The Memorial Weekend issue of Dronin' On 05.27.17
Let us always remember

Hi all –

Well if last week rattled the windows with the Taylor decision vacating the Five and Fly registration rule, this week shook the foundation with a preview of legislation proposed by the White House Official Actions To Address Threats Posed By Unmanned Aircraft Systems To Public Safety Or Homeland Security.

Writing in the New York Times, Charlie Savage explains that “The draft bill’s language would authorize the government to summarily track, seize control of and use force to destroy any unmanned aircraft it determines may pose a security threat to an area designated for special protection.”

Students of the problem will admire how this proposal neatly severs the Gordian knot that has been at the heart of the CUAS conundrum – the FAA’s treatment of drones as manned aircraft and the FCC’s prohibitions against jamming and hacking. Sweep those aside with the stroke of a pen and things get a lot easier.

Savage went on to note that “…Courts would have no jurisdiction to hear lawsuits arising from such activity” which is already raising hackles all over Droneville.

To be very clear this is proposed legislation that must be enacted by Congress – though in this highly reactive environment one supposes there might be a way to implement something like it by executive fiat. Whether it is implemented in exactly this form, I take it as a sign of things that are likely to come.

This bill is specific to “covered” (i.e. designated) federal facilities. It is a ‘Government-Wide Policy.’ You might remember that a little over a month ago, the FAA declared 133 military bases to be no-fly zones. There never was a discussion about what might happen to an intruder.

As written, the proposed legislation is to be incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act, which as you might guess provides the funding for 2018. One must wonder if legislators will think that it might better be placed somewhere else, like the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2017. Both bills promise to be contentious and controversial.

Being able to tell friend from foe, or mine from everyone else’s, is fundamental to any interdiction initiative, so FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016 (FESSA) SEC. 2202. IDENTIFICATION STANDARDS which calls for the development of standards for remotely identifying drone operators and owners is going to get a lot more attention.

Remember that at the UAS Symposium at the beginning of April, the FAA announced the formation of a Remote Identification Aviation Rulemaking Committee. And that at the May 3rd meeting, the DAC created a task force to study this.

Bold prediction. In five years, every drone flying will squawk. And every RPIC will be registered. Read on to find out how they are handling this in China.

Since for the moment all of this is hypothetical, let’s play it forward to:

SEC. 2209. APPLICATIONS FOR DESIGNATION. The Secretary of Transportation shall 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.

How long will it take for the utilities, oil companies and others to dispatch their lobbyists to the Hill to secure permission to defend America’s
critical infrastructure?

Travis Moran is a Managing Consultant at Navigant Consulting and a former senior physical security specialist at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) whose mission is to assure the reliability and security of the bulk power system in North America.

Travis has taught me a great deal about just how complex this process is likely to be. I recommend his recent post, The Hidden Pitfalls of FESSA 2209 for Drone Operators which articulates how this could impact future drone operations – particularly BVLOS.

It is not altogether unforeseeable that an energy company may apply to have an entire critical transmission path, or for that matter distribution path, placed under flight restriction. The transmission map shown in Figure 1. elegantly highlights this point, there are over 400,000 miles of electric transmission lines in the
United States

Travis will be presenting at the Energy Drone Coalition Summit #EDCSummit next month. I still have a couple of all access passes so please ping me if you want
to attend.

Looking ahead, I don’t think that passage of a security bill will in the near term be good news for BVLOS advocates. Rising security concerns will only increase the demands for robust standards and certifications. Look at the costs associated with the BSNF/Rockwell Collins waiver – while eminently reasonable, the costs are far beyond the reach of many potential applications

On the other hand, this should be great news for the 68+ companies now developing CUAS solutions. If/when a security bill passes they will be able to peddle their wares in the US as well as the sandy places.

It would also have a salubrious effect on venture funding – as Travis’ article points out, the combined number of federal and private sites that could choose to defend themselves is ginormous.

All of which leads me to wonder whether the FAA will remain as the governing agency. The proposal notes that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to… 3) restrict or limit the authority of the FAA to manage the safety and security of the National Airspace system.”

But ask yourself – since the TSA already vets all Part 107 applicants, and this is deemed a matter of national security, is it possible that DHS could become the lead agency for all things drone?

And now let’s follow the money to Shenzhen where DJI is apparently beginning to feel the heat.

Petapixel reports DJI Will Severely Limit Your Drone if You Don’t ‘Activate’ it Online. “A new “application activation process” that will require DJI users to go online and activate their latest firmware update to ensure you’re using “the correct set of geospatial information and flight functions for your aircraft, as determined by your geographical location and user profile.” If you don’t do this, DJI will seriously throttle your drone by cutting off live camera streaming and limiting your drone flights to a 50-meter (~164 foot) radius and 30-meter (~98 foot) altitude.”

DroneLife picks up the tale writing thatUsers are irked. It comes across as an effort by DJI to address the ability of users to fly illegally (e.g. trespass into restricted airspace, etc.). This is being interpreted by users as an attempt to appease the FAA.”

Adding insult to injury there are a number of stories about DJI sales slowing ever so gently… UAV Expert News reports that the company “Has experienced sales declines in the domestic mainland market in recent days after the country’s civil aviation watchdog issued a ruling that all civil-use drones weighing more than 250g have to be registered online starting June 1.”

Remember how DJI lobbied so hard against the 250-gram limit in early March…?

Under the wishful heading of it could never happen here… Mashable adds that “China’s aviation regulators are also seeking to create data-sharing platforms and platforms to verify registrations — which will be connected to apps that
control drones

There are more insights in the South China Morning Post which headlined Drone maker DJI targets female users as sales start to taper. And another story from them, China’s consumer drone makers shift focus to the commercial sector
for growth

Recode reports that, one of the largest online retailers in China, announced that it plans to develop a drone capable of carrying one ton of cargo for deliveries to and from remote parts of the country.

sUAS News offers up MMC Flying High with Drone Tether System. MMC is one of my favorite companies since they are given to zig while everyone else zags.

“MMC has taken an active role in eliminating the endurance bottleneck of Li-Po battery-powered drones,” says Leo Liu, MMC’s CEO.  “The T1 Tether System provides an inexpensive solution for extending flight times and drone applications – it opens up a lot of opportunities in the commercial market.”

The particularly clever piece is that the tether works with DJI, Parrot and
other brands.

n the “some days you just can’t win” category, how about the product manager who picked this week to launch the DJI Spark. At $500, this unit will cause a lot of pain in the heart of the recreational market. Some pretty amazing technology – one can control the drone using hand gestures which bring new meaning to line of sight. PetaPixel has a full report and some videos.

Gary Mortimer offers up a glowing in-depth report opining that “ DJI is now at least 2 years ahead of the crowd on the technology front. Everybody else is playing catch up, without exception… [But] the airspace policy, communication and support teams are another story.”

I really enjoyed this headline Drone Uses AI and 11,500 Crashes to Learn How to Fly in IEEE Spectrum. “The reason most research avoids using large-scale real data is the fear of crashes! In this paper, we propose to bite the bullet and collect a dataset of crashes itself! We build a drone whose sole purpose is to crash
into objects.”

If you are as mystified by all this as I am, let me recommend Understanding the Artificial Intelligence Hype Cycle, in 5 Stats. The stat that got my attention – and might get yours is “Businesses that use AI “will steal” $1.2 trillion from competitors every year”. Hmm.

Which brings us to a perfect point to say thank you and Godspeed to Walt Mossberg who has chronicled the twists and turns of the tech industry since 1991. Yesterday was his last column. A gifted writer his headline says it all Mossberg: The Disappearing Computer: Tech was once always in your way. Soon, it will be almost invisible.

And finally, thank you to those who serve and those who gave their lives who we remember this weekend.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On can be found here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter