Photo courtesy of the Office of George Bush

It’s been a year for losing. ’41’ is one of the last of the Greatest Generation. As a tearful Dubya told us:

Dad taught us that public service is noble and necessary; that one can serve with integrity and hold true to the important values, like faith and family. He strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. He recognized that serving others enriched the giver’s soul. To us, his was the brightest of a thousand points of light.

He knew war, but loved peace. He knew that making America great meant engaging, not withdrawing. And he knew that nationalism will always be a force to be opposed, not embraced.

No, he certainly wasn’t perfect. I’m not either. But I have always liked the idea of 1,000 points of light. And I love the story of what he did for a little boy.


The 'Buzzy the Drone' issue of Dronin' On 12.08.18
image courtesy of

Hi all –

Coming down the home stretch for 2018. What a year it has, and hasn’t been for UAS, the country and the planet. It’s the season for lists and forecasts, so I thought I would start by sharing two items that really capture the yin and yang of the year.

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2018 is TOXIC. “The Oxford Word of the Year is a word or expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.”

“Living Coral’ – courtesy of Pantone

Pantone’s Color of the Year 2019 is Living Coral, “In reaction to the onslaught of digital technology and social media increasingly embedding into daily life, we are seeking authentic and immersive experiences that enable connection and intimacy. PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral embodies our desire for playful expression.”

i.e. The ultimate anti-toxin. Hear hear.

Let’s start with Buzzy the Drone, the latest big idea from the FAA. Then I’ll take a look at Enforcement, CUAS, a Delivery anniversary of sorts, AV Bites, a Christmas book list and because you’ve been naughty, some Eye Candy.


How many times have all of us heard both the previous and the Acting Administrator tell us with absolute certainty that if something bad happens, it’s going to be game over? I think it’s an astute analysis of the pushback that will immediately come from government, the private sector and terrified citizens.

In fact, in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill, the FAA was specifically  instructed to balance their penchant for education with a bigger dollop of enforcement.


(5) the Administrator should pursue all available civil and administrative remedies available to the Administrator, including referrals to other government agencies for criminal investigations, with respect to persons who operate unmanned aircraft in an unauthorized manner;

Sadly, this is old news. In 2016 I ran DOT Audit Faults FAA’s Reactive Approach

The Audit found the lack of a risk-based process of oversight problematic, and criticized the FAA’s focus on education over enforcement.

Setting “stuff happens” aside, because it does, the universal consensus is that the greatest risk to manned aircraft and people on the ground comes from “the careless, the clueless and the criminal.”

So can someone – anyone – please explain why “Follow Buzzy The Drone!” – an anthropomorphized little bug – is a good proxy for safety? Please read this:

Too many times, we at the FAA hear sad stories about what happens when inexperienced flyers take their drone out for its first flight. Sometimes a nasty tree will jump right into your flight path. All too often, the drone gets scared and flies away if you let it out of your sight. And upset neighbors may knock on your door if you fly over their backyard while they’re outside.

A nasty tree? Knock on your door? Puhleez. Maybe after too many egg nogs…

Clearly Buzzy the Drone is meant to be all fuzzy and Living Coral, but to me it’s beyond toxic. Because it does not have the gravitas to communicate the seriousness and risk of operating in the NAS

Haven’t we seen enough reports like this one from ABC’s Las Vegas affiliate KTNV this year? Drone Scare Near Vegas Strip Prompts FAA Investigation Into Likely Safety Violations.

Maverick 38: “[Las Vegas] Tower, be advised, they’re flying a drone right below me over the freeway between Aria and Panorama Towers”

Las Vegas Tower: “You said how far it was below you?”

Maverick 38: “If I had to guess, I would say 500 feet.”

Haven’t we read too many factoids like this one:

Experts say it is estimated drones violate airspace rules and regulations once every 7 hours across the United States.

And for this we get Buzzy the Drone?

I certainly hope this is not how the FAA is spending the one million dollars per year allocated by Congress (Section 356) to support the KnowB4UFly program.

This story in the Sedona Red Rock News doesn’t help much either, Sedona’s ‘No Drone Zone’ Signs Don’t Obey FAA Law, Can’t Be Enforced by USFS, Sedona Airport. And the reason that they can’t be enforced is guess what – there is no tower, it’s Class G and like it or not, drones can fly.

It’s a good read that goes a long way to explaining the frustration at the local level. They even got a quote from one of our favorite UAS barristers, Jonathan Rupprecht, who noted that:

“Well-meaning entities need to be careful in trying to regulate drones, as they could potentially find themselves walking into a minefield and having a hard time getting themselves out.” 

No worries, Buzzy the Drone will bail you out.

That is if the locals don’t take matters into their own hands. PetaPixel headlined This Surfing Contest Used a Helicopter to Knock a Drone Out of the Sky.

“Like most sporting organizations the World Surf League (WSL) has been known to be quite protective in terms of its intellectual property rights,” tipster Andrew Grose tells PetaPixel. 

So when an unauthorized drone was caught flying directly over the contest area… A helicopter was called in. Swooping down toward the drone, the helicopter used its powerful downwash to blast the drone down into the Pacific Ocean. [follow the link to watch the fun]

Meanwhile Buzzy the Drone was hanging ten. Shaka brah.

courtesy Department of Interior

In sharp contrast, the DOI’sIf You Fly, We Can’t” (… and your community will burn down…) makes the consequences very clear. The campaign has measurably reduced reported incursions in 2018. Without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

Once again it’s Christmas, and once again I am stunned by the FAA’s inability to communicate to the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of new pilots entering the NAS.  My 13-year-old friends assure me that they will never follow Buzzy the Drone… Does anyone on Independence Avenue understand that the target audience is a male in his 30s or 40s or 50s?

C’mon man. Might I suggest the 2019 sequel be “Buzzy the Bad Drone Pilot Goes to Jail.”

I’ll get into it next week but I have to give a shout out to Alan Collier, Esq’s article in Commercial UAV News, Are You Ready for Integrated Skies? Absolutely up to date and the best thing I’ve read in a long time.


Image courtesy

One way to gauge public acceptance of sUAS is to look at the reaction to the use of drones by those who protect and serve.

The New York Post channeled the spirit of Gotham City in their headline, NYPD Rolling Out Fleet of Crime-Fighting Drones:

[The Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU)] will roll out 14 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones as part of its latest technology “evolution.”

A department spokeswoman insisted the drones will not be used for everyday police patrol, unlawful surveillance or to enforce traffic laws. The machines will not be used as weapons, nor will they be equipped with any, she said.

The WSJ’s take is a bit more subdued, New York Police Unveil Drone Program but the content was not.

In a statement, the Legal Aid Society said it opposed police use of the technology. “Its continued unrestrained expansion will only further sow distrust and increase unequal treatment of our clients… This is a dangerous step towards the further militarization of the NYPD.”

The NYT is also looking out for their readers, New York Police Say They Will Deploy 14 Drones

Christopher Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said police officials rejected recommendations that would have required the department to regularly disclose how often they use the drones and why.

The department’s policy also allows the use of drones for any “public safety” reason the Chief of Department deems necessary. That leaves room for the police to use the drones however they want, with no public oversight, Mr. Dunn said.

I understand why they want us to bless it, but we’re not going to bless it…


In contrast, consider this.

courtesy of Vantage Robotics

According to the Murfreesboro Voice, Rutherford County Leads Country With FAA Approval to Use Drones Over Crowds adding that it is “The first and only county government in the U.S. with this capability.”

The waiver allows the county to use the Vantage Robotics SNAP in both emergency and non-emergency situations. By my count it is one of only 13 107.39 waivers that have been granted. You can take a look at the specifics here.


Photo illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

There is another good reason to reconsider Buzzy – the millions, soon to be billions spent on CUAS.

The Daily Beast reports Feds Say Imprisoned Hacker Ran a Drone Smuggling Ring:

A notorious San Francisco hacker already serving a 13-year prison term has been charged with using a smuggled cell phone to loot consumer debit card accounts, then channeling the profits into a brash jailhouse smuggling caper that used a remotely-piloted drone to drop contraband into the prison yard.

The Bureau of Prisons… is drawing up plans to intercept and destroy encroaching drones that pose a “credible threat” to a federal prison.

As to what those plans might look like, my money is on the military. Aviation Week reports Marines Providing Counter-UAS Options To Leadership:

The U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory (MCWL) will provide a range of options to the commandant for counter-unmanned aircraft system (UAS) air domain surveillance.

Brig. Gen. Christian Wortman, MCWL commander, told reporters here “We’re working on a very expansive portfolio of counter-UAS capabilities. This includes developing solutions to counter every component of the kill chain—to find, fix, track, target and engage.”

And to no one’s surprise, Avionics reports US Homeland Security Plans to Test Counter-Drone Systems in 2019:

Sandia National Laboratories, on behalf of the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, this month issued a Request for Information to help it identify commercial-off-the-shelf counter unmanned aircraft system (UAS) systems for evaluation next year to help make decisions about acquiring and deploying
the systems. 

The notice, published in the government’s Federal Business Opportunity contracts pipeline, says commercially bought UAS “have quickly become a security concern due to the ease with which they can aid in intelligence gathering and/or be used as a malicious delivery platform. 

Nice win for New Mexico.


courtesy of Tone

If you like the idea that time flies, it’s just over five years to the day that Jeff Bezos made headlines when he announced on 60 Minutes that Amazon was already testing drone delivery saying:

I know this looks like science fiction, but it’s not.”

Not that it’s a slow news week (AMZN is off almost $400 from its September high,) but the press hasn’t forgotten. AP reminded us, Where Are the Drones? Amazon’s Customers Are Still Waiting:

Bezos made billions of dollars by transforming the retail sector. But overcoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones appears to be a challenge even for the world’s wealthiest man. The result is a blown deadline on his claim to CBS’ “60 Minutes” in December 2013 that drones would be making deliveries within five years.

The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like just that — hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too.

“I don’t think you will see delivery of burritos or diapers in the suburbs,” says drone analyst Colin Snow.

But that doesn’t mean that the idea is dead, or that burritos might not be on the menu. MIT Technology Review reports Alphabet to Launch Drone Deliveries
in Finland

Wing is asking Finnish would-be users what they would like to have delivered, with options including medicine, groceries and lunch. It obviously sees Finland’s interesting weather as a good testing ground, too. “If our drones can deliver here, they can deliver anywhere,” Wing says. It has spent the last 18 months trialing drone deliveries in southeastern Australia, which poses fewer challenges in that department. 

Commercial Drone Professional adds:

The company’s own UTM will be used to plan and manage the drones’ flight path from take-off to landing and make sure they plan routes around each other along with buildings, trees, and other obstacles.

Not sure what the surprise here is, but The Drive reported University of Maryland Researchers Successfully Delivered Kidneys Via Drone Test Flights. It’s not like they shot it into space and it floated around in zero-g. Still:

Once the organ arrived in Baltimore, the team placed it in the payload container and deployed the drone 14 separate times, with each mission consisting of varying distances and simulated emergency profiles.

The only considerable pitfalls for this system seem to be posed by external factors such as wind chill or collision. 

No word about a waiver.


screen grab courtesy of Waymo

Waymo had a coming out party in Phoenix this week. The reactions were somewhat less than awestruck. One journo says that riding in a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is “so mundane, it no longer feels like a novelty.” Another snarksJust two rides in, and we’re already bored of the future.” My favorite out of the plethora? “This new thing makes new mistakes.” 

Starsky Robotics says that they won’t use LiDAR because their human observers back at HQ (teleoperators) will do a better job.

The story of the week…

Cops figure out how to pull over a guy who is passed out going 70 in his Tesla. Pretty clever.

And a very cool video from The Verge, This Is Elon Musk’s Key to Tesla’s Future about the Gigafactory.


I picked out a handful of books that make for good reading and great  gifting. Not all of them are new and yes, I’ve mentioned some before.

The Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War is by Paul Scharf. Beyond an ethical exploration, it’s a fine primer about just how hard it’s going to be to get autonomy right.

The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage and Fear in the Cyber Age by David Sanger will greatly increase anyone’s understanding of what the fuss is all about.

A few weeks ago, I quoted DJI’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Jan Gasparic who said “The drone industry is in the same place now the personal computer industry was 30 or 40 years ago.” Think about it – no Ethernet, no email, no USB, no TCP/IP, no MPEG and on.

Walter Isaacson’s book, The Innovators, tells the story of “how a group of hackers, geniuses and geeks created the digital revolution.” Lots of great characters and stories, plenty of lessons to be learned.

Here are three oldies but goodies that I always find worth revisiting.

If you haven’t read it, Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation is a fitting tribute. The synopsis will tell you that the profiles include “Navy pilot and future president George H. W. Bush, assigned to read the mail of the enlisted men under him, who says that in doing so he “learned about life.

Crossing The Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey Moore is a Silicon Valley classic. This is the piece that the $82B forecast doesn’t account for. Huge influence on my thinking, read Why Standards Will Be Critical to UAV Adoption.

When Tom Wolfe died this year I had to reread The Right Stuff. If you love aviation, here it is in all of its glory. If you don’t get aviation, here’s a window into one of the most unique cultures in the world.


screen grab of Better Worlds trailer – click to play

If you’ve wondered what the Apocalypse will look like, PetaPixel offers Drone Shots of San Francisco Shrouded in Wildfire Smoke

Cognizant is on the air with a new TV spot, Drone. “When a couple’s home is severely damaged by a fallen tree, their insurance company calls them right away. When the pessimistic husband thinks it’ll be too long before they can come do all the repairs, the company is there in an instant with its drone technology to survey the property.” Yes, that’s on TV.

Saying that “everything today is so dark” (toxic?) The Verge announced a new series called Better Worlds:

The stories of Better Worlds are not intended to be conflict-free utopias or Pollyanna-ish paeans about how tech will solve everything; many are set in societies where people face challenges, sometimes life-threatening ones. But all of them imagine worlds where technology has made life better and not worse, and characters find a throughline of hope. We hope these stories will offer you the same: inspiration, optimism, or, at the very least, a brief reprieve that makes you feel a little bit better about what awaits us in the future — if we find the will to make it so.

Next week, I’ll look ahead to 2019.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here. If you want your own free subscription, please click here.


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter

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