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What Is UTM, and Why Should You Care About It?

UTM stands for Unmanned Traffic Management, and refers to systems created to manage drone traffic.

A good way to look at UTM is that it’s a system designed to keep drones and other types of aircraft from colliding.

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Currently, there are a few products on the market that address UTM needs, but the truth is that we’re still in early stages when it comes to having a fully functional UTM, or UTMs, in place.

This means that when people use the phrase UTM they’re just as likely to be talking about the concept of managing drone traffic as they are to be referring to an actual product or existing system that will help you do it.

Why You Should You Care about UTM

If you’re a commercial drone pilot, the reason you should care about UTM is because it’s crucial to integrating drones into the national airspace, and has the potential to make flying beyond visual line of sight, or BVLOS, in commercial drone operations a reality.

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Drone operations that would benefit from being allowed to conduct BVLOS flights include drone deliveries, search and rescue missions, precision agriculture, and railroad inspections.

As you probably know, BVLOS flying is currently prohibited by the FAA’s Part 107 rules pertaining to the use of small unmanned aerial systems. But if UTM were to become a reality, it could clear a path for regular operations that would use BVLOS, because drones could fly beyond the line of sight without the fear of them colliding with other manned or unmanned aircraft.

Here’s an example, to make this more concrete.

Imagine a delivery drone is flying a pre-programmed route, and its path happens to cross that of a helicopter medevaccing someone out of an area.

With a functioning Unmanned Traffic Management system in place, the drone and the helicopter could communicate automatically and avoid a collision.

Alternately, a drone delivery corridor could be pre-established, and the helicopter would know to avoid that corridor, again using information shared via UTM.


NASA currently has a UTM research program in place, where they’re working to create the architecture of a UTM system that would oversee manned and unmanned aircraft operations in the U.S.

NASA’s development of UTM has been tracked by tiered Technical Capability Level (TCL) demonstrations, which have grown increasingly more complex as they move forward. And they’re making good progress. NASA has already completed demonstrations for levels 1 and 2, and last month they completed level 3.

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The reason these demonstrations matter is because they indicate real forward progress with NASA’s development of UTM—once they complete
TCL 4 they’re supposed to be transitioning their UTM program to the FAA.

The original UTM timeline called for NASA to complete their transition to the FAA in 2019, but this has been sped up due to pressures from the drone industry, and NASA has already started working with the FAA.

But the drone industry isn’t just waiting for NASA to deliver. Private companies have been creating their own UTM-focused products, and implementing UTM concepts.

Most likely, when UTM arrives, there won’t be one national UTM system. Instead, we’ll probably have different products and systems in place throughout the country, sharing operations and data with each other in partnership with the systems already in place at U.S. airports.

And this will be a great thing for the drone industry because it will mean real solutions to challenges we currently face for rolling out BVLOS on scale. It will certainly be interesting to see what the next few years bring here in the drone industry.

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FAA Opens LAANC to New Suppliers

Recently the FAA announced that they’re going to be opening the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) up to new suppliers.

In addition, the FAA also shared the news that, starting in late April, LAANC will be available in nearly 300 air traffic control facilities, representing about 500 airports, and about 78,000 miles of airspace.

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This news comes just one month after the announcement of an aggressive timeline to release LAANC throughout the U.S. over the next year, and indicates a strong push from the FAA to move things forward for the drone industry.

But opening up LAANC to new suppliers does more than indicate forward progress—it’s also a clear step toward leveling the playing field.

In the past, the FAA has received criticism for starting to resemble an old boys club, in which only certain companies get access to provide key services like LAANC.

Opening LAANC up means that this criticism, at least when it comes to instant airspace authorizations, will no longer be applicable. And this is an intentional move from the new FAA Administrator Dan Elwell.

We want to enable technology and remove barriers, so that’s why we’re simplifying the authorization process. If you’re in the drone business, this is a great opportunity for you.

– FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell

What Is LAANC?

According to the FAA, LAANC, “enables drone pilots access to controlled airspace near airports through near real-time processing of airspace authorizations below approved altitudes in controlled airspace.”

In brief, LAANC (pronounced “LANCE”) makes instant airspace authorizations possible by using UAS facility map data that show the maximum altitude around airports where the FAA may automatically authorize UAS operations under the Part 107 rules.

The current process in most locations for pursuing airspace authorization is to apply manually, and then wait up to 90 days. LAANC represents a huge step forward for the drone industry because it gives drone pilots immediate permission to fly in areas that previously required some kind of wait.

This wait time often means the loss of potential clients, and a great deal of uncertainty when it comes to running a drone services business—but now those wait times will be reduced to zero in those areas where LAANC becomes available.

How Can Companies Become LAANC Suppliers?

Although the FAA is opening up LAANC to new suppliers, the application process is long and rigorous, and not your typical government RFP.

The first application window opens next week, on April 16, and will remain open for one month, until May 16. There will be two windows a year, each one month long, in which companies can apply.

According to the FAA’s onboarding overview document, the application and review process will take five months, with two months allotted for reviews and interviews, and two months for onboarding. (You can see the details of the application timeline here on the FAA’s website.)

FAA LAANC new suppliers

Given how involved the process is, we are left wondering who will feel like it’s worth it to apply.

AirMap has been partnering with companies like DroneBase and others to provide LAANC access, thus allowing these companies to provide instant airspace authorizations to their users through their own apps without having to go through a rigorous application process, or devote any funds to building a new platform.

So who will feel like it’s worth the time and money?

Perhaps a few high-end drone services companies that work with big customers, but in those cases it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to build their own app. Rather, they’ll use LAANC access to support their projects, instead of investing money in technology that can be used by everyone.

But who knows? It could be that Kittyhawk or other drone ops management tools may want to throw their hats in the ring as well. All we can say for certain right now is that 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the drone industry.

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11 Reasons to Attend AUVSI XPONENTIAL This Year

In case you haven’t heard about it, AUVSI XPONENTIAL is one of the biggest conferences for UAS—and unmanned systems in general—in the entire world.


AUVSI stands for the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, and they’re a nonprofit devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community. XPONENTIAL is AUVSI’s annual conference, and it draws over 8,000 attendees from all over the world.

The conference is being held in Denver, CO from April 30 to May 3, and we wanted to take a moment to round up all the reasons you might want to attend this year.


[Already know you want to attend? Use code UAVCOACH18 to save $50 off the XPO Hall Pass, $100 off the Full Conference, or $150 off a VIP Pass. Tickets can be purchased here.]

Without further ado, here are our 11 reasons to attend AUVSI XPONENTIAL this year.

1. It’s One of the Biggest Unmanned Events in the World

AUVSI XPONENTIAL is massive—this year, they expect 8,500 people to attend, including unmanned technology industry leaders and forward-thinking users from the defense and commercial sectors.

By attending, you’ll be joining other people interested in unmanned systems from all over the world, all working to push things forward.

Sound exciting to you? It sure does to us.

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2. Ground Breaking Technology

Because XPONENTIAL is one of the biggest unmanned systems events in the world, the technology displayed there promises to be pretty mind blowing.

At last year’s conference in Dallas, Intel released the next generation of their Shooting Star light show drone in a dramatic indoor presentation, Gryphon Sensors launched their UTM system Mobile Skylight, and many other companies issued big releases, too.


A quick clip of Intel’s indoor light show at XPONENTIAL 2017

This year promises to impress as well, and we’re sure to see some of the newest, coolest tech out there be announced in a few weeks at XPONENTIAL 2018.

3. Cutting Edge Drone Applications

Not only will you get to see some of the coolest, sexiest new tech in the drone space at XPONENTIAL, you’ll also get to hear about the newest applications for that technology.

It seems like every time we turn around someone is using a drone in a fresh, innovative way, and we can’t wait to see what new applications and use cases we come across for UAS while at the conference.

4. STEM Studies

AUVSI is committed to supporting the future of robotics, and you can see that by how much emphasis they’re putting on STEM studies (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in this year’s conference.

Take a look at all the STEM events taking place at XPONENTIAL this year:

  • Women and Diversity in Robotics. Attendees of this session will meet in small groups to engage on emerging and impactful topics in the unmanned systems and robotics communities.
  • XBuild. This buildathon/hackathon tasks participants with developing solutions to address challenges facing unmanned systems. Teams will use critical thinking to conceive, design and build their inventions during a timed competition. XBuild will take place prior to XPONENTIAL.
  • Growing the Industry Hub. This dedicated area in the XPONENTIAL exhibit hall is part of AUVSI’s mission to “grow and groom the future unmanned systems workforce.” It will be a place where students can learn about the STEM programs available at the conference, as well as what AUVSI is doing beyond the scope of the conference itself to foster and cultivate the next generation of innovators and leaders.
  • RoboNation. This is a series of student robotics competitions organized by the AUVSI Foundation as an investment in the development of aspiring engineers. During XPONENTIAL, an area of the show floor will be dedicated to showcasing the winners of these competitions—we’re excited to see what students come up with, and to see their ingenuity on display.
  • RoboTour. AUVSI will be welcoming middle and high school students from the Denver area to tour the AUVSI XPONENTIAL exhibit hall. The RoboTour will help this future generation of scientists and engineers learn about unmanned systems and introduce them to emerging technologies and trends.
  • Young Professionals Reception. This is a networking session for professionals who are new to unmanned systems, where they can learn from the experience and guidance of seasoned leaders, and also get a chance to meet and mentor younger students who are interested in joining the industry.

5. The XCELLENCE Humanitarian Awards

This year AUVSI partnered with DJI to launch the XCELLENCE Humanitarian Awards, which will recognize five organizations or individuals using unmanned systems to improve the human condition.

Winners in the Humanitarian category, as well as the categories of Technology & Innovation, Training & Education, and Operations & Safety, will all be announced at the conference on Thursday, May 3, 2018

6. The Keynotes

This year’s keynote lineup looks pretty incredible.

Check it out:

Day 1

  • Brian Wynne, President and CEO, AUVSI
  • Deputy Secretary Jeffrey A. Rosen, U. S. Department of Transportation
  • Dr. David Autor, Department of Economics, MIT
  • Michael Chasen, CEO of PrecisionHawk
  • Dallas Brooks, Director of the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory at Mississippi State University

Day 2

  • Dr. Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor of the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina
  • Eduardo Martinez, President of the UPS Foundation
  • Stephanie Hill, Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy & Business Development at Lockheed Martin

Day 3

  • Chris Hernandez, Sector Vice President of Research, Technology & Engineering at Northrop Grumman
  • John Hickenlooper, Governor of Colorado

Did you see that? They even got the governor! Now that is pretty impressive.

7. The Sessions

This year there are four primary session tracks for attendees, featuring over 200 sessions total, where you can learn about the latest innovations, policies, and unmanned use cases so you’re fully informed and ready to capitalize on new opportunities.

Want to learn more about the session tracks? Here you go:

  • Policy. During these sessions, leaders shaping unmanned systems regulation and policy will relay the information that matters to attendees and their business. View the sessions in the Policy track.
  • Technology. These curated sessions will allow attendees to stay up-to-date on the latest technology trends and advancements impacting unmanned systems and robotics including artificial intelligence, machine learning, payload advancements as well as software and hardware developments. View the sessions in the Technology track.
  • Business Solutions. During these sessions attendees will hear directly from enterprise, commercial, defense and government users of unmanned systems. Learn best practices, explore potential applications and study real-world use cases to deepen your understanding of integrating drones, robotics and maritime systems into business operations. View the sessions in the Business Solutions track.
  • Trending Topics. Looking for content addressing the industry’s fastest growing markets or top technology trends? These sessions have you covered. From the latest research and updates on BVLOS drone options to state-of-the-art developments in AI, you’ll hear from leaders who are pushing the envelope by tackling the industry’s most difficult challenges and addressing near-term opportunities. View the sessions in the Trending Topics track.

8. The Exhibit Hall

—is going to be AWESOME, of course.

Just think about it—the top companies in the drone industry, and in unmanned systems in general, will all be gathered under one roof, showing off their latest and greatest tech.

This year XPONENTIAL will have over 725 companies in more than 370,000 square feet of exhibit space, where you can see the latest emerging technology, connect directly with suppliers, and establish relationships to move things forward for your business or organization.

What could be better?

9. There Are 20+ Industries Represented

XPONENTIAL will feature representatives from over 20 industries related to unmanned systems this year, allowing attendees to see the big picture and hear directly from customers, enterprise users, and technology leaders discussing the integration of unmanned systems across a variety of industries and applications.

Even though our heart is with the drone industry, it’s pretty amazing that we’ll also get to learn about what’s going on in so many other interconnected industries.

10. AUVSI XPONENTIAL Is a UAV Coach Media Partner

We’re honored to be an ongoing media partner for AUVSI XPONENTIAL, and we’re really thrilled to be attending the conference as a team for the first time this year.

We don’t enter into partnerships like this lightly. If we decide to partner with an organization it means that we believe in their mission, and think that what they’re doing is important and of high quality—and that’s how we feel about XPONENTIAL.

11. Denver!

As if all the amazing tech isn’t enough, Denver is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.

Check out this guide AUVSI put together that shows you all the different things you can do while in Denver.



Use code UAVCOACH18 to save $50 off the XPO Hall Pass, $100 off the Full Conference, or $150 off a VIP Pass. Tickets can be purchased here.

The post 11 Reasons to Attend AUVSI XPONENTIAL This Year appeared first on UAV Coach.

80% of Responding States Say They Use Drones: Key Findings from a Recent Survey and Our Own State Drone Law Research

A recent survey by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials found that, out of 44 responding states, 35 were working with UAVs in some capacity.

35 out of 44 means that 80% of responding states are using drones, and that 70% of all the states in the U.S. are using them.

state drone laws

Taking a closer look at those 35 states that reported they’re using drones, the survey found that 20 of them have DOTs (Departments of Transportation) that have incorporated drones into daily operations, and that 15 of them are still in the testing and research phase when it comes to the use of drones. All of these operations are taking place either under a COA, through Part 107 certification, or both.

The fact that so many states report that they’re using drones is remarkable.

If we go back five years to 2013, most of the state drone laws we find passed at that time (if we find any) deal with privacy concerns and the desire to limit the use of drones as much as possible. Where drone legislation does concern governmental or public agencies, it’s only to limit the use of drones by law enforcement for surveillance purposes.

For the most part, it’s only as you move forward into 2016, 2017, and 2018 that you start to see states begin to create legislation to support and grow the use of drones for positive purposes, instead of legislating against the use of drones by their citizens or by law enforcement.

Fast forward to today and you find a fair amount of pro-drone legislation in place at the state level throughout the U.S. Some cutting-edge states, like North Carolina, even have robust regulations and certification requirements in place for different types of drone use.

North Carolina drone laws

An aerial shot taken in the state of North Carolina

State Drone Laws

One reason we’re so interested in state drone laws right now is because we recently created individual pages listing the drone laws for every state in the U.S. (you can find the directory for our new state drone laws pages here.)

Creating these pages took hours and hours of research, and gave us a lot of insight into the legislative landscape in the U.S. when it comes to state and local drone laws.

When we first started doing research, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of confusion out there regarding the difference between federal, state, and local drone laws, so we made sure to organize our pages to clarify the difference between each.

Federal drone laws are those regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration under the Part 107 rules. State drone laws, on the other hand, are those passed at the state level by the state legislature or some similar state body, and local laws are those passed at the town or city level (often called the municipal level).

In general, when it comes to drone laws state laws trump local laws, and federal laws trump both state and local laws.

Here are some of our biggest takeaways after all the research we did into state laws:

  • States are doing due diligence. Several of the state drone laws we found concern allocating money and personnel to investigate the potential uses and regulations for drones in the state.
  • State are interested in growing the drone industry. Several of the state drone laws we found also expressly state that they do not want to be a hindrance to the growth of the drone industry. In some cases, laws simply state that the state is reinforcing existing FAA regulations, and create specific legislation to allow law enforcement to enforce the FAA’s Part 107 rules.
  • There seems to be a tension between state and local laws. This tension is most easily expressed through the fact that, in many cases, states are trying to regulate and promote the use of drones, while cities are trying to ban them altogether. Of course, this is an over-simplification, and doesn’t apply in all cases—we’ll discuss this tension more below, when we take a closer look at pre-emption.
  • Local laws often seem to overreach. We’re not legal experts, but it seems like many local laws overreach their authority. For example, in some instances local laws make it illegal to fly within the city limits altogether, or below 400 feet within the city limits (which, given that the FAA’s Part 107 rules don’t allow flights above 400 feet, essentially makes flying impossible in that city).

Regarding the last point above, we say these local laws seem to overreach their authority because it’s our understanding that the FAA should have pre-emption when it comes to regulating the national airspace. Pre-emption is the principle the Newton case turned on in 2017, in which sections of local drone ordinances in the town of Newton, MA were struck down because they were in direct conflict with existing FAA regulations about the use of drones.

Pre-emption specifies which regulatory body supersedes another, and it’s a notion that came up a lot when we were creating our state drone law pages.

You usually hear about pre-emption in the context of federal laws pre-empting state laws, but in our research we found that many states had passed pre-emption laws stating that they had pre-emption over local governments when it came to drone legislation. Meaning, essentially, that state law trumps local law in those instances.

In some cases, like Delaware, states have even passed legislation expressly banning the creation of local drone legislation.

Delaware’s HB 195 “prohibits cities and towns in Delaware from creating their own drone laws by claiming pre-emption for the creation of all such laws for the Delaware General Assembly.”

Nonetheless, the town of Bethany Beach in Delaware has passed a law making it illegal to fly a drone in any public area within the city.


An aerial shot taken in the state of Delaware

And here is where the tension between state and local laws that we mentioned in the third bullet above can really be seen. Because Delaware is not the only state that has banned or expressly declared pre-emption over local drone laws, but still has cities that have passed laws that contradict state law.

In total, we found 13 states that have some kind of pre-emption law in place, and many of them have cities that have passed some kind of local drone law that seems to contradict state law.

[In case you’re curious, those 13 states are: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia.]

Despite this apparent tension between state and local drone laws, we didn’t find much tension at all between state and federal drone laws.

In fact, as we mentioned in the second bullet point above, many states are actively working to enforce existing federal legislation, and empowering law enforcement to do so.

Concluding Thoughts

The next few years will probably see more tensions arise between local authorities and those at the state and federal level regarding the regulation of drones, and we may see more court cases like the Newton one, where local legislation is struck down for being in direct contradiction of federal or state law.

But we may also see some real forward progress on the regulatory front at the state level.

Given the promise of the FAA’s new UAS Integration Pilot Program (UIPP), which allows states to submit proposals for creating their own local or state drone programs with unique rules and permissions, it could in fact be the states that lead the way when it comes to opening things up for commercial drone operations in the U.S.

Zipline recently announced that they’ve partnered with six different states to submit UIPP proposals for delivering medical supplies via drone (they kept the specific states a secret for now), and several other states have announced innovative pilot programs that would require flying currently prohibited under the Part 107 rules, such as flying beyond visual line of sight, or at night.

These state proposals could well be our best path forward to normalizing those kinds of drone operations. Only time will tell.

Know something unusual or interesting about state or local drone laws? Send us an email at support[at]uavcoach[dot]com.

The post 80% of Responding States Say They Use Drones: Key Findings from a Recent Survey and Our Own State Drone Law Research appeared first on UAV Coach.

Big News on the Drone Delivery Front: Zipline Announces World’s Fastest Delivery Drone and Chinese Company Secures First Drone Delivery License

No longer are drone deliveries a thing relegated to press conferences featuring a delivery of a single box of doughnuts, or a single pizza, as they have been in the past.

This is 2018, and more and more drone delivery companies are stepping into full operational capability throughout the world. (To be fair, things were already heating up in 2017, but 2018 is seeing even more big moves from drone delivery companies.)

Let’s take a look at this week’s news.

Zipline Announces World’s Fastest Delivery Drone

Zipline is a California-based startup that has been delivering medical supplies by drone in Rwanda since 2016, and expanded their services to Tanzania back in August of 2017. Yesterday they announced the launch of a new fleet of drones that it claims are the fastest delivery drones in the world.

zipline new drone 2018

These fixed-wing autonomous drones can fly 99 miles, go up to 75 mph, carry about four pounds, and operate in heavy winds, rain, and high altitudes.

According to Zipline’s CEO, these new drones will allow the company to expand operations at each of their distribution centers in Rwanda so that they can make 500 deliveries a day, instead of 50.


These new, fast delivery drones from Zipline are part of a complete overhaul of Zipline’s logistics system, which includes improvements to the system’s launch, autonomous flight, and landing capabilities.

These improvements will allow Zipline to decrease the amount of time needed to process an order from the time of receiving it to the time of launch from 10 minutes to just one minute, a change that will allow Zipline to reach populations of up to 10 million people.

We’ve taken everything Zipline has learned making thousands of life-critical deliveries and flying hundreds of thousands of kilometers and redesigned our entire system and operation from top to bottom. The new aircraft and distribution center system we’re unveiling today will help Zipline scale to meet the needs of countries around the world—including the United States.

– Keller Rinaudo, CEO of Zipline

This week Zipline also shared the news that they’re “partnering with state governments across the country” to work on implementing drone deliveries for medical supplies in the U.S. under the FAA’s UAS Integration Pilot Program (UIPP).

The specific states Zipline might work with haven’t yet been named, but we do know that there are six of them. We also know that North Carolina has submitted a proposal to the UIPP to create a medical delivery system within the state, and that Zipline is most likely on the short list of companies being considered there.

Chinese Company Secures First Drone Delivery License in the Country

In other drone delivery news this week, SF Express, China’s second-largest courier, just got the first official permit to deliver packages by drone. The license was granted by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, also known as the CAAC.

SF Express plans to use drones to make deliveries to rural, sparsely populated areas in China, and laid out three stages detailing how their aerial delivery system will deliver goods: 1) Planes transport large quantities of goods nationwide; 2) Big drones distribute those goods to local warehouses; 3) Small drones make final deliveries to customers.

SF Express has been working to make drone deliveries a reality in China since 2013, and possibly even earlier. Last year, an SF Express subsidiary delivered emergency supplies in China’s Yunnan province using a drone that was capable of carrying 1.3 tons.


The license granted to SF Express only allows them to operate in the airspace of eastern China.

Other details about the rollout, including the specific types of delivery services that will be offered, the cities where drones will make deliveries, and the types of drone permitted for use have not yet been released.

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