I have a dream – the Super Moon at dawn

Hi all –

When I put this to bed Friday night, there was still a slight chance that the government would be open when you read this.

How ironic that almost 90 years after Martin Luther King’s birth, on the week that we as a nation celebrate his birthday, the fight is once again about a dream.

This week a massive class action lawsuit against the FAA, the failure of registration, new analysis from McKinsey and droneii.com, a bunch of cool use cases, progress in AI and a delicious eye candy sampler from around the world.

Before we get started, last week’s story on the drone attack on the Russian airbase stirred up some interest. Here is the film at 11 instant update – Russia Blew Up Syria Drone Terrorists with Laser-Guided Artillery – including some ‘you are there’ video. Not nice to mess with the Momma Bear.

THE FAA

For a minute there, I thought I might make it through the week without any news from 800 Independence Avenue. Turns out that I was like totally wrong. Jonathan Rupprecht reports a mind-bending story, Robert Taylor v. FAA- 2nd Drone Registration Class Action Lawsuit.

The 30-second version is that John Taylor’s brother, Robert, is putting together a class action suit that represents everybody (like 835,000 folks) who paid their $5. Jonathan, who wants everybody to know that he is not involved in the case, sums it up like this:

The lawsuit is seeking $5 back for the class ($4,183,980), Privacy Act violation statutory damages of $1,000 EACH for the members of the class ($ 836,796,000). In sum, we’re looking at almost 841 million PLUS attorney’s fees.

Complicating matters, the registration rule was reinstated in December. This is exactly what the industry does not need. Here’s why.

Miriam McNabb’s story in DroneLife, Registration Tops 1,000,000 – But Is That Success? offers a spot on interview with Harrison Wolf. IMO it is the story of the year. Nice to have company in the choir (emphasis below is mine):

“Identification, tracking, and the mitigation of threats are quickly becoming the most important issues facing drones. Without robust, industry-wide collaboration that enables new technologies; manufacturers, consumers, and authorities are forced to rely on a voluntary registration system that is largely neglected,” Wolf tells DRONELIFE.  “Though 1 million drones registered with the FAA since the systems creation may seem like a lot, it represents less than one-third of estimated drones being flown as of one-year ago.  Without enforcement, technological innovation, or a more effective education campaign, voluntary registration simply doesn’t work.”

In a snap analysis of the program, Wolf says that the success of the program has been questionable from the start.  “Controversy, technical concerns, and court rulings have plagued the drone registration process from its inception,” Wolf writes.  “Regardless as to the legality of the requirements for hobbyists to register, tracking and identification of drones has become the most important topic in the industry.”

Look, no registration, no Remote ID. Get out into the corners of the Internet and interest in compliance continues to drop like a stone. Bad news for hobbyists and a potential death blow waiting in the wings for commercial businesses.

Under the heading of ‘that didn’t take long’, Morning Transportation reports that “Former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta has a new gig as a senior adviser at Macquarie Capital. He’ll “provide insight to the firm and its client and partners to build on existing initiatives and seek new opportunities in U.S. transportation infrastructure,” per Macquarie. … Be sure to get some skiing in Michael.

Finally, bon voyage to Karen DiMeo who told me that she is leaving her plum job at the FAA as Senior Technical UAS Advisor to become Flirtey’s Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Government Relations. Excellent timing since Flirtey just closed a $16M Series A to further the delivery of Slurpees and pizzas.

ERRATUM I failed to note that in the last few months, Flirtey has expanded their focus to include defibrillators and other medical supplies. It appears that they are now attempting the first pivot in the delivery space.

THE STATE OF THINGS TO COME

The irrepressible, slightly world weary Gary Mortimer kicked off the year with What Price Drone Market Reports?

If I was in the market for reports I think I would be after some sort of money back deal. If it’s 50% wrong after 12 months, I will have 50% back, please. These reports generate a false hope and help create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, with absolutely no guarantee of future performance, I have two free reports
for you.

McKinsey & Company just published Commercial Drones Are Here: The Future of Unmanned Aerial Systems. This is a sober, even handed evaluation supported by some excellent graphics that merits your attention.

Although some of the most innovative drone applications may take years to develop, stakeholders—government officials, investors, regulators, members of the UAS industry, and corporate adopters—must understand how the landscape is evolving and begin refining their UAS strategies now if they want to branch beyond their current uses and capture additional value. This article addresses three topics that may help them sort through the current uncertainty:

  • UAS value. What is the real potential of the market? Which segments of the value chain are attracting investment, and are there areas of untapped opportunity?
  • Factors influencing the UAS market. What are the forces that will determine how the UAS market evolves? What technologies provide growth opportunities, and how can companies proactively shape demand?
  • Initial strategic considerations. How can UAS stakeholders capture or create value? What issues need their attention now?

An elegant complement is provided in a new study from the team at droneii.com, The Drone Market Environment Map – These Companies Will Disrupt 2018. It is nothing if not thorough in that special Teutonic way.

We limited the Map to 1,000 players [!] so you can focus on the companies and people that are set to have the biggest impact on the drone market. The Map is not totally comprehensive, and it’s not supposed to be. The focus is on the diversity and reach of this drone ecosystem.

No matter if overhyped or not, a well-educated market is a stable market. That’s the kind of market we can all contribute to and want to be part of. Amen.

American Drone Companies Aren’t Built to Compete by Casey Newton for The Verge is a topic that should be of tremendous concern to everyone because a little competition would be a good thing about now. Over the centuries competition has been proven to encourage innovation, improve service and keep a lid on pricing. The article looks at why 3DR and GoPro were unable to compete with DJI. Hubris is a good one-word summary, though that’s not all of it. They both got outplayed.

USE CASES

Drone Delivery Canada Expands Testing Program to U.S. is designed to demonstrate proof of concepts for US prospects. Testing will take place at New York Griffiss International Airport UAS Test Site, located in Rome, New York.

For testing, DDCs will utilize its own proprietary FLYTE management software that is designed to support semi-autonomous flight as well as BVLOS (beyond visual line of site) flights designed for commercial drone deliveries.

The stock, FLT:CN Venture is up on the news. They don’t get much attention in the US press, but these guys have been working hard. Drone Delivery Canada Commences Testing its Larger 25Lbs Cargo Delivery Drone Named the Raven X1400. To be clear, this is being tested (first) in Canada but still it is the logical next step I’ve been waiting for – under the sUAS rule 55 pounds is the limit,
not four.

Thrush Aircraft and Drone America to Develop Autonomous Fire Fighting Aircraft is a story in UAS Vision. The press release gives you a pretty good idea of what they expect the certification process to entail:

“Collaborating with Drone America now gives us the ability to enhance airborne firefighting even more, by applying our design, manufacturing and flight test capabilities to a whole new generation of autonomous aircraft that can do things manned aircraft simply can’t do safely, or as efficiently. 

As you would imagine, there are a lot of very significant regulatory hurdles ahead. Start with the fact that there are no regulations covering full size unmanned aircraft. And a BVLOS provision will need to be in place to transit from the field to the scene and back. (Call it the fixed wing disadvantage.) But they are getting a leg up on what most people I speak with expect to be a fairly traditional
certification process.

TechZone360 offers up 10 Benefits of Drone-Based Asset Inspections. If you think and breath this every day, it won’t break any new ground. But if you need to make the business case to support a pilot program or are developing a sales pitch for services, the article will serve as a helpful check list.

Rail Inspection Firm Acquires Drone Services Company Media Wing is pretty much a perfect example of the 10 Benefits article above.

The acquisition expands ARE’s engineering, software development, bridge inspection services and nationwide footprint to include unmanned flight operations, image analysis, GIS modeling and video-rendering.

This is a textbook example of adding to an existing toolkit to serve an existing client base.

Duke, UNC Scientists Reveal Sea Turtle Abundance Study Using Drones is a feel-good story if you like sea turtles (I do.) The study was conducted in Costa Rica in 2015 – I guess it took a while to make sense of the imagery – they flew eight times over four days – and organize the paper.

Getting a huge amount of play this week is A Rescue Drone Saved Two Teen Swimmers on Its First Day of Deployment. This is an update on Australia’s Little Ripper drone program which debuted two years ago. Each unit goes for $250K. This week attention is on a video of a real-life drone rescue; and a video demonstrating how AI is being used to identify different objects in the water – think shark, surfer, dolphin. (We’ve been seeing updates on their progress since last August.)

WORKING INTELLIGENCE

As already noted, Flirtey scored $16M on a Series A. But there is a lot more going on. sUAS News reports that Iris Automation Closes $8M Series A to Bring AI Technology to Autonomous Flying Vehicles. Sounds pretty cool:

The Iris Automation system consists of a sophisticated embedded computing platform combined with a high-resolution, vision-based sensing package allowing for the detection of moving objects such as Cessna airplanes at ranges of 1500ft (or 500m). Once detected, proprietary machine learning algorithms are able to identify intruders before a sophisticated logic core autonomously maneuvers drones or other flying robots safely away from collision trajectories.

The system weighs less than 300g and has the footprint of a credit card.

Under the category “this could change everything” is TechCrunch’s story Echodyne’s Pocket-Sized Radar May Be the Next Must-Have Tech for Drones (and Drone Hunters) about the Echodyne MESA radar, a steerable phased array radar.

A package about the size of a couple iPad Minis, weighing a pound and a half, drawing only 35 watts of power.” According to the ‘splainer video, “The radar has a range of up to 3,000m for a Cessna-sized object and up to 750m for a small drone.” Note this is not enough for CUAS but should be plenty for sense and avoid.

DARPA Begins Phase 3 of Collaborative Autonomy for UAS. This testing is part of the development of the Denied Environment (CODE) program. The story in UST explains that the program is designed:

“…To extend the capability of the U.S. military’s existing unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to conduct dynamic, long-distance engagements of highly mobile ground and maritime targets in contested or denied battlespaces. Multiple CODE-equipped unmanned aircraft would navigate to their destinations and find, track, identify, and engage targets under established rules of engagement — all under the supervision of a single human mission commander.”

The Pentagon’s New Artificial Intelligence Is Already Hunting Terrorists is an depth article in DefenseOne that picks up on a story I ran a few weeks back, Flocking Scan Eagles which reported on tests with three ScanEagles. The big idea here is the same, by putting target acquisition and tracking on the drones, fewer people are required to operate the system.

EYE CANDY

If you’ve come to the point of thinking that not being able to shoot at flying objects is over rated, if the spirit of a Western gunfighter runs hot in your veins, then you will enjoy Watch a Navy Helicopter Door Gunner Blast a Drone Out of the Sky. The drone is white and flying low and slow and it takes a while to knock it down. If it was coming in jinking and juking it would be a whole ‘nuther thaing.

On January 23rd much of the industry will look to New York where DJI is hosting an announcement event. Speculation is rampant, fueled by this very atmospheric teaser, The Adventure Unfolds. Nicely done and some great commentary in the accompanying article from Cliff Whitney, the CEO of Atlanta Hobby adds to the intrigue.

Not particularly beautiful but definitely amazing is Inspire 2 captures new footage of Apple Park. It’s interesting to think that it was literally built in front of our collective eyes.

After a life steeped in secrecy, we have all been able to witness the creation of Steve Jobs’ final project and biggest dream.

Truly inspiring is A Present from Ling, an epic collection of stunning locations around the world shot on an Inspire 2. Beautiful simple moves, impeccable color timing, elegant typography and a lovely track that he mostly keeps up with. I thought that the scenes from Shanghai were particularly startling – I hate to leap to conclusions, but I assume that is his home. If you have the bandwidth, watch it in 1080p.

PARTING THOUGHT

This week PhantomPilots.com launched a new site, CommercialDronePilots.com. The site is for those plying their trade using a Part 107. I took a quick peruse and came across this post, What Rules Can Be Bent? Having bent a lot of things in my life, I am not holding this up as some kind of holier than though or shaming thing. But rather as yet another indicator of the current frustration with the
regulatory system.

The responses are for the most part inspiring – a lot of stand-up folks committed to their dream of a new profession.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. As always you can find all of the back
issues here.

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
Publisher and Editor
chriskorody@me.com
please follow me @dronewriter