Let Skynet Become Self-Aware!

Not so long ago, it was hard to fly. Forget actual manned aircraft and pilots licenses; even flying model aircraft required hours of practice, often under the tutelage of a master at a flying field. But along with that training came an education in the rules of safe flight, including flying at a designated airfield and watching out for obstacles.

We accidentally messed that up. We in the drone industry made aircraft super easy to fly — perhaps too easy to fly. Thanks to smart autopilots and GPS, you can open a box, download an app and press “take off”. The copter will dutifully rise into the air and wait there for further instructions — no skill required. And it will do this even if you happen to be in an NFL football stadium in the middle of a big game. Or near an airport. Or in the midst of a forest fire.

The problem is that along with taking training out of the process of flying a drone, we inadvertently also took out the education process of learning about safe and responsible flight. Sure, we drone manufacturers include all sorts of warning and advisories in our instructions manual (which people don’t read) and our apps (which they swipe past), and companies such as DJI and my own 3DR include basic “geofencing” restrictions to try to keep operators below 400 feet and within “visual line of sight”. But it’s not enough.

Every day there are more reports of drone operators getting past these restrictions and flying near jetliners, crashing into stadiums, and interfering with first responders. So far it hasn’t ended in tragedy, but the way things are going it eventually will. And in the meantime, it’s making drones increasingly controversial and even feared. I call this epidemic of (mostly inadvertent) bad behavior “mass jackassery”. As drones go mass market, the odds of people doing dumb things with them reach the singularity of certainty.

We’ve got to do something about this before governments do it for us, with restrictions that catch the many good uses of drones in the crossfire. The reality is that most drone operators who get in trouble aren’t malicious and may not even know that what they’re doing is irresponsible or even illegal. Who can blame them? It’s devilishly hard to understand the patchwork quilt of federal, state and local regulations and guidelines, which change by the day and even the hour based on “airspace deconfliction” rules and FAA alerts written for licensed pilots and air traffic control. Many drone owners don’t even know that such rules exist.

Drones Themselves Should Know Rules of Each Area

Fortunately, they don’t have to. Our drones can be even smarter — smart enough to know where they should and shouldn’t fly. Because modern drones are connected to phones, they’re also connected to the cloud. Every time you open their app, that app can check online to find appropriate rules for flight where you are, right then and there.

Here’s how it works. The app sends four data fields to a cloud service: Who (operator identifier), What (aircraft identifier), Where (GPS and altitude position) and When (either right now or a scheduled time in the case of autonomous missions). The cloud service then returns a “red light” (flight not allowed), a “green light” (flight allowed, with basic restrictions such as a 400 feet altitude ceiling), or “yellow light” (additional restrictions or warnings, which can be explained to the operator in context and at the point of use).


Right now industry groups such as the Dronecode Foundation, the Small UAV Coalition (I help lead both of them, but this essay just reflects my own personal views) and individual manufacturers such as 3DR and DJI are working on these “safe flight” standards and APIs. Meanwhile, a number of companies such as Airmap and Skyward are building the cloud services to provide the up-to-date third-party data layer that any manufacturer can use. It will start with static no-fly zone data such as proximity to airports, US national parks and other banned airspace such as Washington DC. But it will quickly add dynamic data, too, such as forest fires, public events, and proximity to other aircraft.

(For more on this, you can read a white paper from one of the Dronecode working groups here and higher level description here.)

There’s Always a Catch

Of course, this system isn’t perfect. It’s only as good as the data it uses, which is still pretty patchy worldwide, and the ways that the manufacturers implement those restrictions. Some drone makers may choose to treat any area five miles from an airport as a hard ban and prohibit all flight in that zone, even at the cost of furious customers who had no idea they were five miles from an airport when they bought that toy at Wal-mart (nor do they think it should matter, since it’s just a “toy”). Other manufacturers may choose to make a more graduated restriction for the sake of user friendliness, adding a level of nuance that is not in the FAA regulation. They might ban, say, flight one mile from an airport, but only limit flight beyond that to something like 150ft of altitude (essentially backyard-level flying).

That’s a reasonable first step. But the ultimate safe flight system would go a lot further. It would essentially extend the international air traffic control system to millions of aircraft (there are already a million consumer drones in the air) flown by everything from children to Amazon. The only way to do that is to let the drones regulate themselves (yes, let Skynet become self-aware).

Peer-to-peer Air Traffic Control

There’s a precedent for such peer-to-peer air traffic control: WiFI. Back in the 1980s, the FCC released spectrum in the 2.4 Ghz band for unlicensed use. A decade later, the first 802.11 standards for Wifi were released, which was based on some principles that have application to drones, too.

  1. The airspace used is not otherwise occupied by commercial operators
  2. The potential for harm is low (in the case of WiFi, low transmission power. In the case of drones, low kinetic energy due to the weight restrictions of the “micro” category)
  3. The technology has the capability to self-”deconflict” the airspace by observing what else is using it and picking a channel/path that avoids collisions.

That “open spectrum” sandbox that the FCC created also created a massive new industry around WiFi. It put wireless in the hands of everyone and routed around the previous monopoly owners of the spectrum, cellphone carriers and media companies. The rest was history.

Quadcopter ThumbWe can do the same thing with drones. Let’s create an innovation “sandbox” with de minimus regulatory barriers for small UAVs flying within very constrained environments. The parameters of the sandbox could be almost anything, as long as they’re clear, but it should be kinetic energy and range based (a limit of 2kg and 20m/s at 100m altitude and 1,000m range within visual line of sight would be a good starting point).

As in the case of open spectrum, in relatively low risk applications, such as micro-drones, technology can be allowed to “self-deconflict the airspace” without the need for monopoly exclusions such as exclusive licences or regulatory permits. How? By letting the drones report their position using the same cellphone networks they used to get permission to fly in the first place. The FAA already has a standard for this, called ADS-B, which is based on transponders in each aircraft reporting their position. But those transponders are expensive and unnecessary for small drones, which already know their position and are connected to the cloud. Instead, they can use “virtual ADS-B” to report their position via their cell network connections, and that data can be injected into the same cloud data services they used to check if their flight was safe in the first place.

Once this works, we’ll have a revolution. What WiFi did the telecoms industry, autonomous, cloud-connected drones can do to the aerospace industry. We can occupy the skies, and do it safely. Technology can solve the problems it creates.

About the Author

judge-thumb-AndersonChris Anderson (@Chr1sa) is the CEO of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY Drones. From 2001 through 2012 he was the Editor in Chief of Wired Magazine. Before Wired he was with The Economist for seven years in London, Hong Kong and New York.

The author of the New York Times bestselling books The Long Tail and Free as well as the Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.

His background is in science, starting with studying physics and doing research at Los Alamos and culminating in six years at the two leading scientific journals, Nature and Science.

In his self-described misspent youth [Chris] was a bit player in the DC punk scene and amusingly, a band called REM. You can read more about that here.

Awards include: Editor of the Year by Ad Age (2005). Named to the “Time 100,” the newsmagazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world (2007). Loeb Award for Business Book of the Year (2007). Wired named Magazine of the Decade by AdWeek for his tenure (2009). Time Magazine’s Tech 40 — The Most Influential Minds In Technology (2013). Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers (2013).

89 thoughts on “Let Skynet Become Self-Aware!

  1. Great article. I’d add another suggestion: require a license with training and regular renewals to fly a drone. Require drone operators to go though a fraction of the hoops that real pilots must face. Don’t depend exclusively on making smart drones correct for stupid operators.

    There’s a historical parallel. Amateur radio has always done well with self-policing because the licensing process teaches operators the rules and something of the culture. CB, in its heyday, was a horrible mess because the licensing meant almost nothing.

    Drone flying today is like CB radio. It needs to become more like amateur radio. And with that increased training and responsibility could come increased rights.

    1. Because regulation makes everything better.
      It is a shame because before the “drone” “community” showed up the RC community had a really good relationship with the FAA.
      In other words, this is why we can not have nice things.

        1. Not really better, just different.

          For a large corporation that can absorb the costs of regulations and pass them on to the consumer (and possible get the little guy forced out of the competition) it is better. For the consumer who has to pay more it is not better (but they might, maybe get a better product — or not).

          Usually new regulations just change things, fixes a few problems and screws a bunch of other things up. In the case of drones, you can bet it will make the hobby more expensive and harder to get into. Also, it will likely start a new underground drone movement.

    2. Working off of your amature radio metaphor.
      Limiting drones to areas with cell phone coverage at the pilot’s location is a bit awkward.

      and while ADS-B is expensive and unwieldy, we are talking about thinks 100m up, trying to communicate with other drones also 100m up… There is no need to bounce a signal around the world for this, just a few kilometers would give drones more than enough range.

      An APRS like system where location, speed and heading are broadcast would easily give a clear picture of what else is in the sky, and what might be an impact threat.
      The transmitters are actually quite cheap when you’re working with low wattage, and the Drones already have GPS on board.
      Since we are 100M up and have clear line of sight to everything they need to receive them, a high frequency, and lower power radio would be perfect for such application.

      Additionally, a simple broadcast about the flight conditions and restrictions in the area from connected drones (perhaps at the request of unconnected drones, as well as regular intervals, like WX reports on APRS) would allow for drones to fly with in the regulations even when not connected.

      Though I think I might have just created a Drone network running on cheap low wattage radios in the sky.

  2. Whaaa? Fear mongering on HaD?

    “The Govment gonna take yer jabs n regulate yer drones unless we pass laws regulatin yer drones!”

    Education instills responsibility? Operating an RC craft is such a form of education? I’m not sure I agree with your premise.

    And why stop at removing those liberties. How about forcing gun makers to incorporate electronics which prevent them from being used at certain GPS locations, like schools, bars, courts, etc? Good idea right…..(note the lack of question mark)


    Oh. I just saw who wrote this. Next we’ll see an article from Donald Trump talking about how fun and helpful building walls can be.

    Just waiting for the post on HaD that links to instructions on how to defeat these regulations and the subsequent “terrorist” that uses said instructions to cause an event which triggers an overreaction in the media which forces politicians to over react in-turn by passing highly restrictive laws which are repealed five years later once everyone realizes that irresponsible people do irresponsible things and trying to indirectly regulate their actions is a bad idea.

    1. Trololol…

      You missed the point of the article. The FAA already has rules about safe flight. Chris is advocating that manufacturers make access to these rules and restrictions easy and straight-forward so that further regulation is unnecessary.

      I think this is all a problem of education and Chris has laid down an interesting proposal on how make the information more accessible.

      1. So you think Chris is saying that manufacturers should make access to FAA rules easy and this will prevent further regulation? …really?… To me it reads like he’s advocating an invisible fense system (to sell) which will create a facade of safety.

        If Chris’s concept can’t stop a jackass from finding a “How to defeat invisible fence systems” link on HaD, cause a huge media incident, thus incurring further regulation…. it’s not a solution, right?

        This is the same scenario that pops up time and time again with items like firearms, bbguns, paintball markers, lasers, chemicals, etc.
        Ever try to buy a chemistry set or fireworks worth the match?

        It’s about people thinking the goverment is some kind of babysitter to indirectly protect them from every concevable paranoia. This creates every narcissistic trait of the society you now live in. Want more?

        Laws feel like a solutions, don’t they? In a perfect world legislation works.

        Here’s a solution, zero regulation. Bad things happen because people. Work on your community. It might be too hard, but if successful would inadvertently solve 99.999% of human civilization’s other issues. One of which would be the fear of overreacting laws getting passed.

        1. You know, we had a world without regulation once. People got ill a lot, died early and a lot of stuff was made by children.

          But, you know, I guess it must be the only possible option to return to that because the idea that regulations can be good is impossible in a world were some regulations are bad….

    1. Criminals are always going to be an issue. What is at hand here are people who are flying quadcopters in places they shouldn’t simply because they didn’t know there are rules about these things. This kind of naive breaking of the rules is happening more and more frequently and the fear is that at some point purchasing a quadcopter will be made more difficult (through licensing) or outlawed.

      1. Components are multi-use, so you can’t properly restrict them. Autopilot is just generic microcontroller board with specific peripherials. Purchasing a ready-made quadcopter – may be. making it from parts – I doubt it.

        1. Er? The components of a car or a plane are multi-use, too: they don’t restrict those, but in tons of places it’s still not legal to just build a car and drive it on the road without doing any sort of licensing.

          It’s a similar thing here. It’s easy to see things getting to the point of a self-built quadcopter needing to be registered before being able to be flown.

  3. I sincerely hope that something like this works. Several years ago, I was really excited about quardacopters. I got a parrot to play with, but didn’t think it was very fun (compared to normal radio controlled planes). Now, I’m a full-on anti-drone person.

    Because I’m also a private pilot, I am really worried about these things going way higher than 400′ (it only takes a short search on youtube to find videos of people doing this) and smacking into my windshield. Bird strikes are already really dangerous, it would be much worse to his something not as compliant as flesh.

    It was distressing when I was looking at the current maps for the “no-fly zones” that some of the done mfgrs. are using and I saw that none but the most major airports were in the database. Millions of flights a day terminate at small airports, and legally there is no difference between JFK and S20 (S20, by the way, is a very small airport in California).

    1. I’m scared too. Instead of the 11,000 bird strikes annually (and the minuscule danger they pose to civilian aircraft), let us focus our ridiculous fears of striking an object that is somewhere around 5 to 7 orders of magnitude more rare than a bird and promote more regulations ! More laws always fix everything, especially irrational fears!

      1. Holy shit batman !!! Are you a complete idiot !!!
        Well, I guess is nobody died, then its safe.
        US Airways Flight 1549
        “On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 (AWE1549), an Airbus A320 piloted by Captain Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, made an unpowered emergency water landing in the Hudson River after multiple bird strikes caused both jet engines to fail.”

        What was the cost of recovery for that aircraft, we all paid for that rescue by increased ticket prices.
        And all it took was two birds.

        1. Flight 1549 is a poor example of a ‘drone strike’ situation. The reasons I believe this are as follows:

          A single drone is not equivalent to a flock and would not stop both engines. The Airbus A320 is designed to safely fly with only one of its two engines, as are all commercial airframes. According to the CVR (Cockpit Voice Recorder) transcription multiple birds were ingested not only the two you have suggested.

          A single 2 pound drone ingested in an engine would fall into the new classification of a “medium-bird” however there are no existing standards for testing what a drone’s plastic and metal parts might do to an engine. A drone’s structural integrity under the forces of a turbofan engine should not be substantially different from bone and sinew unless a substantially large surface was made from metal, an increasingly unlikely situation as new materials become available. The geese that brought this plane down were noted to weigh between 7.31 and 9.23 pounds, far larger than the 4 pound classification testing allowed for. While the FAA has a 25 pound limit on the government’s use of drones, no such limit exists for private operators.

          Now, all that isn’t to say that drones pose no hazard to aircraft, but simply not in the mode you are describing. Drones near the fires in California have grounded helicopters who needed that airspace to be clear. A drone through a cockpit windshield would be disastrous in most situations.

          What I think the article made clear is the lack of information getting to new hobbyists. Unless you do some research, you wouldn’t know about the 400′ ceiling, the 3 mile exclusion radius around stadiums or any of the other no-fly areas specified in the NOTAMs (Notice to Airmen). Including a link in packaging would be a good first step, but there’s got to be some increased outreach. As suggested above, Airmap.io will present the same information over an easy to use map and should probably be more well known.

          Accident Report: http://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/AAR1003.pdf
          CVR Transcription: http://www.exosphere3d.com/pubwww/pdf/flight_1549/ntsb_docket/420526.pdf Page 37
          NOTAMs: http://www.modelaircraft.org/membership/clubs/notams.aspx

  4. Another thing in Amateur radio is the need to identify your license while operating. This included RC aircraft on amateur radio frequencies. I think this should apply to these aircraft so that if someone is operating in prohibited air space this could be used to hold people accountable for their aircraft operations. There are several ways I can think of to implement this so that the general public or FAA/FCC could monitor this with a scanner could identify the aircraft and add gps coordinates along with the callsign.

  5. So, does anyone have any actual statistics for the (I can only assume) insanely high amount of multirotors nearly crashing into airplanes. Or is everyone losing their sh** from the over reporting by the media every other month when some evil person uses a ‘drone’ irresponsibly.

    (I refuse to call hobby multirotors drones. Drones are what the US Gov uses to murder people over seas, anything else is just a glorified toy.)

    1. Honestly all I see here is someone trying to propose a solution (which I’m sure he’d be very willing to sell you) to a problem that doesn’t exist, so that Governments can mandate the sales and make idiots feel good about themselves that they’re being protected.

      So another Pornoscanner, but for quads.

      1. I disagree. I think what’s being proposed is to prevent undue regulation. If people keep endangering aircraft large enough to carry people with their $40-800 quadcopters the government solution will be something like mandatory licensing in order to purchase one. What’s being proposed here is self-regulation to solve the problem — which I think is totally an educational issue.

        1. I find it ridiculous that a $40 quad could do any more damage than an equally weighted bird, which are way more plentiful in nature and we have no governing body keeping them away from aircraft.

          1. Um – yes we do. The FAA puts out bird hazard warnings continually. They’ve got like a big bird strike database that they maintain, and airports actively do habitat management to keep birds away from planes.

          2. >> ColonelPannick said:
            >>I find it ridiculous that a $40 quad could do any more damage than an equally weighted bird

            You must be an engineer.
            A bird will fly off because of the loud noise.
            A Quad ( or the operator) will follow the plane to see whats going on.
            Like most traffic crashes, someone was not paying attention or was intentionally trying to get in the way.

          3. @Don, most bird strikes happen when the aircraft is going too fast for the bird to even hear before it gets hit. I’ve lost count how many strikes I’ve had to clean up after. It’s amazing how much damage a seagull can do to a military fighter.

          4. Damage is a shame, to both the plane and the bird, but none of this is actually causing planes to explode over our heads or crash land at some alarming rate. If it is, I’m baffled as to how the reporting misses them but reports on a cessna that crashed in bumblef*** utah and ended up on my local news across the country.

            So they watch for birds around airports, multirotors are way more obvious. Birds don’t emit 2.4/5.8ghz, and anyone that is flying outside of LoS (which isnt legal anyway afaik) needs two way communication. So it’s easy to keep an eye out for that and warn pilots accordingly the once in a blue moon some idiot is flying near an airstrip. Heck even keep an eye on the drone and watch it land, its not like these things have long battery life.

            A few $1000 quads get destroyed and/or irresponsible owners get fined heavily (and the media makes a similar level circus out of it as the non-event sightings we’ve had) and the problem will self regulate.

          5. Wait, are you saying we should just let people do stupid things until a horrible tragedy happens because of it?

            We’ve *already had* plenty of tragedies in airline flights. We already know what happens when foreign objects get sucked into jet engines. Things blow up. People can die.

            The ‘right’ thing to do for a quadcopter pilot is obvious – stay the hell away from airports. All this article is saying is “hey, it’d be cool if we came up with a way so that the quadcopter did the right thing for us automatically.”

  6. Drones make me yearn for the days of RC aircraft, at least they required brains and maturity, that filtered out most of the fools that now flock to drones.

    Fact is adding more tech won’t deal with idiot or foolish operators who think having a drone gives them the right annoy/spy on people or interfere with flight operations at airports or firefighting.

    I think it’s inevitable that the FAA will come down on the drone industry like a ton of bricks once the drones cause a airplane to crash and kill people. And it will happen, drone operators are getting more aggressive and interfering with flight operations at airports and such.

    Once that happens droning will end up either very tightly regulated or be banned outright for civilians with criminal penalties for those who engage in it.

  7. I just give these solutions two weeks before someone find a way to go over these restrictions. Mostly because it uses an app and someone will find a way to decode the protocol. Then it will be a game between hackers and manufacturers : locking, unlocking, locking etc…

    Interesting article though.

    1. “Then it will be a game between hackers and manufacturers : locking, unlocking, locking etc…”

      That’s not the point, though. The point is to make the quadcopter itself be able to enforce the regulations on its own, so that you can’t claim the entire idea of quadcopters is the problem.

      If you have some app/tool which modifies the quadcopter to get around those restrictions, there’s a clear boundary of blame at that point. Use of the app/tool immediately implies knowledge that there are restrictions on use of the quadcopter, which means you can’t claim ignorance anymore.

  8. I’d like to see the FAA declare a minimum weight for regulations. A paper airplane, after all, is an unpowered glider. By my understanding, they’re within the perview of the new drone regulatiokns.

    The basis and purpose of the FAA regulations is to prevent death and destruction. But there is a certain minimum mass required for any of that to be possible. At masses below that threshold, FAA regulations have no value.

    Drone flights with a take-off mass of less than 500 grams ought to simply be unregulated. Or if not 500 grams, then some other value, but there should be a hard limit.

    1. Completely agreed.

      A few years back (wow, 4 years back… time flies like a banana!) I started to design my own quadcopter. It was a mid-sized unit, weighing a couple of kg fully loaded. Things were working for the most part, but once I saw the completed frame and had some understanding of the danger it posed to myself and others, I shelved the project.

      Now, I am working on a new design for a micro sized quad. It is still in the design phase, but with conservative estimates I should be well under 50g. Something this size / weight is completely different from a mid sized quad in terms of danger, kinetic energy, etc. Any law that lumps this in the same basket as an 11kg DJI octocopter with DSLR camera is completely bonkers.

      What the magic number is, I don’t know… but I would argue something in the neighbourhood of 200 – 500g is about right. Small enough that if it were to fall on your head from 400 feet it would not do any major damage… perhaps we can volunteer our politicians to stand in the middle of a field, to experimentally verify exactly what weight causes permanent damage. ;-)

      1. If your goal is “no damage if it hits you on the head from 400 ft” it’s not size, weight, etc. that will matter. It’s terminal velocity. I mean, obviously a bullet dropped from 400 feet will kill a person, and bullets only weigh tiny fractions of a kilogram.

        But the problem there is that if your goal is safety of the people on the ground, you can’t even do something that simple – if something breaks on the quadcopter and falls down, if it’s aerodynamic enough, you’ve got serious danger involved.

        It’s a similar thing if you’re worried about plane/quadcopter collisions, too: a small quadcopter which strikes a plane in the right way is going to cause a lot of problems, pretty much no matter what.

        1. Its not obvious nor true that a dropped bullet will kill you. it’ll likely break skin and hurt quite a bit, but lethal is unlikely at best.

          The point i believe was that regulations need to be somewhat specific, so that a 6 year old flying a paper airplane isn’t breaking the law.

          1. A falling bullet can kill perfectly fine – it just has to be spinning to avoid tumbling, which if it’s just an uncontrolled drop obviously isn’t going to happen. But that actually gets to the point – you can’t just say “lightweight objects are fine” and expect them to be ‘safe.’

            “The point i believe was that regulations need to be somewhat specific, so that a 6 year old flying a paper airplane isn’t breaking the law.”

            What 6 year old is getting a paper airplane up to 400 feet? Public airspace definitely doesn’t start until well after “paper airplane height.”

            My point is that I really don’t think you can easily say “anything under this limit X is generally safe” until you get down to really, really small stuff. Falling bolts from much smaller heights have injured people.

            Again, however, I think the bigger concern is impact with an aircraft, and in that case you’d probably need a very small drone.

          2. There’s an exact parallel to what I’m talking about in FCC Part 15 regulations. Battery powered devices that are uninteded radiators that operate at no higher than 1.mumble MHz are generally exempt from Part 15’s testing and labeling requirements, because the regulatory burden applied to the likes of IR remote controls and battery operated clock movements would be ridiculous compared to their likelihood for causing harm.

            It’s that sort of thing I’m talking about.

          3. Yes – but the equivalent for “flying objects” isn’t size or mass. It would be flying altitude. If it doesn’t fly over, say, 50 feet high, then it’s fine no matter what.

            The fact that there’s no regulation *right now* for flying things hundreds of feet in the air is actually pretty surprising.

          4. Hey pat., A 6 year old can release a balloon that goes quite a bit higher than 122 meter.
            (And a 10 year old can throw a sizable rock that can bash your head in btw.)

  9. The drone industry has been making money with out paying for the “behind the scenes” regulations that the general public now has to pay for.
    If the drone industry had been self-aware ( not just the jackasses) as to the responsibility’s they should have been in tune with from the very beginning, we would not have this mess and bad blood between the manufactures, the jack asses and the public.
    If government could add the cost of legislation to the cost of every drone manufactured and sold in the country (US only) would this still be a “hobby” ?

    Fireworks had to be legislated because of the few jackasses that started fires or did not care where they launched or landed their fireballs of destruction.
    Now the fireworks manufactures will only sell to licensed fireworks operators.
    Will the drone industry only sell to licensed drone operators, and kill there profitable business model.
    i.e. “get the money and run” model

    Only the manufactures can answer that.
    If they don’t (soon), government will answer for them.

  10. Such a system should not assume cellular coverage – much of the world does not have cell phone coverage (or is covered with analog cellular, which many phones that can run apps do not work with). So provision needs to be made to download and cache the information in the phone.

    Using drone to drone communications gives you the same sorts of problems as V2V – how do you use information sent by untrusted parties.
    (No way of knowing if the other drone is functioning correctly, or intentionally sending misleading information.)

    Hopefully facilities would also be put in place in this system to include other restrictions on flight – for instance drones may interfere with birds or insects, or produce noise pollution. There should be mechanisms to exclude them from rookeries, etc. (Areas that may not have national park status, but may be protected by state or local laws, or by landowners).

    It would be great if such a system were designed so that individual land owners could impose their own flight restrictions over their property. Where is the dividing line between personal property and public airspace? If you fly over my garden at 10 foot – is that public airspace, or trespass? How about at 1 foot? (Anybody happen to know the answer?)

    Those who wish to allow low level flights over their land should be able to say so, and those who do not should likewise be able to indicate that restriction, and have protection (without having to resort to barrage balloons or a shotgun).

    1. ” Where is the dividing line between personal property and public airspace? If you fly over my garden at 10 foot – is that public airspace, or trespass? How about at 1 foot? (Anybody happen to know the answer?)”

      Either of those would definitely be trespassing.

      In the US, the FAA clearly defines public airspace as anything over 500 feet – so technically anyone flying over your property at a lower altitude than that could be considered trespassing. The Supreme Court takes a looser view on that, so it’s not really well defined when you’re going to get into trouble. Lower than 100 feet there’s lots of precedent for it being considered trespassing.

      That really high limit of “public airspace” is actually what is make the quadcopter issue murky right now. If it would get lowered, then the FAA would almost certainly require some sort of licensing/registration to fly in it.

      It’s actually an interesting problem – lower it, and quadcopter pilots can get licensed, and fly lots of places. But then you also start having nuisance issues, because, well, anyone can fly over anyone else’s land. Keep it at 500 feet, and then low-level flights are fine, but only on land you own or have permission to be on – which eliminates a lot of things that people want to do with them.

  11. The responsibilities then follow the abilities. Since the Wright brothers managed to fix the control system for heavier than air flight. The increase in the number of vessels in the air has necessitated the applications of further and further restrictions on the ability for anyone to take to the air; in the effort to achieve the assumed freedom that has been sought by so many since the first person saw and understood what a bird taking flight might mean. As so many before them, what started as an unregulated endeavor pushing the boundaries of human capacity. Will one day, soon enough, end due to the necessary control to limit the abuse of the system created.

    Regulations and restriction will never be embraced by those that would push the boundaries. Violators will however be punishment. An article such as this brings a smile to my face when I consider that so many visitors and readers would so fervently oppose DRM but for a something such as this the argument is presented that there should be restrictions.

    1. “An article such as this brings a smile to my face when I consider that so many visitors and readers would so fervently oppose DRM but for a something such as this the argument is presented that there should be restrictions.”

      There’s no contradiction there, you can be for a specific type of restriction while being against another specific type of restriction.

        1. Thanks for confirming my general refusal to comment on an internet forum. Contradiction? Only the implication of contradiction. Intent was my recognition that the labyrinth of convolutions that is within the concept of Digital Rights Management and the applications of real world rights management. A drone allows the DRM and real world to overlap in the aspect that the control systems of most drones are in the form of digital systems. The application of control of a drone/RC system will likely be through some form of DRM due predominately to the ease of application.

          As for the idea of “propagandized libertarian automaton” I am simultaneously intrigued and disgusted that someone could miss read what was written. In defense “The responsibilities then follow the abilities.” I wouldn’t expect a libertarian to advocate for the application of responsibility through regulation. If you deny my assertions that regulations are not inherently a negative prospect, “Will one day, soon enough, end due to the necessary control to limit the abuse of the system created.” Wouldn’t have believed a phrase that included ‘necessary control’ would lead a person to think of ‘propagandized libertarian automaton’

          Finally to further avoid the miss interpretation of my words simply put: Caution.

          Enacting any form of control should be a very measured a deliberate act. To step quickly could be to repeat the failures evident in other forms regulation and control.

  12. Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now
    [bangs on the table]
    you’re selling it, you wanna sell it.

  13. I agree with some of this…sort of. Yes, the education required previously helped, but more because it filtered out the dipshits that were just interested in a flying joyride.

    The ‘smart era’ has produced a mass of stupid people. I don’t believe in excessive government restrictions, primary reason is that it slows human progress, people need to have to learn to do things, not be restricted so they can’t. That’s not learning, because with restriction, people aren’t limited by developed thinking but simply by what they can’t do, someone will always find a way to get past restrictions, and inevitably those hardware/firmware/software restrictions will be nullified.

    Smart devices should not be made from potentially dangerous devices. Auto-balancing? Sure. Return to home, maybe. The fact of the matter is that despite how smart a device is, no matter how many revisions have been made, the person or people who made it are human, and humans make mistakes, and mistakes with potentially dangerous devices is not a risk that can be taken.

    Let people learn how to do things so that they can do it right.

  14. I consider myself a responsible flyer and would abandon this great hobby if I were required to fit my craft with a device that would limit its function in any way. Automobile drivers don’t have things like this so why should a hobby craft? I would gladly take a test and fit my craft with a transponder if it meant no more further regulations. The rules and regulations that already exist are sufficient. There just needs to be real consequences (think fines) for those who ignore them.

      1. The most significant speed limiters are those attached to electric bicylcles, this is not a safety feature, instead it is a restriction imposed at the behest of lobyist’s working on behalf of the automobile industry to keep roads the exclusive precinct of the petrol vehicles.

        The drone industry would love to have expensive machinery required for drones to keep small startup companies out of the drone business.

    1. >> There just needs to be real consequences (think fines) for those who ignore them.

      So people who buy and fly drones need to register their craft and (say) licenses (drivers license) with the local police.
      If their craft ends up where it should not be or hurts someone, you can be found and help accountable.

      Current regulations do not include this, want to start the process by registering today ?

    2. “Automobile drivers don’t have things like this so why should a hobby craft?”

      What in the heck are you talking about?

      In most states, cars have to meet plenty of specs to be drivable on roads. They have to meet safety specs, emission specs, etc. The fact that you can slapdash throw together something and fly it around is pretty unique to quadcopters. The entire point of the article is that if you don’t take care to protect that, you’ll lose it.

      1. Sorry.. Let me break it down to you like a little child.. Automobiles aren’t fit with throttle limiters that force you to obey the speed limits. Automobiles aren’t fitted with GPS units that are forced to brake when you enter a “restricted” area based on a database entry.

        “The entire point of the article is that if you don’t take care to protect that, you’ll lose it.” – I agree with that statement but I disagree with the articles solution. The solution is to educate, not regulate.

        1. “Automobiles aren’t fit with throttle limiters that force you to obey the speed limits. Automobiles aren’t fitted with GPS units that are forced to brake when you enter a “restricted” area based on a database entry.”

          That’s because I’m pretty sure that GPS wasn’t around when regulations for cars were developed. Scary to think what would have happened if it was.

          But cars are restricted on lots of things – including what tires you can use on roads, and that *is* pretty comparable to restrictions on a quadcopter being able to fly above a certain altitude limit. And vehicles with lesser safety standards (e.g. mopeds) do have engine size restrictions.

          “I agree with that statement but I disagree with the articles solution. The solution is to educate, not regulate.”

          Well, any solution which depends on people learning something is going to have to be regulated (e.g. driver’s licenses) due to the article’s aforementioned jackassery. I think the article’s solution is just trying to *avoid* that by allowing the devices themselves to be educated, thus keeping quadcopters available to just about anyone. I don’t think it’s really a ‘regulation’ idea – more to avoid future regulation by showing that the devices can do a good enough job by themselves.

          … That being said, allowing just about anyone to fly a quadcopter might be the problem in the first place.

        2. Isn’t it the case will all things, a few screw it up for the majority !
          Since the manufactures can not stop those few and
          will not give up a sale to those same few,
          the rest will have regulations.

  15. “The problem is that along with taking training out of the process of flying a drone, we inadvertently also took out the education process of learning about safe and responsible flight.”

    Yeah, thank god no ones trying to do the same with guns or even sniper rifles hu?

  16. All this sky net bs is limited by people allowing regulation to happen. Try and find the guy flying his drone. It’s not exactly that easy. Hobby parts are everywhere. The only way this will stop people is by manufacturer’s not making the parts.

      1. >> ColonelPannick says:
        >>Easy, it has to land. “Hey Jim bring round the party van, I’ll keep an eye on this thing with the binoculars.”

        And if after some sort of accident, the owner of said craft justs dumps it so as to not get caught ( be held responsible ) .
        What then ??

        Yes, those responsible will follow the laws.
        Those i-responsible will find way to circumvent those laws.
        Those are the ones the laws are written for.

        Which one are you ?

        1. >>What then ??
          For starts they’re out every penny that’s been put into the hardware. Any quad large enough to do damage and fly high is serious money for most people and it is in their best interest to not lose it, including the sd card filming the flight, and likely themselves during take off. So while not a fine it’s for starts financially damaging. Then there’s the huge mental burden that would drive anyone less than a complete psychopath insane. Tack on the large media circus surrounding it, and everyone who knows they own(ed) a multirotor questioning the suddenly missing craft. Even if this fictional individual is a hermit with no friends and never gets caught it still demonstrates to other unaware hobbyists that you can easily get screwed over by being stupid. And honestly, someone willing to fly their craft dangerously to get some footage of a wildfire or airport or tennis match is the same type that is posting their exploits to X social media site/forum for the attention.. they’re going to get caught more often than not.

          Laws aren’t written for those who will follow them.. All additional regulation and force technological hurdles will do is kill an otherwise innocent hobby for people who have IQ points, and be one more thing to ignore for the idiots that cause trouble.

          I personally am somewhere in between, the idea of registering every flight with your location in some database is disgusting and any hardware I own wont have it or any other mandated BS. But I’m also not a moron flying near my local airports or at distances past LoS.

  17. So you implement a height above ground restriction… then someone who wants to fly his new quad inside his 15th floor apartment finds it won’t turn on due to restricted airspace.

    What about indoor FPV racing? Going to have a crash corner where competitors can’t fly because an inaccurately defined geofence line crosses through the middle of the empty warehouse the course is in?

    Will the FAA have to establish regulations for components to be used indoors or for defined racing areas only, like the EPA and DOT do for some vehicle parts that are for off-road or competition use only?

    Restrictions for height and location would end up as a very large database if every building space above the general local height restriction has to be precisely mapped. If all indoor use is unrestricted in complete outdoor interdiction zones, such as around airports, that’s even more data. I turn a deaf ear to the whiners who buy less expensive houses near airports then bitch about the noise, but if they want to fly a quad in their living room or garage… a simple blanket no-flying at all zone ain’t right.

    Give the ability to any organization and we’ll have Homowner’s Associations (deity forbid I ever end up living in a place covered by a HOA) deciding to add radio controlled aircraft bans over their areas of collective dictatorship. Many of those arseholes ban flying the American flag, why not quadrotors too?

  18. I think the “natural” panout of this knowing how government works, would be registration of purchase of ready to fly drones and certification of pilots wishing to fly further with heavier multirotors. The whole discourse between manufacturers and regulators origins from the fact that the manufacturers believe that technology can be made foolproof. As it is, GPS isn’t foolproof, neither is failsafe algorithms. Regulations, as they are now are for limiting the number of accidents and consequences of pilot error by limiting how and where you can fly, it’s not based on technological failsafes.

    Switzerland made new rules last year specifying maximum kinetic energy for unregulated craft (equivalent to a 90 grams quadcopter dropping from maximum altitude with no props), larger ones needs certification of pilot and aircraft.

    No matter how strictly regulations will be imposed, neither smugglers or lone wolf types will be discouraged. The fact that multirotor parts can be bought easily, inconspicuously and cheaply online, just makes that part of the argumentation laughable. An international ban on autonomous navigation technology is not a realistic solution either, as knowledge is out there already.

    4 years ago an activist flew a RC micro helicopter with a strap-on in circles around Kasparov’s head at a press conference in Russia (link below). I think that was a wakeup call for authorities and the source of the terrorist scare argument, even if the event possible was staged by Putin supporters?

    Throwing a balloon with paint at a politician, or dropping it from a multirotor is equally illegal and should be so, no more no less.

    I’m seriously considering joining a RC club, not for a place to fly my quad, but for supporting the “good faith” community in the hobby.


  19. Nice article and smooth bio chris!

    I recently watched in astonishment as a pair of elderly men set their brand new drone flying mere steps away from myself and a group of friends, who were seated, having lunch at a park bench in a popular tourist destination. It was rather windy and a gust took the drone towards our group narrowly missing the back of a friends head. It was particularly frightening given it was a rather large quadcopter beast with very solid looking props. They did not acknowledge any of us or appologise for the interruption.

    I took great satisfaction in watching them send the drone up very high, until it could not be seen and then hearing its buzz dissapear as the wind took it far away. I doubt they would have ever retrieved it as it was headed for a dense/impenetrable forest that did not appear acessible by road.

    I guess it it was drone karma :)

  20. The only real concern from my viewpoint is invasion of privacy and noise pollution and annoyance..
    As for physical danger, I think that maybe near some power distribution places they might do something unfortunate, but it would be an incredible coincidence if they manage to get in just the right spot at the right time and be at a poorly maintained or designed place.. But a small drone can’t really harm an airliner or many other things the news – and some people – try to pretend are in danger.

    The good thing though is that drones distract certain types and politicians from them engaging in destroying the internet instead, because they are engaged with complaining about drones :)

  21. This eliminates the possibility of (or at least drastically raise the cost of) making your own drone.

    All that really needs to happen is to raise the cost of screwing up. Look in someones windows or at their daughters sunbathing in their backyard? Get arrested for peeping tom, Forfeit the craft. Private property should have a minimum 100 – 200 ft. no fly zone. period Fly in a restricted airspace? $25,000 fine. Hit an aircraft? $500,000 fine + one year of prison. Drop one into a crowd? $250,000 fine plus the resulting lawsuits. You don’t want to take the chance? RTFM! Research before you fly. Make damn sure this is on big letters on every box. Make sure it’s written up on every DIY forum.

    Make damn sure the first idiots to screw up get splashed everywhere – news, social media whatever.

    Yes this is a legal system, big brother solution but most of the time these things have to be.

      1. hahaha, just what I was thinking. this country was built on freedom, but more and more corrupt politicians and biased media has made it ‘Panem et circum.’

        -For anyone who hasn’t heard of /panem et circum/, it was the motto of the Roman Senate, meaning ‘bread and circus.’ the philosophy that you can have complete control of a a civilian body if you give them food and entertainment.

  22. I’m an amateur radio operator, or ham. I proposed awhile ago to the AMA that they work with the FAA to put in a similar licensing system for airborne RC devices. Getting a ham license is not a big hassle for someone interested in doing so. Neither would a RC license. I do have a quad that I built at a class held by the TXRX makerspace in Houston. I know the challenge it is to fly one.

    Identifying a flyer who misbehaves is a challenge. One approach might be to have the transmitter when linked to a receiver embed an identifying code. A receive found after an incident could be read to determine the transmitter. On purchase the transmitter is registered to the owner. You now have the flyer who caused the incident.

    Are their gaps in this solution? Yes, just as their are gaps in ham licensing. It sometimes takes quite an effort to locate an illegal radio transmitter and sometimes it is not possible.

    A solution like this would not harm the RC hobby as it is known today. It will harm the manufactures because they can no longer ship 10,000 units to Walmart.

  23. Chris, you neglected to mention property rights: that “immediate reaches airspace” layer the property-owner owns and exclusively controls per the Supreme Court in US v. Causby (1946). The article gives an impression that all drones would be geofenced to low altitudes over the same “map” of forbidden flight regions, which is inconsistent with any sort of land-owner property rights extending to even modest reach above the ground. Of course, FAA and other government entities need to recognize property rights also — allowing laws of the land to extend into the low-altitude sky (trespass, disorderly conduct, etc.).

    Small airports may also become an asset for sUAS operations in the long-term – not something to notch out. In fact, very small airports with few cash inflow opportunities from GA may ultimately survive because of commercial sUAS support should we actually converge upon a regulatory model that supports this possibility. Most GA pilots at least should understand this comment.

    A cloud-based solution also needs to be sensitive to these issues as well as issues in cybersecurity…

    I enjoyed the article – thanks.

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