, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation – the think tank home of DOT Secretary Elaine Chao.

Seattle’s first conviction of a drone pilot with an Icarus complex shows that what drone operators and the public need is not costly and cumbersome federal regulations, but continued enforcement of existing laws at the state and local level.

These laws, including reckless endangerment, trespass, peeping Tom, assault, and a host of other civil and criminal provisions address the underlying harms, rather than the technology used to perpetrate them. In most cases, after all, drones only offer a new way to commit old crimes.

And the local and state officials who enforce them will do just fine without federal intrusion, as the Seattle prosecution proves. The FAA can help by changing its approach to drone regulations, concentrating on facilitating rather than inhibiting and criminalizing commercial drone activity.

Congress, meanwhile, should affirmatively establish that low-altitude airspace is generally beyond the reach of the FAA’s drone authority, thus preserving the interests of states, localities, and most importantly, private property owners in the regulation of drone operations that may take place only a few feet above their heads.”

Another example of local regulation at work is from the LA Times, Cities look for ways to control drone misuse. One of the cities is seriously upscale Laguna Beach where the median home price per square foot is $1,065/sq. ft. There’s an unexpected happy ending because three local drone professionals got involved.

Laguna Police Chief Laura Farinella had proposed the ordinance after receiving several drone-related complaints in the last few years, including reports of the aircraft hitting people, disturbing pets and hovering near people in the buff… If someone is flying a drone close to you, I don’t have a law that says someone can’t do that,” she told the city council.

But the commercial drone pilots at the meeting said the problems cited by the city are covered under Federal Aviation Administration rules and suggested that all that’s needed is more education.

Farinella and the other city officials said they understood but wanted a mechanism for backing up the FAA rules. “I do agree we have a problem here,” said John Barrett, a Laguna Beach filmmaker and certified drone pilot. “The problem is not with the drones themselves. It’s the fact our local police officers cannot enforce [FAA regulations].”

Laguna’s council tabled the ordinance and voted to have Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Boyd and Farinella meet with licensed drone pilots to see what can be done about
drone misuse

This is pretty much the way Colorado commercial photographer Vic Moss drew
it up

Dedicated to the same cause is The Network of Drone Enthusiasts – NODE –  “A coalition of drone users and manufacturers dedicated to ensuring fair and responsible drone regulations.”  DJI is the initial sponsor, and DroneBase and the Drone Manufacturers Alliance are affiliates though there can’t be much left of DMA whose other members are 3DR, GoPro and Parrot. Assuming that DJI provides some support materials and coaching I think this will be an effective grassroots tactic.

New Drone Rules Take Effect In Canada describes the new stiffer rules governing recreational drones over 250 grams. There is a 9km (5.59m) stand off from any type of airport and forest fires. New maximum AGL is 295 feet. The UAV must be at least 246 feet from any building, person or vehicle. VLOS is set at 1,640 feet. The pilot’s name and contact information must be on the drone. Violators can expect fines to $3,000. Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said “We’ve had too many incidences of drones landing near people, landing on cars,…they pose a hazard.” We first reported that the rules were being revisited in
October, 2016.

Nice interview by Randy Goers on the Drone Radio Show with Steven Flynn, the CEO of Skytango, an on-line drone marketplace with some interesting differences. In the interview, Steve talks about how the idea for Skytango evolved out of the desire to reward companies that play it by the rules. “Operators who follow the procedures and strive to develop a safe and reliable business should be rewarded over others who opt for short cuts, don’t carry insurance or fly outside their permits. If the market doesn’t value compliance, then the industry cannot thrive.” True that – all about standards and educating the customer.

Certainly the big splash of the week was Intel’s purchase of Mobileye for $15B. Mobileye is the leading automotive supplier of sensor systems that help drivers to anticipate and so avoid collisions. Their technology is used by nearly two dozen automakers, including Audi, BMW, General Motors, and Ford. As a bonus, Mobileye is a very high-margin chip provider, a business model that Intel perfected.

Inquiring minds want to know whether this technology can also be applied to sense and avoid for drones?

Here’s hoping that it works out better than Intel’s investment in Yuneec – sUAS News reports that 50-70% of Yuneec USA is being laid off. Also feeling the pain, GPRO announced another 270 layoffs.

Proof that Moore’s Law is alive and well is NVIDIA’s launch of the Jetson TX2 platform for drones and robots. Twice as fast as the original, the supercomputer on a board was specifically designed for “edge computing” — data processing at or near the source instead of in the cloud or a data center.” Being on the edge means real-time analysis and decision making to do things like automated inspections. Big deal for high-value missions.

Props to uAvionix for playing it forward and signing a worldwide service and support agreement with New Mexico’s own Robotic Skies.

And props to Kespry for their just announced deal with John Deere. Details are sketchy but according to FortuneAs part of the deal, John Deere’s network of more than 400 American and Canadian dealers will “introduce customers” to Kespry’s various drone services, while the startup handles customer support and flight training.” Beyond needed revenue, John Deere has the beginning of an answer for the Caterpillar/Redbird/Airware solution.

Interesting think piece in Rolling Stone, How Intelligent Drones Are Shaping the Future of Warfare. The article looks at recent developments such as the recent successful Perdix test at China Lake. And asks “How should we govern the autonomous weapons of the future? What is too far when it comes to developing technology that might be capable of making life and death decisions?” It’s a good introduction to one of the moral dilemmas of our time.

I love a great soundbite. From BuzzFeed, Inside The “Mad Max-Style” Tactics ISIS Is Using In Its Last Stand In Iraq is a look at the madness in Mosul including the use of drones which dropped more than 70 bombs on one sector in two days. An Iraqi special forces colonel summed up the challenge. “They are not using a fixed location. It’s one shithead on a motorbike with a backpack. And when he gets to a crowded area like downtown Mosul it’s kind of hard to hit him.”

Thanks to reader Ping for the punchline – the successful use of a $3M Patriot missile by an unnamed US ally to down a quadcopter. With typical British understatement Justin Bronk, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute opined that “It is clearly enormous overkill.” Not to be outdone, the US Army will be evaluating some very sophisticated “hard kill” and “soft kill” counter-drone capabilities later this year. Meanwhile, the Wuhan PD has ordered 20 drone-jamming rifles at $36,000 a copy.

Thank you 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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