Today I am not going to focus on anything in particular but address a number of stories that caught my interest.
A company based in the Netherlands called Aerialtronics recently had one of its UAS participate in Avalanche Search and Rescue in the “angry” Norwegian winter. The UAS is the Altura Zenith, a smaller UAS that is designed to handle winds up to 14 m/s, a payload of 3 kg, and moderate weather. This isn’t necessarily the UAS one would think is best suited for rough winter conditions, but the team was well-trained and braved white-out conditions to accomplish the testing.
I wanted to start on a light note, before getting to some of the less positive domestic legislative news. The media has been highlighting negative UAS stories and what one author describes as “paranoia.” This is why I try to write daily about at least one company or group that is using UAS in a positive way. It is interesting how there has been a surge in negative stories and perceptions are changing noticeably – but many of the fears are not based in science or reality.
William Jelani Cobb, a professor at nearby UCONN, wrote “What Our Paranoia About Drones Says About Us” in the New York Times Magazine. It is an interesting read, and here is what I consider the pull quote: “We increasingly glance at one another through a veil of suspicion, doubt and fear….Yet our privacy is far more vulnerable in the face of surreptitious phone photography or recording than it is to a noisy conspicuous device hovering in plain sight. The problem is not technology. It is, as it always was, us.” He is dead on here. Let’s be honest, few of us have lives as exciting or bodies so interesting as to warrant a stranger peeking into our private lives. And if they were, recall how loud a UAV is – it’s not the ideal way to spy on someone.
Back to the “paranoia.” Two states are considering bills that are antagonistic to civil UAS use. Washington is considering a bill that would add a year of jail time to sentences for crimes that are committed with a UAS. I’m not sure why selling your drugs or the like is worse when you use a drone, but we’ll see what the state does.
While I personally consider Washington’s proposed law a bad idea, at least it is squarely within the state’s police powers. That contrasts with Oklahoma’s proposed bill, which would provide civil immunity to one who shoots down a UAS over their property. What Oklahoma cannot do, however, is immunize the shooter from federal prosecution under 18 USC §32 for destruction of aircraft, something I have discussed multiple times in previous posts.
Add to this California’s proposed bill SB 142. It would ban UAS users from trespassing in airspace below what has been defined by the FAA as “navigable.” Media outlets are already reporting that this means users of UAS cannot fly below 400 feet since navigable airspace is defined as something higher. Again, I think this will just cause confusion. I’m working on an article that discusses the history of navigable airspace. The 400 foot height limit is just a guideline, not a law or regulation – furthermore, it would seem to imply that the FAA has designated anything below 400 feet as navigable for hobby UAS in certain circumstances. Finally, the courts have spend decades defining navigable airspace for manned aircraft, and navigable airspace can include any altitude required for take-off or landing. This is a very brief overview, and I hope to write more on this topic in the future. In the meantime, these proposed state laws are only causing more confusion.
On the other hand, the Wyoming Senate has rejected a bill that would limit police use of UAS without a search warrant. Last weekend I wrote that the public feels more comfortable with police use of UAS than with private use. I think we need to balance both and both have advantages – and disadvantages. I worry that if we put UAS just in the hands of the government and prohibit civil use, then we risk heading toward one of those dystopia’s described in recent books and movies; at least in that the government will have the means to watch us at all times.
However, the FAA did release some good news. They have approved two COAs for the Northern Plains Test Site in North Dakota, and expects to approve two more – opening up almost 2/3 of the state to test flights. This doesn’t allow commercial operations, just flights in conjunction with the test site, but still progress. Hopefully this will speed up and encourage the use of the sites for R&D to integrate UAS into the national airspace.
On a lighter note, the Netherlands is planing the first “Drone Show,” called Air. What it is is yet to be seen, but the trailer is pretty cool. Yahoo reports that it is being put on in conjunction with the Royal Dutch Air Force.
And to finish up, a restaurant called Timbre in Singapore is testing using drones to help delivery food at their restaurants. Don’t worry, you’ll still have a real waiter. The drones will deliver your food to a location near the wait staff, and they will still give it to you after personally taking your order.
The restaurant says it spend over $1,000,000 for this project, which includes using Infinium Robotics UAV at its five restaurant locations. The FAA does not regulate indoors so American restaurants could do such a thing, but they are probably skittish after the Mistletoe Drone incident at TGI Fridays last Christmas.