Federal regulators said Monday that they plan to require recreational drone users to register their aircraft with the government for the first time in an attempt to restore order to U.S. skies, which have been invaded by rogue flying robots.

U.S. officials said they still need to sort out the basic details of the registration system but concluded that they had to take swift action to cope with a surge in sales of inexpensive, simple-to-fly drones that are increasingly interfering with regular air traffic.

“The signal we’re sending today is that when you’re in the national airspace, it’s a very serious matter,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters.

Pilots of passenger planes and other aircraft are reporting more than 100 sightings or close calls with rogue drones a month — a significant increase just in the past year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Under FAA guidelines, drone owners are not supposed fly their aircraft above 400 feet or within five miles of an airport without permission. But the rules are widely flouted, and officials have been largely powerless to hunt down rogue drone operators.

Requiring drones to be registered will be of limited use for investigators unless the remote-controlled aircraft crash and a registration number can be found. Most drones are too small to appear on radar and do not carry transponders to broadcast their locations.

But regulators hope that forcing owners — many of whom are aviation novices — to register their drones with the government will at least make them think twice about their responsibility to fly safely and the possibility that they could be held accountable for an accident.

The FAA and the Transportation Department are setting up a task force composed of government officials and industry representatives to devise the new registration system. Foxx said the group has until Nov. 20 to finalize its recommendations so the government can set up the registry before Christmas — the peak season for drone sales.

“We do intend to move very quickly,” he said.

The task force will have to wrestle with the basic question of size limits and what kinds of drones will have to be registered. Most consumer models weigh only a few pounds and resemble toys, but many can easily reach altitudes above 1,000 feet.

Foxx said the registration rules will also apply to people who have already bought drones in recent years, not just new owners. He said the FAA would impose penalties — which he did not spell out — on anyone who does not comply.

Nobody knows exactly how many of the robotic aircraft are flying around, but most estimates top 1 million.

The Consumer Electronics Association, an industry group, estimates that hobbyists will buy 700,000 drones in the United States this year, a 63 percent increase from 2014.

In addition to snarling air traffic, nuisance drones across the country have interfered with firefighters, flown into tall buildings and crashed into bystanders on the ground. Criminals have used them to smuggle contraband into prisons. Some property owners have become so irritated by drones buzzing overhead that they have gotten out their shotguns and opened fire.

In general, the drone misadventures have been taking place in a regulatory vacuum. The FAA has banned most businesses from flying drones until it can finalize new safety rules — a step that will take at least another year.

But hobbyists who fly drones for fun are largely unregulated. Under a law passed by Congress in 2012 to protect model-airplane enthusiasts, the FAA is prohibited from imposing new restrictions on recreational drone owners. As a result, they have not been required to obtain pilot licenses or undergo training.

Although the FAA lacks the authority to license recreational drones, it does have the power to impose civil fines on anyone who recklessly interferes with air traffic or endangers people on the ground. Foxx also said the FAA has the authority to require the registration of any aircraft that fly in the national airspace — manned or unmanned.

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/federal-regulators-to-require-registration-of-recreational-drones/2015/10/19/434961be-7664-11e5-a958-d889faf561dc_story.html

Earlier this month, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed Senate Bill 142, which would have restricted unmanned vehicle use in the state. In a progressive move, Governor Brown wrote in a veto letter to the California State Senate that the bill “while well-intentioned, could expose the occasional hobbyist and FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”
State and local legislation throughout the country has become a political hot spot as government agencies grapple with how to manage and govern the explosion of commercial and hobby UAVs. With more than a million small UAVs sold in the U.S. during the last two years, and FAA regulations for recreational drone use no closer to fruition, constituent pressures are at an all time high.
California’s Senate Bill 142 sought to amend the state’s wrongful occupation of real property laws to include UAVs. Had it passed, the law would have extended liability for wrongful occupation of real property and damages to UAV operators flying their aircraft less than 350 feet above ground level over private property without permission of the property owner.
The bill’s author, California Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, representing district 19 (which includes Santa Barbara), repeatedly referred to concerns over privacy and lack of oversight for recreational drone operators as motivation for the bill’s creation. While the FAA regulates commercial UAV use, its Modernization and Reform Act only includes a requirement to operate recreational UAVs “in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines.” Senator Jackson wrote in her judiciary of the bill, “the lack of more comprehensive rules establishing clear boundaries for when, where, and how these craft are to be operated has raised concerns.”
While SB 142 is dead, the issue is far from resolved. In his letter to the senate, Governor Brown wrote “drone technology certainly raises novel issues that merit careful examination.” He closed his letter with encouragement to lawmakers — “let’s look at this more carefully.”

drone save

Bill Kastel and his wife, Tracey, were hoping to catch some extra Sunday morning shuteye when they were awakened early on May 25 by a loud clanking. Opening the front door of the mobile home they’d mounted on five-foot-high stilts near a creek in Venus, Texas, eight years ago, they were astonished to see a river raging below their front porch.

“It was just one foot away from flooding us out,” says Bill, 58, an auto mechanic who was flooded once before in 2007. “The clanking we heard was the pressure tank for our water well after it fell off. If we hadn’t heard it, we probably would have slept through the whole thing.”

Trapped on all sides by water with their cat and five dogs, the Kastels dialed 911 and waited for help. They didn’t expect that help to come in the form of a drone nicknamed “Valkyrie,” operated by software engineer and Joshua Fire Department volunteer Garrett Bryl.

Bryl, 43, a drone hobbyist for three years, offered his services to the rural fire department six months ago when he realized that his quadcopter could make a lifesaving difference when people needed to be found quickly.

“I’d used it before to assist with fires and find gas-line leaks,” Bryl tells PEOPLE, “but this was my first swift-water rescue.”

Using his drone, Bryl delivered life vests and a safety line to the Kastels, which Bill attached to a beam on his house. The other end was then hooked to the bumper of a fire truck and a rescue by raft was attempted.

“They got close, but in the end, it was too dangerous – they were worried about knocking over the stilts on our house and sending the entire place down river,” Kastel tells PEOPLE.

“It’s scary to think that we might have had to leap for our lives or have been washed away,” he says. “Knowing that we had life vests and a safety line made a huge difference. Watching that drone come in was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. That pilot was no rookie.”

An hour or so later, the Kastels were evacuated by a National Guard helicopter, returning once the water had receded to fetch their dogs and cat.

“We were lucky – the damage to our house could have been a lot worse,” says Bill. “I’m so grateful for everybody who showed up to help us, especially the drone pilot. Everybody thinks of drones as something the military uses for spying on people, but there are lots of other uses, too.”

That same morning, Bryl also used Valkyrie to help locate two people trapped in a pickup truck that was swept away by floodwaters near Joshua.

“With an aerial view, I was able to find them in 45 seconds and we got a helicopter in there to get them out before they were carried away by the water,” he says. “All in a day’s work, I guess.”

Source: http://aluvicro.com/drone-pilot-rescues-flood-victims/

NASA Wants This Gas-Jet Drone to Find Resources on the Moon and Mars

This might look like a slightly ramshackle home-brew drone, but in fact its a new kind of robotic vehicle developed bu NASA that “can gather samples on other worlds in places inaccessible to rovers.”

The new drone has been developed by Swamp Works engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it’s being built as a kind of prospecting robot. “The first step in being able to use resources on Mars or an asteroid is to find out where the resources are,” explains Rob Mueller, who’s been working on the project, in a press release. “They are most likely in hard-to-access areas where there is permanent shadow. Some of the crater walls are angled 30 degrees or more, and that’s far too steep for a traditional rover to navigate and climb.”

So NASA’s solution is what it calls Extreme Access Flyers. These craft, wich seem to resmeble quad-copter drones, would be able to “travel into the shaded regions of a crater and pull out small amounts of soil to see whether it holds the water-ice promised by readings from orbiting spacecraft.” Unlike Earth-bound drones, though, they use gas jets instead of rotors—because the alien atmospheres like those of Mars and the Moon would be too thin to support spinning blades.

Perhaps several of the drones would be taken to the surface of other worlds aboard a lander, which they’d used as a base to fly from using autonomous navigation systems. The lander would also act as a support unit, with the drones relying on it for the replenishment of batteries and propellants between flights. Speaking or propellants, NASA’s hope is to have the drone’s jets run on something like oxygen or steam water vapor — so, in theory, it may even be able to fuel itself from the planet it’s on. Indded, NASA explains just what it may find while its’s there:

In addition to scouting craters for water and other elements that can be processed into fuel for large spacecraft and air for humans, the flyer would be capable of exploring lava tubes that are known to exist on Mars and the moon and are found in many volcanic areas on Earth. Because some are thought to be 30 feet or bigger in diameter, an extreme access flyer could navigate autonomously during a robotic precursor mission and find a safe place for astronauts during their journey to Mars.

While the project started two years ago, the team has been using rapid advances in commercially available drones to keep the work moving at speed. “The flight control systems of small, unmanned multi-rotor aerial vehicles are not too dissimilar to a spacecraft controller,” explains Mike DuPuis, one of the researchers. “That was the starting point for developing a controller.” In fact they’ve already developed several small craft, from a flyer the size of a person’s palm to a large quad-copter about five feet across that uses ducted gas fans to fly.

The latter, NASA claims, is the kind of size of drone that would likely be used on a mission to Mars or the Moon. It’s not yet clear when such a mission might happen, though.

Source: [NASA via The Atlantic via The Verge]

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Facebook on Thursday revealed more details about its plan to find cost-effective ways to provide Internet access to the 10% of the Earth’s population that lives far from cell towers or land lines.

The solution: Drones the size of a Boeing 737 — launched by helium balloons.

Powered by the sun, each 1,000 lb. drone would fly lazy circles more than 11 miles above the Earth, providing broadband-level Internet for people in a 50-mile radius below.

The team’s dream is “a backbone of the Internet using lasers in the sky,” said Yael Maguire, director of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab.

The planes, dubbed Aquila, (Latin for “eagle”) would be unmanned. Each would spend three months aloft before slowly floating down to earth “like a feather” for refit, said Jay Parikh, vice president of engineering at Facebook.

The effort is part of a project launched a year ago by Facebook’s Connectivity Lab to provide Internet access to the 4 billion people around the world who currently lack it.

While many people live in sufficiently connected or urban areas where current methods, such as wires and cellular phones, can provide Internet access, millions of people live where a connection isn’t possible.

“Standard telecommunication infrastructure doesn’t reach them. If they pulled out a phone, it would have nothing to connect to,” said Parikh.

Facebook has set out to find a way to give it to them.

The answer the company’s engineers have come up with involves sending planes that can beam down access far above commercial airspace, where there are no commercial flights to run into and no weather to interfere with flight.

The plane, which is virtually all wing, is about 100 feet wingtip to wingtip.

“If you’re thinking of your little quad copters, this isn’t what we’re building,” said Parikh.

The first test vehicle was built this year by Ascenta, a Somerset, England-based solar drone company that Facebook purchased in 2014.

One of Facebook’s biggest breakthroughs in the project has been increasing data capacity of the lasers that will connect the planes with a land-based fiber line that is the link to the Internet.

Facebook’s team has developed a system whose ground-based laser can transmit information to a dome on the underside of the plane at rates 1,000 times faster than has previously been possible.

It’s something like reading a CD with a laser head just after it’s been thrown into the air like a Frisbee — from 11 miles away.

“The team has figured out how to do a laser communion system that can go tens of gigabits in a second,” Parikh said. “Doing that in fiber is routine, but doing it through the air has never been done.”

None of this means Facebook plans to go into the ISP business, or airplane manufacturing, said Parikh.

“Our intention is not to be an operator here. We want to inspire and get the industry to move faster,” he said.

Facebook’s team plans to spend the second half of 2015 doing structural tests on the one plane they’ve build, “making sure it flies,” said Parikh.

“We still have development to go on the batteries, solar cells and avionics, there are huge challenges, this has never been done before,” said Maguire.

Source: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/07/30/facebook-drone-aquila-internet-solar-powered/30890057/

Drone deliveries in the U.S. will soon be an official, government-sanctioned activity. On July 17, the Federal Aviation Administration will allow a collaboration between NASA, Flirtey and Virginia Tech to fly unmanned aircraft to deliver pharmaceuticals to a free medical clinic in West Virginia. The fixed wing aircraft from NASA Langley and multi-rotor delivery drones from Flirtey will become the world’s first autonomous aerial delivery services.

The event organizers hope to prove that drone usage need not be nefarious or purely for enthusiasts. In fact, the goal of these drones is to bring life-saving meds to an under-served community.

“This is a Kitty Hawk moment not just for Flirtey, but for the entire industry,” said Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny in a statement. “Proving that unmanned aircraft can deliver life-saving medicines is an important step toward a future where unmanned aircraft make routine autonomous deliveries of your every day purchases.”

The hexacopter that Flirtey uses, which is made by the University of Nevada, Reno, is made of carbon fiber and aluminum. It also sports some 3D printed components. It can range more than 10 miles from home base, and can lower cargo via tethered line. Built-in safety features, such as a low battery alert, will automatically return the craft to a safe location. In case of a low GPS signal or full communication loss, there’s also an auto-return home feature.

The drones will deliver up to 24 packages of prescription medication, weighing 10 pounds. The event is part of the Wise County Fairgrounds’ Remote Area Medical USA and Health Wagon clinic. Other than free medications, which will be flown to the Lonesome Pine Airport before being drone lifted to the fairgrounds, attendants will receive free eye, dental and other healthcare services.

Flirtey, which bills itself as the world’s first commercial drone delivery service, conducted its first tests in Sydney, Australia in 2013. It started by delivering more than 100 textbooks. It went on to offered humanitarian relief in New Zealand, during a search and rescue mission. In May, 2015, the company conducted what it calls the first drone delivery over a populated area, sending auto parts via hexacopter.

The event blurs the lines between commercial and public use of drones. For drones to be used for commercial use, a company must apply for an FAA exemption. The usage must be deemed as low risk and being performed in controlled environments. Drones can only be used without an exemption for set periods of time in set locations by public entities (government, law enforcement, universities).

Source: http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2015/06/22/first-faa-approved-drone-deliveries-coming-july-17/


In emergencies, seconds count. An estimated 1,000 “saveable” lives are lost a year because of slow emergency response in the nation’s biggest cities. But in traffic-jammed urban environments, how can a four-wheeled ambulance be expected to make it anywhere and back quickly?

Design firm argodesign has a wild conceptual solution. It’s a one-person ambulance drone modeled after a standard quadcopter—driven by a GPS, pilot, or combination of both—that could be dispatched to an emergency scene with a single EMT. It’s designed to land almost anywhere, thanks to a footprint the size of a compact car. The EMT stabilizes the patient, loads him up, and sends him back to the hospital for further treatment.

“Obviously, it’s not a thoroughly vetted concept, but I think it’s extremely intriguing where drones might show up,” says Mark Rolston, founder of argodesign. “It would be nice to see them used this way, rather than another military function or more photography.”

The idea was born from a team brainstorming session around how health care could become more accessible. The designers first thought about how they could build a better ambulance, and the rise of autonomous vehicles inspired them to consider a self-driving ambulance. Then they thought of helicopters and drones, and the rest developed from there.

Assuming you could build it, the drone’s benefits would be significant. A single pilot who would usually fly a single helicopter could manage a whole fleet of drone ambulances remotely, relying on autopilot through the skies, and taking over manual controls only during more complicated takeoffs and landings. There’s also the issue of price: Rolston believes an ultralight drone could be constructed in the million dollar range. That’s several times more expensive than a wheeled ambulance, but still cheaper than a medical helicopter.

“It’s basic product innovation: Faster, cheaper, better,” Rolston says. “Many more of these would cost less to service.”

As wild as the idea may seem, it’s not entirely implausible. Drones exist, they are getting better by the day, and they’re about to take over our skies (some day). Autonomous drivers will be on our streets within the next year. Why not fuse these two ideas?

“I wouldn’t be surprised to get emails, to hear lots of the aeronautics companies saying, ‘we are working on something like this,’” Rolston says. “It makes perfect sense. We may have underestimated the wingspan challenge for lift, but in a greater scheme of things, that’s a trivial part of the idea.”

Source: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3041696/this-drone-ambulance-is-totally-wild-and-totally-inevitable

Unmanned inspection vehicles will increase safety and efficiency for the freight network.

After years of accusations of foot-dragging on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) regulation, the Federal Aviation Administration has recently been speeding exemption approvals and announcing new regulatory programs. One beneficiary is BNSF Railway, which has gained approval for a pilot(less) program to use drones to inspect its far-flung network of rails. The inspections could help reduce derailments and other safety problemsand though BNSF isn’t saying so, lead to lower labor costs in the long run.

Rail safety is drawing new focus after May’s catastrophic Amtrak derailment. Though that accident’s immediate cause was excessive speed, the Federal Railroad Administration reports that nearly 500 derailments were caused by defective track in 2014, making up more than a third of total rail accidents. Those derailments caused 35 injuries and $94 million in damages last year. BNSF says its drones will allow for more frequent track inspections, which should reduce track-caused derailments.

FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. A collapse in oil prices won't derail the railroads’ profit engine even if it does slow the tremendous growth in crude oil shipments seen in recent years. Railroads went from hauling 9,500 carloads of crude oil in 2008 to 435,560 last year, as production boomed and oil routinely sold for $90 a barrel or more. But even with the surge, crude oil shipments remain less than 2 percent of all the carloads major U.S. railroads deliver. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2013, file photo, a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. A collapse in oil prices won’t derail the railroads’ profit engine even if it does slow the tremendous growth in crude oil shipments seen in recent years. Railroads went from hauling 9,500 carloads of crude oil in 2008 to 435,560 last year, as production boomed and oil routinely sold for $90 a barrel or more. But even with the surge, crude oil shipments remain less than 2 percent of all the carloads major U.S. railroads deliver. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

The FAA has greenlit more than 400 so-called “333 exemptions” for limited drone operations since this February. But unlike most operators, BNSF will be testing UAV’s outside of direct visual contact with their operator, referred to as “beyond visual line of sight,” or BVLOS, operation. BVLOS operation is regarded as more risky by the FAA.

BNSF has earned this special right as part of the FAA’s Pathfinder program, an initiative to develop UAV regulation in collaboration with industry that was announced in May. CNN and the drone systems maker PrecisionHawk USA are the other two inaugural participants, and the FAA has invited applicants from other sectors.

The ability to fly drones long distances is crucial to BNSF’s goals for the program. The railway owns over 32,500 miles of rail line across the U.S., and says that every foot of track is inspected in person twice a week. But some of that track is hundreds of miles from any major population center, increasing the expense and inconvenience of manned inspection. BNSF has emphasized that its drone program would allow for more frequent inspections, rather than replacing human crews.

Read the rest of this entry »

Whether you call them drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), they’re here to stay.

Few rules yet govern the commercial use of drones, which have been banned by national parks even as Google, Facebook and Amazon draw up business plans to use the controversial devices as flying package delivery systems or wireless Internet hotspots.

The fact that the regulatory universe and its aircraft overseer, the Federal Aviation Administration, hasn’t caught up to technology or industry demand shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. No one should realistically believe that the process of passing laws or enacting regulations will ever move as quickly as innovation.


FAA begins program to research drone expansion


Advances in UAS technology are dragging the FAA, sometimes reluctantly, along. At the same time, privacy laws and guidelines are well developed and will easily adapt to this new technology. Americans with privacy concerns about drone use can relax – for now.

So, where are we? The FAA has been steadily working away at the backlog of exemption requests seeking approval to operate UAS. Several hundred have been granted and, as the FAA gets better at it, the pace of approvals is picking up. To date, the FAA has approved the use of UAS for the “aerial” collection of information in cases like pipeline inspection, insurance underwriting and claims management, cell tower inspection, and agriculture. The agency has also approved drone use for movie-making on “closed sets,” where the actors and crew are in relatively close proximity to the UAS doing the filming.

But Congress is impatient. Earlier this month, Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced legislation to effectively shortcut the regulatory process and create their own set of UAS regulations to “unlock” innovation in drone use. Some have suggested there’s a certain amount of grandstanding when Congress chooses to enact laws which prescribe standards of safety and operation for UAS.

The frustration of Congress, which in many respects reflects the frustration of industry leaders and donors, is understandable. The FAA got started way too late in the process. Regulators are years behind where they should be and are frantically trying to catch up.

The recent announcements regarding the FAA’s push in the area of UAS that fly beyond their operator’s visual line of sight is encouraging, but it’s not enough. The FAA needs more funding and resources to do the job right. What Congress ought to be doing instead of enacting operational rules for flying UAS is give the needed money to the FAA – and then step back.

The FAA is a superb organization, charged with the monumental task of insuring the safety of our airspace. And it’s a job the agency has done well. Congress should do what it does best – allocate funds – and let the regulators regulate, even if they entered the game too late and have moved too slowly.

The real concern everyone should have is air safety. The rules currently proposed by the FAA set the bar pretty low for entry into the UAS business. Moreover, at least publicly, the FAA hasn’t been very aggressive so far in its pursuit of people who choose to be in the UAS business but operate without any FAA exemption or permission.

“Whatever you choose to call them, they’re airplanes operating in the national airspace. Those who choose not to recognize that fact should be dealt with severely as this new, innovate industry takes wing.”

During the next 18 months or so, while we await the enactment of new rules, let’s hope the FAA acts in a proactive fashion, aggressively prosecuting offenders in a manner calculated to deliver a message of deterrence. This is an area where criticism of the FAA is warranted. Too many people still see UAS as toys – as recent drone use incidents at the White House should remind us. It’s time to take off the gloves and come down on offenders with an iron fist. If Congress really wants to make a contribution, they should pass a law which focuses on offenders and makes illegal UAS operation a federal criminal offense.

No one can doubt the effectiveness of the FAA and the aviation industry working together to create the safest aviation system in the world. There’s no reason why the introduction of commercial drones into that system should compromise the extraordinary level of safe operation which has been achieved.

Call them drones! Call them UAS! Whatever you choose to call them, they’re airplanes operating in the national airspace. Those who choose not to recognize that fact should be dealt with severely as this new, innovate industry takes wing.


Little by little, the FAA seems to be unclenching from its strict regulatory limits on commercial-drone use.

Earlier this week, the agency said it would allow three companies to push past the boundaries of restrictive drone guidelines the FAA proposed earlier this year. Specifically, the FAA will allow these companies to test commercial drones that operate beyond their operator’s direct vision and, in one case, in urban areas.

Would-be commercial drone operators—particularly Amazon and its proposed Prime Air delivery service—have long chafed at the FAA’s unwillingness to allow broader testing and use of remotely piloted copters. The FAA’s proposed rules, for instance, would force all commercial-drone operators to obtain FAA certification, limit flights to daylight hours and altitudes of less than 500 feet, and require drones to remain within their operators’ lines of sight.

See also: The FAA Finally Suggests Drone-Use Rules—And They Don’t Allow Much

Now, however, the FAA says it will allow PrecisionHawk, a North Carolina-based remote sensing and data processing company, to use drones to survey crops in rural areas beyond visual range of their operators. BNSF Railroad, meanwhile, will do something with drone inspections of its rail infrastructure, again outside operator line-of-sight.

In a separate effort, CNN will explore using drones for news gathering in populated urban areas.

“Even as we pursue our current rulemaking effort for small unmanned aircraft, we must continue to actively look for ways to expand non-recreational [unmanned aircraft systems] uses,” FAA administrator Michael Huerta said at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Unmanned Systems 2015 conference this week. “This new initiative involving three leading U.S. companies will help us anticipate and address the needs of the evolving UAS industry.”

Drone enthusiasts find the FAA’s move heartening.

“It’s a very big development,” Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, said in an interview with ReadWrite. “Based on what they had been saying, the future of commercial drone use and even continued excitement around consumer drone use looked somewhat bleak. This represents a significant pivot on their part.”

Source: http://readwrite.com/2015/05/08/faa-drone-regulation-line-of-sight

PITTSBURGH  Amazon wants to use them to deliver orders. One hovered over a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game last summer. And earlier this year, one crashed onto the White House lawn.

Drones are not everywhere yet, but once the Federal Aviation Administration fine-tunes the rules for commercial drone use, thousands of companies could receive licenses to do business via unmanned aircraft.

Using a drone for business purposes poses a host of potential legal issues, with privacy concerns at the top of the list, according to attorney Doug Wood. He recently co-authored a white paper titled, “Crowded Skies,” which explores the legal implications for companies using drones in the course of doing business.

“There’s a level of clandestine surveillance these things offer,” said Wood, managing partner of law firm Reed Smith’s New York office. “You don’t hear them coming.”

The FAA’s draft rules, released in February, are now subject to a public comment period that ends April 24, according to agency spokesman Jim Peters. Under the proposed rules, commercial drones under 55 pounds would have to be registered with the FAA, and operators would have to pass a written proficiency test and pay a fee.

Commercial users would not have to be licensed pilots, but would only be allowed to fly the drones during daylight hours if the draft rules are adopted as written.

The FAA began allowing drones in the country’s airspace in 1990, but with restrictions on commercial use. Companies must obtain what’s known as a Section 333 “special airworthiness certificate” to receive an exemption that allows limited commercial applications.

Wood said the most prevalent users of drones for commercial purposes at present are motion picture studios.

But for new changes proposed in February, known as Part 107, it’s expected to take much longer before the rules are official. In the meantime, last month the FAA said it would issue waivers to companies that already have the exemption allowing them to operate drones for commercial purposes for flights at or below 200 feet, according to Peters.

Wood pointed out that since so many drones are so quiet, the aircraft could be directly overhead before it’s detected by people on the ground, which is why the privacy issue is usually the first one to consider.

And if a movie producer uses a drone for filming, what responsibility does he or she have to avoid encroaching on private property or filming someone who doesn’t want to appear on camera?

Would trespassing rules apply, or could a drone flying overhead be considered an invasion of privacy? Or, if a company wants to use drones to capture security camera footage, what should the limitations be on how that footage can be used?

There also are considerations for liability. For instance, what steps does a commercial drone user have to take to be sure its aircraft doesn’t crash and injure someone? What level of insurance, if any, should a drone user carry?

While the FAA continues to work on its rules, drone technology is outpacing the regulations. According to a report last month in The Guardian, Amazon is testing its drone delivery services in Canada, apparently frustrated by the slow pace of the U.S. government’s action.

While the laws surrounding drone use lag behind the technology, Wood said commercial operators who don’t consider the potential legal risks before launching their drones do so at their peril.

“Once the commercial side becomes viable, then it creates a host of legal issues beyond the license to use a drone,” Wood said. “With the white paper, we were trying to paint a picture for commercial users so they understand the legal issues before they rush down the road.”

Source: http://poststar.com/ap/business/privacy-concerns-raised-over-drones/article_05e8883a-3fee-5ccc-abc9-6d72cc767bf7.html

San Diego County is a hub for drone manufacturing. There are nearly a dozen companies around the county involved in the manufacturing of drones and drone parts.

Innov8tive Designs in Vista is one such company.

KPBS Evening Edition spoke to Innov8tive Designs CEO Lucien Miller about how regulations may be affecting the drone manufacturing business and various uses for drones. Drones are being considered for use in firefighting and search and rescue.

Meanwhile, Amazon is considering using drones for package deliveries.

Just this week the Federal Aviation Administration gave retail giant Amazon the green light to begin testing its air-delivery drones. The FAA issued a certificate for the company to experiment with drones for research, development and crew training.

The FAA said Thursday that under the provisions of the certificate, the flights must be conducted at 400 feet or below during daylight hours. The drone must also remain within line of sight of the pilot and observer. The person flying the aircraft, meanwhile, must have a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certificate.

Amazon must also provide monthly data to the FAA on the number of flights conducted, pilot duty time per flight, unusual hardware or software malfunctions and other information.

Amazon had asked the FAA for permission to fly drones for package deliveries last July.

Source: http://www.kpbs.org/news/2015/mar/20/san-diego-drone-manufacturer-regulations-uses/


Lucien Miller, President & CEO of Innov8tive Designs, Inc. informs us about what kinds of drones there are and what they can do. Click here to see this six minute segment for San Diego’s local news station, Channel 6.

Herding cattle. Counting fish. Taking an animal’s temperature. Applying pesticides. When it comes to drones, “your imagination can go pretty wild in terms of what would be possible,” says Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union. This month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued the first permit for agricultural use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Steven Edgar, president and CEO of ADAVSO, says his Idaho-based business will use a lightweight, fixed-wing drone to survey fields of crops.
Drone technology, already used in other countries, can make farmers more efficient by helping them locate problem spots in vast fields or ranchlands. Increased efficiency could mean lower costs for consumers and less impact on the environment if farmers used fewer chemicals because drones showed them exactly where to spray.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80 percent of all commercial drone use, once government regulations allow it. That could be a while. The Federal Aviation Administration has been working for years on rules that would balance the desire for commercial flights of small drones with the need to prevent collisions involving manned aircraft.

Five ways drones could affect the food supply:


The first agriculture drones are looking at massive fields of crops to scout out where crops are too wet, too dry, too diseased or too infested with pests. They can help farmers count plants or measure their height. Farmers can now use satellite technology, but it’s slower and less detailed than images from low-flying drone.

“This is about getting the most productivity from every square inch of a farm,” says ADAVSO’s Edgar.

Alabama farmer Don Glenn said he would buy a drone or use a service that provides drone surveillance on his farm of corn, wheat, soybeans and canola. It’s hard to survey corn fields when they are 8 feet to 10 feet tall, he says.

Drones can carry different tools, including high-resolution cameras, infrared sensors and thermal sensors. Ground-penetrating radar could even measure soil conditions.



Once the land is surveyed, farmers could use that data to narrow the areas that need treatment. If a plot of farmland is infested with weeds, for example, a farmer could spray a small amount of herbicide just in that area, instead of an entire field, to kill them. Farmers hope that they eventually could use drones to do the spraying.

Kevin Price of the Iowa-based drone company RoboFlight Systems says that kind of precision would put farmers at a huge advantage, helping them reduce the costs of chemicals and their application.



The National Farmers Union’s Johnson says his father used to fly a plane over his ranch and his neighbors’ to spot escaped cattle when he was growing up in North Dakota. That’s something a drone could do with far less money and effort.

Lia Reich of the UAV manufacturer PrecisionHawk says the company’s drones can use thermal sensors to take the temperature of cattle. The data comes back as bands of color, and “if all of the cattle look green and one looks dark purple then that one has a higher temperature,” she said.

Drones could help ranchers count cattle, disturb pests that are aggravating livestock or even apply insecticide to an animal.



A University of Maryland project is developing drone technology to monitor fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Matt Scassero, the project director, says the idea is that a laser-based sensor mounted on a drone would allow scientists to see through the water and measure the size of a school of fish. Researchers could ascertain the conditions of the water, too.

Some drones can land on water, making it possible to measure water quality, as well.



There are downsides for farmers. Documentary filmmaker Mark Devries has used an unmanned vehicle to fly over large commercial hog operations and film them. He wants consumers to see the buildings full of animals and huge manure pits.

The drones “allow for close-ups and vantage points that satellites and airplanes cannot easily obtain,” Devries says.

R.J. Karney of the American Farm Bureau Federation says there is a “major concern” about those kinds of films and his group intends to work with the Obama administration and Congress to address it. He says such films are not only a privacy violation, but can put farmers at a competitive disadvantage.

Still, the agriculture industry sees the advantages of drones as far outweighing the disadvantages.

“We’re concerned about falling behind other countries” as the FAA delays, Karney says. “Farmers are anxious to see where this can go.”

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/5-ways-unmanned-drones-could-affect-american-food-123420545.html

“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.”

–Eleanor Roosevelt

According to industry reports, the UAV sector will see $98.2 billion in total cumulative spending for drones over the next 10 years — $11.8 billion of which will be for non-military commercial drones.

And, while the swarms of new drones buzzing over our heads have the capacity to improve lives, the reality of any emerging technology is that, sooner or later, someone will cause harm through recklessness or ignorance. How can you, the nascent drone pilot, avoid becoming the next cautionary headline? Heed the mistakes of your hapless forebears. Don’t do … this:

Read the rest of this entry »

After years of waiting, a Federal Aviation Administration official said the agency was close to releasing a ruling that would give commercial entities greater access to fly small unmanned aerial system in the domestic airspace.

The proposed ruling, which the agency has been working on over the past year, is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, Jim Williams, manager of the FAA’s UAS integration office, said on Nov. 5.

“We’re taking great strides to authorize commercial operations in the U.S., and the small unmanned aircraft systems rule that we’ve all been waiting on so long is getting really close to being done. We hope that it will be published before the end of this year,” Williams said during the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual program review.

Williams said he could not discuss specifics, but that the ruling “will open the door to a lot of commercial operations that aren’t authorized today.”

Under the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, Congress mandated that the agency integrate small UAS — defined as systems less than 55 pounds — into the domestic airspace by September 2015.

Recreational drone users already enjoy flying their craft within line of sight, away from airports and under 400 feet. Commercial entities, on the other hand, are barred from flying drones until the FAA releases the much-anticipated small UAS ruling.

In late September, commercial users saw a glimmer of hope when the FAA announced it had granted six movie production companies regulatory exemptions to fly small UAS at controlled sets. Shortly after, a seventh company was exempted. Williams said the first filming would start this week.

The exemptions are permitted under section 333 of the modernization act, which gives the FAA more flexibility in allowing some commercial entities to fly small UAS safely, he said.

Williams said the agency had received 117 exemption requests as of Nov. 5, and the number increases every day. The FAA hopes to answer them within 120 days of their submission.

Many companies have expressed disappointment and frustration with the FAA because of what they perceive as delays in fulfilling its congressional mandate. AUVSI, for example, has been publicly vocal about the need for the FAA to speed up the small UAS ruling.

Eric Hudson, a senior analyst at the Government Accountability Office, said the GAO has been researching integration since 2008. While progress has been made within the FAA, more must be done. Specifically, it is imperative that the agency release the small UAS ruling.

“It’s critically important … because there continues to be additional users out in the airspace,” Hudson said. “It has kind of become a little bit out of a wild west out there. Obviously Congress isn’t interested in an accident happening, [and] the FAA’s not interested in an accident happening.”

While the Section 333 exemptions are a good step forward, the FAA must go further, he noted.

“There’s more and more requests each day for those exemptions and there’s no way those individual exemptions can keep up with demand,” Hudson said.

Despite criticism, Williams said the FAA is on its way to meeting its September 2015 deadline, though that doesn’t mean full integration will be completed.

“If you go look carefully at what the legislation actually says for the 2015 deadline, it says we have to have a comprehensive plan that describes what safe integration looks like by 2015, which we have, and we’ve got milestones along the way. We’re going to show progress by 2015 toward that safe integration, but the bottom line is Congress wanted us to be safe,” Williams said.

Last year, the FAA released a roadmap that detailed its plan for integration. Additionally, the organization in 2014 opened six UAS test sites throughout the country to research how to safely integrate the technology into the national airspace.

This is “an incremental process,” Williams said. “Yes, there are things we’ll have done by 2015 … [that] we’ll be very proud of. There’s a lot more work to be done that won’t be done by 2015 as well.”

As for when there would be full integration, Williams said he couldn’t answer that.

Source: http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/blog/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=1663

The Hague (AFP) – A Dutch-based student on Tuesday unveiled a prototype of an “ambulance drone”, a flying defibrillator able to reach heart attack victims within precious life-saving minutes.

Developed by Belgian engineering graduate Alec Momont, it can fly at speeds of up to 100 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour).

“Around 800,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest in the European Union every year and only 8.0 percent survive,” Momont, 23, said at the TU Delft University.

“The main reason for this is the relatively long response time of emergency services of around 10 minutes, while brain death and fatalities occur with four to six minutes,” he said in a statement.

“The ambulance drone can get a defibrillator to a patient within a 12 square kilometre (4.6 square miles) zone within a minute, reducing the chance of survival from 8 percent to 80 percent.”

Painted in emergency services yellow and driven by six propellers, the drone can carry a four kilogramme load — in this case a defibrillator.

It tracks emergency mobile calls and uses the GPS to navigate.

Once at the scene, an operator, like a paramedic, can watch, talk and instruct those helping the victim by using an on-board camera connected to a control room via a livestream webcam.

The prototype has already attracted the interest of emergency services including that of Amsterdam, the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad said.

The Dutch Heart Foundation also applauded the idea, the newspaper added.

Momont however wants his drone to become a “flying medical toolbox” able to carry an oxygen mask to a person trapped in a fire or an insulin injection to a diabetes sufferer.

However, the drone is still in its infancy as far as developing its steering mechanism and legal issues regarding its use are concerned, Momont said.

He said he hopes to have an operational emergency drone network across the Netherlands in five years.

The drone is expected to cost around 15,000 euros ($19,000) each.

“I hope it will save hundreds of lives in the next five years,” Momont said.

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/ambulance-drone-prototype-unveiled-holland-190813697.html?soc_src=mediacontentsharebuttons

More information: http://www.tudelft.nl/en/current/latest-news/article/detail/ambulance-drone-tu-delft-vergroot-overlevingskans-bij-hartstilstand-drastisch/#.VFD0ed3U0rs.twitter

As he went around Napa Valley in the past two years, Ken Giles had the unenviable task of notifying nearby residents that UC Davis would be conducting a demonstration project using drones to spray pesticides at its vineyard in Oakville.

Giles, a professor in the university’s biological and agricultural engineering department, said he was prepared for questions, especially given the civil rights qualms over military and police use of drones.

“I would go out and say, ‘I’m here to talk on drones spraying pesticides.’ If I was spraying over GMO crops, then I would have been three for three (on paranoia),” Giles wryly noted, referencing concerns over genetically modified organisms.

But Giles said he has not experienced much uproar over the program with partner Yamaha Motor Corp. USA, which has used its RMAX helicopter to test the efficiency and safety of aerial spraying over the Oakville vineyard. “It seems to be quieted down a bit,” he said.

The drones are expected to be more commonplace in the Napa vineyard, likely by next year if the Federal Aviation Administration approves Yamaha’s application to use unmanned aircraft systems for agricultural purposes.

Such approval appears increasingly likely as the FAA on Sept. 25 authorized six aerial photo and video production companies to use drones in the film and television industry.

“We feel the timing is right to investigate the U.S. market. We have been doing it the last couple years,” said Steve Markofski, business planner for Yamaha. “We have been focusing on high-value crops, specifically grapes here in Napa.”

Yamaha and UC Davis conducted a demonstration of the RMAX helicopter on Wednesday in conjunction with the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group which supports the defense, civil and commercial sectors. The aircraft, a small helicopter that weighs 140 pounds, carried water in its 2.1-gallon tanks, instead of pesticide.

Officials at the event were on message to continually utter the phrase “unmanned aircraft” as opposed to drones, which carry a more sinister meaning.

So far, the opposition to commercial use of drones is not as intense as that for military and police use.

“Our primary and basically exclusive focus has been and will continue to be on the use of drones by law enforcement,” said Will Matthews, senior communications officer for the ACLU of Northern California, via email.

Japan pioneered the use of drones in agriculture during the early 1990s, and now unmanned aircraft farm up to 40 percent of that country’s rice crop. Australia also uses drones for agricultural purposes.

Yamaha’s pitch for the American market is simple: the unmanned aircraft can save money, time and be more efficient than the traditional method of spraying by either tractor or by hand.

For example, the RMAX, flying approximately three meters above the vines at a speed up to 20 kilometers per hour, can cover up to 12 acres an hour. In contrast, a tractor can cover one acre. “We’re quite a bit faster compared to the current method,” Markofski said.

If approved, Yahama would likely target hilly vineyards, such as those along the Mayacmas Mountains, where spraying is much more difficult and time consuming. It also would apply for use in Yamhill County, Ore., which also has many wineries.

“Can you imagine treating those (hilly vineyards) with a ground tractor, how narrow those (fields) are and how risky that can be?” Markofski said.

The drones also can apply fertilizer and seeds as well as monitor crops. Yamaha would lease the aircraft, operated by a three-man team. The operator must remain up to 150 meters near the drone.

Yamaha is still formulating the price of the drones, pending approval, Markofski said.

UC Davis continues to crunch data from the test flights to monitor the drones’ efficiency, productivity and spray drift, Giles said. But so far there have been no red flags, especially in its safety.

“It’s a vehicle with potential where we know there are things we can do with it that we couldn’t do in the past — spot treatments, quick treatments, delivery of a very localized payload,” Giles said.


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