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This House Is on Fire: We Need Action NOW On Recent Drone Crashes and Reckless Flying

Recently we’ve seen some alarming incidents with rogue drones, and we are growing really, really worried.

Wondering what we’re talking about? Here’s a list of recent incidents:

  • On February 14, a DJI Phantom reportedly got in the path of a helicopter in Charleston, SC, ultimately forcing the helicopter to crash land.
  • On February 12, a drone collided with a helicopter in Kauai.
  • In early February, a video surfaced of a drone flying dangerously close to an airplane in Las Vegas, NV.
  • On September 21, a DJI Phantom 4 collided with a Black Hawk helicopter that was providing security for the president over Staten Island, forcing it to land.

The collision in Charleston on February 14th seems to be the first time that a drone collision has led to a helicopter crashing on U.S. soil (although the AMA is asking the public not to jump to conclusions, and to wait for the outcome of a full investigation).

drone-collisions
Image source

Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it would be nice to see quick, decisive action from the FAA when it comes to investigating incidents like these and determining whether wrongdoing took place.

Back in September, when a drone crashed into a Black Hawk over New York City, former chief counsel for the FAA Kenneth Quinn had this to say in a Bloomberg News story on the topic:

This incident reveals a soft underbelly of drone safety: we’re putting very sophisticated drones in the hands of unsophisticated operators, with no training, certificates, or knowledge requirements.

In December, the FAA issued a report on UAS remote tracking that has some solid proposals to help to identify and track drone pilots, which will ultimately help keep the skies safe for everyone—responsible drone pilots, as well as pilots of other kinds of aircraft.

But these proposals are far from being implemented. While it’s true that DJI’s Aeroscope can provide some information on who’s flying what, their data is limited to those who opt-in, and besides, this data really needs to reside with, and be generated by, the FAA.

After a Las Vegas video surfaced in early February of a drone flying recklessly close to an airplane—a video that is truly terrifying to watch—drone industry stakeholders penned an open letter to the FAA.

The video of that Las Vegas flight

The letter was signed by a long list of drone industry groups:

  • AUVSI
  • The Academy of Model Aeronautics
  • Aerospace Industries Association
  • Aerospace States Association
  • Commercial Drone Alliance
  • Consumer Technology Association
  • Drone Manufacturers Alliance
  • Drone User Group Network
  • General Aviation Manufacturers Association
  • Helicopter Association International
  • National Association of State Aviation Officials
  • National Press Photographers Association
  • The Small UAV Coalition

Here is the full text of the letter that was addressed to acting FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell.

Dear Administrator Elwell:

We are deeply concerned about a recent video that was posted on the internet that shows an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying directly above an airliner making its final approach at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport.

This action by the UAS operator was not just irresponsible and in clear violation of both the FAA’s Special Rule for Model Aircraft, 14 CFR, 101, Subpart E and Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Administration regulations, but it also endangered the airspace and created the real risk of a midair collision with a passenger jet.

This careless and reckless behavior endangers the safety of our airspace for all users—both manned and unmanned. We urge the FAA to use its full authority to investigate, identify, and apprehend the operator of this UAS flight and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. We also encourage the FAA to work with law enforcement in Las Vegas and Nevada to pursue all applicable charges within their authority.

Strict enforcement will not only punish the operator responsible for this unacceptable and reprehensible action, it will also serve as a deterrent to others for misusing UAS technology and create accountability among UAS operators. Collaboratively, our organizations will continue to educate UAS operators about where they should and should not fly to help prevent similar incidents in the future. We will also continue to work closely with the FAA to develop and deploy remote identification and tracking to ensure our airspace remains safe and secure.

We completely agree.

Incidents like these could lead to serious backsliding in the general public’s perception of drones, not to mention real harm. At a time when the public image of drones has finally started to turn a corner, and people are starting to become aware of all the good drones can do, we can’t afford to let a few bad actors hold the entire industry back.

As the letter above reads, strict enforcement will not only punish the operator responsible for this unacceptable and reprehensible action, it will also serve as a deterrent to others for misusing UAS technology and create accountability among UAS operators.

We need to punish those rogue drone pilots found guilty quickly and to the fullest extent of the law, so that others will become aware of the consequences in place for this kind of flying, and think twice.

We also need to work even harder in the drone industry to educate all drone owners—hobbyists and commercial pilots alike—to be aware of the dangers inherent in operating a UAV / sUAS. This is a responsibility we take seriously, and one that we will continue working hard to meet.

The fact that no one has been seriously injured yet by any of these collisions is miraculous. If these kinds of incidents continue to happen we will almost certainly see injuries, and we may even see fatalities.

The time to act is now. We cannot abide this kind of behavior, and we all need to work together to stop it.

The post This House Is on Fire: We Need Action NOW On Recent Drone Crashes and Reckless Flying appeared first on UAV Coach.

Drone Deliveries Good for the Environment, New Study Finds

A new study in Nature Communications  finds that drone deliveries would be good for the environment.

environment-drone-delivery

The study was conducted by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University, and found that using drones instead of trucks would mean an overall reduction in energy consumption by switching the delivery method from gas-fueled to electricity-fueled, as well as a reduction in the release of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

But these findings don’t apply to all drones.

Only the use of small drones for deliveries would have a positive impact on the environment—big drones could actually be worse for the environment, the study notes.

Results suggest that, if carefully deployed, drone-based delivery could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use in the freight sector.

Note: All quotes in this article come from Joshua K. Stolaroff et al.’s paper, Energy use and life cycle greenhouse gas emissions of drones for commercial package delivery

The Details

The study didn’t find that drones are always the better option when it comes to making deliveries, but rather that small drones used for short-distance deliveries—the distance is important because it cuts down the resources needed for storing delivery items—would have a positive impact on the environment.

As noted in an article from the Smithsonian written by the researchers, when it comes to delivering heavier packages over long distances, using trucks would actually be more efficient and cleaner than using drones.

The focus of drones should be on light packages, with heavier packages left for ground vehicles.

Of course, this research really just presents a snapshot of the present moment. Currently trucks are driven for the most part using gasoline, which means that electric-powered drones will produce fewer carbon emissions by comparison.

But if new technology allows delivery trucks to tap into electricity as an alternate fuel source at scale, this would mean a whole new equation when it comes to which delivery method is the best for the environment.

Most likely, the ideal delivery method of the future will be some amalgam of trucks and drones, with the specific vehicle used selected based on the weight of the package, and the distance needed to travel.

How Researchers View the Likelihood of Drone Delivery in the U.S.

While reading through the study itself, one thing we found noteworthy was that the researchers seem to see widespread adoption of drone delivery as a likely thing.

The use of drones for commercial package delivery is poised to become a new industry.

As the researchers note in their study, several companies are developing programs for package delivery using drones, including Amazon, Google, UPS, and Deutsche Post DHL.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=XqLkMdwEWRc

We’ll admit that we’d grown a little jaded about drone delivery programs over the last year or so.

For a while it seemed like all we saw were overhyped press releases that didn’t represent real progress, but seemed more like media ploys to keep drone deliveries top of mind for the public.

But at the end of 2017, when we looked back at the progress made on the drone delivery front, it was clear that some impressive strides had been made.

flytrex-delivery-drone
A Flytrex delivery drone

Currently there are active drone delivery programs in Iceland, Rwanda, Australia, and Switzerland, with many more in the works throughout the world.

The idea that drone deliveries could become a reality in the U.S. isn’t so crazy anymore, which is further confirmed by the fact that U.S. researchers are starting to take drone delivery seriously, and consider the possible consequences—both good and bad—from such a radical reshaping of how we deliver goods.

One way forward could come in the shape of a recent pilot program proposed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation as part of the White House’s new Drone Integration Pilot Program—whose goal is to explore sharing airspace authority between federal and local entities—which proposes to use drones to deliver medical supplies. If accepted, it would represent real forward progress for the drone delivery movement here in the U.S.

However things shape up, we still have some major legislative hurdles to overcome before we’ll ever see drone deliveries become a reality.

But the fact that research like this is being conducted, and that its findings show that drone deliveries would be good for the environment—well, that’s certainly something to make us smile.

The post Drone Deliveries Good for the Environment, New Study Finds appeared first on UAV Coach.

Drones in Conservation: An Interview with Jeremy Roberts, Owner of Conservation Media

Conservation Media uses drones to create stories about wildlife and nature. We wanted to learn more about their work and how they first got started, so we sat down with owner and producer Jeremy Roberts to learn more.

About Conservation Media

Conservation Media has an exclusive focus on conservation storytelling. They work with organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon, and the National Wildlife Federation to produce high quality professional products for their digital outreach campaigns.

conservation media_logo

About Jeremy Roberts

Jeremy Roberts is a digital storyteller formally trained in conservation science, filmmaking, and photography. He serves on the Board of Directors for Filmmakers for Conservation, and is the owner and lead producer at Conservation Media.

Jeremy Roberts
Jeremy Roberts, Owner and Producer at Conservation Media

Begin Interview

In one sentence, tell us what does Conservation Media does.

Conservation media produces multimedia stories for conservation professionals, including scientists, nonprofits, and government organizations.

How do use drones in your work at Conservation Media?

Conservation work is inherently a landscape scale endeavor. By landscape scale, I mean you have to look at things on a big scale—a landscape scale—to really get your point across about important conservation issues.

Conservation Media-cover-fb
Image courtesy of Conservation Media

If you want to engage people in landscape scale issues, the thing you have to do is either fly over in an airplane or get on top of a mountain. Or get footage with a drone.

You need that aerial perspective so that you can see entire areas—massive ecosystems, water shifts, migration corridors, animal movements. You need to be able to see this stuff.

And there’s no better way to do that than with drones.

So, from my perspective, drones are essential for conservation storytelling, because they allow you to tell the conservation story at a landscape scale.

How did you first incorporate drones into your operations?

I used to hire out a lot of drone work before I finally decided that I could probably do a better job getting the exact image I was envisioning by doing it myself.

So I finally took the first step and got a little Air Hog helicopter, and I flew it around my house for about a month. I would be editing and then in between, when my computer was rendering, I’d fire up that little helicopter and I’d fly it through the kitchen and down the hall, around corners, and just try and get my thumbs wired to my brain a little better.

After that I bought a Phantom, and went out into the world. At that point I was measuring my skill as a pilot as my ability to fly from A to B, or around obstacle X and back, safely.

It wasn’t until I went through Drone Pilot Ground School that I realized flying successfully and flying safely are not the same thing.

Just getting from A to B and not crashing is only about you and the aircraft. But safety is so much bigger than that. It encompasses the people around you, but also other aircraft. So many things can go wrong—if you’ve ever seen a drone lose its mind, you know it can suddenly become a flying lawnmower. And that is terrifying.

So over time I’ve learned that being a good a pilot isn’t just about flying well. It’s also about being aware of potential safety hazards, other people, and having a plan for what to do if something suddenly goes wrong.

There’s just so much unpredictability about being up in the air. Airspace is dynamic—it’s not a constant atmosphere, and it’s not a constant level of safety concern. Things are always changing, and they change quickly.

How did Conservation Media get started?

My background is in wildlife biology. Originally I was going to stick with hard, scientific research as it applied to wildlife conservation, but at some point I realized that most scientists are publishing in an academic vacuum, where their findings only reach other people in academia.

I really wanted to bridge that communication gap, and bring scientific research and conservation efforts to those stakeholders involved in shaping policy and making decisions that impact the environment. These people aren’t reading science journals, but they are watching videos and reading popular magazines.

And that’s where the idea for creating a company like Conservation Media was first born.

Conservation Media sanderlings
Photo courtesy of Conservation Media

How did you go from being a scientist to producing videos?

When I realized that I really wanted to bridge that communication gap, I decided to pursue a Masters Degree in Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University, which was the only program of its kind at the time.

I spent four years going through grad school and in the process became a jack of all trades. The goal of the graduate program was to give people the technological skills in all the various departments of film production, so that you’d have the skills to be a gaffer, or just do lighting, or just do editing, or just do camera operations, or produce, or executive produce.

Most of the students that I went through that graduate program with went straight into National Geographic, and some went on to work with NASA at their visualization studio. But I just turned around and went back to my biology community, and my conservation community, and asked if I could do outreach for them.

So rather than doing broadcast commercial work, where you’d have to show the blood and the fangs and sensationalize your material, like Shark Week or something, I really wanted to produce straight story telling about nature and wildlife.

https://vimeo.com/249861548

Check out this showreel from Conservation Media

Have you run into any legal hurdles using drones in your work?

Of course, there are a lot of off-limits places. You can’t fly in National Parks, and you can’t fly in wildlife refuges. And in some areas to get a filming permit you have to apply six months ahead of time and pay hundreds of dollars.

But I mainly fly in rural areas, in National Forests and remote public lands. Which means I’m lucky, because I really don’t run into a lot of problems with constraints on wanting to fly somewhere but not being able to.

What drones do you fly, and what cameras do you use?

Right now we’re flying the Inspire One with the X5 camera on it, which is a nice compromise between image quality and price.

We’ve also got a couple of Phantoms, which we use for riskier situations.

What has been one of your favorite projects and why?

One of the most incredible things I’ve ever done was to fly a drone into a wolf den to count the pups.

This was five years ago, way before the Part 107 rules came out, and the group I was working with—they were an official entity working to protect wolves in this area—was having trouble sneaking into the den to count the pups. So they asked me to see if we could do it with a drone.

Something to emphasize here is that we took extreme care to make sure the animals weren’t harassed, and to respect their space and autonomy. Also, the counting was crucial for a conservation effort that was underway, and climbing into the den was definitely more disruptive than flying overhead, and more effective, so it was decided that this was the best approach.

So we flew into the wolf den and counted the pups. I remember it so clearly—I just dropped right down between the trees, went in, and there they were. There were five of them, just chewing on bones. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen.

In addition to media services, you also provide education through Conservation Media. Can you tell us more about that?

My main goal there is to try and teach people how to shape their stories. So, how to do better writing, how to do better audio, how to cut and edit their footage.

A lot of the folks just don’t have the budgets to engage in video production, so they end up doing the work themselves.

That’s why I ended up offering seminars on how to produce videos, as well as teaching and leading workshops, or sitting on panels. It varies. My mission is to help those scientists, or those nonprofits, who can’t afford to step up their game in communications by providing them with some simple techniques and tactics to make their work better.

My ultimate goal is to help spread information about conservation efforts and why their worth investing in. The education piece fits perfectly with this because it puts the tools into other people’s hands, and lets them go out and tell their own conservation stories themselves.

Want to see more videos from Conservation Media? Make sure to check out their Vimeo channel to see more of their impressive work.

The post Drones in Conservation: An Interview with Jeremy Roberts, Owner of Conservation Media appeared first on UAV Coach.

UAV Coach Launches $2,000 Drone Technology College Scholarship, Aims to Highlight Ways Drones Are Being Used for Good

Here at UAV Coach we’re proud to announce our new Drone Technology College Scholarship, which will provide $2,000 total, with two awards of $1,000 each, to support undergraduates studying at a U.S. college or university.

DPGS_College_Scholarship

The primary requirement for winning one of our two scholarships is for students to write an essay that explores how drones are changing the world for the better.  We’ve been writing about how drones are being used for good for a while now, and we’re excited to hear more on the topic from undergraduates with new and fresh perspectives.

The essay topics for the scholarship range from how drones can be used for good, to the use of drones in STEM education, to how drones will change our world over the next ten years.

As technology improves and drones get less and less expensive, we’re seeing a proliferation of niche applications in the drone industry, from uses in agriculture, mining, surveying, fire fighting, and much, much more. UAV Coach wants to hear from thoughtful college students inspired by drone technology from all walks of life—when they think about the possibilities and the future of the drone industry, what do they imagine?

UAV Coach has always been first and foremost about education. This college scholarship, along with the high school scholarship we launched last year, fit perfectly into our mission of providing training and resources to the drone industry. We’re thrilled to be supporting young people in pursuing their educational goals while also helping to push the drone industry forward.

– Alan Perlman, CEO and Co-Founder of UAV Coach

Eligibility requirements for our scholarship are really simple: Applicants must be enrolled as an undergraduate in a U.S. college or university at the time of receiving the award, but may apply before being enrolled (i.e., high school seniors are eligible to apply).

That’s it.

The deadline to apply is May 1, 2018. Winners will be announced May 10, 2018. The two winning essays will be published on the UAV Coach website.

To learn more, and to apply, visit the Drone Technology College Scholarship webpage.

High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots

We also offer a scholarship to high school students that provides free access to Drone Pilot Ground School, our remote test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 test.

High-School-STEM-Scholarship-for-Aspiring-Commercial-Drone-Pilots

Applications for the high school scholarship are accepted on a rolling basis, and there are no limits to the number of scholarships awarded. The first 100 high school scholarship recipients to take the Part 107 test will also have their test fee covered (up to $150).

We’re excited to share that we’ve seen an impressive response since we first rolled out our high school scholarship last fall, with almost 90 applications processed in total since then.

As drones get more sophisticated and less expensive, more and more people are becoming curious about finding work in the drone industry, and interested in exploring ways they might be able to make a part-time income, or even a living, working with drones.

We see the high school scholarship as a way to provide students with an opportunity to start down the path to a possible career in the drone industry, knowing that an interest in drones could dovetail with an interest in engineering, cinematography, surveying, or a plethora of other possible occupations.

To learn more about UAV Coach’s high school scholarship, visit the High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots webpage.

The post UAV Coach Launches $2,000 Drone Technology College Scholarship, Aims to Highlight Ways Drones Are Being Used for Good appeared first on UAV Coach.

How’s the FAA Doing? You Tell Us: Results from a Short Survey We Did in Partnership with the FAA

Recently we put together a short, informal survey in partnership with a contact we have at the FAA to help evaluate how well drone pilots think the FAA is doing when it comes to educating them and the public about sUAS policies.

In the end we had 493 people fill out the five minute survey.

By the way, if you participated, THANK YOU. We really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

faa-survey-drones
Image source

Who Were the Respondents?

About 2/3 of respondents identified as commercial pilots, and 1/3 identified as hobbyists (with a handful of Other / Non-pilot respondents as well):

FAA-survey-1

So according to the folks who chimed in, how well is the FAA doing when it comes to educating people about drones? Let’s take a look.

How Do Drone Pilots Interact with the FAA and FAA Resources?

The first section of survey questions relates to how people interact with FAA resources.

FAA-survey-2

It’s pretty neat that 89% of respondents have been exposed to the FAA’s webpages and FAQ materials. Given that about 7% of respondents probably don’t fly, this means almost everyone who flies and responded to the survey interacts with the FAA website in some way.

Which is good news.

The first step in making sure the skies are safe, and drones are being flown responsibly by commercial and hobbyist pilots alike, is simply knowing what the FAA recommends.

The next question is similar to the first:

FAA-survey-3

These numbers aren’t too surprising, given that the B4UFLY app isn’t necessarily for everyone, and that there are other apps that can serve similar functions. 56% is still pretty darn high, when you think about it.
And of those 56% who say they use it, the B4UFLY app seems to have a pretty high approval rating:

FAA-survey-4

One last data point about how people interact with the FAA is this question about whether respondents had ever contacted someone at the FAA. We were actually surprised to see how many people had done so—check it out:

FAA-survey-5

73% seems really high, especially when you think that this means some of those folks were hobbyists (since only 61% of respondents were commercial pilots).

To us, this indicates that people 1) Know that the FAA is the place to go with questions about airspace (pretty basic, but hey, still a good thing!); and 2) Feel comfortable reaching out to them. The second point is not a small one—can you imagine contacting the Department of Transportation with a question about roads in the U.S.? OK, that example is a little far fetched, but the point stands: most of us don’t think about reaching out to an organ of the federal government to have our questions answered.

So from this, we’d say we can at least glean that the FAA has done a pretty good job letting people know that they’re around, and happy to talk.

So How Well Is the FAA Doing?

So-so, according to you:

FAA-survey-6

It seems like the key word in this question is “public.”

The answers above seem to indicate that respondents—i.e., drone pilots—engage with the FAA regularly, and know that the FAA is a go-to location for information about how and where to fly.

But do the same pilots think the FAA is doing a good job informing the general public about those issues that most concern drone pilots? Not so much, is what we take away from this answer.

One respondent wrote:

There should be a notice inside every drone sold that directs people to the FAA website. Some of the info is there, but it is not as obvious as one would expect or hope.

Love that idea!

The same so-so feeling also seemed to apply to this question on how well the FAA is doing with efforts to integrate drones into the national airspace:

FAA-survey-7

This isn’t too surprising. And, to be fair to the FAA, this isn’t entirely up to them, but also involves congress and other stakeholders.

When you consider the White House’s new pilot programs that will explore sharing airspace authority between the FAA and local entities, and other initiatives in the works like LAANC, the FAA is for better or worse not always in a position to lead the charge when it comes to integration.

But they’re certainly going to take the brunt of frustration when people are asked how integration is going. Even still, given how Sisyphean (meaning, two steps forward, one back) the integration effort appears at times, 6 out of 10 is actually not so bad.

Regarding progress that’s been made, like the instant airspace authorizations provided by LAANC, one respondent commented:

LAANC is a great start but the roll-out is excruciatingly long. Simple airspace waivers take forever to process. There is low confidence that a system like LAANC will ever come to an area such as ours (greater NYC area).

But then we had people who felt like this:

It is a huge undertaking and I believe they are doing a good job.

Hear hear.

I think most of us would agree on this—not only is the project of integrating drones into national airspace a huge undertaking, but it’s something that we’d be intimidated to take on ourselves.

faa-survey-drone
Image source

And that’s all folks. As you can see, it was a short survey, but pretty revealing.

Here are our main takeaways from this survey:

  • Drone pilots—commercial and hobbyists alike—are engaging with the FAA in a big way. They’re visiting the FAA’s website, reading FAA materials, and contacting the FAA.
  • Drone pilots think more could be done to educate the public about national airspace, and to get drones integrated into it. These two things are intertwined, in that the integration effort is a legislative one, and legislation is, by definition, tied to public opinion and perception.

We have a long way to go, but we’re in this journey together. Here’s to pushing the drone industry forward in partnership with the FAA, one step at a time.

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