You Might Want To Buy A Quadcopter Now

NBC News has reported the US Government may implement regulations in the coming days that would require anyone who buys an unmanned aircraft system to register that device with the US Department of Transportation.

The most simplistic interpretation of this news is that anyone with a DJI Phantom or a model aircraft made out of Dollar Tree foam board would be required to license their toys. This may not be the case; the FAA – an agency of the US DoT – differentiates between unmanned aircraft systems and model aircraft.

This will most likely be the key thing to watch out for in any coming regulation. The FAA defines model aircraft as, “an unmanned aircraft that is capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere; flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and flown for hobby or recreational purposes.” Additionally, the FAA may not make any regulations for model aircraft. While this means planes and quads flown without FPV equipment may be left out of this regulation, anything flown ‘through a camera’ would be subject to regulation.

79 thoughts on “You Might Want To Buy A Quadcopter Now

  1. I notice they are looking at implementing a “virtual fence”, where the flight controller module checks the GPS of the craft to see if they are going to fly into restricted zones or above ceiling heights and either changes course or shuts downs the aircraft. So you would need to have a GPS compliant device with an ability to connect to a wireless network for “real-time” flight restrictions for “fencing”. I’m guessing a registration or license would be needed to allow access to the FAA node that would handle that, at a charge of course. You would also need to implement the software in an “open standard” – I mean Government open standard of course – so, I’m pretty sure that software won’t work.

      1. Interesting, but how can they force the drone to land just by jamming it? Is that a safety measure built in every drone firmware so that it doesn’t go around uncontrolled in case it loses the link?

          1. Probably the next step against these countermeasures will be a counter-counter-measure that in case of jamming will instruct the drone to quickly jump to a safe altitude where the jam signal can’t reach it, before attempting contact again with the base.
            Will the rulers then mandate closed source firmware blobs to prevent people from buying unstoppable drones?

            That gun has a weak point though: it doesn’t fry the drone electronics with a huge EMP killing it, but rather it forces it into a safe landing – this is why the operator follows the drone, otherwise it would escape as soon as the signal is unjammed by pointing the gun elsewhere, so it can be beaten by numbers. A swarm of a dozen drones would cost a fraction of a dozen soldiers equipped with that gun. Even assuming the enemy can get as many guns and personnel as the number of attacking drones, one of them could survive the attack and act alone or help the others nearby just by reapeating the base link using mesh networking. Its signal would be much stronger than the base one (inverse square law, etc) and harder to jam. I think we are seeing some interesting development in the future.

          2. @qwerty

            Assuming the guy jamming your quad is somewhat near the pilot, increasing your altitude will not make the pilot’s signal any stronger than the jamming signal

        1. As I understand it, a lot of the commercially available units have a standardized communications system, and maybe use the same chip sets and similar software. I’m betting that at some point someone will figure out how to spoof the original signal and overlay it with their own commands. Like a lot of industries first coming up – I bet they didn’t concentrate on digital security so much. So, while you could overpower a signal at a given frequency if known to block it, you could send commands to it to hi-jack the unit. I bet that the Government has such a handheld unit available right now similar to the StingRay they use for tracking cell phones – that was a fairly guarded secret for a long time. Just as they most likely have back doors into most OS’s for remote access. Unless you rolled your own software and protocol chip set – it might be vulnerable. It seems to me there was an article just recently on something like that here on Hackaday.

    1. Not to mention its a flawed concept overall, and won’t stop anyone who wants to cause harm. Sure, it will stop idiot phantom owners, but as anyone who’s flown a gps-enabled quad will tell you its a crap shoot how accurate it is- multicopters are basically flying rf emitters.

  2. I would like more comments on this! A lot of European countries are sadly waiting for the US to set a framework on how to regulate UAV’s. How it’s implemented will have an effect in Europe also.

    1. Already is, for commercial use the pilot needs to have a pilots license, the aircraft must be registered and insured and so on…pretty much like a normal aircraft, just smaller (a a LOT cheaper, especially the running cost). If you exceed certain limits of the flight area, you have to communicate with ATC as well.

      Amateur use seems to have a weight limit (20kg) after which you have to do the same as commercial.

  3. So folded paper planes are ok, as long as you can keep line of sight until “landing”. Drawing a pilot or passengers behind those windows makes it a manned aircraft, in which case you need the draw a pilot licence in the cockpit as well. Pretty soon rubber-band interplanetary paper planes are to only thing not needing registration.

    1. Erm, no. A drawing of a pilot and/or passengers does not make a model plane manned. Further a folded paper plane isn’t capable of sustained flight so it doesn’t even qualify as a model aircraft. What this is about is regulating unmanned aircraft that either fly by themselves or by a remote pilot viewing through a camera. Model aircraft that are capable of either of those two lose the right to be regulated (i.e. very little in the way of rules) as models.

  4. How would this policy apply to people who build their own? Does a quadcopter kit count? Will it be like firearms where the most specialized part (usually the receiver) is defined as the legal entitiy? What about a UAV built completely from scratch including custom (perhaps open-source) PCB(s)?

    Never mind, actually. I’ve read enough firearm and copyright legislation to know that the real answer is *probably* going to be that the result is an overly-broad mess that entirely ignores that possibility, and in practice what is allowed will depend on how the authorities decide to selectively enforce it.

    Oh well =/

    1. Like many ideas the government tries to implement, it works on paper but in the real world it fails miserably. I highly doubt they will regulate RC parts. These things aren’t killing people. Yet.

      All the government needs to do is follow the route they took with HAM radios. License it. Give people different tiers of privelege. ANY aircraft under a certain weight flown by radio, outdoors, must have at least a class 1. Awarding a class 2 license would give you the right to fly beyond line of sight, however you choose to operate the craft (video, autonomous, etc). Class 3 would award you the right to a bump in weight, and the right to fly for commercial reasons. This would mean offering services such as filmography or search and rescue type scenarios. RC operators may only fly into controlled airspace under special circumstances when approved by the control tower of that airspace. This means basically all controlled airspace is a no fly zone. No RC operators may operate 5,000 feet above the ground. No RC craft may fire a projectile. I could go on and on…

      Tl;dr: offer a licensing system like the HAMs have successfully used for decades.

      1. the problem that I could see with this implementation is enforcement, with amateur radio is much easier than with drones. it is really easy to find illegal transmitters, all the FCC and other hobbyists need to do is turn on their radios. Drones on the other hand are much more isolated, and the FAA or any hobbiest association akin to the ARRL would never have the resources to locate fliers who are acting irresponsibly before they are caught by police or other authorities. This doesn’t mean that to legally operate a drone, having people sit down to take a simple test showing awareness of regulations would be a bad idea, just that the ones who do not want to do that (probably the ones who are being stupid and flying near airport an such in the first place) would never be caught until it was too late.

      2. When acting as on behalf of a corporation, it’s perfectly understandable to be subject to regulation – they are a fiction that exists because the government created them. Persons, on the otherhand, are natural and exist with or without the government, and it’s my view that they have no justification to create and enforce such regulations within he constitution. As well it should be noted that the government did not create the atmosphere, so there’s no ours-yours investment distinction to be drawn.

        I’m sure the lemmings will come out for this, but for personal matters that don’t hurt others, governments need to step away. They will say, “if government didn’t regulate who could fly, we would have plane crashes!” Well, guess what? They regulate, and we have plane crashes. A dear relative of mine, a highly accomplished pilot, died in a plane crash fully in compliance with FAA regulations; I know what it’s like to lose someone to the harsh realities of gravity.

        Now, if private flyers were to suddenly be free to fly, suddenly everyone is going to get in a plane and go crash everywhere? Nope. Liberty may be an alien idea to your average lemming, but most people don’t use it to kill themselvs and others. “But terrorists!” they say; yeah, psychopaths can and have easily maneuvered regulation. That doesn’t mean that you should tie everyone else’s hands.

        I say, go ahead and regulate the companies. If they are operating under any legal protection of the government (where companies, rather than individuals are liable), they are definitely subject to regulation of the same. But leave the rest of us alone.

    2. I’m not a US citizen but AFAIK in the US any good person can scratch build a one-off plane to be inspected, qualified, and legally registered as an experimental plane. Same goes to guns, but guns are bit different because ownership and access is more important than establishing identity.

  5. Every radio you buy must be FCC approved, however you can still buy unlicensed “subassemblies” and build a functional radio for experimental or hobby use. I imagine the regulations will end up similar for hobby UAS.

  6. I’m sure the feds will abuse this. I can just see it now.. someone flies a UAV into some restricted airspace, then they bust down the door of the nearest civilian who legally registered one, blame them and jail them.

  7. I can just see it now.. everyone has to register their toy UAVs, then some unregistered tard flies into some restricted airspace, then the feds track down the nearest registered user and bust down their door / taze them / shoot them / jail them.. then rinse and repeat.

  8. In this hobby we get a few bad apples, like the guy flying around the White House that ruin it for the rest of the RC community . I will keep flying as long as I still can. It’s like guns. Guns don’t kill people, People kill People. A 8 pound Quad in the wrong hands, You could do damage. I guess next will be carpenters have to register their Nail hammers..

    1. Guns don’t kill people, People kill People.

      Yes, but isn’t that why you try and keep guns away from people? Only let people with need or purpose of good moral character and sufficient training handle them?

      1. You could argue the same with kitchen knives. Would you want to prove you have legitimate need for a nice set of them? They’re used to kill people all the time, yet everybody has them.

        Really, if somebody is hell bent on killing someone, they’re gonna do it irrespective of what the law says. Treating everybody like a criminal because something can be used by a criminal makes no sense given the already low violent crime rate.

        1. You’re saying that having a gun is as necessary as a good set of kitchen knifes. That analogy does not work. At all.

          Also yeah, the crime rate is lower than it was years ago, but why not try to reduce it further? It’s definitely not zero. There is plenty of violent crime.

          1. No, I’m saying that you shouldn’t need to justify why you are buying or possess something beyond reasonable measures like proving you’re an upstanding citizen with no criminal history. You shouldn’t have to prove you absolutely need something if it’s unlikely you in particular intend to do something evil with it. This is how hobbies get killed, doesn’t matter if it’s quadcopters, target shooting, or anything else for that matter.

            And to be clear, I do not own any firearms. It just kills me when folks try and ban things because of the actions of a small group of idiots that should be dealt with directly.

        2. Yes, if you’re carrying a set of kitchen knives down the street, you need a good reason (being a chef enroute to work, having just bought them, going to a friend to cook lunch…), or it’s illegal in the UK, you’re carrying a weapon.

    2. People that buy Ready to Fly drones are not the RC community. If you are model aircraft flyer and you build drone yourself you would never be dumb enough to fly it over crowd to record a concert.
      The distinction is lately very obvious. On provisional managed events you sea drone LEDs flying around the concert area where you can see amateurs(mostly parot drones) fly directly over the crowd sometimes even low enough to be knocked out of the sky by a beer throw.
      If requiring a licence for drone operation is enough to prevent seeing this things fly over crowds at major events then I am all for it. Even if it costs money.

  9. This might work out in a good way; people that want something they strap their iPhone onto and start stalking people for YouTube prank videos will need to jump through hoops and maybe just give up on the way and those of us that can count to 10 without needing to use our hands can continue to buy cheap parts from hobbyking etc.

  10. The honest people “might register” but the guy that wants to do what ever, he is going to do it anyway. Think about it would you register a Quad than fly over Government property. (NFW) But the rest of us will pay the price for those that screw up. I hate regulating things I enjoy.

  11. Ugh, more stupid laws where none are needed. The government needs to keep its stupid, fat, greedy fingers out of hobby flight.
    These are no different than model the helicopters that have been flying since before real ones actually took flight (the autogyro, which predates the helicopter but operates on the same principals but with an unpowered rotor, was first flown as a model). Why do we need new laws now? Nothing has changed except the ridiculous use of the word “drone” to describe quad-copters.

    1. Nothing has changed except everything has changed.

      I see drones all over now. Any place scenic. Watch youtube and you’ll see them being flown miles out of sight. Half the people i talk to have seen a drone fly by.

      You know how many rc helicopters i saw? One. Ever.

    2. From my understanding is, that the hobby has become more popular and a lot easier to get started. Flying a helicopter is harder than flying a multirotor.

      With the era of action cams people are making fuss regarding their privacy and youtube.

      I do understand that there should be some rules as you don’t want a 3lb object falling on you (

      Anyway, it looks like IR Tx/Rx is the way to go with all the ‘drone’ jammers lately.

        1. Yes they are more dangerous, but their operators are far more mature than your average drone operator who have caused the Feds to come down on drones because of repeated dangerous behavior at airports and fire fighting scenes.

          Not the mention the bad reputation you guys generate with the public to the point people want to shoot down your obnoxious toys and punch out the lights of the drone operators.

          I do see another result besides the Feds getting involved and that is drone jammers, They will become the next big thing in tools that people will need to maintain their privacy against airborne peeping toms.

          1. He’s choosing to focus on the technical and ignoring the practical. You could make the same argument about pointed sticks.

            Pointed sticks have been around forever, kids have been playing with them for thousands of years.

            But it’s not until, for some reason, pointed sticks become a sensation – a YouTube video or a meme spreading an idea father and faster than was previously happening, which results in kids going out and gathering sticks and sharpening them and resulting in an environment where now we have the potential for massive issues as a result of all these armed children who accident trip and impale each other and poke their eyes out that we feel the need to make a rule about carrying sticks everywhere.

            Large numbers mean that previously unlikely things are now likely, so a niche hobbey becoming a sensation means there will be new laws to regulate all the smart and very very dumb people that are in this trend.

          2. Name some things reputable multicopter users have done to generate bad reputation?

            The only way to block RC vehicle transmissions would basically be to flood the 2.4GHz spectrum. There goes wifi. And RC can move to other frequencies as well.

    3. Thing is that proliferation of cheap gyros and microcomputers made n-copters fairly noob-proof, also li-po batteries and brushless motors enable them to fly high and far…

      All that means that unlike with a traditional helicopter model, which requires a fair amount of skill to fly, was fairly expensive and LOS only, the n-copters can be bought by people who know nothing about no-fly zones and flown straight into an airport…needless to say that a mid-air collision of a jetliner with a drone would be bad…

      1. No worse than a mid-air collision with a goose.

        Flying hobby aircraft into an airport or similarly restricted area is already against the law and the only scenarios I find challenging are wildfire zones and search-and-rescue situations. (Of which I wonder what the percentages are for paparazzi/free-lance journalists looking to make a buck vs hobbyists.

        But in the end- it’ll be like everything else the government tries to enforce- 18 pages of sub-sections that are still subject to legal manuvering and won’t be read by the politicians voting to cover what could be addressed with a paragraph of common-sense.

    4. I disagree I believe that laws and regulation on drones is becoming necessary.One of these days drones are going to cause issues especially when their is thousands in private ownership.We are better off enforcing laws now and not wait for them for the Government to ban them entirely.For the Drone Movement to stay alive it needs to be able to flex around public opinion if not it will just disappear.

      1. Problem is that they (and you) are using the proliferation of small budget out-of-the-box quads to regulate an industry that is just taking its first steps and leaving the people that truly innovate out in the cold.

        Poor legislation will kill the hobby market and restrict grass-roots innovation.

    1. Or 3D printers! Most quads use lighter/weaker parts than a normal gun, so printed plastic is totally usable.

      I’d guess the electronics would be more restricted, since they’re harder to manufacture in one’s own house.

      1. My quadcopter is a custom 3d printed folding 550mm quad running an APM system. I could make all of that from parts that would look like a bag of electronics from china. I see no way of them regulating scratch builds effectively, nor should they. The issue is the morons that go out and swipe their credit card for a Phantom, and then take it out somewhere and fly confidently…OVER confidently. Those are the guys causing 99% of the problems.

  12. I have one and when my buddy saw it he said, “If I catch that in my backyard I’m gunna …”. I had to interrupt and inform him he is not special enough for me to be flying in ANY backyard other than my own. Some people hate the sound, feel like they are being spied on and more. The truth is you are already captured on video more than you know and if one was so inclined to rent or use a manned aerial vehicle they could record video all day long of you in your backyard and in more than one spectrum.

    The reason a law will be passed is for pissing off the wrong people who can get things legislated, plain ignorance, and the ability to record data in the electromagnetic spectrum (for good or bad). Just look at the Texas laws and you will see who gets the exception to using these type of air vehicles.

    (main reason for a law, 2012)
    1.) I had read an article about a Dallas guy flying his UAV and found blood in a river, followed it back up stream and reported to officials. The meat plant accused him of trespassing but the meat plant was hit with EPA violations.

    (example of ignorance, you can search for more)
    2.) UAV hits a plane in flight


      gues which one is true:
      -this video is totally legit, 747 was flying at 70mph, this is why we saw 10 frames of 30fps video showing over 2 meter diameter drone travel ~10 meters
      -this is a FAKE VIDEO, and you couldnt ‘tell by some of the pixels’

      but I agree, this clip is a GREAT EXAMPLE OF IGNORANCE

  13. RE: pointing a laser into the sky is illegal… (to down a drone)

    buuut, ONLY if said laserbeam propagates into airspace andor space occupied by real aircraft, ie airspace not owned by property owner

    which means it MIGHT still be legal to shoot lasers into the atmosphere to shoot down drones IF and only IF said laser is activated AFTER it is precisely aimed and it is shut off BEFORE it can penetrate the craft and travel past it into real airspace (andor airspace occupied by real aircraft)

    ditto for shooting down drones flying waaayyy up in “real” airspace.
    then again, if a drone was that high up you probably wouldnt notice it anyway.

    destruction of government property?
    how about it announces it is the police like the law already requires,
    otherwise it’s break-and-enter or unlawful-entry, both illegal

    PS: never shoot down a drone unless you are standing-by with a class-D fire extinguisher aka metal-fire-extinguisher.

  14. My take is this. We need a redefinition of “sustained” flight. A common chain store toy with a 10 minute max flight time should hardly qualify as sustained. A large unit with flight times over ten minutes may. The line of sight regulation will be the most used in any case. A camera on the unit is fine, until it is used to fly with out eyes on the device. That’s when there is a possibility of catastrophic things happening. I am also quite surprised that I don’t see a mention of implementing an elevation cap. You can be sure that there will also be quite draconian consequences implemented for operation that impedes emergency response(fire, police and medical). When common sense doesn’t prevail, the law steps in, usually with over the top responses to help prod people back toward common sense.

  15. a virtual fence could be circumvented by sabotaging the gps module by shorting the signal output to ground or cutting the gps antenna.

    the better way is to mandate all rc radios to work in a standard government issued frequency range and then the no fly zones just broadcast on and sweep that frequency range with a few hundred feet barrier from no fly zones so the signal would be lost and drone falls to ground

    you can see an example get a verbot transmitter i think it transmitts on 49.860 mhz just like any radio controlled car from time period.

    then start making noise into the microphone (yes the verbot transmitter is a microphone) and have some drive the car towards you and you will notice the car will stop working or act up when it is near you..

    ok if no fly zones did the same effect they could stop the drones.

    1. I think it was a question more of compliance for legitimate pilots. Anyone that has some basic electronics most likely could circumvent this system like that or doing something similar to what you are talking about, even running your own control software pretty much does that. The issue is of controlling most of them that would follow the rules, and then handling the rest as illegal. Unlike many RC fliers where they have a field with basic dimensions and fly within sight, they needed a way to handle the both legitimate and illegal users of the technology that allows them to fly out-of-sight. Depending on where you are in the country – that could be very difficult, such as around private or commercial air fields and their flight paths – which may change, or around military installations, or for that matter any controlled installations – Nuclear for example. I would like to say “while not inconveniencing the user” is part of that – but it won’t have any bearing on the decision when they finally make it I don’t believe.

  16. Congress is full of idiots (too obvious?)
    And anyone that thinks passing a law will help anything is either a moron or at least misinformed.
    No law ever passed ever helped anybody with anything. Ever. It’s the enforcement of a law which makes a difference, if any. It’s like noticing that there are tons of people speeding down a particular street, and thinking a solution will be to lower the speed limit or erect a bunch of one-way signs or something. If people are ignoring signs, what difference can it make to change the sign? If they gave tickets to speeders, then folks will change.

    So passing a law banning quadcopters won’t help a dang thing. And the BIG problem I see is that this trivial law, which is unnecessary in the first place, will more than likely cause a LOT more problems than it will ever solve. Kind of like the “war on drugs” which has proven to be (and continues to be) a complete failure and enormous drain on society. If folks are flying into planes, peeping or creating a dangerous situation with their quadcopters, then they are ALREADY BREAKING LAWS!!! Am I the ONLY person who can see this????? So people who are causing grief can more than likely be prosecuted for being stupid already !!! A new law restricting a lot of fun for tame citizens who thoughtfully exercise their freedom to pursue a little happiness is unnecessary and will more than likely be a source for abuse of enforcement bureaus, period.

    If someone is bothering you by flying their quadcopter recklessly and dangerously close to non-participants, then get them busted. There are already laws on the books for that. If you don’t like them for the noise, then call the wahmbulance – I don’t like to hear your lawnmower and leaf blower for six hours straight either. Also, the batteries last typically five minutes and maybe up to 15 minutes. Just wait until the next commercial break and you can rest your ears.

    Holy cow. The thinking that comes out of people these days. I just don’t know.

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