Twilight, El Salto – “The Jump”

Hi all –

The big cheese and the little mice may be out of town, but there is still plenty going on in DC.

The FAA has decided to reimburse anyone who wants to get their five bucks for registering as a drone owner. This is like 750,000 people. On the surface, it’s doing right for doing right. That said some really interesting things are coming out
about this.

Successful plaintiff John Taylor submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to the FAA to determine if they had ever (i.e. once or more) made use of the data in the multi-million-dollar database to prosecute anyone. The answer as summarized by Gary Mortimer, The FAA did not enforce any action based on pilot registry information.

Mortimer hosted John Taylor, Jonathan Rupprecht and some other worthies on his 4th of July Google Hangout where we learned that more information must be provided to the FAA in order to get the refund than was necessary to register. Which led the two attorneys to encourage listeners to think twice about how badly they needed their five spot back.

Plenty of funny stuff on the Hangout if you have an hour to spare, starting with DJI’s upset around the drone flights interfering with air traffic at Gatwick which “Led to the closure of the runway and forced five flights to be diverted.”

Mortimer was quick to point out that the DJI app “Ends about 50 meters from the end of the runway.” He then muttered something about GIGO.

At 11:25 [BTW these numbers appear when you ‘scrub’ the timeline on YouTube – just click on it and drag it], John Taylor explains that three times (3x) as many UFO sightings are reported as drone sightings. Prompting him to wonder…

“Do we have a drone problem or do we have a Martian problem?” 

At 23:00 Gene Robinson from DronePilot, Inc. wondered “I think it will be interesting to see what they [the FAA] are going to do with the guy from Arizona. I think he could be a poster child.” In case you managed to miss it, Frank Schroth writing for headlined it Knucklehead Nabbed for Flying Drone Near Arizona Fire.

Turns out they have him on 14 state felony counts – one for every aircraft on the scene. Quite an interesting discussion on the complexities of prosecuting this type of case, and whether the FAA will even get involved, or just leave it to the local AZ DA.

Nothing to do with the Hangout but props (again) to Jonathan Rupprecht who published a phenomenal piece of work this week, Ultimate Guide to Drone Laws (from a Lawyer & Pilot). Someday soon, someone will turn this compendium into
a business.

You might remember that the newest ARC – the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee – all 70+ of them – met on June 21-23 where according to the FAA press releaseThe group developed some preliminary questions and identification parameters, and reviewed a sample of existing identification technologies.” The next meeting is July 18-19.

This is a really big deal because it will drive registration requirements going forward though whether that will be for all drones or a subclass – e.g. commercial drones – is TBD. Remember that the electronic ID requirement was initially articulated by Congress as part of the 2016 FESSA. Since then it has become a major issue with law enforcement and will have a great deal to do with flight over people and of course BVLOS.

Some additional context here in Digital Trends and here in Recode.

It is easy to imagine how electronic identification will work within the context of UTM, but that is years away. In the near-term, it seems as though it will require an enforcement mechanism…

Of course, as long as the FAA refuses to prosecute scofflaws like YouTube celebrity vlogger Casey NeistatFor lack of evidence” it is hard to say how much terror they are going to strike in anyone’s heart. Good article about that here and also some comments on the Hangout at 22:11 which suggests that the unwillingness to prosecute based on the videos could become a popular defense should one ever be needed.

A lot of great think pieces this week starting with an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, Don’t let Amazon take over our skies. The author advances a conspiracy theory so sophisticated that I have to share it.

“The company’s recent proposal to purchase Whole Foods is part of a larger strategy to encroach upon American communities. If Amazon purchases the grocery chain, it isn’t buying stores – it’s buying a distribution network of droneports in the highest-value neighborhoods in America.”

…The company has asked Congress to grant Amazon – and other drone delivery companies – a special classification: air carrier status. That would mean that Amazon’s drone flights would be protected by the same “federal preemption” that applies to airlines and other manned aircraft. Only the federal government would be able to make laws about where and when drones can operate – even in
your neighborhood.”

I Could Kill You with a Consumer Drone is by retired US Army warfighter Brett Velicovich in Defense One. Brett, who has made the transition from Predator pilot to retail drone dealer through his store Expert Drones flatly states:

“I can tell you that this problem is bigger than almost anyone realizes. Right now, I’m holding a drone that can fly thousands of feet in air in less than 30 seconds, getting it to an altitude where no one could see it. My drone could be up in the air, ready to strike a target before you even had time to blink.”

If you’ve never had someone lay it out for you, this is a fine introduction. He goes on with a now familiar refrain about DOD procurement:

“The Pentagon is still buying Boeing Scan Eagles at hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop when they can buy a similar capability for only a few thousand dollars at a local hobby shop. ISIS has clearly figured it out, but I worry that our government is still behind in their understanding of just how far the consumer technology is advancing and makes me wonder why they haven’t done more to bring industry leaders who know consumer drones in to help.”

Meanwhile, here is a new report from Iraq, This is What an ISIS Drone Workshop Looks Like in

Getty Images just published photos of an ISIS factory that’s churning out robotic death machines, including aerial drones and four-wheeled robotic bombs. The photos give us a look at the new ways in which ISIS robots are being churned out to spread death and destruction.

While ISIS has sometimes been retrofitting hobby drones with explosives, they’ve also been building drones from scratch using metal pipes, wooden propellers, and repurposed small engines.”

It’s down, dirty, gritty – nowhere near as polished as Shenzhen – and
very effective.

Speaking of DJI, they are #25 on the MIT Technology Review’s List of the 50 Smartest Companies. It’s a fascinating collection. #1 is NVidia who we have been covering regularly – as an emerging force in autonomous everything. #50 is Baidu, another big investor in AI.

Which provides an easy segue to Artificial Stupidity: Learning To Trust Artificial Intelligence (Sometimes) in This is a truly thought-provoking article that argues that:

“Abandoning AI is not an option. Neither is abandoning human input. The challenge is to create an artificial intelligence that can earn the human’s trust, a AI that seems transparent or even human.

…Trust is so important, in fact, that two experts we heard from said they were willing to accept some tradeoffs in performance in order to get it: A less advanced and versatile AI, even a less capable one, is better than a brilliant machine you
can’t trust.”

The article goes on to say that fundamental to the idea of trust is being able to explain – or understand – how the machine came to the decision or recommendation. I find that to be an amazing idea. One that offers some insights into an excellent feature in Bloomberg Technology, Why the Robot Takeover of the Economy Is Proceeding Slowly.

Bryan Tantzen, head of manufacturing and industry solutions at Cisco, the networking-technology giant explains that “You have to connect these machines to transform them. There are obstacles. Not all machines are loaded with sensors. Information-technology staff can be different from operational-technology staff. People responsible for robotics can view networks as insecure and unreliable.”

This is tantamount to a new kind of culture war between different tribes of geeks, something I had never considered. Nor had I ever been exposed to some of the insights being gained from assembly lines like the ones at the massive, highly automated BMW factory in Spartanburg, SC.

If there is one lesson from the team here, it’s that robots move processes while humans improve them, according to Richard Morris, vice president of product integration, who has been with BMW in Spartanburg since 1993. Morris says technology is good for “transactional jobs.” He adds: “There is something that we call transformation and that is something only a human can do.”

To me these stories offer important caveats about our single-minded focus on autonomous operations as some kind of universal panacea. Because it suggests that getting the general public to embrace our vision is going to take a lot of doing.

An odd sort of think piece perhaps but food for thought nevertheless is Don’t Be Evil DJI by sUAS News CIO Tiaan Roux. I will leave the piece to speak for itself but it is on point and very much in line with my own comments and criticisms:

“In almost every press release you publish, the words (or similar wording) “DJI, the world’s leading drone manufacturer” appear right at the top and, arguably, this is a correct description. However, I believe that with this title and widespread success should come the responsibility as ‘the world’s leading drone manufacturer’.”

It is remarkable to me that the company that has almost singlehandedly created the industry as we know it, has manage to create so little good will. If they would only step up to the plate…

If you are a regular reader, you know that one of my pet peeves is using drones over wildlife. reports that a team from the Swiss Ornithological Station studied the effects and concluded that:

“When flights are performed in careful ways with low impact systems, they constitute a respectful alternative to other more invasive techniques. However, UAS should be discouraged if the flights are performed just for leisure purposes in sensible natural areas or for unnecessarily disturbing animals with practices such as harassing the individuals or approaching nests for filming.”

If you need to, or choose to fly around critters, please take a minute to review the very actionable recommendations.

A reminder that the UVS International Survey on Drone Operations is now available in five languages. This survey is aimed at the UAS/RPAS/Drone operator community. If you are an operator, please participate. The entire community will benefit from having a better understanding of what you are doing.

Every now and again one runs across a priceless quote. Today’s is:

“Rocket science is not magic. It is engineering constrained by chemistry
and physics.”

It’s from a reassuring article, This Is Not The ICBM You Are Looking For; Detailed Analysis Of North Korean Missile. The author concludes “Based on the available data, this is not a liquid propellant road-mobile ICBM.” Silly me, I was all worried. 

Finally, I saved the real magic for the most dedicated readers. Carl Berndtson and the kind folks at InterDrone have provided me with me two passes to the upcoming event to give to Dronin’ On subscribers. The passes are for “The full 3-day InterDrone passport, which includes all workshops, sessions, receptions and materials.” Which is a pretty great deal. The show is in Las Vegas September 6-8. First come, first served – please be sure that you can attend before you raise your hand. See you there!

Thank you for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On are available here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter


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