The UAS Symposium issue of Dronin' On 04.01.17
Tribute to Miles – kind of blue

Hi all –

Looks like the FAA is heading towards an even more hands-off approach to regulation. At least that’s what I am taking away from FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s comments at the second UAS Symposium held in Reston, VA this week.

The way I see it, the more problems industry can solve itself using technology, the better. You’re going to do it more quickly and efficiently than the FAA ever could through regulations.”

No foolin’ =) So we’re done with that.

Mr. Huerta also went out of his way to say that while industry/regulatory relationships are often contentious “I don’t think we have that here.” AUVSI has a good write-up as does Betsy Lillian writing for

On to the headlines from the three-day event – and there are a bunch:

There are now north of 770,000 registrations. We can assume that the great majority of them are “Five and Fly.” Unfortunately, commercial drones are part of that number and there appears to be no way or no interest in breaking them out. Recode has a good graph that shows that there have been 200,000 new registrations in the past 6 months and 100,000 since CES in early January.

Which leaves me wondering how to interpret the oft-quoted 1.2M units in 2016 Christmas sales. Perhaps most of those were under 250 grams or additional purchases by previously registered owners. Ya think?

In addition, there are now 37,000 Remote Airmen. No word on the mix between Part 107 and IACRA. I have been waiting to see if the mix changes to a majority of Part 107 certificates which would be a sign of people entering the industry.

There is a new C-UAS Committee (meet the new acronym Counter UAS) headed by Marke “Hoot” Gibson, Maj. General (Ret.) who as you should know is a Senior Advisor on UAS Integration for the FAA. This is an inspired choice, a couple of other members of the group not so much, according to Rob Thompson’s write-up. For more from Rob, here is his review of the Day One session.

Based on Earl Lawrence’s testimony before the Senate last week, it appears that automating the Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability (LLANC) is “The first step toward an unmanned traffic control system.”

Terry Bristol, Chief Operating Officer, Air Traffic Organization, told the group that the FAA is seeking to automate the LLANC process to allow UAS to notify air traffic control of flights within five miles of an airport, or to get authorization to fly in certain airspace classes. She added that the demand is so high that “It’s not unusual to have thousands of authorizations waiting to be processed.” In case you were wondering right.

This will certainly be welcome news though it’s hard to be overly optimistic given earlier reports of the agency’s budget woes. Since few things are more critical to the community than timely authorizations, this needs to find funding.

LLANC is nice and all but stay with me because this is the tip of a whole
new iceberg.

Jim Eck, Assistant Administrator, NextGen, said that “Once things like LLANC and UTM move into the community, air traffic control will know that most vehicles are where they are supposed to be. If there’s an aberration, it’s either a blunder or something nefarious. The sooner we can get to these automated systems, where everyone is filing, the better off we will be as a community.

Towards that end, Mr. Huerta also announced the formation of the Remote Identification Aviation Rulemaking Committee that will help “Create standards for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations” which he added is “One of the law enforcement community’s top concerns.”

This is somewhat ingenuous – as we have been reporting for months, remote electronic identification is the first UAS requirement of the FESSA 2016 Act (passed July 2016) and recommendations are due to Congress in July 2017.

Look at what the FAA is rolling out – a new C-UAS effort. LLANC as part of the solution. And now (finally) electronic ID. What is remarkable is that none of this was on the drawing board a year ago. Make no mistake, – it’s all about friend or foe – or to paraphrase my bird hunting friends “If it flies (and we don’t know who it is) it dies.” Amazing what asymmetrical warfare and a bunch of “shitheads on motorbikes” will do to garner attention.

Hats are flying into the ring to provide the solution.

AirMap has offered up Drone ID which Colin Snow recently reviewed.

DJI’s new whitepaper “What’s In a Name?” A Call for a Balanced Remote Identification Approach is a good one with plenty of specifics. As the majority of drones operating in the US are DJI units, any open standard they are willing to implement has to be seriously considered.

Beyond technology, DJI makes an important point about the privacy interests of the operator. It is the same one raised by David Kovar in my Standards article. “Large companies are not in the habit of collecting useless information. Instead they are deploying UAS’ to document their secrets and intellectual property”.

Makes sense right. Well, contrast that idea with this one.

Last week we reported that Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) had submitted the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2017. Industry reaction has been swift and less than positive. has solid coverage with quotes from Lisa Ellman, Gretchen West and others. One key concept “

One key concept “The legislation also requires the disclosure of the technical capabilities of the drone and the types of cameras and payloads an operator is using…The bill would thus require the release of sensitive business information regardless of whether a UAS flight creates any privacy concern.”

Also joining the party is uAvionix who submitted their white paper via AUVSI in partnership with AirMap and Harris. It is a markedly different approach that attempts to frame the discussion instead of providing the solution. “We spent some time on what we thought were the appropriate set of requirements for such a system.  We go through this in the white paper, but in this forum, I’d like to share the list of assumptions regarding the requirements (since none were given).” Interesting because DJI is a uAvionix investor…

One other FAA initiative deserves the support of those of you with heavy pilot memberships. The FAA Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team (UAST) established last August has posted Anonymous Drone Survey #1 which is a 3 question survey focused on fly-aways and Anonymous Drone Survey #2 which is more in depth. Consistent with the FAA’s SMS (Safety Management System) approach, the UAST will use this data to develop recommendations that will mitigate future
safety hazards.

UAST is a fine example of a point that Mr. Huerta made at the Symposium “When we all work in good faith … when we all share the same safety goals … we can accomplish some truly impressive things.”

This sentiment was echoed by the outgoing FAA Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, Peggy Gilligan in an audio interview with Aviation Week. She stressed that the US aviation safety record is a result of everyone in aviation working together. The 37-year agency veteran also said that she was concerned that “Over-reliance on technology could come at the expense of situational awareness.” While her comment was not aimed at drones, it is certainly something that the UAV industry needs to consider as it pushes towards autonomous solutions. Thoughtful lady, worth a listen. Thank you for your service Peggy and happy trails.

‘Sign of the times’ story in UAV Expert News, How Flying a Drone Could Send You to the Slammer Even When the FAA Says It’s OK. It is based on research done by The Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College whose 140 character summary is “New study: 130+ U.S. cities have adopted drone regulations, many of which may contravene @FAANews authority.”

Jonathan Vanian picked the study up in Fortune. “135 localities in 31 states have passed drone rules that impact over 30 million people living in those areas. 24 localities list jail time as a possible punishment for violating their [local] drone laws.”

Vanian interviewed Drone Center co-director Arthur Holland Michel who summed up the problem the same way I do. “The FAA is going to want a level of uniformity around the country in terms of the airspace that will probably run up against the many localities that see it as their rights to protect their citizens.”

The FAA’s recent punt on the Drone Slayer case is doing nothing to assuage those concerns. The judge said “Even if Boggs is correct that his unmanned aircraft is subject to federal regulation … the fact remains that the FAA has not sought to enforce any such regulations in this case.” 

Jim Poss, Maj. General (Ret.) offers up another thoughtful essay, The Dark Side of Detect and Avoid. The issue will come to the forefront withUTM and BLOS data link relays that bring significant cyber risk.” His scenarios are chilling and explain in detail how General Ma Xiaotian, Commander of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force could hack drones to get all the hi-rez imagery he ever wanted of high value US infrastructure. (Look out P.W Singer and Daniel Suarez.)

Poss notes that We have decades of experience from vetting manned aircraft companies and related operating companies to apply to drone businesses. The issue will be the sheer volume of vetting required to manage the same level of security screening for the unmanned aviation business community.” The not so hidden message here is that it is going to take a lot of manpower to make this all work. I guess that paying for it is a problem for DAC Task Force 3.

As the market tightens, partnership is becoming a growing industry trend. DroneDeploy CEO Mike Winn on the Value of Partnerships is an interview on the company’s new partnership with ag power house CNH Industrial.

I expect to see more companies partnering with established companies who have robust channels and expertise in selling to enterprise. (Kespry and Airware are other recent examples.) I can tell you from firsthand experience that kind of expertise takes years to build. The only other way to scale fast is with VARs and/or ISVs.

Despite recent commentary about investors losing interest, reader Brian A shared an upbeat take on the industry by Greg Bettinelli of Upfront Partners, a Silicon Beach VC firm entitled Second-Order Market Innovation and The Future of Drones. Upfront recently invested in Drone Base which matches clients and operators to provide drone imagery within 48 hours for any address in the United States. Greg is also interested in the potential of swarms and C-UAS and has some interesting insights into the need for technologies to extend battery life. “I’m keeping an eye out for any founders focusing on the new problems and openings the drone industry is creating each day.”

Under the heading (perhaps) of new openings, Petapixel reports a solution to a problem no one even knew existed. “The startup Cape calls itself “the world’s first online drone flight platform,” and they do exactly as the name implies: Cape lets you fly a real drone, in a real-world location, without ever leaving the comfort of your desk chair.

Sign up for the company’s public beta, and soon you’ll be invited to launch one of Cape’s drones placed all over California. Once you’re in, use your computer, tablet, or smartphone to launch and fly the thing—no pesky FAA certificate required, no worries about crashing an expensive investment, and (apparently) almost no lag between the controls and the drone.”

TD Delft University’s Micro Air Vehicle Lab [Netherlands] is hosting “Drone Clash” – kind of like a demolition derby for drones. explains that “The purpose of the event is to help the development of anti-drone technology. According to the university, “Participants use their own drone(s) to take down as many other drones as possible. They also need to avoid a whole series of anti-drone interventions.” The promo video is pretty much drone racing meets WWF in Haughwout flames.

Finally, check out this Brazilian production crews ingenious use of a DJI Phantom as a hand held Steadicam for their minuscule budget video. Spoiler alert it is really terrible. Steve Wozniak once said that he could never have imagined the things people would do with an Apple // – pretty sure that Frank Wang is having the same experience about now.

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


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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