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Does the Small UAV industry need its own coalition?

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Original story by Hallie Siegel @Robohub

Last week USA Today reported that Amazon, 3D Robotics, Parrot and DJI had banded together to form a “Small UAV Coalition”, hiring DC-based lobbying firm Akin Gump to represent their interests before US regulators and ease the way for the commercial drone industry in that country. Akin Gump lobbyist Michael Drobac says that, since the USA Today report was first published, Airware and GoPro have joined the fold and others in the small UAV business will soon be following suit. But does the small UAV industry need its own lobbying effort, and how will the inclusion of retail giant Amazon impact its ability to represent the broader group?

In addition to contending with the FAA, the group must also gain traction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which manages the communication frequencies that drones would use, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which will be ruling on privacy issues. With multiple government bodies to lobby, Drobac believes it makes sense to work together in a concerted effort.

According to Drobac, there was already an appetite for a coalition among those in the small UAV business, whose needs differed somewhat from the larger UAV firms with aerospace and defence contracts. “The coalition members are all extremely consumer-focused,” he said, pointing out that the first priority of the group will be to lobby for clear safety and privacy guidelines, both of which are key concerns for consumers. The coalition has already filed several petitions for exemption with the FAA, and hopes to influence and educate policymakers and consumers about the commercial opportunities of small UAVs.

Small UAV Coalition

Patrick Egan from sUAS News thinks this consumer focus makes the coalition’s lobbying needs distinctly different from the needs of the UAV “old guard” of Department of Defence (DoD) vendors. “Previous lobbying efforts have been working to regulate 10-year-old aviation technology,” he says, pointing out that, by contrast, members of the Small UAV Coalition want to invest in new technology and new applications that haven’t even been discovered yet, and for that they will need extremely broad and inclusive regulatory definitions.

It therefor matters that they have their own representation. “If you’ve successfully lobbied to have the standards built around your product or business needs, you will have an edge,” says Egan, pointing out that while current regulations tend to focus on the fixed wing products common to DoD vendors, the regulations don’t even consider the multirotor devices that are common to the small UAV industry right now.

Image is another factor that may be drawing the coalition together. “A lot of small UAV companies have avoided aligning themselves with DoD vendors because of their military focus,” says Egan. “They just don’t need the controversy.”

Amazon retained council from Akin Gump when it filed its petition for exemption with the FAA this past July to begin tests with drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and fly below 400 feet. In its letter to the FAA, Amazon said that so far it has only been able to test its drones inside its Seattle R&D lab or in other countries, but would “prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle – where our next generation R&D lab and distinguished team of engineers, scientists and aeronautical professionals are located.”

Earlier this week, the Economic Times rumored that Amazon will begin testing drone delivery in India. If true, Amazon is pulling all punches. The threat of losing talent, R&D and investment to other countries is one of the key arguments of commercial drone advocates in the US. Andra Keay of Silicon Valley Robotics says, “Going to India sends a strong message to the FAA, and it makes so much sense. India is well-known for the high calibre of their roboticists, engineers and developers. And yet parts of the country still have very rudimentary infrastructure, which actually makes it easier to do disruptive innovation there. It’s harder to patch existing legacy building and transport technologies than it is to start afresh.”

Drobac says that allowing private testing facilities is key to keeping UAV innovation in the US: “Sure the FAA has some test sites, but it’s much more pragmatic to have testing near to where your headquarters are.”

For companies that are pushing innovation in this space, distance is not the only issue with testing facilities. New technologies such as sense-and-avoid will need to be peer-reviewed to meet (as-yet unspecified) safety regulations, and private companies like Amazon don’t want to go to public testing facilities. Says Egan: “Even though they might need an independent 3rd party to review their safety record, they still want to keep their proprietary data safe. We don’t know how safe that data is at a public site.”

The high cost of using the FAA testing sites (according to Egan, $5-10K per day) presents another obstacle. ”I’m not sure that the FAA took into account how prohibitive these costs could be to a small company that is just getting off the ground,” said Egan. “This is really a hold-over from the days when most UAV operators were Department of Defence vendors.”

According to the US Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan organization that tracks lobbying expenditures in the US, Amazon has significantly increased its lobbying expenditures in recent years (see chart). In the USA Today article, Chris Anderson from 3D Robotics was quoted as saying that Amazon’s interest “lets people realize how big it can be … They have a well-established presence in Washington and they were able to kick-start the mechanics of this coalition so we could quickly join and get moving.”

Source: Center for Responsive Politics. Note that 2014 expenditures represent only year-to-date until Aug 2014. Amazon has spent 40K on lobbying efforts for PrimeAir at the time of publication.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics. Note that 2014 expenditures represent only year-to-date until Aug 2014. Amazon has spent 40K on lobbying efforts for PrimeAir at the time of publication.

Egan agrees that the influence of a big player is critical to the future success of the coalition, saying that “Amazon has a lot of horsepower and the White House has now renewed its interest in the issue,” however he points out that in the longer term it could be difficult for companies with such different applications and financial resources to keep their interests aligned.

Drobac could not comment on the price of entry for joining the coalition, and would not speculate on how much money would have to be spent to smooth the way for the small UAV industry in the US. “It’s not about how much money will be required to change lawmakers’ minds, ” he said. “The question will come down to whether we can educate people about the tremendous benefits of UAVs to society, and we’re confident that we will because technology always wins.”

So far in 2014, Amazon has spent $40K on lobbying for Prime Air – a number that is likely to increase now that the coalition is official.

Whatever future challenges may exist between coalition members, Drobac insists that their focus will be on their common objective of opening up US airspace to small commercial UAVs: “If we can crack that door open, all boats will rise.”

“I just hope they don’t get frustrated at the pace the FAA operates at,” says Egan, who has been advocating for commercial UAVs for over ten years. “The movement towards the integration of US airspace has been slower than glacial.”

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Top 5 by dronologista @Robohub

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

On 30th of May, a comment appeared on the About page of this blog. Hallie Siegel, the Managing Editor from Robohub, an excellent online communication platform for, well, robotics mostly, proposed to me to cross-post articles. After a brief Skype interview, I agreed (of course!) to share my blog posts, and to join an impressive group of contributors that included UAV heavyweights such as Chris Anderson and prof. dr. Raffaello D’Andrea.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waUY6hlG-3k

Two months fast forward, and there are ten articles by dronologista at Robohub. Some of them are more some less successful, but all of them were interesting enough to grab attention of Robohub visitors. Here are the top 5 that were generating quite a lot of traffic:

  1. Drone Startups: Fotokite – This article is a part of ongoing series of Drone Startups posts. It is about a startup that designed what is basically a powered kite, not a quite a drone, ideally suited to dodge FAA scrutiny. The article was submitted to Slashdot harnessing traffic from it, and was even reposted on DIYDrones. Great success!
  2. Quadrotor allegedly seen spying on French teams closed practice at World Cup – Published during the World Cup craze, it attracted a lot of people. French coach Didier Deschamps was calling for investigation after a quadcopter was spotted spying over his team’s closed training session. It was not revealed whose drone it was, but since we know now that it was Germany that beat the French team in quarterfinals, it seems that Germans used high-tech solution to get to semifinals. No drones spied on Brazil team though, so I am out of theories why they lost 7-1.
  3. Rescue drone that finds survivors using their cellphones’ WiFi signals – Post about a UAV that was designed by team of students from EFPL. It includes the interview with Jonathan Cheseaux, the man behind the project.
  4. The thriving drone community of South Africa – While most of the stories found around the internet is focused on drones in US, this post covered a country that is not often featured online in connection to drones. Yet, a thriving community exists, and is very productive and creative.
  5. HorseFly unmanned aerial parcel delivery system – This post described something that could be Amazon’s wet dream. A combined transport system that uses both a van and a UAV to deliver the parcel, utilizing both vehicles advantages.

Those were 5 of mine most popular articles at Robohub after two months of collaboration, which I hope, will continue to flourish. I wonder if I will be able to completely redefine this list in six months time. Just a personal challenge for dronologista 🙂

What is your favorite blog post by dronologista?

Amazon asks FAA for permission to test delivery drones

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

In April this year, Amazon.com issued a shareholder letter that stated: “The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles…″. Three months fast forward, first half of July, the company is on its 9th generation of drones, that can fly up to 50 mph (~80 km/h) and carry up to 5 pounds (~2kg) of payload, which is enough for 86% of the sold products.

Rapid development of the Amazon drones was facilitated by intense indoor testing, including test flights in their research lab in Seattle. Among features tested are agility, flight duration and redundancy. Most importantly, the company claims to have developed sense-and-avoid hardware and software that will allow its drones to automatically avoid collisions.

In order to progress further with development, outdoor testing, in more realistic conditions is necessary. That is why Amazon.com asked to be exempted from the lengthy and complex approval process, citing innovation as a driving factor, since the Congress gave the FAA power to grant innovators “expedited operational authorization”.

If the exemption is granted, that would allow the company to test Prime Air drones in its own backyard, “with additional safeguards that go far beyond those that of FAA”. One of the safeguards is the Geo-fencing, a technology that defines geographical boundaries within which drone flight can be confined and beyond which the drone gets automatically deactivated. That technology is already available and used on many commercial drones, DJI Phantom being one of the first, which was already posted at dronologista earlier this year. Exemption would also allow Amazon.com to test drones outside of six testing sites where FAA allows unmanned aerial vehicles to be used, in order to assess their safety, communication, air traffic control etc.

If exemption is not granted, however, it is quite obvious what will happen: the company will simply move its drone operations abroad. Canada is already very hospitable to commercial drone operators.

Full text of the Amazon Petition for Exemption can be found here.

Very detailed articles about the topic can be found at Forbes and Cnet.

Videos courtesy of Amazon and DJI Innovations

 

 

Drones get legal support

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

It is no news that the technology used in unmanned aircraft systems is rapidly evolving. Unfortunately, it seems that lawmakers are not that quick to follow, and their response to this phenomenon is not constructive, to put it mildly. More often than not, commercial drone operators were helpless when facing prosecution.

That is about to change. Husch Blackwell, a litigation and business law firm with offices in US and United Kingdom, has introduced its unmanned aerial systems (UAS) group, which will assist commercial business users and manufacturers in navigating the requirements for UAS and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The multi-disciplinary team, led by Tom Gemmel a former fighter pilot, consists of attorneys with a broad range of regulatory, technical and hands-on experience and specialize in the practices that matter most in this growing industry. One of the team members is a military intelligence officer who has experience with UAS information collection and analysis as well as development of UAS intelligence products.

This smart move will most probably establish Husch Blackwell as the top legal provider for drone operators at odds with authorities. Knowing how FAA randomly prosecutes “offenders”, this law firm will get a lot of new clients quickly.

Among them will most certainly not be the Archdiocese of Washington D.C, since their drones are not affected by earthly laws.

 

Proudly South African Drones

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

Couple of years ago, while I was living in Cape Town, I met a group of people so much into drones and aerial filming, that they managed to initiate me into the world of UAV. I didn’t even realize that (I was always slow-witted), but it turned out that South African soil is a very fertile ground for starting and growing of a UAV enthusiasm and business. Therefore, I will dedicate this post to the thriving drone community of the Republic of South Africa.

Let’s start with the legislation: there is none. SACAA, the South African Civil Aviation Authority created confusion some two months ago, when it firstly declared a ban on the use of drones for aerial filming, and then issued this statement. It basically says that SACAA doesn’t ban something that is illegal already (i.e. using drones for aerial filming). Only problem is that it is not illegal, since there is no legislation covering the issue. On the other hand, Cape Town Film Commission has been n discussion with the SACAA, the Ministry of Transport, the Department of Trade and Industry as well as the Deputy Mayor of Cape Town and has requested that the SACAA implement their model aircraft policy for use of the drones.

If approved, the policy will require adopting the below guidelines, which are similar to those used in Europe and Australia:

– Flying only under 120m
– No flying within 4.2 nautical miles of an airport
– Flying only in line of sight of the operator (500m)
– No auto pilot flying or night flying
– No flying over public property and roads without permission

Meanwhile, filmmakers are still flocking to Cape Town, taking advantage of breath-taking scenery and skilled local aerial filming production crews. One of them is Skylab Productions. This prolific company founded in 2012. produced aerial shots for National Geographic, and gave its contribution to Cape Town version of (in)famous Pharell Williams “Happy” video.

And if somewhere are guys that are using drones for filming, there would be someone catering for their needs and providing them with equipment. SteadiDrone is a proudly South African UAV manufacturer, founded in 2012. in a beautiful town of Knysna. Their flagship product is the QU4D, RTF quadcopter that uses the APM 2.5 autopilot from 3D Robotics and is able to carry a GoPro camera on board.

There are others, however, that are manufacturing a UAV with significantly less creative purpose. The Skunk Riot Control Drone is made by Desert Wolf, a South African company, and it has already been sold to mining companies, notorious for their problematic treatment of mine workers and frequent riots.

Luckily, there are more jesting endeavors. SA Beer Lift challenge, although tiny compared to the one organized by HobbyKing, still managed to produce some respectable results and some funny fails. I couldn’t find any information if it will happen this year as well, but it would be awesome. Where else could you find such cool drone fail videos?

Despite all the challenges that are present in today’s South African society, community that has been growing around Unmanned Aerial Vehicles seems very dynamic and healthy. Dronologista hopes that it will remain so in the future, and will be happy to bring the news to the world about individuals and companies that are using or producing proudly South African drones.

 

FAA to Consider Exemptions for Commercial UAS Movie and TV Production

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

On 2nd of June, FAA issued a press release considering a petition submitted by the Motion Picture Association of America. Seven aerial photo and video production companies, the MPAA, are asking the agency to grant exemptions from regulations that address general flight rules, pilot certificate requirements, manuals, maintenance and equipment mandates. They are also asking for relief from airworthiness certification requirements as allowed under Section 333. Under that section of the law, certain airworthiness requirements can be waived to let specific UAS fly safely in narrowly defined, controlled, low-risk situations.

In order to have the exemption granted, the companies must prove that their plan would benefit the public good, and that it would not create unsafe conditions. If the FAA approves those exemptions, it will still need to approve individual operations.

The fun part of the story is that rules for which MPAA asks to be exempted actually don’t exist yet.

Anyhow, if the FAA approves the exemption, it will be a step in the right direction.

Full press release is available on FAA web page.

Interesting articles about this petition you can find in The Verge and in The Guardian.

 

 

Holy Drone

Dear friends,

Although only five months young, dronologista blog has grown and needs a new attire.

As of 1st of September, dronologista.com moves to a new hosting, new address and slightly changes the appearance . Content will remain the same, and dronologista will continue to provide information about non-military drones only.

Enjoy!

The moment you realize that one of the most traditional institutions in the world, the Catholic Church, is using drones and Youtube to promote its work, is the moment when you realize that today we all are living in a friggin’ future. Yes, I’m talking about the same Catholic Church that acknowledged that Earth is circling around the Sun (not other way around)  some 20 years ago.  Moreover, it is the Archdioceses of Washington D.C, located, well, in Washington D.C, US of A.

As a part of the ritual marking the canonization of Pope John Paul II (now called St. John Paul II), the Archdioceses mixed drone-captured aerial videos with some dramatic classical music and scenes from earlier indoor Mass, as seen in the video below. (fun starts at 00:30, skip the rest)

Priced at under $1,000, the saucer-shaped, camera-laden drone will enable the Archdiocese to film events from a new perspective. It is not clear if the drone has a cross-like cross-section of a quadcopter or if it is maybe a hexacopter, but it surely brought much needed attention to Archdiocese Youtube channel. Namely, that video alone has more views that ten other most viewed vids together.

However, that is not the most interesting aspect of the story. Washington D.C. area is a declared no fly zone for drones, and according to the FAA, no one is allowed to fly within Washington DC’s Flight Restricted Zone. Obviously the flight of the blessed drone over the part of the city, was in the hands of the higher authority, so FAA just decided to turn a blind eye. No one will be fined, and the FAA will continue to randomly penalize other UAV users. Which is actually bringing dronologista to a conclusion that, if you are a religious group and you are using drones, you will not be bothered by authorities.

If that is the case maybe it is a time to start a drone religion.

Interesting article about the case you can find at Motherboard.