Hi all –

A busy week with ULC meeting to discuss the Drone Tort Law, and the ANPRM and NPRM open for public comment. Fair warning, I am going to make like scratched vinyl – your voice needs to be heard.

News out of the FAA, State of the Industry, Bad Drones and Homebrew and some Eye Candy. People are shreddin’ it as they say up on the mountain.


Deicing – image courtesy Helen Cook (CC BY-SA2.0) Click for license

The “ahead of its time” B4UFLY app has been entrusted to the pros at Kittyhawk for a do over – or a make good. Props to Kittyhawk for taking this on pro bono.

Co-FounderJoshua Ziering said:

Every time someone says, “Oh, I didn’t know I couldn’t fly here” the commercial drone industry takes one small step backwards. We want to do all we can to make the NAS as safe as possible.

Mark McKinnon at Le Clair Ryan led a very dense webinar including the FAA Reauthorization, the NPRM and the ANPRM. Lots to think about – download it here.

Last month I ran a story about Wing, Kittyhawk and Airmap joining forces to demo the capabilities of the InterUSS protocol for Remote ID. Those more knowledgeable than I wrote in to point out that InterUSS is a significant underpinning to UTM. That it can be used for Remote ID was in their opinion ‘lagniappe’ – that wonderful NOLA word for a bonus.

This week in an interview with AirMap Chairman Ben Marcus, CUAV News Editor Jeremiah Karpowicz continues the story in Will InterUSS Define How Remote ID Can be Enabled for Drone Operators? Here’s a bit more explanation of InterUSS:

Simply put, InterUSS Remote ID allows for multiple airspace services providers to communicate flight information of the operators using their services. It’s a solution that makes a lot of sense under these new regulations, but more importantly, it establishes that we can facilitate transparent and accountable UAS operations with network-based
remote identification.

Keep in mind that the FAA just issued an RFI in December for up to eight companies to participate in developing Remote ID (RID) concepts, so while InterUSS seems to have a seat at the table, it’s use for RID may not be a done deal.

Here’s one I’ve been waiting for, Drone Pilots Can Now Get Prison Time for Flying Near Airports, Wildfires from Inside Unmanned Systems. It’s another federal agency at work that I’ve never heard of.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission is weighing amendments to its guidelines to put teeth behind a new law criminalizing drone flights around wildfires, near an airport or in a way that interferes with a manned aircraft… Get on the enforcement and who knows, you might have
a deterrent…

Taos area directory

Just in time to stimulate some discussion about how to answer the “who has access” questions about UTM in the ANPRM, comes this article from The Drone Girl, This App Lets You Search Part 107 Waivers by Location. Good thing, bad thing? Gotta have it? Just for LE? Let ‘em know.

A quick word about the ULC. Vic Moss and the folks at Drone U are emerging as one of the stronger voices for the RPIC community – they released this podcast, ULC Updates “Tort Law Relating To Drones Act”. How Will The Passage Of This Proposed Law Affect Drone Industry?

If you need a refresher, or it’s all new to you, take a look at the Bright Line issue from last July for background – note that much of it is now out of date – and last week’s Road Block issue which has links to the latest draft that they are discussing this weekend. People are sending comments to the Committee – you can read them here. I plan to have a report for you next week.


chart from DRONEII.com Investment report – click to view

On March 6th at 3pmEST tune in as Michael Blades (@MikeSBlades), Aerospace & Defense Research Director, Frost & Sullivan offers his take on the year ahead, Global Commercial Drone Outlook: Trends & Technologies That Will Drive GrowthThis presentation will provide a realistic outlook for the commercial drone market and a roadmap of how the commercial drone ecosystem will develop. 

DRONEII.com is out with another study, Money Talks: Drone Investment Trends Update. The Top 20 deals in 2018 range from US$11M-100M.

Earlier this month the thermal imagery manufacturer FLIR bought the UAV developer Aeryon Labs for $200 million, beating their previous record in publicly disclosed drone investments of $134M. This has been yet another signal that even though the drone industry suffered some hard hits in 2018, the period of consolidation, larger investments and serious R&D advances is ahead. In fact, if one were to look at merely the investment figures for 2018, it wouldn’t even be that easy to tell that the drone industry struggled.

I agree with Mike and Colin’s tweet that Joby is a horse of a different color – knocks the pie down some, but it’s still filling.

screen grab from Elroy video - click to view
screen grab from Elroy video – click to view

Continuing the investment theme, Gary Mortimer reports Elroy Air Raises Further $9.2 Million for Chaparral Cargo Drone. In Gary’s words, “I quite like the vision”:

Our mission is to improve the quality of life around the planet by expanding the reach of air cargo — safely, efficiently and autonomously. With the support of our investors and development partners, we will be launching first systems in 2020 with a small number of shippers in select locations around the world. As we continue to grow each delivery will be a step closer to a better, more connected future.

— The Elroy Air Team

screen grab from WeRobotics Papua video – click to view

This offers a fine transition to the work of Dr. Patrick Meier and his team at WeRobotics, Building Cargo Drone Expertise in Papua New Guinea. Here’s the impact WeRobotics
is having.

WeRobotics is also exploring a number of other medical cargo drone projects in Nepal, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Cameroon, Uganda and the Dominican Republic. We’ll be sure to share our lessons learned and best practices for those projects that do move forward. So stay tuned for more updates throughout 2019. In the meantime, learn how South Pacific Flying Labs is using cargo drones to help reduce Dengue fever in Fiji, and how Peru Flying Labs and Dominican Republic Flying Labs are using cargo drones for other public health use cases

Still on delivery, this article in the Seattle Times, What Is ‘Safe Enough’ for Drone Deliveries? shows that the discussion is far from over.

Until recently, what was safe enough remained unsettled. “The truth of the matter,” Juan J. Alonso, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University testified before a House aviation subcommittee in late 2017, is that

“…No technologist knows what this required level of safety ought to be … because it’s uncertain what level of risks and trade-offs society will tolerate.”

Droneseed heavy lifter - note the spray nozzles Courtesy Droneseed
Droneseed heavy lifter – note the spray nozzles Original comp, drone courtesy Droneseed

Here’s a different kind of delivery scenario. First-of-Their-Kind Drone Swarms to Restore Oregon Rangelands, DroneSeed signs contract with The Nature Conservancy, helping replant native species with novel technologies in sagebrush habitat. I’ve been tracking these guys for almost two years. From their website:

It currently operates with four aircraft simultaneously, each weighing up to 115 lbs. and capable of delivering up to 57 lbs. of payload in the form of tree seeds, herbicides, fertilizer and water per aircraft per flight. The company has been operating since 2016 under contracts with three of the five largest timber companies in the U.S. 

Bill Gates - courtesy MIT Technology Review
Bill Gates – courtesy MIT Technology Review

The MIT Technology Review offers These Are Our Ten Breakthrough Technologies of 2019, Chosen by Bill Gates. With the exception of increasingly dexterous robots and smart AI assistants, this is a whole nother world.

While many previous inventions focused on quantity of life, our focus is starting to shift to quality of life, as well. Eventually, he hopes the list will center almost entirely on wellbeing: How do we make people happier? How do we create meaningful connections? How do we help everyone live a fulfilling life? There surely can’t be a greater sign of progress than that…


LiDAR image courtesy Al Paton of Merrick & Co. click for article

Starting to feel like I can’t do an issue without a trip to the dark side.

Outstanding article in Aviation Security International, Drones: Worrying About the Sideshow and Not the Main Event by Ken Dunlap, the managing partner at Catalyst-Go who offers one of the farthest seeing approaches to the issue I have yet to come across. Also a terrific paper on their site. Repeat after me, the threat is not little white quads:

In the rush to react to drones, we are failing to place this threat within context, map the vulnerabilities of aviation-critical infrastructure in relation to it, and engage in the education necessary to understand drone technologies. All of these steps must come before we close airports, arrest individuals, and deploy countermeasures. More worryingly, by engaging in today’s ‘fire, ready, aim’ industry-protection paradigm, we are blinding ourselves from the real threat: autonomy.

Simply put, what we face today is but a short sideshow of primitive technology that heralds the more daunting, long-term threat.

The Telegraph keyed Police Say Drones Being Used to Vandalise Homes and Stalk Victims, as Reports of Incidents Surge – a new to me use case that is apparently scaling quickly:

Freedom of Information requests, filed by Sky News, revealed that across 20 of the 45 UK police forces, there had been more than 2,400 reports of incidents involving drones last year, much higher than the 1,700 reports in 2016. They included cases where drones were linked to stalking and harassment, as well as to hate crimes. 

The UK is responding more quickly to the recent closures than one might expect. Commercial Drone Professional reports Government Teams Up With Jessops in Plan to Limit Drone Misuse.

The Government has teamed up with [leading drone] retailer Jessops as part of a national campaign to increase public awareness of the rules around flying drones. Working with the CAA, the government hopes the campaign can help educate the public about responsible drone use and has issued a digital toolkit to airports to help them raise awareness of the new rules announced last week… 

Why anyone thinks that this will be any more effective than the 2015 Best Buy + AMA initiative is a mystery. Retail hates it, but POS (point of sale, not the other) registration is the only way to get a handle on this. Pretty much like The Gun Control Act of 1968. Is it a threat? Or isn’t it?

h/t It has largely fallen to DJI to more or less singlehandedly trying to corral this thing. The governments need to do their part if only because CUAS isn’t cheap.

On our side, the WSJ reports New York Police Seek Authority to Take Down Drones Officials cite increasing concern about terrorists weaponizing devices. Whether since standing up their own sUAS squadron they now have a better understanding of the possible, or someone is trying to sell them big boy toys is impossible to know, but this kind of convoluted thinking isn’t all that helpful:

“The more we see them up there, the more our fear level grows,” Chief Monahan said. “And we want to make sure we are ahead of the game here.”

Police officials said there has never been an incident where a drone was used maliciously or caused a serious injury in New York, and the threat of an attack from a weaponized drone remains remote.

“You don’t want to talk this up to the point that gives terrorist ideas,” said Deputy Commissioner Miller. “On the other hand, you don’t want to be sticking your head in the sand when it’s already all over the terrorists’ propaganda.”

screen grab from Kalashnikov promo video - click to view - courtesy Zala Aero Group
screen grab from Kalashnikov air show video – click to view – courtesy Zala Aero Group

WaPo posted The Kalashnikov Assault Rifle Changed the World. Now There’s a Kalashnikov Kamikaze Drone. [Thinking that a new term just got added to the vocabulary.]

The KUB is four feet wide, can fly for 30 minutes at a speed of 80 mph and carries six pounds of explosives, the news release says. That makes it roughly the size of a coffee table that can be guided to explode on a target 40 miles away — the equivalent of a “small, slow and presumably inexpensive cruise missile,” according to a report by the National
Interest website.

Think about the fact that this fits within – or is very close to – the 55 pound, 100mph sUAS profile. Yep, there are a couple of categories to comment on Size and Speed, as well as Payloads in the ANPRM.

But every time you think you have it, another use case pops up worthy of consideration or exception. Yes, drones shouldn’t be able to carry explosives. Except that I discussed Snow Patrol Drones Save Skiers From an Icy Death with local reader and bumpmeister Marc H – turns out a number of ski patrols are interested in using drones to drop dynamite for avalanche control. We lost two folks in an avalanche on Kachina Peak a few weeks ago – so what’s the higher good?

Skymaster F-14 model built by Mr. Simon To (Hong Kong) – click to watch her tear a hole in the sky

Flip side. A thread in Quora that discusses the technology and cost of building turbine powered large 1/6th scale models that also weigh in within sUAS guidelines – and are capable of speeds of 200mph. Click the picture and watch the model punch holes in the sky. Nothing but respect for the proud owner who has lots of skill, to say nothing of hours and cash invested.

Obviously, the last thing he wants to do is hurt his baby. You can see more examples here.

This aircraft is manufactured in Taiwan. It’s a global hobby – in the US these aircraft are certified by and flown under the rules of a CBO. The FAA is not even trying to certify sUAS because of the cost and complexity, and they are looking to industry to define the standards – how is a CBO supposed to?

Look at the pictures above and below this one – does anyone else see a problem? Flown aggressively, there is not much out of theater that could stop this aircraft. And there’s no reason it has to be pretty if it isn’t coming back.

Yes, it should have Remote ID. But the bigger question is how do you ensure the safety of not just the NAS but also the people and assets on the ground? We are moving into a new realm and many of the arguments about what used to be and how things were been don’t hold up.

Right now the FAA has the opportunity to harmonize the rules per SEC. 349. One step in the right direction would be to distinguish between RC and sUAS aircraft.

The Sun garnered any number of clicks with Attack of the Drones:

YouTube can teach anyone how to build a killer drone that fires on its OWN making us vulnerable to ‘imminent’ attacks, experts warn.

Fears are growing that the snowballing production of deadly autonomous weapons could result in terrorist attacks and airports being held to ransom by individuals and
extremist groups.

It’s a solid read.

Drone used in attack on Russian airbase - courtesy Tass
Drone used in attack on Russian airbase – courtesy Tass

The proof point is the homebrew swarm that attacked Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria
last year.

Back to the Kalashnikov.

Whoever buys one will have the ability to steer a bomb with a high degree of accuracy unparalleled except by some of the U.S. military’s smartest bombs, said Nicholas Grossman, a professor of international relations at the University of Illinois and author of the book “Drones and Terrorism: Asymmetric Warfare and the Threat to Global Security.”

Furthering the idea that a new trend is emerging, UK’s Defence Blog reports Polish Company Offers Its Small Suicide Drones for Australian Defense Forces.

Polish defense company WB Group is offering a new and enhanced variant of loitering munition system WARMATE, also known as small suicide drone, for Australian
Defence Forces.

WARMATE is a loitering munition designed to loiter the battlefield and attack targets by self-destructing into them. A loitering munition is a weapon system category in which the munition loiters around the target area for some time, searches for targets, and attacks once a target
is located.

Loitering munitions are a crude type of AI. No telling if there is a man in the loop here should the WARMATE target civilians. Again I refer you to Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War by Paul Scharre (who is also quoted in The Sun article).

I don’t know if it’s meant to be reassuring but the WaPo article offers:

Terrorists are more likely to continue to improvise their own ways of jury-rigging explosive drones using cheaply available commercial devices and their own bombmaking expertise rather than spend on a ready-made version, said Nick Waters, a former British army officer and drone expert.”

Not to be outdone, The U.S. Military’s Next Wonder Weapon: Suicide Drones. Love the opening ‘graph which puts a fine close on this discussion for the day:

To deal with the ridiculous but deadly rise of DIY weapons and bombs in ISIS’s arsenal, U.S. special operators plan on fighting fire with fire — or, in this case, kamikaze drones with kamikaze drones.


screen grab from The Voice of Rembrandt – click to view

For a more uplifting take on what one can do with technology, from Media Post (an advertising agency pub) Best Use Of AI By An Agency To Date: JWT Brings Back Voice Of Rembrandt. Turns out it’s his 350thanniversary. Pretty startling ‘splainer video. They reconstructed his voice using a variety of techniques including modeling his face to get the dimensions of his vocal cords and palate.

Walter Thompson Amsterdam, an international team of experts and ING bank have worked together to recreate Rembrandt’s voice. Allowing him to teach again – for the first time in 350 years – in his own voice.

This story in Dezeen, Drone Footage Reveals Hundreds of Abandoned Turkish Chateaux is completely bizarre… It’s a real estate development abandoned in media res… It almost looks rendered. No reason to watch much of it.

Begun in 2014, the hundreds of houses have been left in various states of completion since the dramatic collapse of the Turkish economy led to developer Sarot Group to file for bankruptcy in November. 

If you are into FPV – or appreciate snowboarder ‘tude, check out Racing Drone Explores Abandoned Coal Factory, also from Dezeen. This is one you might consider sharing with your teenagers… it’s gnar =)

And lest we forget that a drone is but a flying cellphone, Apple Highlights Best Photos Shot on iPhone Around the World.

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


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.