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FAA Grants First Commercial BVLOS Waiver for a 55+ Pound Drone to GE’s Avitas Systems

GE-owned Avitas Systems recently received the first ever waiver issued by the FAA to fly a drone heavier than 55 pounds BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) for commercial purposes.

Avitas-BVLOS-drones

The company will use the waiver for inspections of well pads and other infrastructure, which support extraction operations being conducted by the Shell Oil Company on terrain that makes inspections using other methods challenging.

Like most companies these days offering drone inspection services, Avitas will not provide just the inspections themselves, but also interpret the data collected, and create outputs that Shell (or other clients) can use to determine where they might need to perform maintenance on equipment.

About the Waiver

Avitas first made their request to the FAA for this first-of-its-kind waiver back in March.

Given the special nature of the request, a seven-month turn around is actually not that bad, and in some ways indicates the commitment the FAA has made to push forward reasonable, well-considered proposals for BVLOS and other Part 107-related exemptions (such as flying over people or at night).

[Want to see all the BVLOS waivers the FAA has granted? Go to this page on the FAA’s website and search “107.31”.]

A key part of obtaining Avitas’ waiver had to do with convincing the FAA that the technology supporting these BVLOS flights could be performed safely.

One part of demonstrating the ability to fly safely is technological. Avitas is using a ground-based sense-and-avoid radar created by DeTect Intelligent Sensors to avoid collisions with other UAS and manned aircraft. The radar will be used along with a high-performance GPS called ADS-B, point-of-view cameras, and advanced flight control systems that come with a “robust autopilot.”

One of the keys is the radar really enables us not to have human spotters on the pathway.

– Brad Tomer, Interim CEO of Avitas

All of these systems were incorporated into the Pulse Aerospace Vapor 55 UAS. It’s interesting to note that the Pulse Aerospace by itself weighs 43 pounds, and therefore would be under the 55-pound restriction. However, with the addition of all the BVLOS-enabling equipment, the Pulse Aerospace’s weight is brought up to over 55 pounds.

avitas-bvlos
The Pulse Aerospace Vapor 55

In addition to providing specifications about the proposed equipment for their BVLOS operations to the FAA in order to get their BVLOS waiver, Avitas also needed to provide extensive evidence that they had done an exhaustive consideration of the relevant safety risks and had plans to address those risks.

[The technology] is] coupled with a strong operations safety case. We’re not going out there asking any other aircraft to yield right-of-way to us.

– Michael Clatworthy, Director of Flight Operations for Avitas

The waiver application also included information about the training that would be provided for the POC (Pilot in Command), the radar operator, and the proposed area of operation.

How the Waiver Will Be Used

For now, Avitas has been granted permission to fly their customized Pulse Aerospace in a 23.5 square mile area in West Texas.

Within that area, Shell has several well sites with a list of 80 points that require inspections a few times a week. Avitas can’t currently inspect all 80 points within the needed time frame at the moment, but their goal is to take on all of those inspections within the near future, and have Shell inspectors doing less and less of the inspections themselves.

These inspections are made to review the general condition of equipment, as well as looking for leaks in Shell’s infrastructure, such as methane and liquid hydrocarbon leaks.

Not too long ago Xcel Energy became the first utility granted a BVLOS waiver for power line inspections in Colorado, and they’ve made statements about seeing the potential for expanding their BVLOS inspections to other states where they operate. Similarly, Avitas sees the potential for the inspection model they’re using in Texas to be used for other scenarios, in other locations.

At the moment, Avitas claims they can save a company 25% off its inspection time using drones flown BVLOS, which is a significant amount of money. Waivers like the one they just secured are yet another step on the path toward making these kinds of inspections common, and continue the trend of bringing commercial drone operations more and more into the mainstream.

What do you think? Are you excited about the progress being made on the BVLOS front, or do you think it’s coming too slowly? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

The post FAA Grants First Commercial BVLOS Waiver for a 55+ Pound Drone to GE’s Avitas Systems appeared first on UAV Coach.

Backlash Against ULC Proposal to Ban Drones from Flying Below 200 Feet | Industry Leaders Including AUVSI and DJI Speak Up

The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) has proposed a law that draws an arbitrary 200-foot line in the sky under which no drones can operate without permission from private property owners. If implemented in its current form, this law would cut drone operators’ accessible airspace in half in many areas.

ULC attempts to implement law that would ban drones below 200 feet.

The ULC is a highly-influential group of lawyers, judges, and legislators that propose model legislation to the states. They perform this service on a volunteer basis to determine which areas of law should be uniform. Members of the ULC first discussed establishing a uniform drone law in June. However, these ULC members have little to no aviation or drone experience. Resultingly, their proposal fails to recognize the federal government’s exclusive control of airspace regulation and runs counter to existing law. The FAA currently allows drone operators to fly at or below 400 feet.

Here’s a link to the ULC’s latest draft proposal as of October 2018: Tort Law Relating to Drones Act.

Backlash Against the ULC’s Proposal to “Draw a Line in the Sky” at 200 Feet

Multiple associations and companies involved in the drone industry have come together to address the ULC’s problematic proposal. Nineteen associations and companies in total are included in the signature of the letter, including the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), Amazon, AUVSI, DJI, and PrecisionHawk.

The letter outlines several flaws with the ULC’s draft proposal:

  • The proposed per se aerial trespass tort is unnecessary and preempted. There are existing state nuisance laws already in place that give landowners the ability to prevent such drone operations. Additionally, nearly 20 parties already have expressed concern that such an approach is preempted by federal law.
  • The proposed aerial trespass tort exercises per se violations. Under the proposed draft, the mere presence of an unmanned aircraft of any size for any period within 200 feet over private property (or any structure on it) causes a per se injury. A landowner should always be required to demonstrate some injury in order to proceed with litigation. The ULC, however, wants to redefine the tort so that no injury need be shown.
  • The proposed law does not properly apply preemption principles. Section 202 of the Act incorrectly attempts to limit the scope of federal preemption by stating that a federal law must “expressly” preempt a provision before said provision is preempted. Preemption is not limited, however, to situations where a federal law expressly displaces a state law. To properly capture the scope of federal preemption, the writers of the letter urge the ULC to eliminate the word “expressly” from Section 202.
  • The proposed law places the burden of proof on the drone operator. Proposed Section 302 would establish rebuttable presumptions that certain images captured using drones involve “private facts” and are “acquired in a manner that is highly offensive to a reasonable person.” The rebuttable presumption makes it the defendant’s responsibility to prove that the images were captured in a way that did not violate the property owner’s privacy or cause per se injury to the property owner. In civil actions, however, the burden of proof should be on the party bringing a case, not the defendant.
  • The proposed law would lead to a confusing patchwork of different laws in every state. The ULC desires to establish a uniform drone law, but they do not make clear that localities cannot regulate the ownership or operation of drones. Without language limiting the ability of localities to regulate the ownership or operation of drones, a uniform drone act will not reduce the patchwork of different laws as intended.

This isn’t the first time these associations have voiced their concerns to the ULC either. The same nineteen industry organizations penned their first letter to the ULC on the issue in July. After it appeared the ULC had ignored the industry’s concerns, they penned the second letter in October.

ULC Falsely Claims FAA’s Support For Proposed Drone Law

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the FAA have also raised objections to ULC’s proposed uniform drone law. The ULC falsely claimed that the FAA worked with them to inform the draft of the proposed law. In a letter to the ULC, the FAA and DOT state that they played no role in drafting the language of the proposed law.

Furthermore, neither DOT nor the FAA has taken any official position on the relationship between Federal regulation and State and local authority that would support the draft ULC proposal. Finally, neither the DOT nor the FAA has a role in drafting the proposed language in the ULC’s tort statue.

—Steve G. Bradbury, General Counsel, DOT; Charles M. Trippe Jr., Chief Counsel, FAA

The federal government has exclusive control of airspace regulation. Congress has provided the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate aviation safety, the efficiency of the navigable airspace, and air traffic control, among other things. State and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace. We talk more about state drone laws and preemption in this article on state drone laws.

The DOT developed the UAS Integration Pilot Program (IPP), to provide the FAA with insight on how to best involve local jurisdictions in the integration of UAS into the airspace in a way that also alleviates their concerns. Through programs such as the IPP, the FAA can address state and local concerns in regards to drones in a more effective manner than the creation of patchwork laws at the state level by groups without aviation expertise.

This Friday, the ULC will convene in Detroit to discuss the proposal, and their decisions could shape the future of the American drone industry. In its current form, the ULC’s proposal is likely to cause significant controversy and could create a complicated patchwork of differing state laws that erode, rather than enhance, aviation safety. Share your thoughts on the ULC’s proposal and how it may impact the drone industry in this thread on our community forum.

The post Backlash Against ULC Proposal to Ban Drones from Flying Below 200 Feet | Industry Leaders Including AUVSI and DJI Speak Up appeared first on UAV Coach.

AT&T Uses “Flying Cow” Drone to Restore Service to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Michael

Hurricane Michael, the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall to date in the United States, struck the Southeast U.S. on October 10, 2018. According to the Edison Electrical Institue, the storm left 2.6 million people without electricity. The hardest-hit region, still recovering from the storm, was the Florida Panhandle where entire sections of the energy grid have to be rebuilt.

Hurricane Michael

Image Credit: AT&T

Multiple groups are involved in the restoration process. The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are a few of the leaders working diligently to coordinate recovery efforts with federal, state, and local officials.

Power restoration is a team effort, and strong industry-government coordination and cross-sector collaboration are essential.

—Kevin Wailes, ESCC Co-chair, CEO of Lincoln Electric System

AT&T Uses Drones to Restore Communications to Hurricane Michael Victims

Victims of Hurricane Michael had to bear without the comforts many of us take for granted. Without electricity, simple things become difficult or impossible—cooking a hot meal over the stove, turning on the AC, or calling your family to let them know you’re okay.

Being able to communicate isn’t important to just civilians, but to first responders as well. Communications for police and fire departments can be compromised during and after a hurricane. A power outage can shut down their phones and internet. Add this to downed traffic lights, blocked or closed roadways, and it becomes increasingly difficult for first responders to do their job at a time when they are desperately needed.

AT&T prepared for Hurricane Michael with dozens of pieces of equipment across the Southeast ready to respond quickly and efficiently when minutes mattered most. One of those pieces of equipment was AT&T’s Flying Cow drone.

AT&T Storm Response Equipment

Image Credit: AT&T

The Flying COW was deployed in Mexico Beach, FL where it hovered 200 feet above the ground. As it hovers above the area, the drone is able to provide LTE service to up to 6,500 customers at one time. With this technology, AT&T was able to provide service to customers and first responders in the surrounding area as they worked to recover from Hurricane Michael. This enabled first responders like police, emergency medical responders, and fire departments to resume communications and work quickly. It also enabled AT&T customers to receive storm recovery updates, contact family, and connect with other members of the community during this challenging time.

Connection is crucial and it’s central to our mission. That’s why we will continue to work around the clock to support our customers and first responders.

AT&T

AT&T also opened up their retail centers to those affected by Hurricane Michael so they could recharge their devices if their homes were without electricity.

How the Flying Cow Works

The Flying Cow carries a small cell and antennas. It’s connected to the ground by a thin tether. The tether between the drone and the ground provides a highly secure data connection via fiber and supplies power to the Flying COW, which allows for unlimited flight time. The Flying COW then uses satellite to transport texts, calls, and data.

AT&T Flying COW

Image Credit: AT&T

Once airborne, the Flying COW provides LTE coverage from the sky to a designated area on the ground. It can extend coverage farther than other temporary cell sites and is ideal for providing coverage in remote areas. AT&T also possess an all-weather COW designed for operations in extream environmental conditions. It can withstand a tropical storm with heavy rain and wind gusts up to 50 mph. Plus, it can fly in snow and extreme temperatures ranging from below freezing to sweltering heat. With thermal imaging capabilities, it also has the capability to see through smoke, tree cover, and other obstacles.

Power Restored to 99% of AT&T Customers Affected by Hurricane Michael

Nine days after the storm made landfall, AT&T reported that their network in affected areas in Florida and Georgia was operating at more than 99.9% of normal. Their teams continue to address the remaining parts of the network that have been affected by the storm.

Hurricane Michael brought about AT&T’s second deployment of the Flying COW in less than a month. The drone was used in September to assist recovery efforts in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence devastated the east coast. AT&T’s first commercial deployment of the Flying Cow occurred in 2017 when they received permission from the FAA to fly their drones to restore cellular service in Puerto Rico, following the extreme damage brought about by Hurricane Maria.

In addition to cellular service, Hurricane Michael victims have also steadily regained electricity. The ESCC stated in a press release that electricity was restored in less than a week to approximately 95% customers impacted by the fast-moving and devastating storm. In just days, investor-owned electric companies, public power utilities, and electric cooperatives mobilized an army of more than 35,000 workers from 27 states and Canada to restore power safely and as quickly as possible.

FCC Criticizes Cellular Companies for Slow Response After Hurricane Michael

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) criticized cellular providers for moving slowly to restore communication services after Hurricane Michael.

Even though efforts to restore communications services have been going well in most of the areas affected by Hurricane Michael, the slow progress in restoring wireless service in areas close to where the hurricane made landfall is completely unacceptable.

—Ajit Pai, Federal Communications Commission Chairman

However, AT&T was able to restore their 99% of their network faster (9 days to restore) than competitors such as Verizon (12 days to restore) and T-Mobile (12 days to restore).

Verizon was particularly criticized for the slow service restoration after they received significant damage to their fiber optic cable system. Governor Rick Scott criticized Verizon for saying that 98% of Florida had service—that statement included customers in Florida that were hundreds of miles away from the impacted areas. Verizon’s statement was misleading and “does not help Florida’s law enforcement in Bay County and families communicate with loved ones in Panama City and does not help those needing medicine call their pharmacy in Lynn Haven,” said Scott.

Verizon has credited all their customers in Florida’s Bay and Gulf counties with three free months of mobile service for each line to compensate.

T-Mobile has offered free service through the end of October (including features and applicable late fees, sim starter kits, and device replacement fees) for postpaid, Magenta Prepaid, and Metro customers in areas with continued network impact.

AT&T has extended credits and waived data overage charges to their customers in areas hardest hit by Hurricane Michael. Unlimited talk, text, and data were provided during October for customers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Taylor, and Waukulla counties. In addition, late payment charges were waived or adjusted.

We expect communication companies will move away from the traditional mobile cell sites and adopt newer technology such as AT&T’s Flying COW in order to keep their customers connected, especially in the face of future natural disasters. Share your thoughts on AT&T’s Flying Cow and the response from cellular companies to Hurricane Michael in this thread on our community forum.

 

The post AT&T Uses “Flying Cow” Drone to Restore Service to Areas Impacted by Hurricane Michael appeared first on UAV Coach.

How Journalists are Using Drones in War Zones: An Interview with International Aerial Photojournalist Gail Orenstein

Drones have enabled journalists to capture stories with a new perspective and enabled them to cover stories that were previously out of reach or too dangerous to cover in the field. We met with photojournalist Gail Orenstein to learn how she incorporated drones into her storytelling career.

Gail has been a photographer for over 20 years and has been using drones as part of her reporting toolkit for the past three years. She has traveled, often on her own, to 84 countries. Her recent work has focused on drone journalism in conflict zones. Her work has been distributed worldwide by international news outlets including CBS News, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, Mashable, Washington Post, TIME, The BBC, The Telegraph, and many more. She has also been featured as a “Top UAS Predictor in the Field” by Women and Drones.

Kurdistan Iraq - Gail Orenstein

Gail surveying a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Iraq, 2017.

 

Read on to learn about Gail’s experiences traveling with her drone and using it to document stories in places like Ukraine, Iraq, and Georgia. Gail shares with us how drone laws differ around the world compared to drone laws in her home, London. She also gives us advice to share with those who want to use drones in journalism.

Begin Interview

How did you become a photojournalist?

I come from a large, close-knit family, and my mother has a deep love of photography. Every room in our home was inundated with photographs, and my mother had a great story to go with each one.

Visual storytelling comes naturally to me as it does to my mother, so it made sense for me to go into photography. I started photographing on the streets of Chicago in my early twenties while attending school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I began getting official assignments after I graduated, and from there, things took off.

At what point did you start incorporating drones into your reporting?

I incorporated drones into my work three years ago after an eye-opening experience in Syria. I was smuggled into Kobane, Syria to cover the Syrian war in 2014.

One day we were in a safe house, and suddenly there was a military drone strike against ISIL forces in the building next door. The power of the strike was insane—everything around us was blown to pieces. The next day a Kurdish commander took us to the site of the strike. It looked like a huge sinkhole with glass everywhere. I felt so lucky we were next door and not in that building. Safety is always an issue in a conflict zone, but this was really close.

Syria - Gail Orenstein

Damage in Syria. Image Credit: Gail Orenstein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My experience in Syria increased my concerns about safety; running around in the field was getting more and more dangerous. I also realized that these stories were getting much bigger. I need aerial equipment to cover these stories. Droning was an obvious solution to both these issues. Now with a drone, I can soar above and get really dramatic footage with less risk to me personally.

When you first started to use drones, what were some lessons you learned?

First, I had to become an expert on the drone laws of the local countries, and these laws change very quickly. When I arrive in a new country, I always take a photo of the airspace regulations webpage, so if I am stopped I can say I have the updated regulations on my iPhone. Also, I never travel anywhere without serious drone liability insurance that covers me globally.

Second, I had to get fully licensed. I decided it would be best to have both a CAA license and an FAA license. Let me tell you, I am so happy I did that. It was costly and very time consuming, but when I take out both licenses I am always flagged through customs. Well, so far anyway.

I also keep my professional journalism credentials up to date and notarized. For a professional drone pilot, it is my personal experience that obtaining the right certifications and professional paperwork is the first and most critical step. Only then do I get to think about what equipment I want to take.

Once I have all of my documentation sorted I get to think about the kind of drone I will take for my next assignment. A professional drone journalist needs a fleet of drones. There are major differences between battery life cycle, the size of the drone, weight, camera quality.

What is your favorite drone to fly for aerial photojournalism?

Right now it’s the DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0. I’ve used it to produce some of my most complex work to date. I really like this particular drone although it is a bit cumbersome. I still have my Mavic, and I just bought a Parrot Anafi.

Though the industry has moved on, I still have a real soft spot in my heart for the Parrot Bebop 2, as it was the first drone I carried around when I started. Though it lacked many features I take for granted now I never had any trouble traveling with it. I could carry it around in one arm and fly it off the iPad. It gave me a lot of freedom, and I was able to move about Bangladesh and Iraq with it and do some work I am still very proud of.

How do drones improve your ability to document stories through photography?

The obvious answer to that is that I can get the big picture quicker. I can access the area much faster without having to spend hours or days walking around. So, I can photograph larger areas to show the impact of catastrophic events or document the number of people in a refugee camp. It also allows me to see in real time where I might want to go to get further documentation on the ground later on.

I cannot believe I worked without this tool for 30 years. It has changed my work on so many levels in recent years.

You have traveled internationally to 84 countries. What has been your experience traveling with a drone, taking it through airports, and receiving approval to fly?

It varies dramatically from nation to nation, with some places demanding I get written letters from governments ministries to pretty open policies about droning. You really need to spend time researching beforehand, have your paperwork in place, and be prepared to deal with changing red tape, especially in areas where drone laws are not established or in areas where the civilian population has not picked up droning.

One experience I look back on is traveling with a drone to Nepal. I had not received my certification yet, and I was refused access to certain areas. It is now one of the most strict countries to receive permission to drone. After the earthquake in April 2015, every done hobbyist took a drone to Nepal, and they flew over UNESCO sites, temples, and really sacred places of worship. This caused the government officials to crack down on Nepal drone policy.

Tell me about your experiences recently traveling to countries like Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. How did flying in these countries compare to flying where you live in London? Is there anything about UK drone laws you want to share with us?

In places like Iraq, Ukraine, and Syria the uptake of drone usage is much higher than in the UK. Drones in these countries aren’t only used by the military, but also by film-makers and journalists. Surprisingly, these countries have a more established drone culture than in a place like the UK. People are accustomed to drones because of the war, and there are a local culture and industry around drones.

Due to the war in the East, the Ukrainians, in particular, have developed a strong culture of handmade reconnaissance drones they use on the frontlines. They have excellent engineering schools and a lot of determination—a very powerful mix when it comes to getting things done. Matrix UAV is just one startup Ukranian UAV company that is leading a new wave of hand-built drones. They are building drones that they hope will carry blood to the frontline as well as bring back wounded Ukrainian soldiers while also doing reconnaissance missions. I am deeply impressed with the start-up UAV movement in Ukraine.

Ukraine - Gail Orenstein

Ukrainian Military. Image Credit: Gail Orenstein

 

When I was in Georgia I took a train to Azerbaijan. I was told I would have no problem crossing the border. When I arrived in Azerbaijan, the customs officials told me they would have to confiscate my drone equipment. I took out my proper licenses and press documents. These were very heavily examined. My papers saved me from having to give up my drone. The customs officials told me that since I had these official papers they would let me through. I learned that the drone laws in Azerbaijan are enforced much more strictly than drone laws in Georgia. You have to register your drone with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Azerbaijan, and there is no flying in Baku without permission. So again, be careful and keep yourself protected as laws change arbitrarily.

Here in the UK, I recently flew into a bird migratory path by accident. This was outside London, and I am very very careful about migratory paths. The birds had already migrated a few months before, I had checked the area, the map, and everything appeared okay. During the flight, the local Canal and River Trust approached me and said I could not drone in the area because it was over a bird migratory path. It did not matter that the birds had left months ago. There are lots of places in the world were the laws and locals are much more pro-drone than drone laws in the UK. So again, you need to do your homework not only about local laws but also about local culture.

Tell me about your most recent project using drones.

I am working with an Azeri film-maker Rashad Abeyev about a film covering the Caucasus region. I am working simultaneously as a drone journalist in these places. I have had an opportunity to film the most amazing different groups of people and their settlements, including Azeri fishermen on the Caspian Sea. Also, we are incorporating into the film a village of mountain Jews living near Dagestan on the border with Russia. The mountain Jews really fascinate me, since as a Jew I had never heard of them. I went to Quba in Azerbaijan and droned the synagogue and the surrounding area—it was amazing.

What project are you most proud of that involved drones?

I am very proud of the work I did with the Rohingya refugee crisis on the Myanmar and Bangladesh border. I was there at the start of the genocide on the Bangladesh side when thousands of Rohingya were fleeing Myanmar. I was able to get a great deal of drone footage during the height of the monsoon season. I caught severe phenomena, but I was determined not to leave without that aerial footage. No camps had been built yet. There were masses of people struggling against the elements to get to safety and build really massive refugee cities on muddy hills very quickly.

YouTube Video

 

I did this work in 2017 moving about independently using my own drones and loading my work up at night. Suddenly a lot of relief agencies working there contacted me about my work, which gave me a real sense of satisfaction as they wanted to use the aerial footage. I realized at that point the aerial footage was the evidence. You cannot fake a news story from the sky. It was a great feeling to share that footage with these agencies.

Most of all I am proud of the women that write to me. I hope that women continue to work in this industry and don’t give up. Sadly, I saw statistics about the growth in the industry, and men are making the most gains. We cannot lose the female perspective, what a horrible loss.

What advice would you give to an aspiring photojournalist who wants to use drones?

Be prepared to work and study hard. Review the work that is out there. Photojournalism is already two fields merged into one, which means you have to learn to be a photographer and a journalist. Most photojournalists also do video, so to do that job too you have to learn to use your camera to do video work when needed.

Drones add a new dimension to an already difficult job. You really have to take the time to get properly trained and certified. You need to put in the hundreds of hours of flight time to develop your skills, to build confidence, and to be aware of safety. When I fly, I fly for all—I think about other pilots, and I am determined to stop any reckless droning I witness or hear about. We must work as a community to keep our standards high.

You also need to learn air laws/drone laws and the masses of technical and regulatory information that goes with droning. I have spent months in classes learning theory and in ground school in the US and UK.

This is a really demanding job, on top of international regulations, technical specifications, operation manuals, and a regulatory environment that is constantly changing. I don’t say this to make those considering entering drone journalism afraid. Don’t be afraid. Instead, be prepared to train for at least a few years. Droning is a profession taken up by many and pursued by few.


To learn more about Gail Orenstein, visit her website. Let us know how you think drones have impacted the way we document and view news from around the world, or share your thoughts on this interview, by hopping into this thread on our community forum.

The post How Journalists are Using Drones in War Zones: An Interview with International Aerial Photojournalist Gail Orenstein appeared first on UAV Coach.

Drone Tracks Aims to Make $1 Drone Shipping a Reality, but Are There Hidden Costs?

Drone deliveries are back in the news, this time with a plan from Statupstaging Inc. to use a hooked mechanism to reduce costs and increase safety. However, our research suggests this plan is riddled with hidden costs and lacks public support.

Startupstaging Inc. recently announced their plans to roll out $1 drone deliveries using what they call “Drone Tracks”—a system of tracks that run along pre-set routes, which drones would be attached to during flight.

Here’s a depiction of the idea in action, taken from the Drone Tracks website:

drone-tracks

Some proposed benefits for the idea of attaching drones to tracks were listed in a recent statement issued by Startupstaging Inc.:

  • Customer-scheduled delivery with active tracking: you know where your package is and when it will arrive.
  • Eco-friendly: Less cardboard and fewer vehicles on the road with the use of reusable boxes
  • Mail delivery with drones would eliminate the USPS budget deficit.
  • Airplanes don’t need to worry about drones crashing into them during landing/take-off.

The system creates consistent and predictable flight paths allowing for safer and easier organization, much like roads for cars.

– Startupstaging Inc.

In the same statement, Startupstaging Inc. also lists a few other surveillance-related benefits as a secondary positive to using the approach of attaching drones to tracks. These ideas have to do with catching criminals or potential terrorists by using footage from an “eye in the sky.”

However, these benefits frankly seem somewhat naive—we already have video surveillance throughout urban areas, and it’s hard to imagine the Drone Tracks idea being implemented anywhere except urban areas. Further, while a higher vantage point might reveal more useful data, drones are already being used for this kind of surveillance, and there doesn’t seem to be a need to attach them to tracks to gather it.

Are There Hidden Costs to the Drone Tracks Idea?

The immediate concern one has when considering the Drone Tracks idea is the infrastructure cost. That is, in order to implement this kind of drone delivery approach, tracks would first have to be built throughout the area where deliveries are to be made.

And it looks like Startupstaging Inc. is hoping not to foot that bill—in doing research for this article, we came across a petition created earlier this month on MoveOn.org asking for “…legislation to launch the implementation of Drone Tracks, which can result in safer drone flights and cheaper delivery.”

So far there’s only one signer, and that signer is also the author of the petition: Startupstaging Inc.

The Idea of $1 Drone Delivery Isn’t a New Thing

There’s probably a good reason Startupstaging Inc. is proposing shipping with drones at just $1 per delivery.

Amazon, through their drone delivery Amazon Prime Air, first made the claim that they’d be able to conduct drone deliveries for just $1 so long as the package being delivered met these two criteria:

  • Packages must weigh fewer than five pounds.
  • The delivery distance must be within ten miles of Amazon’s facilities.

The catch?

Amazon made this announcement almost three years ago, in December of 2015.

YouTube Video

Fast forward to today, and we are much farther along when it comes to making drone deliveries a reality.

In Iceland, TanzaniaSwitzerland, and elsewhere drone deliveries are now a part of everyday life. But in each place where drone deliveries have been implemented, a huge, complex infrastructure has been created to enable the deliveries.

This infrastructure isn’t a system of physical tracks, such as those proposed by Startupstaging Inc., but rather it’s a system of shared data, generally called a UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management). To be fair to Startupstaging Inc., the creation of these UTMs have been supported in many instances by government funding, and it’s unlikely that private industries could pay to create all of the infrastructure needed to get drone deliveries up and running.

Right now NASA is working in partnership with the FAA to further UTM technology here in the U.S. In addition, there are currently pilot programs in place in the U.S. exploring drone delivery (among other things).

So while it does seem likely that we’ll see inexpensive drone deliveries arrive here before too long, it seems a little far-fetched to imagine that tracks will be built to implement these deliveries in every city in the U.S.

It could be that some cities will build tracks for specific drone delivery routes—it’s certainly not implausible—but we’d bet that UTM will be the real way forward when it comes to creating an infrastructure to enable drone deliveries here in the U.S., just as it has been elsewhere in the world.

Where do you think drone deliveries are headed? Chime in on this thread in the UAV Coach community forum to share your thoughts.

The post Drone Tracks Aims to Make $1 Drone Shipping a Reality, but Are There Hidden Costs? appeared first on UAV Coach.

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