Lockheed exhibit at Drone World Expo

Hi all –

I enjoyed a fascinating few days at Drone World Expo. The conference is a tribute to the partnership between show producer JD Events VP, Joelle Coretti and the Commercial Drone Alliance. The Co-Executive Directors of the Alliance, Lisa Ellman and Gretchen West worked their considerable magic to curate a distinctive show filled with industry movers and shakers – people who obviously know each other well and enjoy working together.

Definitely more of a wonk fest than a geek fest, the agenda introduced a host of heretofore unknown stakeholders and policymakers. As such, the conference was a referendum on all of the major issues facing the industry (much more about this below).

Ironically, though we were in the heart of Silicon Valley, I didn’t hear a word about AI, deep learning or neural networks. Nor were any data gushers sighted, though there was a great panel on the role of IoT, software and platforms. Go figure.

As for the obligatory silver vertical that is going to save the industry, this week it was public safety. It was a pleasure to meet so many dedicated, visionary folks – talking about you Chief Harold of the Menlo Park FD. Thanks for looking out
for us.

Every conference has unique themes that emerge from the content. Three key takeaways from this one. First, testing. This is a sign of impending maturity. It reflects the recognition that despite our (sometimes misplaced) reliance on technology, there are simply too many things we don’t know yet to confidently scale operations. Call it the influence of the aviation side of the house.

One panelist expressed it as “crawl, walk, run.” Another went so far as to say that if we try to go from zero to full autonomous operation, we are “doomed.”  Not a casual choice of words.

Second, regulation. As in, we really need this to move forward. And it’s not just service providers, developers and manufacturers singing this familiar song about the wonders of BVLOS. We heard it from the FAA, the DOJ and many others. CUAS (counter UAS) is the big concern, as you will see we are all hamstrung – and at risk- until new regulations are crafted.

An indication that we are being heard arrived in the form of Michael Kratsios, the Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer at The White House. Michael made a fine speech and spent the day absorbing the zeitgeist. He impressed the folks who spent time with him with his knowledge of the industry. Albeit less photogenic, I would argue that this is considerably more substantial than the President kissing a Kespry.

Still, everyone who I spoke with recognizes that we are a small cog in a large swamp that is struggling to get anything done. So, one easy “read between the lines” take away is, don’t expect a regulatory silver bullet to rescue your business plan anytime soon. We are coming out of the glitz and careening towards the bottom of the Hype Curve. Ahead lies an era of prolonged hard work. At the end of which, perhaps by 2030, we will have created the future we all imagine today.

Central to influencing regulation and public perception is the third theme, education. It is something that we all have to do more of, more often, more consistently whenever we have the opportunity. Like Jack and Jill, the Alliance, AUVSI, Small UAV Coalition and others are carrying the water up the Hill – but we also have to do it with our prospects and customers and in our neighborhoods and states. I like to think that Dronin’ On helps, let me know if I can help you.

The rest of the issue is devoted to summaries of four of the panels I attended.


Tuesday opened with the Keynote panel, Views from Above: Policy Evolution and Bold Predictions for the Future of Commercial UAS. Toward the end of the hour-long session, moderator Gretchen West asked each panelist about the challenges they are facing.

Martin Gomez, Director of Aeronautical Platforms, Facebook Martin whose group is building the high-altitude Aquila, talked about the need for aircraft certification pointing out that is difficult to design without known standards. He referenced a favorite theme of mine, the clash of cultures between traditional manned aviation and the UAS community. He singled out the DAC as a place where both sides are represented and pointed out that while some people are frustrated, the FAA’s conservative approach is in fact in the community’s best long-term interests. I think that’s an elegant way of saying patience grasshopper.

Jesse Kallman President, Airbus Aerial Jesse was the first of many speakers to talk about the need to advance battery technologies. He believes that we are 10-15 years from fully autonomous integration. He emphasized what was to become a recurring theme – that getting there will require an incremental process to prove the safety case.

Parimal “PK” Kopardekar, Manager, Safe Autonomous System Operations (SASO) Project, NASA PK who heads NASA’s UTM (aka SASO) project talked about how collaborative partnerships between industry and government are the key to rapid innovation. Presaging the UTM panel, he defined NASA’s goal as building “A safe, secure scalable system that left no user behind.”

Laura Ponto, Head of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Project Wing, X An attorney, Laura pointed out that to get to BVLOS delivery one basically has to go through the same process as setting up an airline. The inapplicability of manned regulations, many of which were implemented decades ago for very different reasons, is, of course, a recurring theme. With some 30,000 delivery flights in rural Australia under their wings, Laura was the first of a number of speakers to address the challenges of public acceptance.

Susan Roberts Founder/Executive, GE Beyond Susan pointed out that beyond the FAA, both industry and local regulations will have to be addressed. An advocate of testing, she spoke about the Catch-22 of trying to test new technologies that are not allowed in the current regulatory environment. And she talked about the art of the possible (one of my favorite books) and getting government and regulators to embrace what sUAS could do for society.

Equally telling were the questions from the floor:

What would the impact be of privatization? Jesse responded that in the event of privatization it was inevitable that some of our ‘near and dear’ issues would be pushed to the side.

How will communication standards be developed? Susan shared GE’s focus on internal embedded security standards and the need to continually monitor and be proactive as new threats emerge.

What about certification? The OP noted that the very idea “Made the blood drain from their head.” PK talked about the concept of a national standardized testing program for UAS under 55 pounds, modeled along the lines of Underwriters Laboratory (UL). He explained that this idea marks a shift from process to performance-oriented standards based on demonstrated capabilities. This will be a big step forward – later I was told that $22M will be (is being?) budgeted to build a suitable test facility.

This is fundamental to UTM – is the aircraft capable of the intended mission? But it will also benefit end users who currently have no way to determine if aircraft and subsystems actually achieve the claimed performance parameters. We need to trade snake oil for facts – once implemented this will be a big step in
that direction.


As I suggested last week in my report on the ICAO meeting, Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) has become a very big idea. If you are still trying to wrap your head around this, the first thing you need to know is that the original idea of a single, monolithic UTM that regulates all UAS activity has evolved into the idea of smaller, purpose-built UTMs.

In practice, this will be a mix of federated (individual groups functioning as a single unit) private and public networks managed by third-party service providers. Much like the Internet, these will be integrated with a common set of protocols – what Jonathan Evans, President, Global UTM Association (GUTMA), calls the “TCP/IP of the sky.”

Marke “Hoot” Gibson, FAA Senior Advisor on UAS Integration, set the stage by defining some guiding principles.

  • There is a need for a smart system that can deconflict the airspace.
  • Electronic identification is essential for both air traffic control and security stakeholders. (There was a panel on the topic, but there is a cone of silence around the details pending the upcoming release of the taskforce report.)
  • The enabling concept is that private entities will control each network. Instead of a Remote Pilot In Command, there will be Network Pilots In Command who are responsible for overseeing ‘their’ UTM.

Peter Dumont, President & CEO, Air Traffic Control Association (ATCA) pointed out that airspace has always been segregated, and that continuing to do so should come as no surprise. He reminded me of how much I don’t know when he explained that there is ample precedent for private service providers in the form of Contract Tower operators who are credentialed by the FAA.

Brent Ingraham, The Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Department of Defense shared their concerns about spectrum availability and the need for secure C2.

Marc Kegelaers appearing in his role of Vice President, Global UTM Association (GUTMA), presented the very elegant four steps U-Space concept being worked in the EU. The rules will be published next year, after which all 32 countries will have two to three years to comply. It is interesting to note that while there will be a universal (pan border) framework, each member country will be able to define where UAS can operate within their borders. The approach could very well presage the way things will end up in the US if/when something like the Drone Federalism Bill is enacted.

Fred Borda, Co-founder, COO, Aerial Innovation provided an update on UTM in Japan where it is seen as a key infrastructure component at every level of government. (One can wish right.) Fred said that the Fukushima Test Field has been funded to the tune of US$60-70M. The expectation is that BVLOS will be allowed over populated areas by 2020. Privately, he confirmed that there are a lot of people interested in using the Tokyo Olympics to demonstrate a wide range of robotics solutions.

Jonathan Evans emphasized the concept that airspace is a regulated common. The goal is a performance-based five 9’s standard. (99.999% availability of services where downtime is less than 5.26 minutes per year.) We are further along than we think – when LAANC goes operational by the end of the year, three private companies will be authorized by the FAA to provide fully automated airspace authorization to Part 107 RPICs. This is especially encouraging when you remember that the concept was introduced a very short 7 months ago.

According to my notes, PK who moderated the panel, beamed but was relatively quiet. I had the chance to visit with him later and confirmed that the four-phase test program is on track. He told me that to ‘speed’ rulemaking, NASA’s findings are going to the FAA as each phase is completed. UTM TCL 3 which focuses on BVLOS is on track to begin in early 2018. PK said that he expects the urban tests in TCL 4 scheduled for 2019 to be very challenging.


Security Series Part 1: Counter Measures for Unmanned Aircraft was moderated by Marke “Hoot” Gibson who among other jobs heads up the FAA’s CUAS effort. Hoot was joined by Brady Cass, Business Development, Strategic Intelligence, Gryphon Sensors, Lisa Ellman, Global UAS Practice Chair, Hogan Lovells, Brendan Groves, Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and Chairman of DOJ’s Working Group on Unmanned Aircraft and Daniel Magy, Founder, Citadel Defense Co.

SPOILER ALERT – If you are a regular reader you already know 95% of this. While I have no way to prove it, my impression was that this was news to a lot of people.

Hoot explained that initially the FAA’s interest, dating back to the beginning of drone time say 2015, reflected their concerns about sUAS interfering with air traffic at airports. With an ever-increasing number of sightings and near misses this remains a concern. (See European Commission Demands EU Laws on Drones After String of Near-Misses With Aeroplanes in the UK Telegraph.)

Counter UAS (CUAS or C-UAS) became the hot new thing for 2017 as more and more people in the US government, industry and especially the military have recognized that ISIS’ strategy of using commercially available drones as IEDs can as easily be deployed to wreak havoc on an ethanol plant in Iowa or the World Series at Yankee Stadium as it can on a command post in Mosul.

(See these new stories. The Security Threat We’ve Been Ignoring from the WaPo and Islamic State’s Deadly Drone Operation Is Faltering, but U.S. Commanders See Broader Danger Ahead in the LA Times.)

In fact, Brendan confirmed that the concept has already been successfully exported to the Philippines and Yemen and according to recent intercepts, soon perhaps, Spain.

But – and here is one of the bigger Catch-22s of all time – drones are protected in the US by two sets of laws.

  1. As a result of the language used by Congress in the 2012 FAA Reauthorization Bill, drones (sUAS) enjoy the same protections as manned aircraft – specifically it is a big bad to shoot one down. While this has not stopped some of our finer citizens like the DroneSlayer from doing so, it is illegal.
  2. Under FCC rules it is illegal to jam transmissions and to hack computers.

Brendan explained that the net effect is that the Feds, and in fact all law enforcement agencies, are “standing in the same shoes” that we are as individuals and critical infrastructure owners.

Lest you think I have been hyperventilating about this issue, he wasted no time in telling us that their analysis of the ‘threat stream’ suggests “imminent use locally.” From the DOJ perspective, this raises two issues.

How do we solve the problem? The answer is as blindingly simple as it difficult to implement. Congress has to make this a prosecutable offense under Title 18. This requires new legislation. Lisa added that a complete solution will require that Congress to also modify the 336 hobbyist carve out.

How do we include private industry? Under Section 2209, Congress mandated that “The Department of Transportation establish a process to allow applicants to petition the FAA to prohibit or restrict the operation of an unmanned aircraft in close proximity to a fixed site facility.”

Brendan said that they are considering two approaches

  1. A sequenced approach in which Federal agencies ‘go first’ and then apply lessons learned to crafting a broader solution; or
  2. A simultaneous approach for both the government and private sector if the threat stream warrants it. (i.e. gets bad enough) This is a tricky bit since to date there have been no (zero) attacks on domestic soil.

The key to all of this is remote identification which was mandated under Section 2202. “…The development of consensus standards for remotely identifying operators and owners of unmanned aircraft systems and associated unmanned aircraft.” As noted previously, the ARC will soon be presenting its recommendations to the FAA, but it is a long time from that to law and even longer to implementation.

Daniel added the other tough question – what is the pivotal point? There are various kinds places at risk – what are the acceptable results? Both he and Brady are solution providers and are eager to start testing various use cases. Brady brought up the concept of ‘interoperability’, stressing that a complete solution, which includes detection, identification and interception, will involve multiple vendors and that their solutions have to be tested together.

You may as well sleep at night – thoughtful people are worrying about this. Hoot and Brendan recommend education – in the form of awareness.

Unfortunately some really bad things will probably have to happen before any signs of flag waving and hand wringing are detected in the swamp. Perhaps they will all be haunted by Brendan’s mantra “Why didn’t we do more?”


Despite the very real misery that Hurricane’s Harvey, Irma and Maria caused, the silver lining is that they have done a tremendous amount to ratchet up awareness with the public and at every level of government.

As you know I had the pleasure of hosting a panel with Justin Adams, Director of Partnerships, Kovar LLc, Art Pregler, UAS Program Director, AT&T, Bradley Koeckeritz, Chief of the UAS division, U.S. Department of the Interior, Captain Tony Eggimann, Menlo Park Fire Protection District and Dyan Gibbens, CEO & Founder, Trumbull Unmanned.

Each panelist had a different story to tell – in fact none of the panelists ever saw each other even though they were all deployed on Harvey. (Yes, the devastation was that widespread – or maybe Texas is that big.) As a result of their efforts, and those of many others, drones flew hundreds if not thousands of flights in Houston and Florida, often in highly congested airspace, with no incidents.

It was pretty much like being in a PBS documentary. I have seldom seen an audience so spellbound. A teacher came up to me afterwards to ask, “Why don’t we hear these stories on the news?” I am sorry that we didn’t record it.

One important point. I included Maria in the title for counterpoint. In fact as of this morning no sUAS have flown over Puerto Rico because the infrastructure that sUAS depend on was literally blown away. In a situation like this, a gas-powered UAV with long distance comm and data link capabilities (e.g. Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk) is still the only way to make an early assessment.

By definition, disaster response is an uncertain, complex effort. The FAA deserves huge props for getting hundreds of eCOAs out in record time – often in a matter of minutes. Also noteworthy is that FEMA authorized drone use for the first time.

But the inescapable conclusion is that while there are signs of progress everywhere, it is much more useful to think of it as a coming out party than a victory lap. Moving things forward will require more education, more cooperation, more partnership building.


Coming up fast is Commercial UAV Expo Americas in Las Vegas October 24-26. The focus here is strictly B2B, with a heavy emphasis on precision technology and highly technical applications. As a result of a sustained effort “The show has more vendors (by far!) than at any other event in North America that focuses on commercial drone applications.” If you’ve got a wish list, or better yet a budget, this is the perfect place to end the year.

I would also like to point you towards a tremendous freebie. The Second Edition of State Drone Law: State Laws and Regulations on Unmanned Aircraft Systems by Steve Hogan, the host of the very popular Drone Law Today podcast is now available. Follow the link for the free download.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On are here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter



































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