UAS Digest of Recent Discussions & Developments

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The internet is filled with news about the UAS, UAV, drone, RPAS or whatever the nomenclature is used. Some of the articles are authored by so called “experts”; others are written by individuals who are not very objective; and a large trash receptacle can be filled with the copy which has no merit. There are some papers published which truly add to the knowledge of this arcane subject. The bear repeating; here are a couple (if readers respond well, this feature will be repeated).

The first two linked articles come from discussion. The first was sponsored by the ABA Section of Science and Technology Law’s “Drones Incoming! Are You Ready for Unmanned Vehicles?” symposium. The second was a Fortune round table of insiders from the business, policy, and technical sides of the UAS business and they discussed what the speakers perceived to be progress and obstacles. Each produced some interesting perspectives.

The ABA panel included two practicing attorneys, a President of the Unmanned Aircraft Safety & Security Society, Inc., an Assistant Professor of the University of Central Florida and a University of Massachusetts law professor. Their interesting comments included:

 

    • One lawyer observed: “As technology outpaces the law governing drones and their payloads, contractors must protect their trade secrets from cyber spies, while also defending the commerciality of their products against government acquisition rules that impose excessive governmental red tape, jeopardize intellectual property rights, and limit dual use sales in the public and private sectors.”

 

    • The President of UASSSS opined: “I believe unmanned aircraft in the national airspace pose significant threat to other aircraft and entities on the ground in terms of both safety and security; the law must be proactive in these areas to avoid the potential loss of life and property.”

 

    • The UCF academic said: warned about a stifling effect that regulation could have on this nascent industry. Ravich likened drones to antibiotics, refrigeration, automobiles and other achievements before them, saying, “The innovation of unmanned civil and commercial aviation is being disadvantaged by a precautionary principle running throughout drone regulations and policies worldwide. Perhaps more worrisome in the regulatory lag between the U.S. approach to commercial UAV operations and that of Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, the United Kingdom and even nations in the Middle East.”

 

    • The UMass law school professor pointed her comments at privacy issues by saying, “Regardless of the steps one takes to protect his privacy at ground level, there is no hiding from an unmanned aircraft hovering overhead. An unmanned aerial vehicle will be able to see, capture and store data around the curtilage of one’s home and anywhere else it can gain an aerial perspective.”

 

While one may not agree with all of these opinions, their value is that these perceptions exist out there.

The Fortune panel included a former AUVSI executive/now Silicon Valley consultant a former Obama UAV advisor/now at a Washington law firm and an associate vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma, and CEO of DII LLC, which produces solar-powered long-range drones. They had some interesting comments, such as:

    • The former policy advisor confirmed the perspective of some safety professionals when she said, “The first positive development was when the proposed [FAA] rule came out, and it was a lot more pro-innovation than folks had feared.”

 

    • The Silicon Valley consultant added: “From the industry standpoint…the FAA Pathfinder [regulatory research] program is very, very good. However, it’s more research. The 333 process, while it is a step forward, it’s a bandaid. It’s not a sweeping allowance for commercial operation. And when you look at what other countries are doing, the United States [is] behind.”

 

    • The University researcher and private sector developer hit some hotspots by saying: “Anytime a new technology or new concept comes along, it’s natural for us to overhype it. If we’re not in a very regulated [environment], we’re able to validate markets very quickly. A lot of the pie in the sky type applications fall away. [But] because of the regulatory hurdles we have right now, we’re not able to get out and validate a lot of the things that we are projecting. There are some areas where I think we’re in desperate need of a reality check.

      The perfect example to me is agriculture. If you look at how we’ve come up with a lot of the forecasts, we had to look at Japan, which is a little unique—very limited farmland, a lot of it on inclines. It would be more attractive to adopt technology in Japan versus the United States. In the U.S., we have yet to go in and make the strong business case on the [agriculture] side of it.”

 

    • Perhaps the most interesting set of opinions came from a Fortune question and two very negative comments about the Amazon program viability:
      • Fortune: Can you pick a particular application that’s closer to 50 years away than 10 years away?
        • Gretchen: The one that comes to mind the quickest is delivery. What Amazon is trying to do is really wonderful. [But] when you’re thinking about delivering packages in urban areas, because of all the challenges of safety and reliability and visual line of sight and sense and avoid—there’s so many complications it’s going to be very difficult to do.
        • Lisa: That’s exactly what I was going to say. As exciting as it is, if I’m living in New York City or Washington D.C., a package isn’t going to be delivered by drone to my apartment anytime soon.”

These expert opinions, particularly from someone who was inside at the Administration, are particularly telling.

As opposed to discussion, the last link is about development of technology. A consortium of major players (Google, Amazon, Verizon Communications Inc., Harris Corp and others) are working to create an ATC network for separating UASs. The quote from Google suggested that the group may reach a universal solution in this join project by saying:

“’We think the airspace side of this picture is really not a place where any one entity or any one organization can think of taking charge,’ Dave Vos, who heads Google’s secretive Project Wing, told Bloomberg News in his most expansive comments on Google’s vision to date. ‘The idea being that it’s not ‘Google is going to go out and build a solution and everyone else has to subscribe to it. The idea really is anyone should be free to build a solution.’”

The same article mentioned promising ATC/UAS technologies being developed by PrecisionHawk, Skydio Inc., Airware, and Harris. These developments were discussed at the NASA conference in Silicon Valley.

By keeping abreast of all these disparate opinions and technical development, commercial UAS entities, regulators and other players can make more informed decisions.

 

ARTICLE: Drone regulations debated by experts in wake of FAA proposed rules

ARTICLE: Drone roundtable: Cooling down the UAV hype

ARTICLE: Tech Firms Collaborating to Make Drone Air Traffic Safe

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