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Bend boy’s drone among those cited as ‘emerging hazard’ for forest firefighters

From the SUAS Feed

by Gary Mortimer

BEND — It cost a Bend teenager about $800 in revenue from chores, yard work and birthday gifts to buy a miniature aircraft and a camera he sent aloft to capture video of a forest fire this summer that was threatening the western edge of the city.

The images were a YouTube hit, but they were also a source of worry for fire bosses concerned about the possibility that drones could interfere with firefighting and possibly bring down a big aircraft.

Morgan Tien, 14, told The Bulletin newspaper of Bend that he had read federal guidelines on when and where he could fly his DJI Phantom, a small quadcopter he fitted with a GoPro camera.

Tien’s not in trouble for the flight, which went up from his patio on June 7, followed by a second flight the next day. They didn’t get into restricted air space.

But federal authorities cited the flights, along with others this summer in Washington state and California. They called them an “emerging hazard.”

Drones may be a problem for firefighters if the drones fly into restricted airspace over and near a wildfire, where air tankers and helicopters could be in the air, said Mike Ferris, a spokesman in Portland for the U.S. Forest Service.

Full article here: Bend Boy

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FAA BVLOS Committee Formed

The FAA has formed a new committee with industry participation for end-users that want to fly Beyond-Visual-line-Of-Sight (BVLOS). RCAPA was included in the list of thirty-one different industry groups to give input to the current FAA UAS ARC about “immediate, near and long-term issues/hurdles are or might be for fielding this technology.”

RCAPA President, Rick Connolly accepted on behalf of the membership.

We designated “Patrick Egan to represent the RCAPA membership due to his experience and passion in the Global Airspace Integration experience including his prior participation on the sUAS ARC. While committee participation is not exactly the seat on the UAS ARC that we have petitioned for, it will allow us some level of participation to voice the concerns of the membership… mainly certification issue. We strive to be a unified voice for the small business UAS industry.”

While we were reminded that this isn’t a seat on the UAS ARC, the board is hopeful that the powers that be are receptive to the notion of common sense regulations prevail and that small business might have some valuable insights to contribute.

RCAPA Board member, Gene Robinson also had comments about the RCAPA’s committee participation.

“…… RCAPA has been contributing to the unmanned aircraft community since 2005 to provide as much-practical experience possible in the decision-making process for flight in the NAS. With the information that is taken from actual field use of UA, we have been able to divine what the best operating practices are, acceptable environments to fly in, and the safest possible combination of aerial tools to use. As the technology rapidly changes, we will tirelessly continue to gather and apply the best hardware and continually redefine concepts that have been proven in the past.”

You can discuss the RCAPA’s inclusion on the BVLOS committee and other timely subjects at the RCAPA Facebook page.

Be sure to join the RCAPA as the numbers help to support the technology and your future



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Urban Mapping with a small APM 2.6 controlled quad drone

Above is a video of a presentation we recently gave about the work we did for the World Bank in Albania. It shows that small drones are much more than toys - they have become productive tools for innovative surveyors. 

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Official UN Policy Brief on Humanitarian UAVs

ICARUS Quadcopter

Cross-posted from iRevolution

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) just published a pivotal policy document (PDF) on the use of civilian UAVs in humanitarian settings. Key excerpts from this 20-page & must-read publication are highlighted below.

UAVs are increasingly performing civilian tasks as the technology becomes more common. In fact, 57 countries and 270 companies were manufacturing UAVs in 2013. Humanitarian organizations have started to use UAVs, including in Haiti and the Philippines, for data collection and information tasks that include real time information and situation monitoring, public information and advocacy, search and rescue, and mapping. Use of UAVs raises serious practical & ethical issues that humanitarian organizations must address through transparency, community engagement, and guidelines for privacy & data security. To tap into the growing interest in UAVs, particularly in technical communities, humanitarian organizations should engage in networks that promote good practices and guidance, and that can serve as a source of surge capacity. [Like the Humanitarian UAV Network]. Due to their affordability, ease of transport, and regulatory concerns UAVs used in humanitarian response are likely to be small or micro-UAVs of up to a few kilograms, while larger systems will remain the province of military and civil defense actors. Interest is building in the use of UAVs to assist in search and rescue, particularly when equipped with infrared, or other specialty cameras. For example, the European Union is funding ICARUS, a research project to develop unmanned search and rescue tools to assist human teams. [Picture above is of UAV used by ICARUS]. The analysis of data from these devices ranges from straight-forward to quite technically complex. Analytical support from crowdsourcing platforms, such as Humanitarian Open Street Map’s Tasking Server or QCRI’s MicroMappers, can speed up analysis of technical data, including building damage or population estimates. More research is needed on integrating aerial observation and data collection into needs and damage assessments, search and rescue, and other humanitarian functions. The biggest challenges to expanding the use of UAVs are legal and regulatory. [...]. Most countries where humanitarians are working do not yet have legal frameworks, meaning that use of UAVs will probably need to be cleared on an ad hoc basis with local authorities. A particular issue is interference with traditional air traffic [...]. Any use of UAVs by humanitarian actors [...] requires clear policies on what information they will share or make public, how long they will store it and how they will secure it. [...]. For humanitarians operating UAVs, transparency and engagement will likely be critical for success. Ideally, communities or local authorities would be informed of the timing of flights, the purpose of the mission and the type of data being collected, with the aim of having some kind of informed consent, whether formal or informal. Although UAVs are getting safer, due to parachutes, collision avoidance systems and fail-safe mechanisms, humanitarians must think seriously about liability insurance and its cost implications, particularly for mechanical failure. Due in part to these safety concerns, ultra-light UAVs, such as those under a kilogram, will tend to be more lightly regulated and therefore easier to import & operate. More non-profit or volunteer groups are also emerging, such as the Humanitarian UAV Network, a global volunteer network of operators working for safe operations & standards for humanitarian uses of UAVs. The pressure for humanitarians to adopt this technology [UAVs], or to provide principled justifications for why they do not, will only increase. [...]. Until UAVs are much more established in general civilian use, the risks of humanitarians using UAVs in conflict settings are greater than the benefits. The focus therefore should be developing best practices and guidelines for their use in natural disasters, slow-onset emergencies and early recovery. Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 2.22.05 PM

In conclusion, the UN brief offers several policy considerations:

Focus on using UAVs in natural disasters and avoid use in conflicts. Develop a supportive legal and regulatory framework. Prioritize transparency and community engagement. Ensure principled partnerships. Strengthen the evidence base. Update response mechanisms [...] to incorporate potential use of UAVs and to support pilot projects. Support networks and communities of practice. [...]. Humanitarian organizations should engage in initiatives like the Humanitarian UAV Network, that aim to develop and promote good practices and guidance and that can serve as advisors and provide surge capacity.

The Humanitarian UAV Network (UAViators) is actively engaged in pursuing these (and other) action items. The Network promotes the safe and responsible use of UAVs in non-conflict settings and is engaged in policy conversations vis-a-vis ethical, legal & regulatory frameworks for the use of UAVs in humanitarian settings.  The Network is also bringing UAV experts together with seasoned humanitarian professionals to explore how best to update formal response mechanisms. In addition, UAViators emphasizes the importance of community participation. Finally, the Network carries out research to build a more rigorous evidence based so as to better document the opportunities and challenges of using UAVs in humanitarian settings.

See Also:

Humanitarians in the Sky: Using UAVs for Disaster Response [link] Live Crisis Map of UAV Videos for Disaster Response [link] Humanitarian UAV Missions During Balkan Floods [link] UAVs, Community Mapping & Disaster Risk Reduction in Haiti [link] “TripAdvisor” for International UAV/Drone Travel [link] How UAVs are Making a Difference in Disaster Response [link] Humanitarians Using UAVs for Post Disaster Recovery [link] Grassroots UAVs for Disaster Response [link]

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Should We Let the Drone Hype Run Its Course?

The mere mention of “Autonomous Vehicles” conjures up visions of machines able to carry out complex tasks that have taken us a millennium to evolve or tasks we have yet to take on ourselves.  With national discussion (in this case, Unmanned Aerial Systems – UAS) focused on UAS policies, applications, and capabilities leading us to dream about the future of UAS systems, take a moment to consider how UAS development charts against the Gartner Hype Cycle because my concern is that FAA policies developed during the early periods of innovation (and hype!)  could stifle long term productivity of the industry. Drones are one of those areas that stimulate the imagination, like rocket ships and X-Ray Specs in the 1950s and with good reason.   The first is the open source environment of many of the technical components of UAS systems that enable developers and innovators to get under the hood and customize the flight characteristics and autonomous function of the flight control systems.  These pioneers, standing on the shoulders of earlier pioneers, inspiring the next generation of pioneers, ensure a constant stream of advanced concepts hovering across the UAS landscape, in discussion groups, and in public dialogue, creating excitement and worry.  While some concepts have merit (obstacle avoidance, location reporting, product delivery), many are unsound (persistent surveillance) without a technical breakthrough or fail the common-sense test (beer delivery!) as we already have laws that apply to a specific use.

The second is that you can turn practically anything into a drone with the availability of parts and the sharing of ideas.  You can literally make a brick “fly” like a robot.  In addition to the aerial kind, I’ve seen drone boats, cars, kites, jellyfish…even a robot fish that helps direct schools of fish, all bringing their own use-case scenarios that run the spectrum from brilliant to nefarious applications.

To make any of the drone hype a reality, you have to match a great design with all of the Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) limitations.  Most often these requirements provide enough challenges to slow the rapid expansion and application of drone technologies without the need for all-encompassing policy or regulation.  The realization of these requirements tip us over the crest of the Hype Cycle Expectation Peak and downward into the Trough of Disillusionment as businesses manage expectations and match market demands with reliable components and the right amount of progress.

The reality is that people will always hype what drones can do, what we want them to do, how they will impact our lives and most of these will never take to the air because the laws of physics AND the law of Supply and Demand get the final vote.  I am one of these people who dreams of UASs that can find lost hikers, that can carry a WiFi signal or a vaccine and I’ve had the ground come up and smite my systems enough times that I now carefully weigh the benefits before I hit the throttle.

This is where FAA policies, rules, and governing regulations need to be applied; after the flood of ideas and big dreams have been grounded in reality.  Setting policies to encapsulate all the bad ideas currently out for discussion will ultimately crush industry and innovation of the good ideas.   Afterall, television is still a great idea despite 13 seasons of Big Brother.

I know we WANT the FAA to get its policies in order and allow the commercial development to proceed as rapidly as we come up with a great new use-case, but we need to let the technology follow its course a little longer to where we can see the productivity-potential (as we stand there picking up the pieces of our systems that couldn’t live up to our grand ideas) and focus policies where they allow the right kinds of innovation and encompass the safety/rights of the general public.

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