Results of Transportation Oversight Committee Hearing

We live-tweeted House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on the status of UAS integration, oversight and competitiveness.  You will links to the prepared testimony of the witnesses at the link.  Our real time comments can be found on twitter at @dronelawdotcom.

Some interesting themes emerged from this hearing.  Everyone seemed to recognize that the U.S. is falling behind on R&D and investment due to the lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework.

Several of the committee members raised questions over whether the FAA should, like other developed countries, pursue a more risk-based approach to UAS regulations.  The FAA’s Peggy Gilligan claimed that her agency is doing just that, at least when evaluating section 333 exemption applications.  This was telling.  Most of her remarks smacked of happy talk and filibustering.

Rep. Todd Rokita asked, if we are taking a risk-based approach, whether any actuarial studies have been conducted.  The answer was yes, but only as to large, high-altitude UAS.  There were too many unknowns to be able to evaluate risk profiles for smaller drones.

Another interesting theme was the general frustration with the fact that the much-heralded test sites are not getting much support from the FAA.  Some spoke of opening up more test sites.  Jesse Kallman of Airware suggested that developers be permitted to operate their own test sites.  This made sense to us.

Capt. Lee Moak of the Airline Pilots Association began his testimony by putting a brand new DJI Phantom on the table.  He compared the risk of collision with small drones to the risk of bird strikes.  His testimony made it clear that the airline pilots are lobbying for a go-slow approach.  In other words, the FAA might not be aggressive enough in trying to shut this madness down.

The overall impression was that Congress understands the problem and is losing patience with the FAA.  We might see more legislative involvement if things don’t start picking up speed.

A full video of the hearing can be viewed, below:

Drone Tech News of the Day

Every day, we see more and more stories on developments in drone tech. Here are some stories that have been making the rounds, today.

Somebody went out and created a biodegradable drone:

The bulk of the prototype is made of a root-like fungal material called mycelium. It was cultivated in a custom drone shape by Ecovative Design, a company in Green Island, New York, that grows the stuff as a lightweight sustainable alternative for applications like wine packaging and surfboard cores.

The fungal body has a protective covering of sticky cellulose “leather” sheets grown by bacteria in the lab. Coating the sheets are proteins cloned from the saliva of paper wasps – usually used to waterproof their nests. Circuits were printed in silver nanoparticle ink, in an effort to make the device as biodegradable as possible.

So far, so good. But then there’s this:

The next part the team hope to make safe to degrade are the drone’s sensors, and they have already started studying how to build them using E. coli bacteria.

Gross.

DJI has launched a kick-ass new drone that includes a 4k camera. We just like the way this looks.

Back in Hollywood, people are starting to understand the potential benefits from the FAA’s approval of seven 333 exemption applications:

The day rate for a helicopter can range from $20,000 to $40,000 with crew. Operating a drone with crew can cut costs down to a rate that ranges between $9,000 to $15,000, according to Carmean. Elements that affect drone day rates pends the camera, aircraft, crew and location.

“The possibility of making shots that you couldn’t do before is extremely exciting. A director and a director of photography can say I want this shot in a movie and we can get it without a helicopter,” said Poster.

“The insurance; it’s a lot cheaper to insure a 25-pound drone than it is to insure a three-ton helicopter,” Chris Schuster, CEO and lead drone pilot at Vortex Aerial told TheWrap.

The demo video at the link is pretty cool.

We can all be superheroes, now.

Today’s edition of The New Yorker has a long article on the current and short-term future state of drone technology.  The author only alludes to the legal aspects of the technology, instead offering an overview of why drones can be both frightening and exhilarating.  He likens the power of drones to making operators into superheroes.

The technology of unmanned flight has diversified so rapidly that there are now 1,500 different kinds of drones being manufactured, and they are participants in nearly every type of human endeavor, composing a whole flying-robot ecology so vast that to call every one by the same name can seem absurd. But drone, an impossible word, is also a perfect one. Each of these machines gives its human operator the same power: It allows us to project our intelligence into the air and to exert our influence over vast expanses of space….

Lost in the concern that the drone is an authoritarian instrument is the possibility that it might simultaneously be a democratizing tool, enlarging not just the capacities of the state but also the reach of the individual — the private drone operator, the boy in Cupertino — whose view is profoundly altered and whose abilities are enhanced. “The idea I’m trying to work out to simplify this whole thing — surveillance, drones, robots — has to do with superhero ethics,” says Patrick Lin, a technology ethicist at California Polytechnic State University. “It’s about what humans do when they have superpowers. What happens then?”

Read the whole thing.