Hi all –

Thanks for the condolences about my LA Lambs, so yclept long before Georgia Frontiere spirited them off to St. Louis.

While SB 53 was decried as duller than watching people code, some significant drone stories have come out of it. Also a new Remote ID concept, DAA moving forward, insights into DJI, an update on bird strikes and truck platooning.


There are three stories within the story:

  1. The Confiscations
  2. The Intel Shooting Stars and
  3. The Surveillance

While I covered it last week in the Big Game issue, I want to start with the Confiscations because it is still unclear if there have been, or will ever be arrests and bookings.


Confiscated drones SB 53- photo @AaronDiamantWSB
Confiscated drones SB 53- photo @AaronDiamantWSB WSB tweet with photo

Except for the evidence table, it might all be some form of psy ops, but according to many reports a half dozen droners had their drones confiscated on Thursday as the party got under way in Hot ‘Lanta.

WSB-TV in Atlanta teed things up with FBI: Drone Pilots Caught Flying in Super Bowl Area Face Fines, Jail Time.

Then Reuters reportedThe Federal Bureau of Investigation in Atlanta said on Twitter on Friday that it had confiscated the six drones in the run-up to the game but did not provide details.”

The Atlanta-Journal Constitution added:

Pilots whose drones were seized Thursday claimed they were unaware of FAA regulations

And Popular Science headlined No, The FAA Isn’t Going To Shoot Down Super Bowl Drones, adding that If anyone does that, it’ll be NORAD. Or local cops.

Why is this worthy of mention?

Because. There were no further reports of any drone disturbances or arrests for the rest of the week.


The Atlanta Metro is home to some six million, surely more than six people thought that flying their drone was a grand idea. Did others with similar intentions see the all out media coverage and the magic initials FBI and (perhaps) decide that discretion was the better part of valor?

Do we suppose for one moment that the news that some scofflaws (careless or clueless or criminal) got popped and had their toys taken away had a deterrent effect on the rest of the crew?

Or alternatively, that simply telling people not to fly, through media that they are routinely exposed to, had an effect?

Does anyone buy either argument?

Because if you do, it supports the growing numbers who contend that serious – meaning prompt, painful and well-publicized – enforcement is long overdue. Leaving out the creative merits, Buzzy the Drone has no effect because no one ever sees it.

Scofflaws don’t register their drones, they don’t follow @faanews and they wouldn’t know what a TFR was if it bonked them on the nose.

Advertising, including PSAs (public service announcements), are based on reach and frequency. Think about the DWI/DUI ads in your state that relentlessly appear on all of the key cocktail holidays. That is frequency. The ads appear in print, online, on billboards and on radio and TV – that is reach. The FAA has neither at
its disposal.

Does it work? The Department of Interior has reported that by promoting If You Fly, We Can’t through local media outlets, when wildland fires are being fought, drone incursions have been reduced by 25%. I get that this is apples and oranges. There are only so many wildland fires every year so the sample is small. That said, DOI Director of Aviation Mark Bathrick told me that he was very encouraged by the results – both statistical and anecdotal.

The Intel Shooting Stars

One of the Intel Shooting Stars used in SB 53
One of the enhanced Intel Shooting Stars used in SB 53 – photo courtesy of Intel

I was having a conversation with a friend about whether with the accession of Intel CEO Robert Swan (he having been the CFO) marked the beginning of Intel’s exit from the manufacturing side of the drone business.

I also wondered why we had heard so little about the Shooting Star team.

At halftime, unannounced and unbranded, as a still wardrobed Maroon 5 broke into “She Will Be Loved,” 150 Japanese lanterns floated up from the field and formed the words “ONE” and “LOVE.” Not having heard anything about a Shooting Star performance I wondered what the technology was…

So I popped on to Facebook and learned that it was, in fact, the Shooting Stars. And that there were a lot of interesting things going on behind the scenes.

First, because at the time of the performance the roof was closed the performance was not under the jurisdiction of the FAA. But because the NFL wanted the option of having the roof open, Intel had secured a pile of waivers from the FAA.
(details below)

Next, I went to the Intel corporate website where according to the press release:

The Intel Shooting Star drones appearing during the show were specially preprogrammed to fly and remain within the stadium, and therefore did not enter the controlled airspace over Mercedes-Benz Stadium. [Certified by
the manufacturer?]

The Intel Shooting Star drones appearing during the Pepsi Super Bowl LIII Halftime Show received authorization to operate under an experimental license issued by the Federal Communications Commission in compliance with federal regulations. 

Posting on Facebook, Clay Coleman who is part of the Intel Drone Team added: 

…We had all the necessary provisions in place (NOTAM, and TFR Waiver, in addition to a 107.29 (night flight) and 107.35 (multiple UAS) waivers in place.

AVweb added an interesting detail that I have not seen elsewhere but I am sure a few of you have wondered about:

…The Mercedes-Benz stadium in Atlanta is enclosed, meaning the drones could not use GPS for position. Instead, Intel built its own location network, not based on LTE cell service but a proprietary “wireless” system. 

A lot of work to spell ONE LOVE.

The Surveillance

Elisair tethered drone high above Mercedes Benz
Elistair tethered drone high above Mercedes Benz  Stadium – photo courtesy Elistair

The third story is a horse of an entirely different color. The first part comes from Malek Murison writing for DroneLife.com, Super Bowl Security Operation Proves Drones Can Be Part Of The Solution and a press release in DroneBelow, Skyfire Drones Secure Super Bowl.

If you’re not familiar with them, Skyfire bills itself as America’s Leading Public Safety UAS Experts.

Public safety UAS specialists Skyfire worked alongside the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and a team of pilots, security experts and software partners to deploy two tethered drones in the skies above Atlanta.  

Skyfire CEO Matt Sloane and his team worked for more than a year to secure the necessary approvals from the FAA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to operate for the event.

Each of the setups consisted of the DJI Matrice 210 aircraft, a Zenmuse Z30 zoom camera, as well as the DJI/FLIR Zenmuse XT2 thermal imaging camera. Each drone was flown to a maximum altitude of 200 feet above ground and was secured and powered by Drone Aviation Corp’s FUSE tethering system. 

The video feeds were streamed through the DroneSense software platform and viewed by law enforcement command centers in over a dozen locations.

Both Drone Aviation Corp and DroneSense specialize in meeting the needs of law enforcement and public safety. An interesting ecosystem is evolving.

Adding to the use case, French UAS tether specialists Elistair also deployed two tethered drones. According to their press release:

…One by CNN for TV broadcasting and one by Unified Command for security. The micro-tether allowed the drones to fly for several hours without the need to charge the batteries, maintaining constant coverage. 

The [CNN] tethered drone setup was a DJI M200 drone with an Elistair Light-T and was operated by Vector Aerial. The system was strategically set on the rooftop of the CNN building facing the Mercedes Benz Stadium. Operating at a height of 45 meters above the rooftop, viewers were able to watch aerial imagery before and after the show.

In parallel and in the same area as the CNN system, Unified Command teams appointed by the NFL also tethered a DJI M200 with an Elistair Ligh-T station to have access to continuous aerial surveillance of the event. The company, an expert in large public event security, set up their drone on a rooftop in close proximity to the stadium.  

The drone provided Unified Command and the NFL control posts with live images of the crowd movements in and around the stadium. Tethered to the Ligh-T, it accumulated 10 hours of flight during the Superbowl, and 14 hours in total over the 2 days. 

And here is the money quote which will please a few – most not so much:

NFL security officials expressed their interest in using this solution as often as possible because of its ability to follow a subject continuously without having to pass from one fixed camera to another and risking losing the subject.

Having spent some time looking into it, both the effort made and the amount of money spent to secure the game is astonishing – did you read about the helicopter conducting a low altitude radiation sweep for DOE? Apparently it’s SOP at very important events.


opendroneid.org beacon concept
opendroneid.org beacon concept

Getting to BVLOS and true integration into the NAS depends in no small part on developing technologies that pass muster with the FAA and become domestic, or better yet internationally accepted standards. These next two sections address progress in the areas of Remote ID and Detect and Avoid (DAA.)

Recently in the Initiatives issue, I reported on a proof-of-concept demonstration for a Remote ID solution called InterUSS developed by Wing and supported by AirMap and Kittyhawk.

Now Kenji Sugahara has shared a paper for Open Drone ID on behalf of opendroneid.org.

Open Drone ID is a project to provide a low cost and reliable “beacon” capability for drones so that they can be identified when within range of a receiver. 


FlightHorizon GCS display – courtesy of Vigilant Aerospace Systems

Last week I shared a guest post by Echodyne General Counsel Andrea Radosevich, Unlocking the Potential of the Commercial UAS Industry. In the article, she described how a new State Department rule:

…Removes the ITAR restrictions on airborne tracking radars that fall below certain performance thresholds – i.e. commercial, non-military radars. These commercial radars can now be controlled under the more flexible EAR.

Adding that it is A small step for us, but a big step for the industry.

This week Vigilant Aerospace Systems announced that they too “…Have obtained a Commodity Jurisdiction (CJ) determination from the US Department of State for our FlightHorizon GCS product. This determination classifies the product as having an Export Control Classification Number (ECCN) of 7D994, which means it is not regulated as a “defense article” under ITAR and that, except in a very few specific cases, can be exported on a No License Required (NLR) basis.”

Based on a patent and software originally developed by NASA:

FlightHorizon GCS is an airspace situational awareness and detect-and-avoid system to allow unmanned aircraft pilots to detect, track, predict and avoid other aircraft. The software sends self-separation and collision avoidance commands to the unmanned aircraft pilot to avoid conflicts quickly and efficiently.

As Andrea noted, this reclassification also greatly facilitates testing in the US when foreign nationals are on the team which ITAR prohibits.


portrait of Frank Wang
Frank Wang – image courtesy of DJI

It’s amazing how little we know about industry leader DJI. Stealth is the preferred MO. As a result, there have been relatively few stories about DJI so since it’s a slow news week I thought I would do a roundup. Here’s a new one from the South China Morning Post (SCMP), How DJI Went From University Dorm Project to World’s Biggest Drone Company. Which I have to say sounds a lot like Michael Dell.

No, unfortunately there is not an interview, Frank Wang prefers to let his products do the talking. But there is this bit of origin legend:

Born in 1980, Wang grew up in Hangzhou… and has been passionate about aircraft since childhood.

“I felt very lucky reading a helicopter-themed cartoon when I was a child and have been obsessed with sky exploration ever since,” Wang said in rare public remarks given at Shenzhen University in 2015.

“My parents gave me a hobby helicopter as a reward for good marks in a high school exam but I was very disappointed when it crashed due to limited stability during flight,” he said. “Later, I gradually got a better idea of what a perfect aircraft was and made the decision to build one.”

If you’re interested, I have a few stories in the archives, one here from Forbes, one here about the Four Founders (quite a crew) and a solid 2016 company profile by the LA Times here.

DJI AGRA MG-1S courtesy DJI – click to view

Another SCMP article is revealing about the state of the market and makes it clear what’s next, China’s DJI Turns Its Eye to Enterprise Uses Like Agriculture After Conquering Global Commercial Drone Market The industrial segment accounts for more than half of the global US$9 billion drone market. [With apologies to Colin and Mike, I have no idea but it sounds good.]

DJI, which holds a commanding 70 percent share of the world commercial drone market, is shifting more resources to developing industrial drones as part of a strategy to embrace enterprise customers to offset slowing growth in the broader consumer market.

Bill Chen, DJI’s enterprise partnership manager, said in an interview. “One of the key areas for the enterprise business is [the use of drones] in agriculture. As the world’s population keeps growing we have to find more hi-tech ways to meet the rising demand for food.”

The DJI Agras MG-1 octocopter, the flagship of the company’s agricultural fleet, is designed for precision, variable rate application of liquid payloads such as fertilisers and pesticides for spraying crops. [NOTE how different this approach is.]

The shift in strategy comes as Chinese tech companies are moving their products and services up the value chain to better compete globally in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.

The growth in China’s consumer drone market is slowing,” said Pan Xuefei, a drone analyst from research firm IDC.

“The enterprise business of using drones to serve companies is expected to have big potential. It will be the major direction in China’s drone industry.”

Annual growth rates in China’s consumer drone market slowed to 73.2 percent in 2018 from 80.6 percent the year before, according to IDC. Hardly a
massive decline…


USA Today analysis of birdstrikes based on FAA data – courtesy USA Today

USA TODAY bannered Planes Strike Birds More Than 40 Times a Day, FAA Data Show. While there are millions of more birds than drones, this makes us look pretty good. As for the why’s:

Why so many collisions? Analysts cite several factors: an increase in flights; changing migratory patterns; bigger, faster, quieter turbofan-powered aircraft, which give birds less time to get out of the way.

One of the biggest factors might be better reporting

The FAA has worked to improve the voluntary reporting system since Sullenberger guided U.S. Airways Flight 1549 – and all of its 155 passengers – to safety after a flock of geese took out both engines in 2009.



screen grab from Peloton presentation at AUVSI webinar
screen grab from Peloton presentation at AUVSI webinar

Out of curiosity, I sat in on an exceptional seminar hosted by AUVSI on the current state of truck platooning, which refers to running a pair of trucks (semi’s) together with ‘connected braking’.

One of the leaders in this space is Peloton Technology which describes itself as “…An automated vehicle technology company hard at work solving the two biggest challenges facing the $700 billion trucking industry: Crashes and Fuel Use.

There is a driver in each truck, utilizing Level 1 automation as defined by SAE Standard J3016 (there are Levels 0-5.) In this application Level 1 means that the driver in each truck is getting braking/acceleration support. In practice, there is a 0.03-second delay from when the lead truck hits the brakes until the second truck automatically begins slowing down.

By running the trucks ~50’ apart, a fuel savings of some 15% is realized.

The whole operation is monitored by a Network Operations Center (connected via LTE) which must approve “pairing” before the process ever starts.

Here is what I found interesting. As you can see from the map, this concept is already legal in 18 states. Which leads me to wonder if there isn’t something to this approach that the UAS industry might model – defining the levels of automation to support different use cases.

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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