A look back at the first 200 episodes and a peek into topics that might get our attention in the future, including regulatory actions that result from FAA reauthorization.
Max and David at the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum
To celebrate the 200th episode, David and Max take a step back from the usual format and reminisce about the issues that were important when the podcast started in 2013. The main topic then was whether or not to call them “drones.” We look at how the unmanned aircraft landscape has changed since the first episode, and speculate about the topics we’ll be talking about in the future. One of those is the unmanned aircraft regulations we’ll face, which leads us to our single news story this week:
What’s Proposed for Drones in This Year’s FAA Reauthorization Bills?
The United States Senate and House both introduced bills that reauthorize the FAA and contain provisions for unmanned aircraft.
The director of the GENIUS NY accelerator competition for unmanned systems describes how they are helping UAS companies become successful.
Jonathan Parry, Director of GENIUS NY
Jonathan Parry is the Director of GENIUS NY, an in-residence business accelerator program at the CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity (CEO) Tech Garden in Syracuse, New York. As the world’s largest accelerator competition for unmanned systems, GENIUS NY has invested $3M directly into six early stage technology companies focused on hardware, software, and analytics to support the emerging unmanned systems industry.
The six 2017 finalist companies are AutoModality, Ascent AeroSystems, OmniMesh, EZ3D, SkyOp, and Akrobotix.
In addition to funding, the GENIUS NY program provides support with executive advisors, business development resources, networking events, and investor opportunities.
Jon has a background working with a diverse group of renewable energy and sustainable technology companies. He began his career with a biomass gasification startup, and he has implemented distributed energy systems in Europe and North America. In 2013, Jon joined an innovative sustainable materials company called Ecovative Design as business development manager. Jon has also developed global sales and manufacturing partnerships.
New York State has invested over $250M directly into the Central New York region to support UAS development, regulation, and economic growth. The region is home to a cluster of businesses focused on radar and sensor technology, and it operates one of the FAA-designated UAS test sites. Recently announced was the investment of a 50-mile operational UTM corridor.
The GENIUS NY 2.0 accelerator program is currently open for applications to select its second-year cohort. Applications are due by October 1, 2017, and the six finalist teams will be invited to participate in GENIUS NY throughout 2018.
The Drone Racing League gains sponsors and additional funding, NASA UAS traffic management testing, the impact of Taylor v. FAA on commercial drone operators, iRobotics proposes a drone race across the Pacific, and drones swarm in China.
The Drone Racing League (DRL), announced multi-year, international partners and sponsors. Allianz was already announced as the global title sponsor, and Toy State as a sponsor. New sponsors include Amazon (Prime Video), Swatch, FORTO Coffee Shots, and the U.S. Air Force. The DRL season begins June 20, 2017, on ESPN and is to be broadcast in over 75 countries.
DRL also announced a $20 million round of financing led by Sky, Liberty Media Corporation (owner of Formula 1) and Lux Capital (which invests in emerging science and technology ventures). Additional new investors include Allianz and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), and other partners in the round include: Hearst Ventures (a corporate venture fund for media and technology), RSE Ventures (a sports, technology, and entertainment venture firm), Lerer Hippeau Ventures (a seed stage venture capital fund), and Courtside Ventures (a sports, technology, and media VC). DRL has also added CRCM Ventures (seed and early stage companies in Silicon Valley and China) supporting DRL’s expansion into China.
As part of the NASA UAS Traffic Management (UTM) program, tests have been completed at the six FAA UAS test sites. The missions were monitored in real-time at the NASA Ames’ Airspace Operations Lab, which will now analyze the data collected. There is much more to be done, and NASA’s UTM Technical Lead Joey Rios, says, “We have work on the UAS platforms themselves, we have software development, we have simulation development. We have a lot of human factors work to figure out how to interact with these systems.”
The drone registration program implemented by the FAA in 2015 was struck down in court. This article points out that while recreational drone operators no longer have to register, commercial operators are unaffected.
Japanese drone start-up iRobotics is proposing a race from Tokyo to San Francisco that is open to anyone. Red Bull describes in Want to race this drone across the Pacific? that iRobotics is interested in the middle market – between small drones typically used for recreational and commercial purposes at low altitude, and large, high-altitude drones such as those that Facebook and Airbus are contemplating.
A large number of people in the Silicon Valley city of Mountain View lost power for 3 hours when a drone flew into a high-voltage wire. A white-haired, white adult man was seen fleeing the scene driving a white car.
China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC) says they have set a new record for a swarm of drones. The swarm of 119 fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles bests the CETC swarm of 67 drones launched during the China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai. The Global Times says the drones employed “catapult-assisted take-offs and performed aerial formations.”
NASA UAS Traffic Management system testing at the UAS test sites, Arizona law enforcement uses a drone to find a missing man, a drone company becomes a drone data company, DARPA studies mid-flight multitasking for small drones, a University of Calgary study of drone incidents, and fuel cells for drones.
The Kespry fully autonomous aerial intelligence system. Image courtesy Kespry.
Tests for NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) system are being conducted at the six UAS test sites in the “Technology Capability Level 2 (TCL2) National Campaign.” The first tests were held at the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems.
Kespry says they are “focused on making it easy to capture, process, use and share high-resolution information from the field.” They offer “a fully autonomous aerial intelligence system” that tries to eliminate the need to integrate multiple systems from multiple vendors. In effect, their complete drone solution makes them more of a data company than a drone company.”
A new University of Calgary study finds there are more drones in the air than manned aircraft. There were 355 drone incidents reported in Canadian airspace between November 2005 and December 2016, and 22% of them involved close encounters between drones and piloted aircraft. Most incidents involve non-licensed operators.
Three options today for increasing electric UAV time-in-the-air are tethered devices, solar power, and in-the-field rapid battery replacements. However, fuel cell power systems are gathering steam and two private companies are innovating and offering products: Protonex, based in Massachusetts, is focused on Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology for small, light UAV applications; China-based MMC is currently manufacturing and distributing two models of fuel cells.
Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Traffic Management (UTM) system trials are taking place in Australia. The trial that Nova Systems participated in explored different Remotely Piloted Aircraft types and sizes, payload capabilities (including live payload distribution over an LTE network), the effectiveness of each UTM (some of which relied upon the LTE network), control of drones over the LTE network, and a new approach to range safety.
The DJI Spark, Snap Inc. interest in drones, the ANSI UAS Standardization Collaborative, the Drone Federalism Act of 2017, Florida utility company using drones, the MQ-25A Stingray carrier-launched unmanned tanker, a drone camp for girls, and NATE embraces drones.
The $499 DJI Spark mini-drone recognizes your face and launches and lands on the palm of your hand. It can be controlled with hand movements, a remote controller, a mobile device, or DJI goggles. Featuring obstacle detection and image stabilization, the Spark can follow flight maneuvers preset with your mobile device. It can also follow you.
Is the company that owns Snapchat getting into the drone business? It’s unclear, but Snap Inc. acquired drone company Ctrl Me Robotics last year and has reportedly looked at another company in that space.
Last September, Snapchat said it was rebranding itself as a camera company and getting into hardware. Snap also manufacturers a wearable camera called Spectacles. These “smartglasses” record video and connect to your Snapchat account.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards. ANSI has decided to form a “Standardization Collaborative” for UAS. The Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Standardization Collaborative (UASSC) will create standards and conformity assessment programs for facilitating the safe integration of UAS into the United States national airspace system (NAS). An initial kick-off meeting is planned for the third quarter of 2017. To stay up-to-date regarding future developments, email Jim McCabe, ANSI senior director, standards facilitation, at email@example.com.
The Drone Federalism Act of 2017 has been proposed by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Tom Cotton, R-Ark. The Act is an attempt to bring UAS regulation down to the local level.
Feinstein says the bill “allows communities to create low-altitude speed limits, local no-drone zones or rules that are appropriate to their own circumstances.”
Blumenthal says, “This legislation protects the rights of state and local governments to implement reasonable restrictions on drones in their communities while ensuring that the Federal Aviation Administration keeps our national airspace the safest in the world.”
So how does it work?
Keeps the FAA’s “general authority over the national airspace while preserving the authority of state, local and tribal governments to issue reasonable restrictions on the time, manner and place of drone operations within 200 feet of the ground or a structure.
Reaffirms that the federal government “will respect private property rights to the airspace immediately above a property, including the first 200 feet.”
Directs the FAA “to partner with a diverse group of cities and states to test out different approaches, inform the unmanned traffic management pilot program and report best practices.”
See Drone Federalism Act of 2017 (Senate Bill 1272) by Jonathan Rupprecht for a quick summary of important facts of the Drone Federalism Act of 2017, problems with the Drone Federalism Act of 2017, who supports it, and the actual text of the Drone Federalism Act.
With hurricane season coming soon, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) is being proactive. They’ve trained more than 1,200 employees and that training includes the use of unmanned aircraft. FPL demonstrated the use of UAS for surveying damage areas and how they can speed up restoration efforts.
The MQ-25A Stingray is a carrier-launched tanker designed to extend the combat range of carrier aircraft like the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-35C Joint Strike Fighter. The Navy is starting an industry competition for the Stingray, which it plans to enter carrier deck service in the early to mid-2020s. In advance of the formal proposal to industry this summer, the Navy awarded four development contracts: Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, and Northrop Grumman.
The UAS Camp is sponsored by the Women’s Fund from the Grand Forks Community Foundation. Girls ages 8 to 12 will learn about drones, with hands-on experience with small unmanned aircraft. The camp will take place in two sessions at Robin Hall: from July 31 through Aug. 4 and from Aug. 7 through 11, 2017. Registration is $20 and space is limited. For more information, call Amanda Brandt with the UND College of Aerospace at (701) 732-0592.
The National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE) “has proactively embraced the utilization of drones in the wireless and broadcast infrastructure industries due to the enormous safety and efficiency benefits associated with their use.” Their new Climber Connection Unmanned Aerial Systems video was distributed industry-wide at the 2017 Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, North Dakota.