Category Archives: News

Back on the Blog

Hi everyone.  After some time off of the blog due to a pressing workload, I am going to start up again on the blog.

This is a bit early in the year to be posting about fall foliage, but I saw this video from New Hampshire.  I went to college in New Hampshire and spent a lot of time hiking in the White Mountains.  It is beautiful both by land and air.


Additionally I want to post an article about an ad made with a drone near the Hartford, Connecticut capitol building.  You might think the main concern would be flying near the state capitol, but that isn’t the case (it would be different with the federal capitol). In fact, the main issue was that the flight was in Class D airspace due to a surrounding airport and hospital helipad.  There are many legal landmines in the airspace.

I am working on an article about drones and insurance written on Forbes recently, but I am doing a bit of legal research to develop the story more.  Look forward to that soon!

Tigers, Music, and Baseball

An odd combination, but a few stories that I found attention-grabbing today.  There is a more serious post in the making as well.

I’ve written about the use of UAS to prevent poaching, and two more preserves are joining the bandwagon.  The Periyar and Parambikulam tiger reserves in India will be obtaining UAS to conduct surveillance of the tigers in areas which are time-consuming or inaccessible to foot-patrols.   This story comes thanks to the Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota, which is also the source of the white tiger cub photo.

In other news, Enrique Iglesias hurt his hand during a concert.

At first, I thought this was a trendy t-shirt, but it is blood.
At first, I thought this was a trendy t-shirt, but it is blood.

According to a spokesman: “During the show a drone is used to get crowd shots and some nights Enrique grabs the drone to give the audience a Point of View shot. Something went wrong and he had an accident,” the statement read. “He decided to go on and continued playing for 30 minutes while the bleeding continued throughout the show.”  This wasn’t a rogue drone, but one that was part of the presentation, he didn’t seem too hurt, and the show continued.

In a not-so-sanctioned event, a drone operator was using his drone over a Phillies game this weekend.

Toronto Blue Jays v Philadelphia Phillies
This is the Phillie Phanatic, their mascot and star of a children’s book series, at the beginning of a game against the Blue Jays. The base image is credited to Yahoo and used under the Fair Use Doctrine. My photo skills are in natural photography and am not great with photoshopping in images, but couldn’t resist this one.

He was confronted by both police and Phillies security.  One should note that he was asked to erase the data because it contained intellectual property.  This is another consideration of imaging with drones – make sure you’re not recording something that is protected IP!  Citizen’s Bank Park is in a restricted Class B airspace since it is near Philadelphia International Airport, and the FAA prohibits UAS near stadiums while professional sporting events, including MLB games, are in progress.

A VFR for Philadelphia around PHL. Note the two black squares to the right of the airport and labeled “stadiums.” One is for the Eagles, the other for the Phillies. Both are well within the circle for Class B airspace that starts at the surface.

Energy and UAS

Silent Falcon UAS Technologies (SFUAS) announced last week that its Silent Falcon UAS is entering “low-rate commercial production” to fill its first commercial orders.  This is the first solar-powered UAS to enter such a developmental phase.  SFUAS is a former subsidiary of Bye Aerospace, Inc., which formed the company in 2010.


The 30 lb hybrid aircraft has interchangeable wings, which will allow users to customize it to a given civilian or military application.  The design allows for an endurance of over 8 hours!  More detailed specifications are available here.

SFUAS is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and its former parent is based in Denver, Colorado.  Bye Aerospace was formed in 2007 to apply clean energy to aviation applications.


Ascent Solar Technologies Inc. was selected to aid in the solar cell development aspects of the project.  Ascent gave a presentation to investors on March 16, 2015, which addresses Ascent’s various products and specifically addresses UAS on pages 16-20.

I also discussed UAS solar panels in a previous post  about Alta Devices. Finally, if you’re wondering how fixed-wing UAS without landing gear take off, check out the Silent Falcon launch video below:

San Diego Gas & Electric Company

San Diego Gas & Electric Company received a 333 exemption from the FAA on March 26, 2015 that allows it to use an InstantEye Mk-2 Gen2 to to conduct aerial inspections of its electric and gas facilities, including emergency response damage assessments throughout its service territory.  This follows a Special Airworthiness Certificate that was granted to SDG&E in July 2014, which allowed the company to research and test potential uses for UAS.  Now they have been authorized to use UAS in day-to-day operations!

The InstantEye is small UAS that can carry various advanced imaging payloads.  It was developed and is produced by Physical Sciences, Inc. in Andover, Mass.  Here is a link to videos, including one about the InstantEye.

A military application of the , from the Army's Facebook page
A military application of the InstantEye Mk-2 Gen3 , from the Army’s Facebook page.

The 333 exemptions are starting to appear quite standardized.  The exemption even has conditions “if this exemption permits closed-set motion picture and television filming and production,” which clearly don’t apply.  The general conditions are enclosed in the exemption and listed below:

  1. Operations authorized by this grant of exemption are limited to the InstantEye Mk-2 Gen2 when weighing less than 55 pounds including payload. Proposed operations of any other aircraft will require a new petition or a petition to amend this exemption.
  2. Operations for the purpose of closed-set motion picture and television filming are not permitted.
  3. The UA may not be operated at a speed exceeding 87 knots (100 miles per hour). The exemption holder may use either groundspeed or calibrated airspeed to determine compliance with the 87 knot speed restriction. In no case will the UA be operated at airspeeds greater than the maximum UA operating airspeed recommended by the aircraft manufacturer.
  4. The UA must be operated at an altitude of no more than 400 feet above ground level (AGL). Altitude must be reported in feet AGL.
  1. The UA must be operated within visual line of sight (VLOS) of the PIC at all times. This requires the PIC to be able to use human vision unaided by any device other than corrective lenses, as specified on the PIC’s FAA-issued airman medical certificate or U.S. driver’s license.
  2. All operations must utilize a visual observer (VO). The UA must be operated within the visual line of sight (VLOS) of the PIC and VO at all times. The VO may be used to satisfy the VLOS requirement as long as the PIC always maintains VLOS capability. The VO and PIC must be able to communicate verbally at all times; electronic messaging or texting is not permitted during flight operations. The PIC must be designated before the flight and cannot transfer his or her designation for the duration of the flight. The PIC must ensure that the VO can perform the duties required of the VO.
  3. This exemption and all documents needed to operate the UAS and conduct its operations in accordance with the conditions and limitations stated in this grant of exemption, are hereinafter referred to as the operating documents. The operating documents must be accessible during UAS operations and made available to the Administrator upon request. If a discrepancy exists between the conditions and limitations in this exemption and the procedures outlined in the operating documents, the conditions and limitations herein take precedence and must be followed. Otherwise, the operator must follow the procedures as outlined in its operating documents. The operator may update or revise its operating documents. It is the operator’s responsibility to track such revisions and present updated and revised documents to the Administrator or any law enforcement official upon request. The operator must also present updated and revised documents if it petitions for extension or amendment to this grant of exemption. If the operator determines that any update or revision would affect the basis upon which the FAA granted this exemption, then the operator must petition for an amendment to its grant of exemption. The FAA’s UAS Integration Office (AFS-80) may be contacted if questions arise regarding updates or revisions to the operating documents.
  4. Any UAS that has undergone maintenance or alterations that affect the UAS operation or flight characteristics, e.g. replacement of a flight critical component, must undergo a functional test flight prior to conducting further operations under this exemption. Functional test flights may only be conducted by a PIC with a VO and must remain at least 500 feet from other people. The functional test flight must be conducted in such a manner so as to not pose an undue hazard to persons and property.
  5. The operator is responsible for maintaining and inspecting the UAS to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation.
  6. Prior to each flight, the PIC must conduct a pre-flight inspection and determine the UAS is in a condition for safe flight. The pre-flight inspection must account for all potential discrepancies, e.g. inoperable components, items, or equipment. If the inspection reveals a condition that affects the safe operation of the UAS, the aircraft is prohibited from operating until the necessary maintenance has been performed and the UAS is found to be in a condition for safe flight.
  1. The operator must follow the UAS manufacturer’s maintenance, overhaul, replacement, inspection, and life limit requirements for the aircraft and aircraft components.
  2. Each UAS operated under this exemption must comply with all manufacturer safety bulletins.
  3. Under this grant of exemption, a PIC must hold either an airline transport, commercial, private, recreational, or sport pilot certificate. The PIC must also hold a current FAA airman medical certificate or a valid U.S. driver’s license issued by a state, the District of Colombia, Puerto Rico, a territory, a possession, or the Federal government. The PIC must also meet the flight review requirements specified in
    14 CFR § 61.56 in an aircraft in which the PIC is rated on his or her pilot certificate.
  4. The operator may not permit any PIC to operate unless the PIC demonstrates the ability to safely operate the UAS in a manner consistent with how the UAS will be operated under this exemption, including evasive and emergency maneuvers and maintaining appropriate distances from persons, vessels, vehicles and structures. PIC qualification flight hours and currency must be logged in a manner consistent with 14 CFR § 61.51(b). Flights for the purposes of training the operator’s PICs and VOs (training, proficiency, and experience-building) and determining the PIC’s ability to safely operate the UAS in a manner consistent with how the UAS will be operated under this exemption are permitted under the terms of this exemption. However, training operations may only be conducted during dedicated training sessions. During training, proficiency, and experience-building flights, all persons not essential for flight operations are considered nonparticipants, and the PIC must operate the UA with appropriate distance from nonparticipants in accordance with 14 CFR § 91.119.
  5. UAS operations may not be conducted during night, as defined in 14 CFR § 1.1. All operations must be conducted under visual meteorological conditions (VMC). Flights under special visual flight rules (SVFR) are not authorized.
  6. The UA may not operate within 5 nautical miles of an airport reference point (ARP) as denoted in the current FAA Airport/Facility Directory (AFD) or for airports not denoted with an ARP, the center of the airport symbol as denoted on the current FAA- published aeronautical chart, unless a letter of agreement with that airport’s management is obtained or otherwise permitted by a COA issued to the exemption holder. The letter of agreement with the airport management must be made available to the Administrator or any law enforcement official upon request.
  1. The UA may not be operated less than 500 feet below or less than 2,000 feet horizontally from a cloud or when visibility is less than 3 statute miles from the PIC.
  2. If the UAS loses communications or loses its GPS signal, the UA must return to a pre- determined location within the private or controlled-access property.
  3. The PIC must abort the flight in the event of unpredicted obstacles or emergencies.
  4. The PIC is prohibited from beginning a flight unless (considering wind and forecast weather conditions) there is enough available power for the UA to conduct the intended operation and to operate after that for at least five minutes or with the reserve power recommended by the manufacturer if greater.
  5. Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). All operations shall be conducted in accordance with an ATO-issued COA. The exemption holder may apply for a new or amended COA if it intends to conduct operations that cannot be conducted under the terms of the attached COA.
  6. All aircraft operated in accordance with this exemption must be identified by serial number, registered in accordance with 14 CFR part 47, and have identification (N- Number) markings in accordance with 14 CFR part 45, Subpart C. Markings must be as large as practicable.
  7. Documents used by the operator to ensure the safe operation and flight of the UAS and any documents required under 14 CFR §§ 91.9 and 91.203 must be available to the PIC at the Ground Control Station of the UAS any time the aircraft is operating. These documents must be made available to the Administrator or any law enforcement official upon request.
  8. The UA must remain clear and give way to all manned aviation operations and activities at all times.
  9. The UAS may not be operated by the PIC from any moving device or vehicle.
  10. All Flight operations must be conducted at least 500 feet from all nonparticipating persons, vessels, vehicles, and structures unless
    1. Barriers or structures are present that sufficiently protect nonparticipating persons from the UA and/or debris in the event of an accident. The operator must ensure that nonparticipating persons remain under such protection. If a situation arises where nonparticipating persons leave such protection and are within 500 feet of the UA, flight operations must cease immediately in a manner ensuring the safety of nonparticipating persons; and
    2. The owner/controller of any vessels, vehicles or structures has granted permission for operating closer to those objects and the PIC has made a safety assessment of the risk of operating closer to those objects and determined that it does not present an undue hazard.

The PIC, VO, operator trainees or essential persons are not considered nonparticipating persons under this exemption.

  1. All operations shall be conducted over private or controlled-access property with permission from the property owner/controller or authorized representative. Permission from property owner/controller or authorized representative will be obtained for each flight to be conducted.
  2. Any incident, accident, or flight operation that transgresses the lateral or vertical boundaries of the operational area as defined by the applicable COA must be reported to the FAA’s UAS Integration Office (AFS-80) within 24 hours. Accidents must be reported to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) per instructions contained on the NTSB Web site:

The Drone Lawyer Joins DJI

Brendan Schulman (“The Drone Lawyer”), has joined DJI as its Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs.

I had the opportunity to meat Brendan at AUVSI in Atlanta and it was a pleasure to meet someone whose passion for drones is matched by incredible legal skill.  I congratulate Brendan and wish him the best!

Brendan flying the Parrot eXom at AUVSI (my photo).
Brendan flying the Parrot eXom at AUVSI (my photo).  He drew quite the crowd for this impromptu, and flawless, test flight.
Brendan, Peter Lee (a UAS lawyer in the UK), and myself at AUVSI.
Brendan, Peter Lee (a UAS lawyer in the UK), and me at AUVSI.

New Horizons passes Pluto

While not what we generally think of as a UAS, NASA’s New Horizons Probe made its closest approach of Pluto today.  This complex unmanned system will certainly increase our understanding of space, and the technology will certainly trickle down to UAS.

From NASA: New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and will conduct a five-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015. Pluto closest approach is scheduled for July 14, 2015.

The highest resolution image from its closest approach at about 4pm today has not yet arrived from New Horizons, but the images so far are amazing!

Pluto High Resolution
Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. (Picture and Caption from NASA)

Here is a size comparison:

Size Comparison
Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km, 18.5% that of Earth’s, while Charon has a diameter of 1208 km, 9.5% that of Earth’s. (Picture and caption from NASA)

I’ll update this post tomorrow with the image that is expected to arrive and is promised to be even better than the one posted above.

Since I’m talking about NASA, here are a few pictures of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  It gave me chills to be so close to a shuttle that our nation launched into space 39 times!  The docent said they made a conscious decision not to paint it, and it was interesting to see the effects of reentry on the thermal protection.

IMG_2631 IMG_2613IMG_2622

Drone I3

The title pulls from the military use of C3 (command, control, and communications), but in this case I’m referring to Insurance, Investment, and Intelligence – the three necessary requirements for a successful drone company.  I’ve mentioned the first two issues before (the third goes without saying, and I certainly saw a lot of brainpower at AUVSI!), but a new report brought this to the fore again.  I’ll also finish on a lighter note relating to the whale at the top of this article.

Investment: I marvel at how young UAS entrepreneurs will flaunt FAA regulations and knowingly fly outside of the FAA’s dictates.  Note that I do not recommend this, but am merely making an observation.  At AUVSI, lawyers were a novelty that cost money while on the other hand people with money to invest were rock stars.  I discussed my meeting with Westbury group and how people overheard him talking about investment and came up during our lunch (see my post here).

Not only are traditional investment firms in play, but so is the new “Crowdsourcing,” such as that employed by CyPhy Works for their LVL1 (see my post here). An article discusses how more than $10,000,000 has been crowdsource invested in UAS!  Investment in UAS has reached critical mass.

Insurance: On to the next prong, I’ve written about UAS insurance in the past, and insurance heavyweight Marsh has issued a new report entitled “Dawning of the Drones The Evolving Risk of Unmanned Aerial Systems.”  The report summarizes much of what I had said before – with some nice graphics added in too.  They see an economic benefit from UAS integration of over $13 billion in the first three years and over $80 billion by 2025.  I don’t doubt it, and I’m sure they want a piece of the action through insuring drones.

And while UAS companies have been willing to flaunt the FAA, which they see as an entity making lofty proclamations but lacking enforcement capability, they want to protect their investment.  My wife, who has been working with UAS operators, is finding it easier to place insurance as the underwriters see the profitability of the market and have become educated on the actual risks associated with UAS operations.

Gray Whales: I will finish on a lighter note, highlighting a positive use of UAS, although the US Government is concerned neither with investment nor insurance.  We do that first through taxes and the latter is generally taken care of through “self insurance.”  I read about how NOAA has been using a hexacopter (the more versatile cousin of the ubiquitous quadcopter) to study Gray Whales.  They are assessing how environmental conditions in the Arctic affect the mother’s amount of blubber and whether they will survive the annual migration, during which the mother rarely eats.  The article provides more detail and links to other NOAA articles, so I encourage you to read it.

The image on the left shows a very skinny female gray whale and her calf just visible beneath the water’s surface. This whale may or may not have sufficient energy reserves to make it thousands of miles to the Arctic while also nursing her calf. In contrast, the female on the right is quite robust, and has a high likelihood of successfully rearing her calf. Scientists are using an unmanned aerial vehicle to produce very precise overhead images of gray whales, then analyzing the images to understand how environmental conditions affect the health of adult females and ultimately the reproductive success of the population. Photo and Caption Text Credit: NOAA
The image on the left shows a very skinny female gray whale and her calf just visible beneath the water’s surface. This whale may or may not have sufficient energy reserves to make it thousands of miles to the Arctic while also nursing her calf. In contrast, the female on the right is quite robust, and has a high likelihood of successfully rearing her calf. Scientists are using an unmanned aerial vehicle to produce very precise overhead images of gray whales, then analyzing the images to understand how environmental conditions affect the health of adult females and ultimately the reproductive success of the population. Photo and Caption Text Credit: NOAA

Drones Survey and Assist with the Nepal Earthquake

For the last few days we have been hearing about and seeing the devastation in Nepal following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake.  The death toll is over 4,500 and the region’s infrastructure has been devastated.  This makes recovery difficult, as we’ve seen after natural disasters in both New Orleans and Haïti.  I wrote some time ago about how UAS could be used to assist in disaster relief, and that time has come.

Dharahara Tower Hindu shrine (a UNESCO heritage site)

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is reporting that a Canadian relief team is on its way to Nepal – armed with drones.  But these drones aren’t armed with weapons.  Instead they are armed with imaging payloads.

GlobalMedic is based in Toronto and its mission is “to help those in need around the world by providing relief supplies and equipment, and has adopted ‘Serving the Global Community’ as its motto.” They are bringing with them three UAS from Aeryon Labs, based in Waterloo, Ontario.  They intend to collect high-resolution images to streamline aid.

In this instance, drone-maker Aeryon Labs of Waterloo, Ont., not too far west of Toronto, has loaned GlobalMedic’s team two Scout quadcopter UAS and one SkyRanger, a UAS designed with the military in mind that can handle higher winds and can stay in the air for almost an hour!  Both carry impressive imaging hardware too.

There are numerous charities assisting in the relief effort besides GlobalMedic and I hope they all can work to relieve the suffering of those impacted. You can get to GlobalMedic through the link above, and I’m also a big fan of Catholic Relief Services, since I feel they do great work with lower overhead than other organizations.

This video is on YouTube and unrelated to the CBC video contained in the article linked to above.


Honey Bees and Drones

There are some interesting stories relating to the LOCUST program, which I wrote about the other day.  There is a project run by researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Sussex in the UK that are attempting to recreate the honey bee brain and use that information to automatically pilot a drone.  In the video below, a UAS used the checkerboard pattern to aid in navigation with an early version of a honey bee brain.  You can find out more about the “Green Brain Project” at the group’s website, and the image credit above goes to them.

Separately, Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, head of the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico wants to develop the ability for multiple UAS to work together without relying on the RF spectrum and its inherent unreliabilities (hacking, weather, etc).  He is looking at termites, who use pheromones to work together, for inspiration.  “Without communicating they sense the environment change around them, and they instinctively know which way to go.”

The technical side of this is fascinating, but on the other hand it sounds a bit Orwellian and conjures images of Terminator to those of us who have seen it. So where do we find the right balance? The Center for a New American Century’s “Project on Ethical Autonomy” has published MEANINGFUL HUMAN CONTROL in WEAPON SYSTEMS: A Primer, by Michael C. Horowitz and Paul Scharre.  The White Paper discusses the concept of “meaningful human control” of weapons systems, how that concept is implemented in manned systems, and broaches the issue in relation to unmanned systems.

The Project notes that the U.S. is one of the few countries with guidance currently in place, which is found in  Autonomy in Weapons Systems (Department of Defense Directive 3000.09, dtd Nov 21, 2012).  In short, it requires that “autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force” and “complete engagements in a timeframe consistent with commander and operator intentions and, if unable to do so, terminate engagements or seek additional human operator input before continuing the engagement.”  It is signed by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter (now Secretary of Defense).

I think it would be interesting to understand how a bee’s mind works and apply that to UAS, but I firmly agree that rational human decision-making, and accountability, need to be responsible for the ultimate actions of the system – specifically use use of force and other defined mission goals.  The policy is a good first step, but the Project on Ethical Autonomy and others like it will help put meat on the bone of the basic DoD policy and hopefully work toward internationally recognized rules of unmanned warfare.

To finish on a light note, I have a video below.  I’m not a South Park fan, so I’m admittedly behind on this one.  The clip certainly touches on a perception among portions of the public, but it is amusing.  As is another South Park clip, which is borderline-NSFW, depending upon your workplace.

Dongfeng’s New Mast

This weekend was spring cleaning so I haven’t been watching the UAS news that closely.  However, I did have an update that is tangentially related to UAS.

I wrote about Dongfeng and its on-board photographer, Sam Greenfield.  They are a team in the Volvo Ocean Race and Sam is a photographer from Connecticut who filed an amazing video from a UAS on the open ocean.

Unfortunately, they had a rough rounding of Cape Horn and damaged their mast near the bottom of the world!  Fortunately everyone was ok, but it cost they had to retire from the leg and lost points for the Aukland, New Zealand to Itajai, Brazil leg of the race.

Map of break

Here is video of the damage during the storm:

Some photos from Dongfeng’s Facebook page on the progress of the replacement mast, and one beautiful shot with dolphins along side are below (various credits, see Facebook) .  You can follow the team’s progress and they should be getting into Itajai anytime.  I wish them luck with the new mast and hope to get some more great footage from Sam as they sail up to Newport!  I’m looking forward to seeing them and the other boats in May.

Dolphin On planeComing off planeOff plane mast on planeOn truck

News Round-up


Pictometry, a subsidiary of EagleView Technology Corporation, will be working on a research project with NYSEARCH/Northeast Gas Association, a consortium of natural gas companies across the U.S. and Canada.  Pictometry will be collaborating with NUAIR, both discussed in previous posts, to research the “feasibility of using UAS to improve the overall safety and speed of routine and emergency surveys and inspections of pipelines for gas utilities.”

The project is intended to develop methods to image natural gas pipelines and possibly use methane detectors as well. This comes on the heels of a recent FAA grant of a 333 exemption to San Diego Gas and Electric Company  to use UAS for infrastructure imaging.  Utility companies from production to delivery are excited about the potential UAS have to reduce costs, reduce the risk from dangerous inspection activities, and increase the reliability of their systems.

Pictrometry also recently helped found the Property Drone Consortium (PDC).  From their website: “The Property Drone Consortium represents a collaboration among insurance carriers, construction industry leaders and supporting enterprises who have agreed to work together to promote research, development and the establishment of regulations for the use of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) technology across the insurance and construction industries.”

Amazon Prime Air

Amazon has been making quite a bit of news, in what appears to be a coordinated media response to the FAA regulatory processes.  Amazon granted exclusive access to its Canadian UAV test site to Guardian reporter Ed Pilkington.

The FAA reported to great fanfare on March 19 that it had granted Amazon an Experimental Use Certificate for its testing programs.  Days later, Amazon told Congress that it was useless because they had moved on to more advanced designs while waiting for FAA approval.

We now find out that they have relocated their testing less than a mile over the border into Canada, taking with them a NASA astronaut, the designer of the wingtips for Boeing’s 787 airliner, and “a formidable team of roboticists, software engineers, aeronautics experts and pioneers in remote sensing.”  Amazon said it was hoping to develop Prime Air in the U.S., but testing indoors is limiting and their frustration with regulators is evident – and not unreasonable.

For example, the article states that the FAA granted 48 “outdoor drone testing licenses” (I believe they mean Experimental Use Certificates) while Transport Canada granted 1,672 commercial drone certificates in 2014.  This is a daunting difference, and I doubt anyone can reasonably argue that Canada is taking safety for granted.  In addition, Diana Cooper, head of the Unmanned Aerial Systems and Robotics Practice Group at LaBarge Weinstein said that other American companies have contacted her about UAS opportunities in Canada.

I hope that the U.S. can maintain its edge in UAS R&D, but stories like this are disheartening.  Larry Downes wrote What’s Wrong with the FAA’s New Drone Rules in last month’s Harvard Business Review. It is a great article about the problems with the FAA’s approach – one being its refusal to consider beyond line of sight operations such as those envisioned by Amazon.

Both the Guardian and HBR article are great, so I encourage you to read them in their entirety.