The Singularity issue of Dronin' On 03.17.18
RIP SH  – Thanks to you all of us now know that we can reach for the stars.

Hi all –

The ‘Singularity” issue is dedicated to the memory of Stephen Hawking. Who had very little do with drones but will long be remembered for his contribution to our understanding of our place among the stars.


“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”


I’ll look at what I have taken to calling the ‘Symposium Hangover’ and in particular ponder if the FAA’s new “Open for Business” policy is a tipping point. There are exciting developments in military applications and at the DOI. And I am happy to welcome back Travis Moran, whose guest post The Counter Drone Conundrum has received a lot of favorable comments. This week, Will the Drone Please Take the Stand.

THE FAA

So, the smart money was right. Morning Transportation reports that:

It’s looking like a four-month extension is in the works to keep the FAA humming while a long-term deal is being hashed out. “My hope is that this will end up being end of July,” Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune told reporters Tuesday, adding that he’s “not at the table making the final decisions, but I think that’s the time frame being discussed.” That would give Congress until the August recess to get a multiyear reauthorization to President Donald Trump’s desk.

On Friday, Morning Transportation offered this follow up on the CUAS announcement at the Symposium:

YOU CAN ALWAYS COUNT ON ME: The White House’s plan to introduce legislation that would give DHS and law enforcement agencies the authority to destroy suspicious drones is getting a mixed reaction on the Hill… Sources expect the proposal will borrow from the National Defense Authorization Act, which gives DoD permission to identify and take down any drones caught flying over its facilities
and operations.

For sure, that’s what friends are for:  Roy Blunt (R-MO) chairman of Senate Commerce’s aviation subcommittee, said he’d postponed a hearing for later this month on drone uses after the White House announced its plans. On the House side, Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), who has supported the idea of giving DHS more drone authorities, said his staff had been meeting with officials from DHS and Justice to begin work on a related bill.

The headscratcher is whether the FAA will try to recreate their registration magic – because it worked so well the last time…

FAST TRACK FOR REMOTE ID? Here’s the buzz around the drone community: Could a rule on remote identification for drones bypass the normal notice-and-comment process and go straight to a final rule?

Side effects: There is a risk to moving too quickly, though. Brendan Schulman, vice president of policy and legal affairs at DJI, a civilian drone manufacturer, cautions that drone users might rebel against a rule that imposes new costs and burdens on them without giving them a chance for input. And with drone registrations surpassing the 1 million mark earlier this year, that’s a lot of people who could
be affected.

Brendan for the win.

At the Symposium Brendan tweeted “FAA: We will not delay Remote ID rulemaking to see what happens to Section 336 in the FAA bill. “Rulemaking takes a long time. We are moving ahead anyway.”

There is hope. Sen. John Thune is a huge drone proponent and IMO that tilts the odds that language revising 336 will be in the Senate version – and from there on to Committee. Keep sending those cards and letters. Make Yourself Heard!

For more from the Symposium, Jeremiah Karpowicz has assembled a cool montage in Commercial UAV News, Live from the FAA UAS Symposium:

Representatives from the FAA and AUVSI live-tweeted quotes and pictures throughout the event, although plenty of attendees got in on the action as well. For plenty more direct quotes, videos and pictures, check out the #UAS2018 hashtag.

But the really big news is the FAA’s brand-new spin, “Open for Business.” And yes they are going to take some shots for that… The phrase is being attributed to Derek Kan, undersecretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation though as Jeremiah pointed out, it quickly gained traction.

Sarah Baxenberg headlined her story “Open for Business” – FAA Encourages Industry-Driven Innovation in Lieu of Rulemakings at Annual UAS Symposium. I’ve summarized it here but if it piques your interest – and I think it will – you need to read the article.

Using the tagline “Open for Business,” FAA officials emphasized that they have the ability to approve almost any proposed operations—but the key is that interested parties have to be able to make a safety showing to the agency.

So far, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. If your high school French is a bit rusty, the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The agency’s renewed focus on regulatory flexibility and deviation—and its enthusiastic encouragement to parties to bring their proposed operations to the agency—suggest a tacit recognition by FAA that it is simply impossible to adopt rules for expanded operations fast enough to allow the industry to grow and thrive in the short term.  

Second, the agency underlined the importance of the new Integration Pilot Program (IPP) to all of its various rulemaking efforts. 

Third, the agency made clear at the Symposium that the statutory restriction on the FAA’s authority over hobbyists in Section 336 of the FMRA must be revisited. 

There is one very confusing bit in here. The FAA’s Earl Lawrence is quoted as saying that UASIPP would influence Remote ID rulemaking. Given that UASIPP candidates won’t really have started much of anything by May, and there is some discussion that the FAA intends to release an ANPRM in May, it is unclear why that would actually work…

Sarah’s conclusion …It is beneficial for the industry that the FAA has taken the “Open for Business” approach that it emphasized at last week’s Symposium.  However, questions remain as to whether case-by-case regulatory flexibility
is sufficient…

UTM

All of this makes a nice complement to the WSJ story that broke last Friday which seems to have sent shockwaves around the industry and the larger business community. Amazon, Google, Others Are Developing Private Air-Traffic Control for Drones: Validation tests in conjunction with NASA are slated for the next three months. The story is behind a paywall but here is the lead paragraph:

The commercial drone industry wants to create a privately funded and operated air-traffic control network, separate from the current federal system, to enable widespread operations at low altitudes.

Plans to accelerate such efforts, spelled out at a conference here this week, have the backing of companies like Amazon.com Inc., General Electric Co., Boeing Co. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.

dailymail.co.uk went for max impact with their headline Amazon and Google to Begin Testing Delivery Drones Above Several U.S Cities WITHIN MONTHS Using Their Own Air Traffic Control System.

The intent is to develop a ‘totally different, new way of doing things,’ Parimal Kopardekar (PK to many), NASA’s senior air-transport technologist who first suggested the idea of an industry-devised solution, told about 1,000 attendees at the conference.

What people don’t understand, and what no one has spent any time explaining, is that in the past six or eight months the concept of UTM has gone from the UAS equivalent of a universal NextGen air traffic control system to a federated system of private networks.

It makes perfect sense. Lots of people have done the math and realized the impracticality, to say nothing of the unlikelihood of the FAA building a super colossal one size fits all system. The ‘glass barely has any water in it’ contingent has also reasonably asked: “whatever for?”

Connect that with Task Group 3’s report last week about who is going to pay for what, then consider the fact that LAANC was developed by industry, not the FAA. Add that four out of five LAANC providers are Fortune 500 companies. Add that the government is not investing in any of the UASIPP implementations. Add the rumors that UPP funding is being limited.

The future should be coming into focus for all but the most casual observers.

If we have not reached the tipping point, we are near. The egalitarian narrative of scrappy high tech bulldozing the staid aviation establishment and opening the skies to all is I think drawing to an end.

It takes little effort to imagine that now that the FAA is finally ‘open for business’, the people who have played by the rules and as a result have been losing work every day because they can’t get the most basic Part 107 waivers and authorizations approved on a timely basis, will become increasingly disenchanted. More about that next.

UASIPP

Jonathan Rupprecht did an excellent analysis of the UASIPP program when it was first announced last year. FAA Drone Integration Pilot Program (2018) is an update. It is worth revisiting because as you have been reading, the FAA and the White House are pointing to UASIPP as a significant source of data and insights for UAS policymaking.

Under Pros:

  • It might get SOMETHING done. Let’s face it. Congress will most likely not pass much in this area anytime soon. [They are too busy fighting over ATC privatization. Ed Note – Done] Maybe some language will get slipped into the next FAA reauthorization but who knows.

We’ll see what happens with 336 – which wasn’t even on the radar in October.

Under Cons:

  • Didn’t fix FAA enforcement problems.Why didn’t this memo go further and tell the FAA to specifically change its enforcement philosophy on drones which is extremely relaxed. Based upon information from the FAA, since 2015 they have only prosecuted a whopping total of 48 drone flyers. Furthermore, why didn’t the memo direct the FAA to go after the companies which repeatedly hire illegal drone operators? 

As I and many others have repeatedly reported, this is a tremendous issue among the independent service providers in the Part 107 community.

Problems I See/ Questions Left Unanswered defies easy  summarization. But the last point is a pretty good proxy:

  • Frustrated “innovators” are going to end up right back where they started. The FAA and DOT are going to have to work within their existing regulatory framework. This executive memo didn’t somehow undo law. This means anyone looking to “innovate” and is frustrated with the current exemption, waiver, or authorization process is going to realize that the memo, and law, will put them right back at where they started. It doesn’t somehow create a completely new alternative system of making everything lawful. 

Not that I am so smart or nuthin’, but since the program was announced it has been clear that this is going to create a tremendous amount of confusion. The FAA is going to have to up their communications game to keep things on an
even keel.

It won’t take much to get some people very angry – “You’re telling me that he can, but I can’t?” or “You’ve got time for that but not for me?”

Meanwhile, this is most def not the time to get happy or complacent. Writing in IoT, attorney John Lin reports on The Unknown Group That Might Kill
Unmanned Aircraft
.

A group you’ve probably never heard of is drafting a model state law that could have disastrous implications for the unmanned aircraft industry.  The Uniform Law Commission (ULC)—a national organization that develops model state laws—has established a committee to draft a statute on tort law related to unmanned aircraft. 

Here is the whopper…

The committee’s proposed unmanned aircraft trespass tort would allow a property owner to sue any time an unmanned aircraft enters the “immediate reaches” of the property, regardless of duration. 

It’s a technical discussion that right now will mostly be of interest to the many attorneys on the subscriber list. But this part I get Feedback from industry throughout this process is essential to ensure that the proposal that emerges does minimal harm to unmanned aircraft operations.”

WILL THE DRONE PLEASE TAKE THE STAND

Travis Moran had a long career in law enforcement. More recently he’s been advising critical infrastructure owners on CUAS security issues. Here’s the lead into his new guest post which looks at how law enforcement will use drone data:

In the not too distant future, drone operators will be “doing their jobs” providing an array of services to companies and individuals, as well as state, local, and federal agencies. It is inevitable that law enforcement agencies will find the data from some of those drones to be of great interest. In this article I will share some ideas about what this is likely to look like, as well as some suggestions about how to plan for the inevitable… The drone as a witness.

WARP SPEED AT THE DoD

A couple of articles here that make it clear that the military is embracing technology and is open to new ideas.

Top Gun For Grunts: Mattis May Revolutionize Infantry offers up a stunning vision – all the more remarkable because of the tempo.

Imagine a future American infantryman trained as intensively as a fighter pilot through hundreds of virtual and real-world drills, culminating in a “small unit Top Gun.” Imagine infantry going into battle with swarms of drones serving as scouts and fire support. Imagine Army and Marine infantry exempted from the Pentagon’s bureaucratic personnel policies so they can build teams of experienced soldiers in their late 20s and early 30s, much like Special Forces.

Bob Scales, a leading advisor on infantry to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told me: “To get a quantum increase in the quality of close combat forces, we can do it in the next two years, (and) the cost compared to the rest of the DoD budget is
very small.”

This next idea is an even more remarkable example of out of the box thinking, Drone Delivery, Direct To The Grunt: Marines Experiment With Hive UAVs

The Marines have always been the most expeditionary of the armed services, trained to travel light. What’s more, their new concept of distributed operations calls for them to spread out in small, fast-moving units to make themselves hard targets for precision-guided weapons. So how do you keep these scattered troops supplied, without tying them to vulnerable supply lines or forcing them to carry everything on their backs?

If drones can carry packages for Amazon or medical supplies for Zipline in Rwanda, Marine reservist, transport officer Maj. Chris Thobaben reasoned, why not ammunition, water, food, and batteries for dispersed Marines? 

If you need to scale up, just add more drones. The team has had as many as 32 in the air at a time, Thobaben said, but “within a year, we can scale to thousands.”

Oorah. Yes sir, I like it.

A MAN WITH A PLAN AT DOI

The Department of Interior UAS program is not only well run, it also does a great job of communicating. A lot of it is thanks to the tone set by Office of Aviation Services Director Mark Bathrick, who frequently graces these pages. This week Mark sent along Interior Expands Capabilities with Vertical Take Off and Landing Fixed Wing Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. It reveals a lot about how someone who understands aviation can up level a UAS program.

If you follow the DOI UAS program, you know that they have amassed a 300+ fleet of 3DR Solos. (Got to be the largest in the world?) Easy to transport and fly and apparently reliable, the Solos provide good service to a wide variety of scientists and other specialists.

A lot of DOI UAS work is wildfire suppression. Practically speaking, the Solos are only able to support tactical fire missions, not the longer range and endurance requirements that wildfire Division Supervisors need.

Recognizing the need Mark and his team developed a spec for a new UAS that could support what he defines as division level missions. As for why VTOL – this may surprise you. Typically, DOI puts up a TFR over a fire. Mark explained that there is great value to being able to launch and recover within the TFR. VTOL is more flexible than fixed-wing systems that require runways or mechanical systems to launch and recover.

Mark told me that next on the drawing boards is a contracted service for a strategic level wildfire drone with the endurance, range, and capabilities necessary to fulfill the Incident Commander’s needs. (The Incident Commander is in charge of the entire operation – basically the integrated big picture.)

And after that the plan is for helicopters that can operate as manned to transit from the airfield to the TFR which simplifies deployment under current rules, operate as manned helicopters with all the other manned aircraft during the day; then operate as unmanned UAS for high-risk operations within the TFR such as night water drops.

Tactical. Division. Strategic.

That’s how it’s done by someone who has taken the time to understand their customer’s needs, put in the work to define CONOPS and knows how to apply
air power.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Chief Charlie Werner sent out an announcement that AUVSI and the National Council for Public Safety UAS have joined forces to present the Public Safety UAS Forum. This two-day session is taking place Tuesday, May 1 and Wednesday, May 2 at AUVSI.

Hat’s off to the Energy Drone Coalition Summit team who just announced that their expo space is 100% sold out and they are adding more. I have some complimentary passes for a few lucky readers so if you want to go to the show June 20-22 in Houston please drop me a line.

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

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
chris@dronebusiness.center
follow me @dronewriter