Drone Notes: More regulations likely, the ‘last 50 feet,’ and pizza delivery

by Todd Jones ([email protected]) 249 views 

Editor’s Note: Drone Notes is compiled by Todd Jones, and is published twice a month.

The new year signals the end of the time users have to register their drones. We are witnessing the a dawn of a Drone Age. In addition to the terrific aerial photos and videos, drones are capable of doing so much more.

This year will be key to determining how the regulations will develop.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, just under 300,000 drones have been registered with the federal government since the database began in December. However, it was estimated that more than 400,000 drones were sold for the holiday season. A new smartphone app for Apple products was released earlier this year to help users identify no-fly zones.

While many debate the necessity of the regulations, the penalties appear to be stiff according to an article at USA Today.

“Penalties for failing to register included up to $27,500 in civil fines and $250,000 and three years in prison in criminal penalties. But officials said their efforts are educational as much as for safety enforcement.”

At least one lawsuit was filed over the regulation of drones. According to an article in Forbes, the FAA was sued by John A. Taylor.

“The lawsuit challenging the FAA registry was filed in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on December 24 by a model aircraft enthusiast concerned that the registration rules were illegal. That individual is John A. Taylor, a multi-rotor builder and flyer living in Silver Spring, Maryland. An insurance attorney, Mr. Taylor is representing himself.”

Not to be outdone, the states may be pushing forward with their own regulations according to an article at Morning Consult.

“Regulating unmanned aircraft systems (commonly known as drones) is a major to-do for states this year. The National Conference of State Legislatures recently put drone regulation on its list of hot topics for 2016.”

In light of the Federal laws, this could cause some confusion creating a patchwork of laws.

“However, the promise of forthcoming nationwide rules makes it tough for states to go too far, creating a stunted approach that could result in a strange patchwork of laws. Different regions address different isolated uses for the burgeoning technology.”

It should be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

However, some states and cities have already enacted their own rules and regulations according to a report from Lawfare.

“The FAA took a long time to issue its rules, and in the meantime many state and local governments enacted drone regulations themselves. These state/local rules include outright bans within city limits, bans on drones over certain buildings or public gatherings, prohibitions on the use of drones to capture images of individuals engaged in private activity or to commit voyeurism, regulating drone use by law enforcement officials, barring people from using drones for hunting, and prohibiting weaponizing drones. Lists of various state and local laws are here and here.”

How will regulations at the federal and state level, and even the local level, co-exist? It may take some time to work through.

“On the one hand, there is widespread frustration among local lawmakers about the leniency of the FAA interim final rule, which does not include any privacy-related protections. On the other hand, the FAA faces strong lobbying by Google, Amazon, and others to keep drone regulations as lenient as possible. As a result, litigation in this space seems virtually certain, as federal and state governments struggle for regulatory control of the hazy area between safety and privacy.”

According to Missy Cummings, Duke professor and director of the university’s Humans and Autonomy Lab, the biggest obstacles to drones are ourselves. Cummings noted her 8-year-old son would throw rocks at a drone.

“It’s just human nature,” she told the Washington Post in this report.

“Cummings, one of the nation’s top drone researchers, doesn’t doubt the technology. She believes these autonomous machines already possess the ability to accurately and reliably do their jobs. They could fly today. The technical issues have been solved. The biggest hurdles – and there are a colorful assortment of them – are what Cummings calls ‘socio-technical.’”

These challenges are referred to as the “last 50 feet” according to the article. The article addressed a whole host of problems for landing drones or delivering packages in certain situations.

Most people wouldn’t refer to a drone as a toy, but Wired explains that the industry has transformed into something much more than it was a few of years ago.

“Over the past year, our flying machines have become capable of doing more than just taking pictures of weekend getaways and sick runs on your mountain bike. Thanks to affordable hardware from manufacturing in China and elsewhere (but mostly China), making a stable, simple-to-fly drone is easy. The next step is figuring out what that drone should do. Quite a few companies, armed with multiple rotors and smartphone apps, claim to see the path forward.”

Drones are savvy enough to have their own Twitter handle.

“The drones have proliferated to the point that they are repeating themselves. Zerotech, the first company with access to Qualcomm’s drone-friendly system on a chip, is demonstrating its “smart drone turnkey solution.” From its booth on the show floor, you can see Xiro, a company that sells the same hardware under a different (yet phonetically quite similar!) name.”

New Qualcomm Tech Could Lead to the Ultimate Drone

Indeed, as the article mentions, we are at the beginning of the Drone Age.

Would you care to get your pizza by drone? They are testing it in the UK.


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