The Drone Focus issue of Dronin' On 06.03.17
Not O’Keefe’s colors

Hi all –

First, if you are interested in things energy, I have one all-access pass left for the Energy Drone Coalition Summit coming up in Houston June 20-21. Give a shout and I’ll send you the details. I’ll be moderating two panels – the Drone Security panel includes David Kovar, Brian Kennedy, Steven Fargo and Jim Poss.

The big story this week is from the Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, North Dakota where DOT Secretary Elaine Chao gave what I believe be her first address on drones [the link is to the full text of her speech]. Props to the folks at Emerging Prairie for a great event.

Ms. Chao’s eagerly awaited speech was interesting both for what she said, and what she didn’t say. After the niceties, she opened with a high, inside fast ball:

This Administration’s proposal would separate the operation of our country’s air traffic control system from the safety oversight functions of the FAA.

No surprise but sure to raise a ruckus and could once again delay the Reauthorization Bill. Hard to call that good news from a business perspective.

The line between aerospace and terrestrial transportation technology is beginning to blur.

This is an emerging theme – the same regulatory agency is in charge, he same technologies are being used and as a result, I expect there to be considerable trickle down from automotive to UAS.

A key issue in regulating drones is security. How can we defend these systems from hackers?  And what can be done to thwart terrorist attempts to use
this technology? 

This is the first drone specific point that she brought up – however she did not mention last week’s White House proposed drone security legislation. Nor did she address protecting infrastructure as per FESSA 2209.

There is also the question of airspace…The FAA is also crafting a pilot program designed to let local communities try different regulatory concepts for controlling drone activity.

I read this as a tacit acknowledgment that the FAA will not support its primacy argument. In concept, it plays to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) proposed Drone Federalism Act which I’ll get to in a bit.

The FAA has also formed a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which will convene this summer to recommend technologies for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations. The recommendations produced will help pave the way for increasingly complex drone flights, such as those over people and beyond visual line of sight operations.

Hey you guys have the ball…. Always an easy way to kick the can down the road.

The integration of drones into our national airspace will be the biggest technological challenge to aviation since the beginning of the Jet Age.

This was the beginning of her wrap up, which I think must have come from someone on Administrator Huerta’s staff.

Three other things that stood out because they were not mentioned:

  • No over-hyped projections about the size of the industry, the value in billions etc. Perhaps some lessons have been learned?
  • Nothing about the Taylor ruling or the future of registration.
  • Nothing specific about UTM.

Not one to let grass grow, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum (a former MSFT VP) used his time on stage to announce the formation of the UAS Detection and Counter-UAS Task Force. The idea being that North Dakota offers a friendly environment in which to test countermeasures and further the state’s efforts to be the center of all things UAS.

Exactly how North Dakota is furthering this effort is revealed in a terrific interview on Randy Goer’s Drone Radio Show with Terry Sando, the Director of UAS Sector Development at the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation. The interview asks and answers the question “Is it possible to design an economic development program around the UAS Industry?” Fascinating look into an agile, opportunistic operation.

And now on to the proposed Drone Federalism Act. According to the press release Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced the Drone Federalism Act to establish a process for federal, state, local and tribal governments to work together to manage the use of  recreational and commercial drones.

In introducing the bill Senator Feinstein said. “This bill allows communities to create low-altitude speed limits, local no-drone zones or rules that are appropriate to their own circumstances. We need prudent regulations that respond to the variety of new risks that drones present. Our bill provides an affirmative,
bipartisan solution.”

A couple of key concepts that break significant new ground:

  • The operator must secure the permission of the property owner to overfly.
  • The bill defines this airspace as within 200 feet AGL or within 200 feet of a structure.

The proposed bill got immediate support from the National Governors Association which wrote that “As written, the Drone Federalism Act of 2017 would both protect the FAA’s authority to ensure safety of the airspace, while also maintaining state and local authority to protect public safety and security, personal privacy, property rights and manage land use regarding the operation of drones.”

Industry reaction has been largely negative with reporting that “The proposed regulations could have serious negative consequences for the drone industry, requiring operators to comply with 50 separate sets of regulations and preventing many commercial and life-saving applications that might require flight over private property.”

Personally, I think that it is unlikely that any one operator will have to comply with 50 sets of regulations. A few national companies like AT&T have dedicated teams to ensure contractor compliance with local rules and regulations. It’s easy to argue that the expense and necessary expertise is one more thing that will slow enterprise adoption.

As if to underscore the point, the great state of Texas just introduced HB 1643 which prohibits drone flights over critical infrastructure. Gary Mortimer gave the bill a careful read noting that it includes feed lots…”Flying such aircraft near animals can have adverse effects on the livestock, thus reducing their value.” This in reaction to a drone exposé of various abuses.

There is a cautionary tale from India where reports that Drones: Clipped Wings The drone industry in India is seeing manifold growth. However, lack of definitive laws has the sector languishing on the ground. As usual, there are two points of view, both of which will be familiar.

“The issue of tracking drones is a very major technological challenge. How does one track whether a particular drone is bonafide or rogue. We are working on solving that technical aspect,” the news report quoted Civil Aviation Secretary
R.N. Choubey

“Other countries have figured this out, they are just making up excuses,” says an industry insider. “The PM’s Office [Prime Minister] must move things along. They are the only ones who can at this point.”

The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) used the Drone Focus Conference to premiere their new Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) safety video. Part of an ongoing education effort, the video provides an overview of some of the best practices for conducting drone operations at a tower site. Well done with a lot of content and some vertigo-inducing shots.

One of the most awaited forecasts of the year is here – Mary Meeker’s 2017 Internet Trends report which was presented at the Code 2017 #CODECON this past Wednesday.

Ms. Meeker’s report has 355 slides so safe to say that I haven’t made it all the way through. A search revealed that unlike recent years, the words “drone”, “UAV” and “autonomous” did not appear anywhere in the presentation.

One factoid that stood out is that the global Internet ad spend now exceeds the broadcast TV spend.

Another is The Cloud is Accelerating Change Across The Enterprise. Hardly new but bullet point #3 is something I will be discussing with the EDC Summit panel:

Security = More Applications > More Vulnerabilities

Under Cloud Evolution Paving Way For Innovation we find another topic we are starting to talk more about:

Edge Computing = Pushing compute away from centralized nodes…. can have security + compliance benefits.

And the overarching note that Enterprise end-users are now demanding consumer-quality product experiences which is consistent with reports from companies developing enterprise solutions.

A great companion piece from McKinsey What’s now and next in analytics, AI, and automation. While it does not specifically mention drones, I found a concept that several senior managers have recently expressed to me when sharing their
drone strategies.

“Digital assets and capabilities are the “new balance sheet”: These assets and capabilities, both hard and soft, are increasingly becoming a competitive differentiator and platforms for innovation and disruption.”

A lot of discussion about profitability in the consumer sector this week, leading off with an article in Investopedia Drone Wars: Why Intel and GoPro Are Losing

For the year ending April, drone sales in the U.S. more than doubled versus the prior 12-month period, according to consumer research firm The NPD Group Inc. Looking ahead, Gartner predicts global consumer drone sales to exceed $3 billion in 2018 and reach $4.6 billion by 2020.”

Here is the interesting factoid of the day. “With DJI now valued at about $10 billion, only 12 other start-up companies backed by venture capital are worth more, per the Wall Street Journal’s data.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal has a podcast Drones Are Everywhere But Profits Elusive. Interesting speculation about a seldom asked question – how profitable is DJI?

TechCrunch writes Drones aren’t having their mainstream moment yet concluding that “Even with the far more affordable $499 price point on the Spark, the price is still too high for true mainstream adoption.”

As if on cue, Recode reports CEO Brian Krzanich says Intel is not going to make a consumer drone. Which is pretty much what I concluded a couple of weeks ago when I tallied up the drone initiatives that Intel has let fall by the wayside.

Says Krzanich “We think of ourselves as a data company. We are the people who produce the products that are going to collect data and do the storage and transmission of all this data.” Which is the Virtuous Cycle of Growth strategy that he first announced a year ago. 

The industry has grown fueled by an amazing run of great PR – but nothing lasts forever. Taken together I wonder if these articles suggest that we are nearing the tipping point when the bloom comes off the rose and all things drone are no longer headline news.

I found this week’s Eye Candy Tag Award in Steve Flynn’s excellent blog for Skytango. Steve writes Wild Antarctica was filmed and produced in 4K by New Zealand cinematographers Aliscia Young and Richard Sidey during several short expeditions to the Antarctic Peninsula in early 2017. Very happy to read that a special UAV permit was obtained to capture the aerial perspectives. Well done!” Watch this on the biggest, baddest monitor you have.

Also an award for The Best Of Australia From Above which UAV Expert News reports was a contest developed by SkyPixel in concert with Tourism Australia. There were over 6,000 entries. You can see the winners here. Terrific promo idea and nicely presented.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On can be found here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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