Today was the Team Delaware International Drone Day at Brandywine Creek State Park. It was a chilly day but a beautiful park and a great place for the event. My wife was reminiscing about the cross country races she ran there when she was at Padua Academy in Wilmington, but the rolling hills and large fields made it a great place for flying drones too!
Thank you to everyone who listed to me speak. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in insurance coverage, wife Kristen at email@example.com can help. (as my wife, I guess she is technically the Dutchess of Drones, but she’s fine with just “Kristen”). Also, I wasn’t able to catch too many names while I was there. If you see a picture below that is of you or your drone, please let me know. I’m happy to credit you and/or send you the full size file.
There were a number of tents set up with local companies that sell and operate UAS, an FPV race course, and a flight line for standard flying. The team received permission from the park to fly, had the FAA issue a NOTAM for the event, and ensured that everyone was operating safety. It was a great event and I am thankful that Dan Herbert of Sky Gear Solutions invited me to speak.
I gave a brief talk on risk mitigation for UAS operation and mentioned some of the good uses for UAS – the Koala research along Australia’s Sunshine Coast seemed quite appealing given the chilly day. I won’t summarize my talk since all has been discussed here before. I was hoping to stay longer but the baby was tired and we had to get on the road back to Connecticut.
The American Farm Bureau Federation spoke in favor of UAS and discussed how UAS are a relatively low cost tool that can aid in precision agriculture and can detect nutrient shortages, weeds, and insect infestations. (I’ve written about this multiple times, so search the blog for “agriculture” and you’ll find a number of stories).
Amazon’s testimony was well-reported in the news for a number of reasons. They talked about how they are testing abroad with minimal regulatory oversight, and foreign regulators have given them permission to fly a “category” of UAS. This is important for Amazon, which is evolving its technology quicker than the FAA can act. For example, Amazon was granted an Experimental Use Certificate last week. Unfortunately Experimental Use Certificates are aircraft specific, and Amazon doesn’t even fly that aircraft anymore – they’ve moved on. They also addressed the lack of a Beyond Line of Sight provision in the proposed regulations.
I was also very interested in the testimony from John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution. He believes that the existing legal framework already provides more protection against privacy issues than most recognize. I firmly agree and think it is premature to pass laws that single out UAS. As he points out, it is inevitable that UAS will be used it invade privacy, but that is just statistics. People use telescopes to invade privacy, but we don’t single them out!
He also thinks that we need to rethink the 500′ navigable airspace “rule.” I have an article pending publication that discusses this topic, but manned aircraft can fly below 500′ to take-off/land and helicopters can fly below that altitude as well. He quotes an article by Dr. McNeal, which states that we don’t want to create a fixed zone of airspace for UAS, because that could effect private trespass rights. This concept is fleshed out in United States v. Causby and later cases that interpret it. However, the courts have not delineated any particular altitude. Now that we have UAS, which tend to operate at lower altitudes, he argues we need to figure out a new way to approach airspace rights and regulation. We need to do this sooner rather than later, as evidenced by the Anti Drone and the No Fly Zone webpage.
I want to address one of the witnesses, Dr. Gregory McNeal, of whom I am a big fan and written previously (he broke the NPRM story). He asked that decision makers consider not only the probability of an attack but also the losses that could be sustained. He pointed to studies that indicate that UAS do not have significant advantages over other methods of attack.
For example, everyone is concerned about the Phantom that crashed on the White House lawn. Phantoms are easy to obtain, but lightweight explosives are not. Therefore the risk is high, but the losses would be incredibly low due to the payload limit of the Phantom in relation to traditional explosives. On the other hand, one could theoretically obtain lightweight C4, the necessary electronics to detonate it, and a UAS large enough to deliver the explosive. But the changes of one obtaining all of these components is pretty low.
Dr. McNeal suggests that the government have dedicated resources at the Department of Homeland Security who would do these risk analyses instead of leaving it to individual entities to do on an ad hoc basis, if at all. I hope his suggestions hit home – not just with politicians but with the public as well.
Finally, Congress is starting to do more than listen at hearings. Reports indicate that Senator Cory Booker intends to introduce temporary legislation that would implement temporary commercial drone regulations, until the FAA finishes the NPRM process.
Rochester’s local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, wrote an article about RIT and local UAS activities. I mentioned the Center for Imaging Science’s expertise with photography – whether by aircraft or satellite, but RIT is working to apply this to real-life UAS applications. The D&C article quotes the Center’s interim director as saying that they are getting calls daily for their expertise and their graduates are almost 100% employed at graduation. This is something not many university programs can say these days!
The Digital Imaging and Remote Sensing Lab within the Center has over 40 graduate students and its mission is as follows: “DIRS focuses on the development of tools to extract information about the earth from aerial and satellite imaging systems with an emphasis on the application of science and engineering to solving end-to-end remote sensing problems using a systems engineering approach. This includes design and development of imaging instruments, developing algorithms to extract information from remotely sensed systems and measurement and modeling of the physical phenomena associated with the formation of remotely sensed images.”
RIT has also partnered with MIT to help lead the FAA test site based in Rome, NY and Cape Cod. This is the same test site that tested Lockheed Martin’s Indago UAS for firefighting. The test site at Griffiss International Airport is managed by Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). I haven’t written about them directly but have been following their work with interest. I visited the site of their headquarters as a kid, then Griffiss Air Force Base. I still remember getting to take a look at the relatively new stealth fighter on the ground – it was so new that there was a perimeter roped off and armed military guards. It is great to see that Griffiss and RIT are ushering in a new generation of aircraft.
One of the programs that RIT is working on is precision agriculture. We’ve heard a lot about this type of research for UAS in the mid-west, but not that many people think about farming when they think of New York. But Rochester is 7 hours from New York City and Western New York is well-known for its agriculture – including the vineyards throughout the Finger Lakes Region.
They are also working to make progress on one of the FAA’s pet concerns: Sense and Avoid. They are hoping to (1) develop effective sensors that are less expensive than the $80,000 interial navigation systems in manned aircraft and (2) design algorithms that process the data more effectively. The hidden aspects that make a UAS safe and versatile.
Special thanks to Sean Lahman and David Riley, whose D&C articles that I linked to above were phenomenal!
The cover photo on the main page is of Kontokosta Winery, taken by the author October 2013. Yes, I ran with the winery theme.
I wrote about how UAS are being used in Kenyan anti-poaching efforts, and now South African National Parks (SANParks) is testing methods of using UAS to prevent Rhino poaching in Kruger National Park. SANParks Chairman, Mr Kuseni Dlamini, said “This aims at investigating the effectiveness of various UAV technologies as instruments in rhino protection efforts under a range of operational conditions.”
The photo below was taken by the author at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. This is Nola, a Northern White Rhinoceros – she is only one of five left in the world. Admittedly, this is not from South Africa, but it illustrates just how badly rhino populations have been decimated by poachers, so I hope the program is a success.
Chile and Iran are both going to be testing lifesaving drones. Having been an open water lifeguard for a number of years, I am all for this. The video below shows the relative speed of a human vs. a drone lifeguard. We’d still want human guards to complete the rescue, but it is much safer to approach a scared but floating person rather and a drowning person.
Drone v. Plane Study
A big concern regarding drones is the effect of an impact on an airliner. David Schneider asked George Morse about a recent study analyzing the risk of UAS/airliner collisions. Mr. Morse owns Failure Analysis Service Technology, based in Arizona and is well-regarded in the field. He is an expert on foreign object damage (“FOD” – hence his web address) and was asked about using research regarding birds to analyze UAS collision risk. here is a quick summary:
He didn’t seem to think that the difference in composition between birds and UAS is a big deal. There are two issues:
A UAS entering a turbofan engine – in which the engine speed is most pertinent.
Collisions against the aircraft – where relative speed is the biggest concern.
A 1-2 kg drone is likely to hit the leading edge of a blade and get chopped up into a million pieces. It will be similar to a bird strike.
The damage is unlikely to cause a fan blade to break, but could cause it to come out of high speed. This is important since we are assuming the greatest risk is a low-altitude collision during take-off.
The batteries are unlikely to cause an explosion. Worst case scenario is that they get sucked into the combustion chamber and burn up (just like the jet fuel).
Birds are actually more concerning, since they travel in flocks, which can result in multiple birds getting ingested at once.
UAS v. airliner hull
He was more concerned about the UAS hitting the windscreen (windshield).
However, the composition (bird vs. drone) doesn’t matter. Speed and mass do.
So a 1-2 kg drone poses no more danger than a bird of the same size.
We shouldn’t minimize the risk. Even if human life is relatively safe, the cost of a small UAS entering a turbofan engine would be quite high. Much more than the drone – and the UAS user would likely be liable.
The Predator/Gray Eagle Series set a record with over 500,000 hours flown in 2014 – that is over 1,300 hours every day! The Predator B / MQ-9 Reaper set a record with 1 million cumulative flight hours (almost 90% in combat). The press release linked above details the amazing performance statistics for these UAS.
On the other hand, a Predator crashed in Syria Tuesday. Well, we lost contact with it and it is presumed to have crashed. It is the first aircraft lost in the fight against ISIS, but we can be grateful that it was not manned – especially given ISIS’s recent history with hostages. There are certainly moral issues regarding the use of unmanned crafts for strikes, but losing equipment is a lot better than losing an American.
In related news, General Atomics won a $132 million contract modification (this article reports it as a $13.2 contract modification, but I will rely on the DoD website) to supply 19 MQ-1C Gray Eagle MALE UAS, with support equipment, to the Army. The Gray Eagle is an upgrade to the Predator and has a 25 hour endurance, 29,000 ft altitude, and 150 knot top speed. The Gray Eagle is an armed UAS and has triple redundant avionics.
The Coast Guard is also looking to get into the game. They are monitoring options for all platforms of unmanned vehicles – including nautical systems. They have been testing the Boeing ScanEagle, a smaller UAS with a 24 hour entrance but only 7.5 lb payload, and the larger Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout, a rotary wing aircraft with a 600 lb payload. They face two major problems – the lack of aircraft-capable ships and the requirement to follow FAA regulations when operating in the NAS. They are making progress and are looking forward to implementing UAS into their fleet. They are also utilizing a Naval air space on both coasts and have a Concept of Operations.
Finally, this isn’t exactly military, but it isn’t commercial either. NASA announced that it is working to develop a helicopter-style UAS for future exploration of Mars. This will be challenging, because it will have to be able to operate independently – signals take 4 to 20 minutes to arrive from Earth. It would be only 1 kg and operate in conjunction with a ground rover, like Curiosity.
On an unrelated note, a drone was spotted (and recorded) very close to a helicopter in Washington State. It made the top headline on Drudge Report. Unfortunately this is the kind of news that makes the big headlines, and it isn’t the kind that helps the image of UAS. I’m sure even most drone enthusiasts will agree that this was not a safe flight plan by the user.
The long battle between the FAA and Amazon hit a detente today. While Amazon was hoping for a 333 Exemption, they were granted a more restrictive Experimental Use Certificate for their UAS, under 14 CFR 21.191. There are limits to the certificate: UAS must remain below 400′, within line of sight of the pilot and observer, and the pilot must have at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification. It also includes the monthly reporting requirements typical of all experimental certificates.
Amazon will not be delivering packages anytime soon. The Certificate is well-named: Amazon can experiment to develop the aircraft and program, but they cannot implement the program commercially under this authorization.
Other stories I and others have written regarding Amazon Prime Air:
Also today we learned that Google has scrapped their drone design because the wing placement made it too difficult to control. As you can see in the image above, Google’s UAS contains the package within the airframe and drops it with a cable, but the interesting rear-placed wings did not work out. Here is more info about the aborted design.
Before I start with the law here is a video from the Birmingham, UK St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It was taken by Didier Soulier with a drone. He is an experienced professional with experience in filming parades. I chose not to add one from the U.S because they appeared to be amateur productions and not approved by the FAA. Hopefully next year we’ll have a major parade filmed in the U.S. by an experienced drone pilot with approval from the FAA. I have also included a non-UAS picture in the spirit of Australia’s drone progress (see New Year’s Fireworks, military collaboration, Koalas, and entrepreneurs). I didn’t know until last week that Australia has a large Irish population and their St. Patrick’s Day parade is the largest in the Southern Hemisphere.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has proposed a new regulatory approach for UAS (called RPAS, or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems, in the EU) in the European Union. It is called “Concept of Operations,” and is supposed to be a flexible approach – the requirements will increase proportionally with the risk. They considered comments from users and manufacturers as they developed standards that cover safety, security, privacy, data protection, insurance and liability. This is a high-level framework, not a detailed regulation.
EASA proposes three categories of operation: Open, Specific and Certified. Open would not require operation as long as the aircraft stays within specified limits – remain under 150 m, stay within visual line of sight, and away from certain areas. The Specific category will require authorization and limitations crafted to the operation – the operator would be required to complete a risk assessment and receive approval from the relevant National Aviation Authority. Certified operation would be for the highest risk activities – specifically for aircraft over 150 kg.
The EASA is hoping to increase communication between member states over the course of the year in order to help harmonize regulations throughout the EU in line with the Concept of Operations. The EU’s number of registered drone operators far surpasses the U.S., as Bloomberg illustrates (see below), with France leading the pack. We’ll see if the CoO comes to fruition and how it effects usage across the E.U.
Back in the United States, Massachusetts has proposed a bill regarding UAS directed primarily at government use. It limits the use of UAS by law enforcement to situations in which a warrant has been issued and restricts the ability to collect various forms of personal data. Private parties would be required to comply with FAA regulations and could not arm their UAS. It was filed in January 2015, but appears to be a new attempt at a bill that died in a previous session (the date on page 6 is 2013).
This is in addition to bills introduced in neighboring Rhode Island. The first proposed bill would give the state exclusive ability to regulate UAS. The FAA has authority to regulate most aspects of UAS, but the state does have limited ability to legislate (this is a discussion for another day). This bill would be aimed solely at restricting municipalities from passing their own ordinances. The second, more ambitious bill would do the same, and further require registration of all UAS used in the state. The bill would also restrict UAS from certain sensitive areas and prohibit their use to look inside of private buildings.
From their website: “Unmanned Vehicle University (UVU) is the first University in the world licensed to grant Doctorate and Masters Degrees in Unmanned (Air, Ground, Sea and Space) Systems Engineering and a Certificate in UAS Project Management as a totally online curriculum. The University’s primary focus area is on Unmanned Air, Ground, Sea and Space Systems education and training. Most of the faculty at the university have PhDs in engineering and combined experience of over 500 years. The university’s UAV instructor pilots have combined experience of over 60,000 hours in Predator, Reaper, Global Hawk, Hermes, Heron, Aerostar and many small UAVs. UVU is located in the heart of downtown Phoenix.”
They are offering two three-day seminars called “The Fundamentals of UAVs” – in New York March 19-21 and Houston on March 27-29. The course costs $1999 ($1899 for active duty military) and counts for four university credits – participants will receive a DJI Phantom upon completion of the course. ABOUT THE COURSE
I found this amazing video online and wanted to share it. This was taken during a Whale Watch tour that was going from Dana Point, Orange County, California to Catalina and is of a Super Pod of Gray Whales and other amazing sea life. It was taken by Captain Todd Mansur and Captain Frank Brennan with what appears to be a Go Pro attached to a DJI Phantom (I’m not positive on this, but am assuming based on the DJI hashtag). I think it is great videography and also a wonderful way to raise awareness about these endangered, majestic animals!
This is only one of many videos they have taken from a drone during whale watch tours. Capt Brennan has significant experience with whales and practiced with the COPTERWHALECAM for weeks before using it over sea life. He has done this responsibly based on his wealth of knowledge and experience. Very few of us share his level of experience in both whales and UAS. However, I caution the general public against doing this on their own. NOAA guidelines regarding whales address boats (remain 100 yards from whales), and manned aircraft (stay at least 1000 ft above cetaceans), but they do not address drones. However, many whales are endangered, and interfering with them can lead to criminal penalties. Only one experienced in both whales and UAS has the experience to prevent such an incident, so I would leave this to professionals like Capt Brennan.
Interestingly, Captain Mansur was in the news on a semi-related topic. Even the Navy follows the Endangered Species Act and avoids whale strikes, which can be lethal to the whale. Last year he notified the USS CORONADO that it was headed directly toward a pod of Gray whales. The warship came to a stop and did not hit the whales.
If you want more information about the Endangered Species Act, you can read about it here. Even if you don’t care about losing your drone to King Neptune, remember that it falling on a whale is considered a whale strike and subjects the user to severe civil and criminal penalties.
In the meantime, enjoy these amazing videos, and check out Dana Wharf Whale Watching tours.
The Abu Dhabi Business Centre, an affiliate of the Department of Economic Development, announced that sales of UAS will be banned in Abu Dhabi until new laws are passed that regulate UAS. This follows an incident in January where the Abu Dhabi Airport was shut down temporarily due to a drone sighting. The General Civil Aviation Authority is supposedly in the final stages of developing their regulations. In the meantime, Abu Dhabi has surpassed the U.S. in terms of UAS restrictions.
On the other hand, BBC received authorization to fly a DJI Phantom in the Crossrail, a giant underground train tunnel project in London. It took four months for BBC to negotiate a plan with the Crossrail safety team, but they got it done!
Also, an update to a prior post. I previously reported that 3D Robotics was second in the funding race for drone companies. That information is out of date. They are number one after they received $50 M in the most recent round of funding. They have also teamed with Qualcomm to use their Snapdragon chipsets in UAS.
Legal, Photographic, and Other Drone-related News From the "Duke of Drones"