image courtesy NASA

Hi all –

It’s the InSight issue for obvious reasons – definitive proof that unmanned aerial systems are very useful for dirty, distant, dangerous, dull jobs. This is the eighth time that NASA has landed on Mars. Props to everyone involved.

There is a lot more to the theme this week. I look at big changes at the FAA, GM, Forecasts (‘tis the season,) Big Business, Standards, Infractions and Intrusions and WASSUP?


Morning Transportation reports that:

JOB MOVES AT FAA: Earl Lawrence is exiting FAA’s drone integration office to take the job of executive director of aircraft certification — a post left open by Dorenda Baker’s retirement this week. Lawrence will be in charge of implementing “the sweeping innovations in certification” required by the FAA reauthorization acting FAA Administrator Dan Elwell said in an internal message obtained by POLITICO. 

New drone chief: Jay Merkle from FAA’s Air Traffic Organization will be the agency’s new drone integration leader. The reauthorization also has a slew of provisions related to drones, and industry is awaiting rules from FAA on remote identification of the devices as well as flights over people, beyond visual line of sight and at night. In his note, Elwell called Merkle a “key architect” of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability system.

Thank you Earl and welcome Jay.

BTW an interesting piece by Sandy Murdock in the JDA Journal, In Defense Of The FAA Compliance Philosophy. While this is primarily about manned aviation, “The data strongly suggests that SMS/cooperation/compliance/data- have contributed to a proactive, preventative safety environment.”


image courtesy GM

GM shook the pols and amped the share price this week with their announcement of layoffs and plant closings. GM’s press release headlined the announcement as General Motors Accelerates Transformation.

Today, GM is continuing to take proactive steps to improve overall business performance including the reorganization of its global product development staffs, the realignment of its manufacturing capacity and a reduction of salaried workforce. These actions are expected to increase annual adjusted automotive free cash flow by $6 billion by year-end 2020 on a run-rate basis. 

Reading on we discover that this is being done to enable GM to invest heavily in the EV/AV (electric and autonomous vehicle) segment. They are killing the models that don’t sell – including the Volt.

GM now intends to prioritize future vehicle investments in its next-generation
battery-electric architectures. 

Equally interesting is how they see their workforce.

The company is transforming its global workforce to ensure it has the right skill sets for today and the future, while driving efficiencies through the utilization of best-in-class tools. Actions are being taken to reduce salaried and salaried contract staff by 15 percent, which includes 25 percent fewer executives to streamline decision making.

Walking the talk, GeekWire reports that GM Shifts Its President, Dan Ammann, to the CEO Position at Cruise Automation. Cruise is GM’s autonomous vehicle subsidiary:

San Francisco-based Cruise has grown from 40 employees to more than 1,000… Ammann spearheaded GM’s acquisition of Cruise in 2016, reportedly at a price of $1 billion, and oversaw GM’s relationship with the company. With recent investment by Softbank and Honda, Cruise’s valuation has grown to $14.6 billion.

For more consider this report from AXIOS, 1 Big Thing: Carmakers Push Tech Over Cars at LA Auto Show.

“If somebody asks us three years in the future what our mission is we will not answer ‘to develop and build and sell cars.’ It is to provide the freedom to move in a personal, safe and sustainable way.”

Hakan Samuelsson, CEO, Volvo Cars


While POTUS, the Hill and the AFL-CIO huff and puff and try to hold back the tide, the NYT offered up an Op-Ed by Steven Rattner, Trump Is Wrong About the General Motors Bailout: I negotiated that deal, and G.M.’s problems go much deeper than one round of layoffs.

WaPo noted that:

“Few economists anticipate a recession anytime soon, but auto sales have fallen by 1 million vehicles per month since September 2017, and data on retail sales, industrial production and housing all suggest that the economy is tiring,” reporters David Lynch and Taylor
Telford write

Which leads to the first of many prognostications for the year ahead.


Anafi image courtesy of Parrot

I don’t really know if Parrot is a case of too little, too late; or too much, too soon. Meaning that creating brand awareness, consumer preference and market share is a long steady undertaking, especially against a competitor like DJI. And/or that Parrot’s forecasts may have been overly optimistic, they got ahead of their blocking and are now course correcting. And too perhaps the bloom is continuing to fade on the consumer rose as all that free PR has moved on to newer, shinier objects. Je ne sais quoi…

Betsy Lillian writing in Unmanned Aerial picks up the tale, Parrot Sees Big Drop in Consumer Drone Revenue, Forms New ‘Action Plan’.

Citing a consumer drone market that is experiencing a “growth crisis,” Parrot says its own consumer drone business experienced a 45% drop in revenue in the third quarter compared to the third quarter of 2017.

On the other hand, Parrot says its commercial drone business recorded total revenues of EUR 9.3 million during the quarter, representing a 4% increase over the third quarter of 2017. The company attributes this growth in part to the “solid performances” of subsidiary Pix4D in software and services revenue, which rose 28%. Parrot’s equipment sales, however,
dropped 23%.

To further adjust to the consumer drone market’s instability, Parrot Drone is also enacting a departure plan covering around 100 employees. As of Sept. 30, Parrot had 320 staff for commercial drones and 291 for consumer drones. The realignment to focus on commercial drone staff will continue moving forward; the departure plan will concern the
consumer business.

Like GM, that also works out to a 15% RIF. I am not suggesting that Parrot and GM are in any way related, beyond the fact that both reflect consumer preference and their ability to spend.

A bullish indicator from an unexpected quarter is that TASS reports that Requests for Drone Flights to Surge 16-Fold From 2015 to 2020. Speaking at a conference on digital development of the transport segment, Chief Executive of the State ATM Corporation of Russia [their FAA] Igor Moiseenko said:

Over 50 thousand requests for airspace use by drones were received as of the end of ten months of this year. About 60% of them pertain to use of drones for video shooting, including advertisements and reports, and for monitoring of various infrastructural facilities and
for agriculture.

“A dramatic increase in use of unmanned aircraft systems, including in the sphere of logistics, is expected in coming future,” he said.

“We suggest creating a common system of control over unmanned aircraft systems/unmanned aerial vehicles by establishing a single operator on the basis of the public private partnership at the expense of funds of the state corporation and on account of raising investments and infrastructural investors,” Moiseenko added.

Meaning something like “we need to get a handle on this.”

Recap: The Guinn Partners Fall Investment Summits is a series of short videos from the event. I was struck by Colin’s statement that by the end of 2019 there will be over 1,000 BVLOS waivers up from 22 today. His proof point is the new GE waiver which replaces a visual observer with ground-based radar. Good news for Echodyne and SRC Gryphon!

Want more? ZDNet has 5 Technologies You’ll Get Sick of Hearing About in 2019. 5G, AI, Digital Transformation, Blockchain (and crypto), Device Addiction. The Trough of Disillusionment can’t be far away.


For some context about why GM, Ford and others are making the shift, here is a fascinating analysis from the Brookings Institution, How Big Could the AV Industry Be? 9.5 Million Workers and Counting:

All told, we estimate that more than 9.5 million workers across 329 occupations in 2017—or more than 1 out of every 20 workers nationally—are likely directly exposed to changes in their work due to AVs and other digitalization. Most of these workers are not even drivers.

Air Transport World reports UTC Closes Rockwell Collins Deal. Interesting business story worth noting here because Rockwell Collins is one of the original five LAANC USS.

United Technologies Corp. (UTC) closed on its record-making $30 billion acquisition of Rockwell Collins Nov. 26, and announced it will spin off non-aerospace business units Carrier and Otis Elevator Co. and become a pure-play, potentially $50 billion Tier 1 aerospace parts, engines and services provider.

And yes, that is the same Carrier.

Airborg™ H8 10K image courtesy of Hyundai

In a deal that is vaguely reminiscent of the recent Komatsu story, Hyundai announced Hyundai Motor Partners with Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Startup ‘Top Flight’ to Take Future Mobility to New Heights.

Hyundai’s partnership with Top Flight is another example of the company’s continuous efforts to advance its ‘Open Innovation’ strategy, which aims to drive innovation that will enhance the company’s foothold in the future mobility market.

Nice win for Boston based Top Flight Technologies. According to the press release they were founded in 2014. Their claim to fame is “Top Flight’s patented hybrid-electric power system allows for extended flight times and heavier payloads for commercial use.” As you can see from the photo, the Airborg™ H8 10K is a brawny beast capable of carrying a four-kilogram payload with a two hour flight time. I’ll bet it’s noisy too.

On the subject of employment, Quartz offers The Countries Where Robot Adoption Is Happening Faster Than Expected. This is pretty surprising:

When taking wages into account, Asian countries far outpace their western counterparts. If robots are the future of manufacturing, American and European countries have some catching up to do to stay competitive.

Speaking of mobile robots, the MIT Technology Review reports that Volvo Is Going to Use Autonomous Trucks to Haul Stone Out of a Mine in Norway.

What it’ll deliver: Six autonomous trucks will transport limestone the five-kilometer (three-mile) route through tunnels between a mine owned by local firm Brønnøy Kalk AS and a processing facility at a nearby port. Brønnøy Kalk is buying a service rather than the trucks themselves, so Volvo will oversee the technology throughout and be paid per ton delivered. [my emphasis]

Testing, testing: The service is currently being tested and is expected to be fully up and running by the end of 2019. During the tests a safety driver will sit behind the wheel, but the trucks will be completely autonomous when they’re officially launched. They will be managed from the outside by an operator.

Trucking also benefits more from the sheer economic logic of deploying technology that doesn’t need to rest or take breaks, unlike humans. 

Pop.Up Next system concept courtesy of Italdesign

Building a different part of the future, Airbus, Audi and Italdesign made a splash at the Amsterdam Drone Week Conference. GeekWire reports that:

The idea is to have a passenger compartment that can sit on top of a four-wheeled electric vehicle to travel the roads, or attach to the bottom of a quadcopter to fly through the air. At the Amsterdam show, the three companies displayed impressive full-scale mockups of the flying car, but the gizmo that actually flew was basically a drone with brackets attached.

There is a video – the whole design is very Transformers. But here is the interesting part:

Audi is already conducting tests of on-demand air taxi services in Mexico City and São Paulo in cooperation with Voom, an Airbus subsidiary. Customers can book helicopter flights through Voom, and get a ride to or from the airport in an Audi.


My forecast is that there will be somewhere between a spate and a plethora of new standards in the next few years. Here are two.

engadget headlined The First Global Drone Standards Have Been Revealed. ISO/CD 21384-1Unmanned aircraft systems — Part 1: General specification was developed by the International Organization for Standardization, aka ISO. Unfortunately this is more of a tease than anything – there is precious little detail to be found since the document is for sale. I did find this description in Gigazine an Osaka based website. The following is translated from Japanese:

According to the draft announced this time, it is supposed to define the setting of “Geofence” which defines a fly-prohibited area, for example near an airport, and also prevents drones from approaching government agencies as well Thing. Also, for pilots who are manipulating drone, consideration is given to the privacy of others and it is stipulated to have a fail-safe mechanism to prevent accidents caused by human error in all flight. 

In addition to ISO incorporating the drone pilot’s education, the installation of a logging device to record the flight, and the maintenance requirements of the aircraft body, we also set rules to protect the data recorded internally. 


DYNA-New Tech, a Spanish publication adds that:

This is the first block of rules out of a total of four that will successively address general specifications, manufacturing quality and management of unmanned traffic: security is the main focus, given the public concern about this issue with regard to its coincidence with airports and other sensitive places, especially due to the malicious use of the devices. 

Safe to say this pay to play approach is not going to lead to fast adoption.

For contrast there is a very robust V1 of the Standardization Roadmap for Unmanned Aircraft Systems by the ANSI Unmanned Aircraft Systems Standardization Collaborative (UASSC). This is a who’s who US effort including the FAA, DHS, ASTM, National Fire Protection Association, AUVSI and DroneScape.

This Standardization Roadmap for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Version 1.0 (“roadmap”) represents the culmination of the UASSC’s work to identify existing standards and standards in development, assess gaps, and make recommendations for priority areas where there is a perceived need for additional standardization and/or pre-standardization R&D.

The roadmap has identified a total of 57 gaps and corresponding recommendations…

The hope is that the roadmap will be broadly adopted by the standards community and that it will facilitate a more coherent and coordinated approach to the future development of standards for UAS. 


Bozo and friends in 1960 – image is in the public domain

It’s an unending global circus. The New York Post starts this week’s bozo gallery off with Drone Pilot Arrested After Crashing Craft Into Midtown Bank.

Steven Funes, 27, was flying the drone from the balcony of his 21st-floor room at The Executive Plaza hotel on West 51st Street when it took off on him around 4:30 p.m., cops said. The gizmo crashed into an 8th-floor balcony at Barclays’ New York headquarters on nearby Seventh Avenue, sources said. The building was not damaged. [!]

Security workers found the fallen drone, and when Funes went to retrieve it, he was arrested by police.

Is that chutzpah or a severe defect? It’s like the kid who puts his baseball through the plate glass window and wants it back.

Meanwhile NBC’s Austin affiliate KXAN reports Man Shoots at Neighbor’s Drone Flying Over Home, Deputies Say

Deputies were called out… when a caller reported… that someone was shooting a gun in the direction of his home and the pellets were falling on his back porch.

According to court documents, Troy Lamb, 71, told the responding deputy that his neighbor’s drone was flying over his property and “cutting his trees,” so he shot at the drone at least three times with his shotgun.  

Lamb’s confession and the shotgun shells found in his pocket and near the drone led to a charge of criminal mischief.

No perp yet but Commercial Drone Professional (CDP) reports Yellowstone Investigating Illegal Drone Photo.

Jackson Hole News & Guide reported that the photo of Grand Prismatic Spring was posted on Instagram and then deleted after criticism from other users.

Drones are of course banned in all US national parks.

CDP also reports that Drone Pilot Fined for First Time in UK After Near ‘Catastrophic’ Collision With Police Helicopter.

The DJI Phantom interfered with a search and rescue mission looking for a missing woman near the River Nene in Cambridgeshire… Sergej Miaun was consequently ordered to pay £464 in fines and court fees, and was also told to give up his drone. 

All of which leads to this article in POLICE: The Law Enforcement Magazine, Can You Legally Counter a Drone?

A drone hovering over a crowd with the appearance of a payload that can be articulated as an imminent threat to the lives of the attendees or other officers may require an appropriate use of force in line with the agency’s use-of-force policy. But the law doesn’t permit it. So what can you do? 

The author, Michael Hamann, is an ATC specialist with the FAA so I was a little surprised to read that:

While counter-drone technologies go through their development and due process, it is important to remember that law enforcement officers are still empowered to act on a threat with an appropriate level of force.

An interesting comment:

It is not legal to fly a drone over a crowd or over traffic. That said, there is no way to enforce the rules. It is patently absurd to say law enforcement must stand by and allow a drone to kill people. I would be willing to protect the crowd and let the FAA go to court to tell the world I should have let the people be murdered. Yes, legal means are needed, and in my opinion should be instituted on an emergency basis. ‘Til then, bird shot sounds good if close.


screen grab from audience camera courtesy of

It’s happened again. WeTalkUAV reports Drones Rain From Sky as Light Show in China Goes Wrong. This is at least the fourth time this year which started with Why Ehang’s Record-Breaking 1,374-Drone Show Became a Disaster? in May and An Intel Drone Fell on My Head During a Light Show A shooting star? More like a meteorite in September and another failure in Hong Kong I recently reported, Wine Fest Drone Show Ends in Wine Fest Drones Crashing Out of Sky which was said to have done over a million dollars in damage.

The causes are unknown (no NTSB investigation right) but the three in China are being attributed to GPS jamming.

Lobbyists and the FAA – I am going to ask again – can we slow down this flight over people thing?

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


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter

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