Telecommunication drone tests from MIT and Verizon, flying near firefighters, pipeline inspection, drone registration refunds for recreational operators, and the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee.
Testing the RS-20 as a telecommunications drone. Courtesy American Aerospace Technologies Inc.
This fixed-wing, long-endurance UAV was developed to provide temporary telecommunications service for disaster areas, or possibly for environmental monitoring. With a 24-foot wingspan and a 15,000 feet ceiling, the GPkit software modeling tool was used to evaluate different aircraft parameters.
Verizon, American Aerospace Technologies Inc., and Cape May County in New Jersey collaborated to test an AATI RS-20 fixed-wing aircraft flying BVLOS and broadcasting a Verizon Airborne LTE signal. Verizon has been building a suite of tools with “barnyard” names, including: cell on wheels (COW), generator on a trailer (GOAT), and cell on light truck (COLT).
54-year old Gene Alan Carpenter was arrested after flying his drone over an Arizona wildfire. He is charged with felony endangerment and unlawful operation of an unmanned aircraft in violation of Arizona law that makes it illegal for drones to impede emergency or law-enforcement activities. In response to the drone flight, officials were forced to ground all the aircraft in the area.
In light of the court ruling that the FAA violated section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 when it implemented drone registration for recreational operators, the FAA is offering a refund. Recreational drone operators can expunge their registration information and get their $5 registration fee back from the FAA by mailing a form [PDF]. See the FAA Registration Deletion page for more details.
The first meeting of the UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) was held June 21-23, 2017. This group of 74 unmanned aircraft stakeholders [PDF] was chartered [PDF] to investigate technologies for remote identification and tracking of UAS. The ARC will recommend solutions that meet the requirements of security and public safety organizations.
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.
A court ruling halts recreational drone registration in the U.S. while China implements a new drone registration requirement. Also, a fast fixed-wing VTOL UAV, heavy-lift delivery drones, remote pilot training in Australia, a long-endurance solar powered unmanned sailplane, and some new drone swarming applications.
The Marlyn VTOL mapping and surveying drone. Courtesy Atmos UAV.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has struck down the FAA’s drone registration requirement for recreational UAV operators. The three-judge panel agreed with John A. Taylor, a drone hobbyist represented by attorney Jonathan Rupprecht, who argued that the FAA requirement violated the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act passed by Congress. Read the Court Opinion [PDF] and the Court Order [PDF]. Note that the ruling does not affect aircraft operated for commercial operations under Section 333 or Part 107. Rules for commercial operations remain the same. More details: Complete Guide to Taylor v. FAA (Drone Registration Lawsuit).
“We are carefully reviewing the U.S. Court of Appeals decision as it relates to drone registrations. The FAA put registration and operational regulations in place to ensure that drones are operated in a way that is safe and does not pose security and privacy threats. We are in the process of considering our options and response to the decision.”
The Atmos UAV Marlyn is a fixed-wing, VTOL UAV designed for high-speed mapping applications like land surveying, mining, precision agriculture, and forestry. It can be deployed from any surface, can map up to 10 times faster than a multirotor, and can fly in a broad range of weather conditions.
JD.com says they are China’s largest retailer, online or offline, and they plan to build China’s largest low-altitude drone package delivery network. The heavy-lift drones are expected to carry more than a ton, transport products to remote areas, and move agricultural produce to cities. JD.com will also establish an R&D campus in partnership with the Xi’an National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base (XCAIB) where unmanned systems will be developed, manufactured and tested.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), Australia’s national aviation authority is changing the practical training requirements for receiving an Australian Remote Pilot Licence (RePL) effective 1 June 2017. RePL applicants will satisfy the training requirements by completing a RePL training course conducted by a person holding a RPA Operator’s Certificate (ReOC) that authorized the training. Applicants can also apply to CASA for a flight test. CASA-approved training organisations are located across Australia, and a list of approved drone operators including those who can conduct training, is on the CASA website. More information about the advantages of holding a RePL can be found in Flying drones/remotely piloted aircraft in Australia.
Pilots of drones weighing 250 grams or more (0.55 pound) will be required to register with the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). This requirement is effective June 1, 2017. Registration is online and real names must be used.
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is looking at long endurance unmanned sailplanes that use solar power. The Navy says, “The Solar Photovoltaic and Autonomous Soaring Base Program and the U.S. Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O) want to improve the ability of unmanned platforms to support 24-7 information, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.
DroneSeed has received approval from the FAA to deliver agricultural payloads with drone swarms. The company says, “We’re working with commercial foresters to make reforestation more efficient. Offering a one-stop solution, our team of drones plants tree seeds and sprays fertilizer and herbicides to keep trees healthy.”
At the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, the vice president of science and technology at Cintel said a web of swarming unmanned aircraft systems that can spoof enemy drones could be a solution to the shot doctrine problem when exercising counter-UAS capabilities.
Lockheed Martin successfully launched a Vector Hawk UAV on command from the Marlin MK2 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). At the same time, the Submaran unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developed by Ocean Aero provided surface reconnaissance and surveillance.
The impact of drones striking people, geo-restrictions in war zones, monitoring volcanic ash, structure inspections using UAVs and artificial intelligence, keeping wildlife away from crops, waste management with drones, swarming tactics, Project Wing update, and drone weaponization for law enforcement.
A UAS crash test dummy provided data for a UAS ground collision severity study.
In order to create regulations for flying drones over people, the FAA needs to know what happens when a UAV strikes a human. A consortium of universities has been studying this, and their report identifies dominant injury types applicable to small drones. See: FAA and Assure Announce Results of Ground Collision Study.
NASA has awarded a contract to Black Swift Technologies to develop and deliver a sUAS solution to explore volcanoes. Black Swift will provide an airframe, avionics, and sensors to measure gases, temperature, pressure, humidity, and winds, as well as particle sizes and trace gases. All this for improved air traffic management systems and more accurate measurements of ashfall.
In Tanzania, elephants sometimes graze on crops and destroy them, presenting a huge problem for the people trying to grow food. The U.S.-based nonprofit Resolve is testing the use of drones to drive the animals away.
A quadcopter is being used to map a regional landfill and provide volumetrics to the landfill management company. This information about the amount of air space remaining in existing landfill cells is critical for future development plans.
DARPA created the Service Academies Swarm Challenge where U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force academy teams compete and go from “zero to swarm in 8 months.” The research effort is an experiment where students develop offensive and defensive tactics for swarms of small UAVs.
Legislation proposed in Connecticut would have made that state the first in the U.S. to allow law enforcement to use weaponized drones. However, the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee decided to let the legislation die. This was after drone attorney Peter Sachs wrote an email to all members of the Committee asking them to vote against the proposal.
The USS Alabama (BB-60) is a South Dakota Class Battleship, launched on April 16, 1942. It served during World War II in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This video was shot using a hexacopter with a GoPro at the USS Alabama Memorial Park.
The Drone Racing League is introducing the Racer3 drone for season two. All competing pilots will use the Racer3, which is more powerful and agile than the Racer2. The new drone features 209 LED lights with a built-in LED matrix display, a custom 1,800mA battery, and proprietary internal long range radios for live events and broadcast.
In DRL’s next-gen Racer3 drone combines speed, performance, ESPN quotes DRL founder and CEO Nick Horbaczewski: “It is dramatically more powerful, faster and more agile than the Racer2. The Racer3 can go from zero to 80 miles an hour in less than a second, which means it can basically accelerate on a dime — which makes for really exciting racing and allowed us to create larger courses, more extreme courses.”
The FAA wants to help drone operators improve the quality of their Part 107 airspace authorization requests, and speed up the processing of requests. On April 27, 2017, the FAA plans to release a set of UAS facility maps that show areas and altitudes near airports where UAS may operate safely. These maps will be available at http://www.faa.gov/uas for download in several formats and can be viewed on mobile devices.
Drone pilots can refer to the facility maps and align their applications with altitudes that the maps indicate are likely to be approved for small UAS operations. This simplifies the process and increases the likelihood that the FAA will approve the requests.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is soliciting proposals for small UAS to be used by Border Patrol agents in the field. They are looking for drones that can be carried in a truck, deployed by a single Border Patrol agent in under 5 minutes, include sensors such as infrared cameras and facial-recognition, and distinguish between people, animals, and vehicles. CBP expects to be able to cross-reference drone observations with law enforcement databases.
Drone pilots are welcome to join AOPA, drone sightings increase again, a large autonomous freight drone prototype, a beyond visual line of sight record, and autonomous package delivery by UPS.
AOPA believes manned and unmanned pilots are more alike than different: “…both groups are part of general aviation, and share a fascination for flight and a craving for new perspectives.” To bring drone pilots into the organization, AOPA created a senior director of UAS programs and selected Kathleen “Kat” Swain to fill the position in April 2016. More recently, AOPA entered into a formal agreement with DARTdrones to offer their online training course free to AOPA members. Also, AOPA members will be eligible for a discount on an online Part 107 test preparation course, and members can experience drone demonstrations and live seminars at major airshows and at AOPA’s Regional Fly-Ins.
The reports of potential encounters with UAS come from pilots, air traffic controllers, law enforcement, and citizens. The latest data cover February through September 2016 and show reports increasing to 1,274 during that period compared to 874 reports for the same period in 2015. The FAA makes the data available through their UAS Sightings Report page.
Natilus wants to build a large autonomous freight drone and reduce global air freight costs by 50% over that of a 747 freighter. The San Jose, California-based company received $750,000 in seed funding in June 2016 from Draper Associates. Their Nemo prototype “is about the size of a small predator military drone.”
The 39-mile beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flight was flown under the Nevada UAS Test Site’s FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) on February 15, 2017. Led by the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, which manages the UAS Test Site, the fixed-wing Drone AmericaSavant™ UAV flew at up to 1,500 feet AGL.
UPS announced that they successfully tested the autonomous delivery of a package by a drone launched from the top of a UPS truck. Under the UPS concept, while the drone is making its delivery, the driver continues on to make a separate delivery. Tests were conducted in Tampa, Florida with a Workhorse Group HorseFly™ octocopter.
DARPA calls for drones that vanish, the U.S. Coast Guard tests the ScanEagle, more Amazon drone patents, a shortage of military drone pilots, Microsoft drones for good, the Trump administration’s regulatory policy throws confusion at the UAS industry, 3DR operates drones at the Atlanta airport, and a biometric drone based on the bat.
Inbound, Controlled, Air-Releasable, Unrecoverable Systems (ICARUS), is a DARPA program “driven by a vision of vanishing air vehicles that can make precise deliveries of critical supplies and then vaporize into thin air.” Small items could be supplied/resupplied to military or humanitarian assistance teams operating in difficult-to-access areas, and then the drones would dispose of themselves.
The U.S. Coast Guard tested a small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) on the national security cutter (NSC) Stratton. Deployment on Stratton planned is for this winter, initially using the ScanEagle sUAS.
Amazon has another patent for a delivery drone concept, this a foldable-wing design. With wings folded, the drone is stable on the ground for a vertical takeoff. Then the wings unfold for horizontal flight and fold again for the landing.
Amazon Illustration via USPTO
Another Amazon patent was recently published for a system for determining the center of gravity for a delivery drone payload. The drone can then adjust the payload position to balance itself in flight.
This U.S. Government Accountability Office press release states, “The Air Force and the Army have not fully applied four of the five key principles for effective strategic human capital planning for managing pilots of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that are important for resolving the Air Force’s pilot shortages and the Army’s training shortfalls.”
In 2015, Microsoft announced Project Premonitions, which envisions using drones to detect mosquito breeding areas. In June 2016, Microsoft formed the Aerial Informatics and Robotics (AIR) group. Their goal is to develop autonomous drones that use machine intelligence, robotics, and human-centered computation.
The Trump administration first froze new regulations, then issued an executive order requiring that for every new regulation, two old ones must be identified for elimination. The impact on the drone industry is uncertain since new regulations are needed for flight over people, enabling package delivery, etc.
The FAA granted the waiver for flight in Class B airspace. 3D Robotics conducted seven flights on January 10, 2017, at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The mission was data collection for a demolition project.
The Naval Research Laboratory powers a drone with a new fuel cell design, an Amazon patent to identify threats to drones, PrecisionHawk reports on BVLOS technology needs, and the FAA drone registration system reaches its one-year anniversary.
Members of the chemistry and tactical electronic warfare divisions from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory with the Ion Tiger unmanned air vehicle. Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
Scheme of a proton-conducting fuel cell, courtesy Wikipedia.
A team from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) has developed and flown the Ion Tiger powered by a new hydrogen fuel cell developed at NRL. The program manager at the Office of Naval Research said, “NRL having the know how to build their own fuel cells in-house gives ONR and the U.S. Navy the understanding and tools needed for transitioning fuel cells to the fleet.”
Amazon was awarded a technology patent for a system of “countermeasures of threats to an uncrewed autonomous vehicle.” The system is based on a mesh network and communication between multiple drones that detect possible signs of a compromise.
Under the FAA Pathfinder Program, PrecisionHawk’s Phase 2 research indicates technology assist is critical for beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations. PrecisionHawk found that human control is subject to variability and cannot be relied upon exclusively for safe BVLOS flight. Good situational awareness technology is also needed.
December 21, 2016, marked the one-year anniversary of the FAA web-based drone registration system. More than 600,000 owners have registered and the FAA calls the system “an unqualified success.” Also, “The rule and the registration system were primarily aimed at the thousands of drone hobbyists who had little or no experience with the U.S. aviation system. The agency saw registration as an excellent way to give them a sense of responsibility and accountability for their actions. The agency wanted them to feel they are part of the aviation community, to see themselves as pilots.”
Amazon Prime Air begins a package delivery beta test, a DOT audit finds some FAA deficiencies, Defiant Labs shows a new VTOL long endurance drone, three models of aerodynamic lift are called into question, some drone tips for growers, and a wild video of the week.
Amazon Prime Air delivered a TV streaming stick and a bag of popcorn to a Cambridge, UK customer in a private beta test. The process from order to receipt lasted 13 minutes and included a fully autonomous flight with no human pilot involved in the process. Amazon plans to expand the test, add more customers to the program, and collect operational data for further development of package delivery concepts. See the Amazon promotional video: Amazon Prime Air’s First Customer Delivery.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a 20-page audit report titled, FAA Lacks Risk-Based Oversight Process for Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems [PDF]. The report notes that “FAA does not have a fully developed risk-based process to oversee UAS operations, a key tool for focusing resources on a range of emerging risks, such as increased reports of UAS operating near airports.” The OIG offers six recommendations, four of which the FAA says are already accomplished.
Canadian company Defiant Labs has announced their new DX-3, a vertical take-off and landing drone with a fixed wing for flight. Applications for the long endurance, hydrogen fuel cell-powered drone include monitoring and inspecting remote infrastructure such as pipelines and power transmission lines. The DX-3 will be designed, manufactured, and produced in Canada.
Listener Ken captured some photographs of the DX-3 at the International UAS Show in Toronto:
Stanford researchers wanted to test three predictive models of airflow that are based on flying animals. These models are sometimes used in the design of flying robots and drones. Using a trained bird flying through a laser sheet that illuminated micron-sized aerosol particles, the study found that all three models failed to predict the actual lift generated by the bird.
Aeryon Labs, Inc. is offering UAS services to qualified public safety agencies on a monthly subscription basis. Announced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference and exhibition, the service includes the Aeryon SkyRanger UAS, Program Launch and Support Services, Assured Operational Availability, Investment Protection, and Secure, Remote Distribution of Video and Imagery.
ScanEagle N202SE will go on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Boeing subsidiary Insitu donated the ScanEagle that was the first drone operated beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in a commercial mission in the U.S. National Airspace System.
The Department of Transport (DoT), the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) have been ordered to begin tests to learn what happens when a typical consumer quadcopter strikes a commercial passenger jet.
In 2015, Transport Canada issued a Notice of Proposed Amendment to its UAV regulations, and the organization it is now finalizing the proposed regulations. Publication for formal comment is expected in Spring 2017.
InVisage Technologies has developed QuantumFilm™ sensors that allow small drones to sense and avoid obstacles. The sensor’s photosensitive layer uses quantum dots and has five times the light sensing capability of conventional CMOS image sensors. The new sensor design “can rapidly detect obstacles up to 20 metres away, using a technique called structured light.” Projected “laser dots… are distorted by any object they strike, allowing the sensor to infer the location and distance of obstacles ahead.”