Will Drones and Planes be Treated as Equals by FAA?

Soon, perhaps even by the time you read this, the rules for flying remote-controlled aircraft in the United States will be very different. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is pushing hard to repeal Section 336, which states that small remote-controlled aircraft as used for hobby and educational purposes aren’t under FAA jurisdiction. Despite assurances that the FAA will work towards implementing waivers for hobbyists, critics worry that in the worst case the repeal of Section 336 might mean that remote control pilots and their craft may be held to the same standards as their human-carrying counterparts.

Section 336 has already been used to shoot down the FAA’s ill-conceived attempt to get RC pilots to register themselves and their craft, so it’s little surprise they’re eager to get rid of it. But they aren’t alone. The Commercial Drone Alliance, a non-profit association dedicated to supporting enterprise use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), expressed their support for repealing Section 336 in a June press release:

Basic ‘rules of the road’ are needed to manage all this new air traffic. That is why the Commercial Drone Alliance is today calling on Congress to repeal Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, and include new language in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act to enable the FAA to regulate UAS and the National Airspace in a common sense way.

With both the industry and the FAA both pushing lawmakers to revamp the rules governing small remote-controlled aircraft, things aren’t looking good for the hobbyists who operate them. It seems likely those among us with a penchant for airborne hacking will be forced to fall in line. But what happens then?

Continue reading “Will Drones and Planes be Treated as Equals by FAA?”

FAA Finalizes Rules For Drones, UAS, and Model Aircraft

The FAA and DOT have finalized their rules for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, or drones), and clarified rules for model aircraft. This is the end of a long process the FAA undertook last year that has included a registry system for model aircraft, and input from members of UAS and model aircraft industry including the Academy of Model Aeronautics and 3D Robotics.

Model Aircraft

Since the FAA began drafting the rules for unmanned aircraft systems, it has been necessary to point out the distinction between a UAS and a model aircraft. Thanks to the amazing advances in battery, brushless motor, and flight controller technology over the past decade, the line between a drone and a model aircraft has been fuzzed, and onboard video systems and FPV flying have only blurred the distinction.

The distinction between a UAS and model aircraft  is an important one. Thanks to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012, the FAA, “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” under certain conditions. These conditions include aircraft flown strictly for hobby or recreational use, operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines (read: the safety guidelines set by the Academy of Model Aeronautics), weighs less than 55 pounds, gives way to manned aircraft, and notifies the operator of an airport when flown within five miles of a control tower.

Despite laws enacted by congress, the FAA saw it necessary to create rules and regulations for model aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, and operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines. The FAA’s drone registration system doesn’t make sense, and there is at least one pending court case objecting to these rules.

The FAA’s final rules for UAS, drones, and model airplanes change nothing from the regulations made over the past year. If your drone weighs more than 250 grams, you must register it. For model aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems conducting ‘hobbyist operations’, nothing has changed.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

The finalized rule introduced today concerns only unmanned aircraft systems weighing less than 55 pounds conducting non-hobbyist operations. The person flying the drone must be at least 16 years old and hold a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. This remote pilot certificate may be obtained by passing an aeronautical knowledge test, or by holding a non-student Part 61 pilot certificate (the kind you would get if you’d like to fly a Cessna on the weekends)

What this means

Under the new regulations, nothing for model aircraft has changed. The guys flying foam board planes will still have to deal with a registration system of questionable legality.

For professional drone pilots – those taking aerial pictures, farmers, or pilots contracting their services out to real estate agents – the situation has vastly improved. A pilot’s license is no longer needed for these operations, and these aircraft may be operated in class G airspace without restriction. Drone use for commercial purposes is now possible without a pilot’s license. This is huge for many industries.

These rules do not cover autonomous flight. This is, by far, the greatest shortcoming of the new regulations. The most interesting applications of drones and unmanned aircraft is autonomous flight. With autonomous drones, farmers could monitor their fields. Amazon could deliver beer to your backyard. There are no regulations regarding autonomous flight from the FAA, and any business plans that hinge on pilot-less aircraft will be unrealized in the near term.

DJI Phantoms are now ‘drones’

This is a quick aside, but I must point out the FAA press release was written by someone with one of two possible attributes. Either the author of this press release paid zero attention to detail, or the FAA has a desire to call all unmanned aircraft systems ‘drones’.

The use of the word ‘drone’ in the model aircraft community has been contentious, with quadcopter enthusiasts making a plain distinction between a DJI Phantom and a Predator drone. Drones, some say, have the negative connotation of firing hellfire missiles into wedding parties and killing American citizens in foreign lands without due process, violating the 5th amendment. Others have classified ‘drones’ as having autonomous capability.

This linguistic puzzle has now been solved by the FAA. In several places in this press release, the FAA equates ‘unmanned aircraft systems’ with drones, and even invents the phrase, ‘unmanned aircraft drone’. Language is not defined by commenters on fringe tech blogs, it is defined by common parlance. Now the definition of ‘drone’ is settled: it is an unmanned, non-autonomous, remote-controlled flying machine not flown for hobby or recreational use.

Hackaday Links: December 27th, 2015

PCBs can be art – we’ve known this for a while, but we’re still constantly impressed with what people can do with layers of copper, fiberglass, soldermask, and silkscreen. [Sandy Noble] is taking this idea one step further. He took C64, Spectrum, and Sinclair PCBs and turned them into art. The results are incredible. These PCBs were reverse engineered, traced, and eventually turned into massive screen prints. They look awesome, and they’re available on Etsy.

$100k to bring down drones. That’s the tagline of the MITRE Challenge, although it’s really being sold as, “safe interdiction of small UAS that pose a safety or security threat in urban areas”. You can buy a slingshot for $20…

[styropyro] mas made a name for himself on Youtube for playing with very dangerous lasers and not burning his parent’s house down. Star Wars is out, and that means it’s time to build a handheld 7W laser. It’s powered by two 18650 cells, and is responsible for more than a few scorch marks on the walls of [styropyro]’s garage.

Everybody is trying to figure out how to put Ethernet and a USB hub on the Pi Zero. This means a lot of people will be launching crowdfunding campaigns for Pi Zero add-on boards that add Ethernet and USB. The first one we’ve seen is the Cube Infinity. Here’s the thing, though: they’re using through-hole parts for their board, which means this won’t connect directly to the D+ and D- USB signals on the Pi Zero. They do have a power/battery board that may be a little more useful, but I can’t figure out how they’re doing the USB.

[Keith O] found a fascinating video on YouTube and sent it into the tips line. It’s a machine that uses a water jet on pastries. These cakes start out frozen, and come out with puzzle piece and hexagon-shaped slices. Even the solution for moving cakes around is ingenious; it uses a circular platform that rotates and translates by two toothed belts. Who would have thought the latest advancements in cutting cakes and pies would be so fascinating?

It’s time to start a tradition. In the last links post of last year, we took a look at the number of views from North Korea in 2014. Fifty-four views, and we deeply appreciate all our readers in Best Korea. This year? For 2015, we’ve logged a total of thirty-six views from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. That’s a precipitous drop that deserves an investigation. Pyongyang meetup anyone?

Here’s the Reason The FAA’s Drone Registration System Doesn’t Make Sense

Last week, the US Department of Transportation and FAA released their rules governing drones, model aircraft, unmanned aerial systems, and quadcopters – a rose by any other name will be regulated as such. Now that the online registration system is up and running.

The requirements for registering yourself under the FAA’s UAS registration system are simple: if you fly a model aircraft, drone, control line model, or unmanned aerial system weighing more than 250g (0.55 lb), you are compelled under threat of civil and criminal penalties to register.

This is, by far, one of the simplest rules ever promulgated by the FAA, and looking at the full text shows how complicated this rule could have been. Representatives from the Academy of Model Aircraft, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Consumer Electronics Association weighed in on what types of aircraft should be registered, how they should be registered, and even how registration should be displayed.

Considerable attention was given to the weight limit; bird strikes are an issue in aviation, and unlike drones, bird strikes have actually brought down airliners. The FAA’s own wildlife strike report says, “species with body masses < 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) are excluded from database,”. The Academy of Model Aircraft pushed to have the minimum weight requiring registration at two pounds, citing their Park Flyer program to define what a ‘toy’ is.

Rules considering the payload carrying ability of an unmanned aerial system were considered, the inherent difference between fixed wing and rotors or quadcopters was considered, and even the ability to drop toy bombs was used in the decision-making process that would eventually put all remotely piloted craft weighing over 250g under the FAA’s jurisdiction. We must at least give the FAA credit for doing what they said they would do: regulate drones in a way that anyone standing in line at a toy store could understand. While the FAA may have crafted one of the simplest rules in the history of the administration, this rule might not actually be legal.

Continue reading “Here’s the Reason The FAA’s Drone Registration System Doesn’t Make Sense”

The FAA Wants Your Input On Upcoming Drone Regs

Earlier this week, the US Department of Transportation announced registration would be required for unmanned aerial systems. Yes, drones will be regulated, and right now representatives from the Academy of Model Aircraft, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Consumer Electronics Association and others are deciding which quadcopters, planes, and other aircraft should be exempt from registration.

Now, the US DOT and FAA are looking for consumer’s input. The US DOT is asking the public such questions as:

  • Should registration happen at point-of-sale, or after the box is opened?
  • Should registration be dependant on serial numbers? If so, how will kits be registered?
  • Should certain drones/UAS be excluded from registration? Should weight, speed, maximum altitude, or flight times be taken into account?
  • Should registration require a fee?
  • Are there any additional ways of encouraging accountability of drone/UAS use?

Comments will be taken until November 6, with the task force assembled by the US DOT providing its regulations by November 20. The hope for all involved parties is that this system of regulation will be in place for the holiday season. One million UAS are expected to be sold by Christmas.

FAA Suggests $1.9M Civil Penalty Against Aerial Photography Company

An October 6th Press Release from the FAA states that SkyPan International, a Chicago based aerial photography company conducted 65 unauthorized operations over a 2+ year period resulting in a $1.9M penalty. This is by far the most severe penalty the FAA has proposed, the previous leader being $18,700 against Xizmo Media which was issued in September.

SkyPan International isn’t your suburban neighbor’s spoiled brat kid who flies his new octocopter through the neighborhood with his HD camera running in hopes to catch…well, you get the idea. SkyPan has been in the aerial photography game for 27 years and was awarded a Section 333 Exemption from the blanket ban of commercial UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) operation from the FAA  in 2015. They also proactively contacted the FAA in 2005, 2008, and 2010 to discuss and suggest technical regulatory parameters. The seemingly civil history between the two entities leaves things in a confusing state, which seems to be par for the course when it comes to UAS.

In case you missed it, we also covered the announcement by the US DOT requiring drone registration.

via bbc.com

Hackaday Links: May 17, 2015

Here’s a worthwhile Kickstarter for once: the Prishtina Hackerspace. Yes, that’s a Kickstarter for a hackerspace in Kosovo. Unlike most hackerspace Kickstarters, they’re already mostly funded, with 20 days to go. If we ever get around to doing the Istanbul to Kaliningrad hackerspace tour, we’ll drop by.

Codebender is a web-based tool that allows you to code and program an Arduino. The Chromebook is a web-based laptop that is popular with a few schools. Now you can uses Codebender on a Chromebook. You might need to update your Chromebook to v42, and there’s a slight bug in the USB programmers, but that should be fixed in a month or so.

Here’s a great way to waste five minutes. It’s called agar.io. It’s a multiplayer online game where you’re a cell, you eat dots that are smaller than you, and bigger cells (other players) can eat you. [Morris] found the missing feature: being able to find the IP of a server so you can play with your friends. This feature is now implemented in a browser script. Here’s the repo.

The FAA currently deciding the fate of unmanned aerial vehicles and systems, and we’re going to live with any screwup they make for the next 50 years. It would be nice if all UAV operators, drone pilots, and everyone involved with flying robots could get together and hash out what the ideal rules would be. That’s happening in late July thanks to the Silicon Valley Chapter of AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International).

SOLAR ROADWAYS!! Al Jazeera is reporting a project in the Netherlands that puts solar cells in a road. It’s just a bike path, it’s only 70 meters long, and it can support at least 12 tonnes (in the form of a ‘fire brigade truck’). There’s no plans for the truly dumb solar roadways stuff – heating the roads, or having lanes with LEDs. We’re desperately seeking more information on this one.