Category Archives: Regulatory

Legal Analysis and a Cave Video

Hang Son Doong

IMG_5848
Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam – copyright Ryan Deboodt, this and profile picture used under 17 USC §107 (Fair Use).

I’ll start with some videography since I came upon this amazing video.  Ryan Deboodt, owner of Ryan Deboodt Photography in Beijing had the opportunity to record an aerial drone video of the world’s largest cave – Hang Son Doong in Vietnam.  The video is amazing, both for the natural features and the quality of the footage.

The cave boasts its own river and jungle and is large enough to hold an entire block of Manhattan or allow a 747 jet to pass through it.  It wasn’t accessed by humans until five years ago, but now a developer has the unfortunate idea of building a cable car that would allow mass access to tourists.  Enjoy the video.

 

Rivera v. Foley – Hartford, CT

This is a follow up to an article I wrote about a Connecticut reporter, Pedro Rivera, who was stopped by Hartford Police for flying his personal UAS near an accident scene.

Mr. Rivera filed suit last year against Lt. Brian Foley, major crimes division commander at the Hartford Police, alleging a violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights.  The suit is based on his appearance at an accident scene on February 1, 2014.  He was acting in his personal capacity and not for his news station, was standing away from the scene on public property, and was flying the UAS about 150 feet over the scene.

The complaint filed by Mr. Rivera contained multiple allegations, and as such the ruling is somewhat complex.  This ruling was in response to the defendants’ Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (a “12(b)(6)” motion, for the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure that addresses it). I’ll break it down as succinctly as possible below, but in short the District Court ruled against Mr. Rivera on all grounds but one.  Some of the reasons were procedural, but will effectively allow police to do the same thing in the future without the UAS user having legal recourse.

Also, the court noted that some of its ruling was based on cases that apply only to the Second Circuit (Connecticut, New York, and Vermont).  Mr. Rivera can appeal if he so chooses, and this case does not bind other courts.

Mr. Rivera’s claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 are as follows (Section 1983 essentially allows a person to sue a governmental entity for violations of other federal rights, such as those protected by the U.S. Constitution):

  1. Violation of Plaintiff‘s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, as a result of the officer’s actions at the accident site,
  2. Violation of Plaintiff‘s First Amendment freedom of speech when the officers prevented him from recording police activity.
  3. Violation of Plaintiff‘s First Amendment right to assemble at the accident site and monitor the police response to a motor vehicle accident,
  4. Retaliation against Plaintiff for exercising his First Amendment right to assemble at the accident site and record police activity, and
  5. Violation of Plaintiff‘s First Amendment right to freedom of the press as a result of the officer’s attempt to have Mr. Rivera suspended from his job at a local television station.

Court rulings:

  1. The lawsuit against the Hartford Police Department was thrown out on procedural grounds because it is not a “legal entity” under Connecticut State Law that can be sued under §1983.  Therefore, one must sue the municipality and not a component of it.
  2. However, the court took the claims against the Police Department and considered them as if they were against the City of Hartford.  The Court then found that Mr. Rivera did not state any official policy of the City of Hartford that caused the situation to occur, which is required to sue a municipality under §1983.  An “official policy” can be one that is (1) actual municipal policy, (2) municipal custom or practice (including if the City acquiesced to or tacitly authorized the conduct), or (3) the decision of a municipal policymaker with final policymaking authority.  The Court found that none of these were satisfied and the the case against the City was also thrown out.
  3. This left the two police officers, which the City claimed were eligible for “qualified immunity.” This allows municipal officer performing discretionary functions to be shielded from suit in their individual capacity.  The Court recognized that this is a difficult defense for the officers to prove.  It can be met if the officers conduct violated a constitutional right that was clearly established, and if it would have been clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted (the comments below match with the numbers above relating to Mr. Rivera’s claims):
    1. The Court found that the officers had a basis to stop Mr. Rivera and detain him and his property, therefore dismissing the Fourth Amendment claim.  In short, he refused to stop flying “an unusual and likely unidentified device into a cordoned-off area at the scene of a major motor vehicle accident and ongoing police investigation” and therefore allowed the officers to conclude that he was interfering with a police investigation.  The Court said that at a minimum, reasonable officers could disagree on the legality of their conduct in stopping Mr. Rivera.  I’m intrigued by the “into a cordoned-off area” statement, since he was 150 ft over it, but more below.
    2. There is no First Amendment freedom of speech)right in the Second Circuit to record police activity and therefore no basis to argue there was a violation of his rights (1st, 7th, 9th, and 11th Circuits do provide such a right; the 3rd and 4th do not; and the remainder are silent).  Furthermore, the Court found that the Circuits which do allow recording have addressed hand-held devices, not UAS.  The Court also cited United States v. Causby, an aviation case from the mid-century, which found that a landing aircraft at 83 feet was in the landowner’s private airspace.  I find the Court’s reliance on Causby to be overly simplistic.  Later cases have found that rather than using a fixed altitude to delineate private from public airspace, one must perform a fact-specific analysis.  That was not done here, and I don’t think one can say that 150 ft over an active police scene is in the private airspace of the landowner below without a more detailed analysis.
    3. The Court found that there is no basis to say one “has a clearly established First Amendment right to assemble at the scene of an active police investigation and fly an unidentified object into a designated crime scene.”  This sentence gives some insight into the Judge’s opinion regarding UAS, but tracks with the reasoning above.
    4. See Number 3 – since there is no right to assemble, there could be no retaliation.
    5. The Court found that Mr. Rivera could proceed with his case on the First Amendment “prior restraint” claim.  The Officers “acted to suppress Plaintiff‘s right to freedom of the press when he contacted Plaintiff’s employer and threatened to withhold the ‘goodwill’ of the Department if Plaintiff was not ‘disciplined,’ resulting in Plaintiff‘s suspension from his job as a photographer and editor.”  The Court noted this is a particularly concerning allegation given his role in the press.  This does not mean he won on this claim – only that the case can proceed.

I’m not sure what the future holds for this case, but will keep an eye on the prior restraint portion of the lawsuit as it progresses.

Electronic Privacy Information Center v. FAA

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) sued the FAA regarding privacy concerns with the proposed rules for small UAS.  EPIC is petitioning the court:

  1. to set aside the NPRM regarding small drones published on February 23, 2015;
  2. to review FAA’s denial of EPIC‘s March 8, 2012 petition; and
  3. to hold unlawful the FAA’s withholding of proposed drone privacy rules

EPIC contends that the FAA Modernization and Reform Act requires the FAA to promulgate rules regarding privacy concerns with UAS.  The FAA denied the request in November 2014, stating that the FAA triages the regulations that must be updated, this is not an immediate safety concern, and that rules regarding small UAS would be forthcoming.  EPIC does not believe the rules address privacy concerns, which is accurate since they are focuses on physical safety of people and property.  This will be a case to watch.

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

Live Blogging – Unmanned Systems 2015 Day 2

I am going to start with the most exciting part of my day, meeting with the 3D Robotics team.  This was one of the interviews I was most excited about, and the 3DR team did not disappoint.  I met with Dan McKinnon, who joined the company recently to develop 3DR’s Enterprise program (i.e.: commercial applications).  Of course the Solo is the big hit, and it is actually central to their Enterprise program as well.  It was great to meet a company filled with young and energetic engineers, and in a lighter moment he had to step away since he left a bag in an Uber car last night.  But using Uber, they were able to get in touch with the driver and get his bag back – modern technology and innovation!

Dan’s background in in agricultural surveying.  About halfway through his PhD program he started an agricultural survey business with his father.  It is still running and is called Agribotix, and their use of 3DR UAS is what brought him to 3DR.

He and Jeremiah Johnson, a senior product engineer at 3DR, went over the versatility of the product and how it makes aerial photography and cinematography much easier.  The Solo has “cable” and “orbital” functions for taking video.  This means you can set the Solo to follow a path or circle an object respectively, and it will take care of the flight through its powerful Linux computer allowing you to focus on camera operation.

These features make for great consumer videos, but will also make the Solo a powerful Enterprise tool.  For example, one can circle a cell tower for an inspection or plan a flightpath along a pipeline.  Additionally, the Solo is entirely modular.  This will allow for commercial application since users will be able to employ different imaging sensors and 3DR plans to add a mission planning component for advanced users.

I then met with Colin Guinn, a co-founder of 3DR.  He is undoubtedly a busy person and a headline speaker at the conference, so I am grateful that he took the time to meet with me.  His background is in cinematography, and we share some non-UAS similarities in boating so we got sidetracked for a short bit.

He started taking ground photos for home builders and eventually built an RC helicopter for a camera  (I believe he said a Canon 5D, but it was hard to hear).  The videos were shaky, so he set off to create the best UAS gimbal on the market, and now arguably the best consumer UAS on the market.

We discussed the modularity of the Solo, which also applies to consumer upgrades of various components.  3DR’s model is open innovation and modularity.  They are working on a tethered drone for long-term operations and have partnered with Aurora Flight Sciences‘ Panoptes to work on Sense and Avoid issues.  Panoptes is based in Cambridge, Mass and has developed a basic collision avoidance system for the Phantom and 3DR’s Iris.

I’ll round up the day chronologically now.  The day began with two announcements, one from AUVSI and one from the FAA.  The Unmanned Systems conference is being rebranded as “Exponential,” starting with “Xponential 2016” in New Orleans, LA.  “Xponential encapsulates the tremendous growth and innovation in the unmanned systems industry, as well as the broad societal benefits of the technology,” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO of AUVSI. “Xponential will help the world understand the potential of this industry by providing a single gathering place where people can see and interact with the technology and systems that will soon become part of our everyday lives.”

The FAA made their own announcement.  They will release the B4UFLY App this summer and the Pathfinder Program. The app’s purpose if fairly self-explanatory and will be entering beta-testing.  The latter is is a partnership with three businesses to research how to best harness UAS for various purposes.  The three companies are: CNN (VLOS for news-gathering in urban areas), PrecisionHawk (BLOS to survey crops), and BNSF Railroad (BLOS to inspect rail infrastructure in isolated areas).

I stopped by NUAIR’s booth, which runs the test site in upstate New York and Massachusetts.  I’ve linked to my previous article about them, and it was a pleasure to meet their Executive Director, Lawrence H. Brinker.

I also dropped in on my friends at American Aerospace, whose test flight I attended in Cape May a few months ago.  Their work has been going well and they just received a COA from the FAA to start operations out of Cape May Airport.  They are also hoping to being flights at the Massachusetts test site (which is linked to the New York test site and NUAIR) in the near future.  Not only do they have great pilots and technology, but they have a knack for finding the best locations to fly!

I then went to Airware’s booth.  They produce operating systems and hardware for commercial drones across the world, including the DAx8 shown below.

 

IMG_8497
Drone America’s search and rescue UAS

I went to NASA Langley’s booth and got to put on goggles to watch a flight of an experimental UAS.  It is called the Greased Lightning GL-10 VTOL UAS.  It currently runs on LiPo batteries, but they are developing a hybrid diesel.  Hence the name Greased (it can run on Biofuel) Lightning (the electric propulsion system).

IMG_8509

IMG_8506IMG_8510Finally, I ran across Persistent Systems.  They are in communications, which is not my forte, and I will admit I went to the booth for the swag (a Nalgene bottle).  Their company grew out of a PhD project and has been focussed on military communication applications. They have tested their systems in the cavernous midtown section of Manhattan and have had found that the WaveRelay system has great range.  It is also applicable to UAS, since it can be used to send multiple encrypted video feeds from a single UAS.  It sounds like a great company, and I suggested they test shipboard applications by heading over to the Intrepid Museum in NYC and testing it in there.

I’ll finish on a light note.

IMG_8491
My run this morning took me under the flightpath for the airport.
IMG_8493
I believe this is Jasmine, but if you can help I would appreciate this. I remember the smell from Charleston and it always reminds me of a southern spring.
IMG_8517
Watermelon Gazpacho “shooters” at the conference. Although I appreciated them with significant trepidation, they were surprisingly good.

 

Drones, Dogs, and Avocados

1-caninesdroneThese are two things that I didn’t think go together, but they do.  There is a beetle spreading a fungus that rapidly kills avocado trees and spreads to other trees. However, a  $150K grant is funding a Florida International University-University of Florida study that is attempting to use drones and dogs to stop this blight.  UAS equipped with thermal imaging payloads find the distressed trees and then specially trained dogs seek out the smell from the tree infected with the laurel wilt disease.

Unfortunately, the disease often spreads through roots to other trees before the tree shows symptoms, but the dogs can detect infected trees before they show signs of disease.  Avocado farming adds about $50 million to Florida’s economy, and more to California’s, so hopefully this proves “fruitful.”  One video can be found here, and another below.

Florida is not open season for drones, however.  The governor just signed into law a bill that restricts the ability of people to take images of private property.  I encourage you to read the bill in its entirety, especially if you operate a drone in Florida (reminder, this is not legal advice!).  It becomes effective July 1, 2015 and essentially prohibits a UAS from taking images of private property, or a person on that property, where they have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  That is basically defined as where one cannot be seen from street level.  It also restricts government use to situations that pose an immediate risk or in which a search warrant has been obtained.  The law provides from civil relief by the aggrieved party.

UAS Tech News Round-up

I’ll start with a PSA:  No Drones at the Boston Marathon next Monday.  This should go without saying, but it is worth mentioning.  Good luck to all the runners!

bostonstrong500

 

There have been a lot of exciting announcements coming out of the UAS industry recently.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they are meant to coincide with the build-up to AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 Conference!  Instead of cherry-picking my favorite stories, I’ll briefly mention a number of them and link to the original stories for those who want to read further.

Northrum Grumman signed a lease for facilities and access at the North Dakota Grand Sky UAS Tech Park and will break ground in September.  General Atomics is coming out in July and the state has provided funding and support for UAS operations.  This is the first in the nation UAS Technology Park according to the site.

– According to SeaPower Magazine, “the Coast Guard received $6.3 million in its fiscal 2015 budget to purchase a small UAS for its National Security Cutter (NSC) fleet and the end game is to have a small UAS on cutters over its entire future surface fleet. This includes the NSC, Fast Response Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter.”

– In unmanned, but not aerial, military news, the Navy will for the first time deploy drones from the versatile Virginia Class submarine fleet.  These will include Remus 600 Unmanned Underwater Vehicles.

9971465935_9e3bf3d88c_o
The older Los-Angeles Class attack submarine returning to homeport in Groton, CT after Hurricane Irene. Taken by the author in 2011.

 

– DJI is hoping to raise more capital with a valuation for their company of $10 billion.  They are the most well-known consumer UAS manufacturer and easily the most valuable.  Compare this to the recent $50 million raised by 3DR.

– The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, a partnership between Norut, UiT The Arctic University of Norway and Lufttransport, has opened.  According to the director, “The Arctic Centre for Unmanned Aircraft Systems will be a national and international focal point in the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for emergency response and environmental monitoring in the Arctic.”

–  Boeing has acquired 2d3 Sensing, a company specializing in motion imagery processing of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) data.  Boeing already uses 2d3 Sensing products on their ScanEagle and Integrator UAS.

– Zookeepers at the Royal Burgers’ Zoo in the Netherlands thought they’d try to get aerial images of a chimpanzee with a UAS.  The chimp disagreed:

–  Rapid Imaging Software, Inc. is introducing SmarTopo Harvest.  The technology delivers obstacle survey and detection technology and is Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certified to a level 1B.  According to the company, SmarTopo Harvest:

  • Searches for obstacles – the height for the search is set by the analyst
  • Detects objects or structures may be compared to the FAA obstacle database
  • Estimates height of the objects or structures
  • Creates new obstacle for a proprietary database

– Finally, the well-regarded De Zwann restaurant in Etten-Leur, North Brabant, Netherlands has used race cars, hot air balloons, and helicopters to deliver the first asparagus of the season.  This year they tried a UAS, but the plan went up in flames:

15-asparagus-drone-crash.w1200.h630

News Round-up

Pictometry

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.

 

 

Recent Congressional Hearings

There were two recent hearings in Congress that I wanted to summarize.  I also have exciting news: I will be speaking at Team Delaware International Drone Day.

 

Drone Day Flyer new

 

On March 24th, the US Senate Science, Commerce, and Transportation Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security held a hearing entitled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Key Considerations Regarding Safety, Innovation, Economic Impact, and Privacy.”  I’ll highlight the key aspects of the hearing below, but a recorded webcast and other testimony is available on the Subcommittee’s webpage.

  • 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.

The week prior, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency held a hearing entitled “Unmanned Aerial System Threats: Exploring Security Implications and Mitigation Technologies.”  As with the Senate hearing, you can go to the link for the webcast and testimony.

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.

Amazon 1 – Google 0

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 Prime Air

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:

Amazon and the Small UAV Coalition

Amazon reaction to NPRM

Amazon on NPR

The Australian Amazon Prime Air

Amazon in Congress (external link)

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos looks to the future – CBS News

Google Drone
Google Prototype Drone (retired)

 

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.

 

Regulatory Updates & a St. Patrick’s Day Drone Video

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.

In the spirit of Australia's UAS progress: the Sydney Opera House lit green for St. Patrick's Day.
The Sydney Opera House lit green for St. Patrick’s Day.

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.

Drone use

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.

 

Crossrail, Abu Dhabi, and 3DR update

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!

Finally, here is an article I wrote for my firm: WINDS OF CHANGE: A FLURRY OF UAS REGULATORY PROPOSALS.

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.