Pancakes and Politics

Anecdotes from the Drone Symposium/Pancake Breakfast. Lead-time on the pop-up symposium was short, but it was great to be in LA around Christmas, and if you haven’t been for the holidays you should try it. Seventy plus degrees, palm trees, and decorations make for a surreal vibe to be sure. Besides the environs, we have a little bit of a difference, as well as a refreshing mindset, outside of the Silicon Valley techo-chamber. NorCal is facing a breadcrumb trail washed away by VC tears, and poor old Hipster and Gretel are further afield and more detached from reality with each day that passes.

The self-supplied BS brokerage in LA is probably around 7 while SV has cut out the middleman and scaled it up to 11 for the last several years. I know it almost doesn’t make sense to say that the folks in LA are more grounded than somewhere else, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. In and around the Valley it is getting ugly, and it is starting to look like the Bluetooth speaker for the drone-startup game of musical chairs could end up at the liquidation auction at any time (with or without the Andreessen Horowitz sticker on it). The disdain for hardware is leaving software folks feeling kind of empty, as everyone is waiting for someone else to invest (lose his or her shirt from being blindsided) in the newest disruptive technology.

We had pancakes, Lingonberry in my case, with a sampling of different maple syrups. The breakfast was casual and an excellent opportunity for us to make new friends as well as catch up with some old acquaintances.

The Boulevard of Broken Drone Dreams display, from left to right, Airware, 3DR, and the GoPro Karma.   

Since the Airware news went public, VC money for drones is scarcer than self-respect amongst Instagram models, and, some say, even possibly the venerable DC lobbyist!

What’s that you say? Your drone solution produces tangible results? Scaling up the free customer base was the go-to tactic for yesterday’s unicorn. Most of the still-breathing startups already did the CEO switcheroo while the book cooking was good and everything still looked muy bueno. The ROI writing is on the wall and that deaf, dumb, and blind dog will not hunt.   

I am a firm believer that the rubber meets the road out in the field. I don’t care what you postulate at your desk (between bites of pizza) only costing 46 rupees per mile; working in the real world is where the learning happens.

During the presentation portion of the program, we learned about some C-UAS domestic threat cases, and those capabilities are more devious and broader than most of the selfie droners are imagining. We got an update on what detection and counter technologies are in as well as what tech is out. Some of what is out was a nonstarter in my book from day one. On the innovative infrastructure front, Droning Down Under literally put droning underground into a new light. Considerations and the reality of operating in the dark or without ambient light showed a few things lacking with state of the art. New solutions are needed to pull the plum here. Finally, we got an engineer’s view of some of the challenges of the future of aerospace and the airspace and what will be allowed to fly in it. I think this presentation would have gone over the heads of the cellphone software set. And those who could comprehend may be in need of lots more money (and/or a crying towel) just for the assumptions portion.

To borrow one of Gary’s cricket euphemisms, NASA and/or the FAA didn’t pitch up. I don’t know if government folks are just afraid that someone might ask more than the softball questions or if it is just the old-fashioned marginalization afforded critics of the well-oiled machine. In any event, an objective olive branch was extended to the new leadership of the UASIO, and we will see if that leads to a change. The author’s presentation focused on the lightly discussed 2018 FAA reauthorization, including, but not limited to, the demise of 336 and the lobbied for CBO- i.e., AMA definition, privacy, User Fees, UTM and the UAM.

On the UAM side, we are already seeing the exodus of true believers, visionaries, and drone and air traffic control cellphone app experts—all of them scurrying off to the greener pastures. For you rubes caught flat-footed by the new nomenclature, it is Urban Air Mobility, commonly known to the layperson merely as flying cars. They are dropping the ID and tracking, flying over people, and BVLOS barriers like a hot rock. We’re all merrily on our way to flying off to Coachella in 2020. Interestingly enough, no one is mentioning how all of the packaged delivery lobbyists, advocates, and cellphone app developers failed to integrate a 251-gram Humpty Dumpty into the existing NAS in near real time. That revelation might be too real for some of the folks who have watched the Elevate video, but it won’t even be a speed bump in the road for the grifters who will set upon fleecing whomever they can with a confirming nod and a smile on their face.

Anyone stupid enough to hire one of these sideshow carnival barkers without examples of performance or ROI for other victims—err, umm, I mean clients (or “johns,” in the parlance of our times)—deserves the fleecing they get. These wide-eyed kids are blowing through somebody else’s money, making the proverbial drunken sailor look stingy. I’d say bring us a safety case, and then we can talk about your fee. Caveat emptor!

Here are some of the roundtable issues and not necessarily in order of importance.  

FAA credibility damaged

  1.    Capricious regulation
  2.    Lack of enforcement (competing with non-compliant yahoos)
  3.    Missed congressionally mandated deadlines
  4.    No definite dates for full integration
  5.    Trite platitudes, e.g. We’re open for business, standards and bring us a safety case.
  6.    User fees, for who based on what numbers?


  1.    Lack of standards for infrastructure and other inspections.   
  2.    Monopoly
  3.    Comms, including C2 and standards for UTM, to integrate with existing ATM and V2V. Using a part 15 ISM control link that clearly states you may not cause interference and you must accept interference.
  4.    The issues for UTM are glossed over or misunderstood.
  5.    Lack of expertise with the industry SME’s (pay to play)
  6.    Standards work

We did record the presentations and conversations. Depending upon the quality of the capture and the permission of the presenters they may get posted on the sUAS News channel. If you aren’t a subscriber, you should get over there now to not miss any of the quality content.