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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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Community Drones : A Short (unprofessionally made) Clip

Dear all: Thanks lot for all the insights, time, information and most importantly is the spirit that you all share here in DIY Drones. It is just a quick post as I am still in Borneo and not having too good internet connection. We just want to share a short (unprofessionally made) clip that we (hardly) tried to make. I hope it will give you all some information on how far (or how slow) we are now in trying to keep the work going.




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A clever design exercise in visualizing drone no-fly zones

From Mitchell Sipus, an urban planner doing doctoral research at Carnegie Mellon (scroll down for more good design examples of displaying drone legal and safety zones): Just prior to my last stint of working in Somalia, I purchased a small consumer drone to use as social research tool.  Unfortunately the landscape had changed drastically since my last time in Mogadishu, and it was impossible to use, in particular because I am terrible at flying the damn thing. But I have since invested many hours into piloting the UAV to explore its utility as a research tool for urban planning and design.

Last weekend, a small disaster took place when I lost the signal to the UAV. The drone drifted out of sight and crash landed.  I had no idea where. It took several hours to find (on a building rooftop, I couldn't see it, but I found its WIFI signal), and even longer to recover (24 hours). At some point on Twitter, Constantine Samaras, raised a significant point: Perhaps this situation could have been avoided if I was in a no drone zone. But what does would that look like?

Legal Framework for Drones

In the United States, airspace above 700 feet is Federally restricted.  Airspace below 30 feet is considered part of individual property rights, meaning that when you own a piece of land, you also own the 30 feet of air above it. Ownership of this airspace is occasionally able to be sold for provide through a transfer of development rights. But what about the airspace between 30 and 700 feet?  At present, the FAA has restricted the use of drones for commercial use but amateurs are free to fly.

Some cities have already taken progressive steps concerning the legality of drones. The city of Evanston Illinois has passed a 2 year ban on drone use in the city for use in warrantless surveillance. This is a good thing. Carrol county in Maryland is looking for similar legislation on the use of drones by law enforcement. There was even recently a temporary event ban during golf tournament in North Carolina.  But existing UAV zoning laws are "all or nothing" in design, they do not make use of the opportunity that drones can provide in creating new markets, improved public policy, and better design for communities.

Zoning for Drones
In general, I'm not a big fan of city zoning.  I admire its intention, to make sure that the overall quality of urban life is consistent with high standards of physical and mental health.  We do not want the aluminum factory next to the children's playground or the speedway motor park in the residential neighborhood.  We do need a legal instrument for communities to make decisions about what they want to look like and how they need to function.  Yet overall, I find my city zoning is poorly conceived.  I am highly supportive of health standards, environmental regulation and taxes, but I see zero advantage toward regulating the values of a population (such as zoning concerning bars or adult services) or the economic geography as such zoning only reinforces the values of those who hold power, not the people who constitute the community.  Likewise zoning for residential vs. commercial use tends to put more strain on the landscape, increase traffic, increase pollution, and reduce the distribution of wealth. Zoning should not hinder social mobility, yet it can and does.

Therefore, to approach zoning for drones, it is important to examine the issue from multiple points of view.  After all, the goal is to create a regulatory framework that will maximize the ratio of nuisance to utility in favor of people at large, not a particular social group or economic class.

Areas of Review:

Example UAV Questions to Consider
Is the UAV big or small? 
Loud or quiet? 
Does it have a payload or a camera? 
Is it operating according to a predefined flightpath (using GPS waypoints) or is it freely piloted?
How fast and how high is it?
Is it for commercial or amateur purposes?

Example Site Questions to Consider
Is the site of high or low pedestrian traffic?
Does the site contain socially vulnerable or critical security infrastructure (schools, power plants etc)?
Does the site consist mostly of public or privately owned property?
To what extent is the airspace already cluttered and at what density?
Is this an area of high or low diversity in land use?

Example Population Issues
Is this area a public space or private space?
Is what is the privacy expectation in this space - for example, on a beach?

To recognize the array of drone designs and use designs is to realize that an affective zoning solution is flexible to support the advantages of the UAV but with limited interference upon bystanders. Conversely, it is important to insure that UAV operation is not disruptive to the general activities of the population.  Ideally, UAV operation should be able to operate "in the background" of day-to-day life.

General Guidelines for UAV/Drone Land Use Zoning Laws
While thinking about zoning for drones, one of the first questions that comes to my mind is "what will that look like"?  After all, 2-dimensional arial map is insufficient to capture the particular sense of space that will be used and affected by a UAV.  An advantage of contemporary design and modeling is that we do not need to restrict zoning maps to a 2D surface, but can draw these maps in the air, to model them above cities and within them.  A zoning map for drones should not only take advantage of modeling the airspace, but should take into consideration the variations of time.  For example, an area that might restrict private drone use from 9-5 could lift the ban from 30-400 feet after 5pm and 400-600 feet after 10 pm.

It might seem abstract to place an imaginary 3D geometry around a building to restrict flight patterns. But for those who are already flying drones, it is no unimaginable.  Furthermore, providing the information online (such as a downloadable CAD file) for a drone operator to layer onto Google Earth or other GIS software would easily remedy the situation.  GPS and time sequencing can even be programmed into flight patterns.  It might seem abstract and hightech, but 3D mapping of airspace for drone use has few hurdles and requires no new technology.


Drone Zoning and Urban Planning Concept Location, Chicago Illinois. Sutika Sipus 2014. Drone Zoning Concept in Chicago, Illinois. Sutika Sipus 2014.

Case Study: Urban Planning for UAVs in Chicago

To explore this idea, I have rendered a rough concept drawing of drone zoning in the parks bordering downtown Chicago.  Basing the idea off of a traditional traffic light, green areas are free-use, yellow and orange maintain various restrictions according to the time of day and day of week, while red areas are restricted at all times.

Buckingham Fountain, Chicago, Open UAV Zone. Sutika Sipus 2014. Open Droning The green zone is near Buckingham fountain.  This area is a wide open space, with zero infrastructure of critical value.  It should be realized that we design areas where free drone use is available so as to offset the general distribution of restrictions.  A greenspace, therefore, should permit the widest amount of flexibility and opportunity.  Likewise, in such spaces we want to reduce the likelihood of losing the drone or disrupting others in the event of an accident.  Accidents will happen, so it is best to permit a space for those accidents to happen with limited consequence. Side-View, Zoning for Drones/UAVs in Chicago. Sutika Sipus 2014. Limited and Restricted Drone Use In the image above the football stadium has been recognized as a "zero public drone" area.  In this space we can imagine private licensing options for droned cameras and advertising initiatives by the stadium and partners.  However, unaffiliated individuals should not have the right to use their drone in this are. The yellow and orange spaces represent the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, Aviary, and Observatory.  For the sake of the example, I have suggested that these properties contain their own particular rules that change according to the day, season, or event.  This is not a unreasonable regulation, given that it is common place to create zoning in a similar manner for public parking during weekdays, sporting events, and even according to the weather.

Example Drone Zoning in Chicago. Sutika Sipus 2014. Alternative Perspective of Drone Zoning in Chicago. Sutika Sipus 2014. Drone Zoning at Human Scale. Sutika Sipus 2014 Drone Zoning at Human Scale II. Sutika Sipus 2014.

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Get ready to gear up for Reno Air Races!… But wait, there is more!

Image Credit: http://airpigz.com/Airpigs

Its that time of year Again! The time of year when grown men become antsy and giddy, as we did when we were young children during the holidays. Thats right, it is time to get in gear for Reno Air Races! As a long term spectator of the last remaining race of its nature, I am always excited to attend, this year more than ever! Why?....Keep reading....

So at this point you might be asking yourself, what does this have to do with DIYDrones? Why is this posted on a primarily UAS networking and blog site? Well.... I just ran across this little gem. That's right, Reno Air races will be hosting a UAS demonstration and challenge. The challenge is open to everyone, from beginners, to starts ups, and onto the big boys in the industry. Rumor has it that the challenge will have everything from a weight lifting competition, obstacle course, and even a timed circuit. The demonstration will be held in a large netted enclosure connected to an existing hangar. What else? Well this event is approved, and supported by the FAA to try to raise awareness to not only the general public, but also the many private pilots in attendance. Not only that, but it is rumored that there will be numerous Unmanned aerial systems on display, once again everything from your start-ups to the giants in the industry. This is truly exciting considering Nevada's FAA established UAS test area. 

So, what is in it for you? First off, you get to fly in a challenge/demonstration, which would be totally fun. Secondly, you get 2 general admission tickets for the day you are participating. Last but not least, you get to attend the fastest race on earth. However, you do need to possess liability insurance, or insurance through the AMA to participate.

If you have not been to the Reno Air Races, it is a must for any flight enthusiast. There is nothing like seeing 3,600hp+ aircraft roaring past at speeds of up to 500 mph. The event contains aerial demonstrations, and all sorts of racing from the Formula one class (Aircraft slightly larger than your car, and smaller than some! Racing by with a mere 200 cubic inch engine), Sport class (consisting of homebuilt (primarily two seat) aircraft) and your Unlimited racers, which undergo extreme aerodynamic and engine modifications to squeeze out every ounce of speed. However now you can mix all this fun and excitement with your other favorite hobby, Flying UAS! 

Needless to say, I am very excited to see Unmanned Systems not only on display, but demonstrating their abilities at one of the most popular aerial shows around.

The UAS demonstration is put together in collaboration between David Thirtyacre at Embry-Riddle University, FAA, and RARA. For more information You can visit the Following:




I Hope to see you all there!


PS, I have no connection to any of the aforementioned. I am simply excited and wanted to share it with you all!

Now for your viewing pleasure, Steve Hinton Jr takes you behind the stick in VooDoo for 491mph Qualifying session during last years event.

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Drones in The November Man, new Pierce Brosnan film

From Mashable. Watch the video here (it won't embed for some reason)

We saw drones firing missiles at Jeremy Renner in The Bourne Legacy, but in the spy game, those clunky old warbirds have got nothing on the stealthy eye-in-the-sky drones of The November Man.

Starring former 007 Pierce Brosnan, The November Man has modern hovering drones woven into the story: As the deadly ex-CIA agent stalks his mark, a drone is stalking him, allowing his team of handlers to coordinate his every move.

"The drones are always there, keeping track of everyone's movements and moving the story along," says the narrator in the above featurette that Relativity Media shared with Mashable.

And of course a spy agency would use drones to observe from the sky.

"A spy movie without that element wouldn't be up to date," director Roger Donaldson, who didn't just use the airborne cameras as story elements — he extensively used them to shoot it, too.

Donaldson liked the cameras so much that when drone pilot Justin Chapman and aerial photographer Chad King's two weeks of shooting were up, they were asked to stay — and wound up on set for nearly four months (they also got walk-on parts as CIA agents).

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