Moonshots and Unicorns

faadrone

So, what should we expect now that Google has joined the fray with delivery drones and the UAV Coalition? Confirmation of (more) interest in unmanned systems. The Project Wing video shows us a string around a big toe dip in the product delivery solution pool. Let’s not discount the product delivery problem set that needs a software solution is huge, almost staggering in scale and scope without even considering the parts that will need FAA certification. Not to say that we can’t get there, but it’s a heck of a long way to Tipperary and we are just seeing what constitutes surface scratching now. However, I will say that these efforts are quaint, but could all benefit from more Richard Branson and less Marilyn Manson with the designs and applications. That stuff works for the garage tinker, but not the world’s top technology companies.

The ‘you are here” X on the map-

Some of the airspace integration veterans that use to discount my dissatisfaction about the game being somewhere between rigged and dysfunctional are now in agreement with many of those past assertions. The affirmation calls and emails have been rolling in from all sides of this complex issue. Yes, it took eight plus years, but my process misgivings turned out to be more then the DoD vendor asserted ranting’s of Poprishchin as we are pretty much where I said we would be, and without a paddle. Everyone agrees that we are in dire need a new crew of rowers to get this Waka Tangata headed in the right direction.

The UAV Coalition –

The o-dark-thirty wake up call came from the FAA Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft. The interpretation is exactly what the ATO concierge stated they wanted back in 2008, and that they would be writing the rules for the RC hobby community. Looks like Congress must have gotten the memo cause most of it is in the Reauthorization. Going over some of my notes from the sUAS ARC, I found a quote stating, “if you weren’t flying on an AMA field you wouldn’t be in compliance with the AMA guidelines.” Holy moly that was a “mobilize” the membership phrase if I had ever heard one.

The real wake up call surprise is the volume of emails and phone calls from folks complaining about how the FAA’s interpretations has come along and torpedoed their business plan. “I can’t do any testing, no exemption for universities, etc.” Most of the time, I quietly (hard to imagine) think to myself that this is the same stuff has been against FAA policy since 2007. Was it the little Do’s and Don’t pictogram that turned out to be the Rosetta stone? Folks wonder why I went along with the policy clarification or anything the FAA says, but I understand their intent (while not agreeing with the policy or its construction), and not an alternative reality. Putting together a business plan in this regulatory fuster cluck is like betting the farm on the bad side of a fixed WWE wrestling match.

I wish I could say the affirmation was all good and that we would be flying around and realizing the benefits of the technology, building businesses and making the world a better place. Alas, it is not. It is we missed the boat; the DoD vendors are controlling the effort and their commercial advocacy efforts have been totally counterproductive for everyone including those inside the vendor circles.

More affirmation as the AkIn Gump representation hire is definitely a civilian regulatory effort moonshot.

I’ve been calling for action for years and doubled down when sequestration first reared its ugly head. AUVSI’s management was made aware that it was time for action and that the association needed to evolve, or the frog may very well face extinction. This warning and other go forward advice (over the last six + years) was met with what have become customary chuckles and laughter. I imagine the Coalition sidestep has put a dampener on the jocularity as many people see this as an ice bucket on associations head. (This family friendly analogy was substituted for popular sentiment.)

The reasons the Coalition didn’t throw in with the DoD were for several of the reasons I’ve been writing about and espousing for years.

1. The FAA and DoD interests are trying to regulate 10-year-old technology, and that is just lots of good money after bad.

2. Controversy avoidance. No one wants to be the target of a die in or for his or her business being associated with the Hellfire wielding Extrajudicial Killing Machine.

3. No credible support for business besides those accustom to the FBO process

4. The commercial crowd is interested in different uses and applications not an Asymmetrical warfare holdover.

5. The integration pace is on the Geological Time Scale (GTC)

6. The FAA lacks the will. Other countries around the world have made it work.

Attendees of the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition 2013 got the inside track into the type of lobbying horsepower the tech companies had. I will surmise here for the sake of brevity. (The links provided allow you to watch and view the presentation at your leisure.)

http://www.slideshare.net/sUASNews/1-susbexpo-pe


My assertion was this; if we could get a comma and unmanned systems added to the tech lobbying effort, we would most like see some government action. Amazon, AirWare, DJI, Parrot, 3DRobotics, GOPRO, and now Google make for quite a high-power effort. Already the newly formed effort has been splashed across the pages of many news outlets, and every future move is sure to garner someone attention.

The FAA doesn’t know it yet, but they are up for their own wake up call(rude or otherwise) as the good old days of relative obscurity for the U.S. UAS airspace integration effort are over. Front-page attention by the major news media will start to build an integration effort memory and timeline. Quotes from those in the public’s employ about timelines and other milestones not coming to fruition will not go unnoticed or, only built into Miss-O-Matic counters anymore. This issue is popular, and the editors at the major media outlets can’t get enough of drone stories as the clicks roll in for the advertisers with ever article. Incase you were wondering, it is the real reason that the D-word is here to stay.

On the milestone note, I will leave you with the following spoiler. Whispers are starting to surface that we may not see the sUAS NPRM drop before January 2015.

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Patrick Egan
Editor in Field, sUAS News Americas Desk | Patrick Egan is the editor of the Americas Desk at sUAS News and host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast Series, Drone TV and the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition. Experience in the field includes assignments with the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab investigating solutions on future warfare research projects. Instructor for LTA (Lighter Than Air) ISR systems deployment teams for an OSD, U.S. Special Operations Command, Special Surveillance Project. Built and operated commercial RPA prior to 2007 FAA policy clarification. On the airspace integration side, he serves as director of special programs for the RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Photography Association).