Drones get $82 billion flight clearance in US

Written by on September 5, 2016 in Guest Blog with 0 Comments

Drone quad copter with camera flying over the city center.FAA drone laws go into effect with $82bn potential boost to US. The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has given the all-clear on wide-scale commercial drone operations, paving the way for an industry that it thinks could provide 100,000 new jobs and $82bn in revenue over the next decade. It brings to an end a period of uncertainty for many niche implementations that were waiting for the go-ahead on drone-usage.

The new rules, which went live on 29 August, have clarified the acceptable limits of drones and UAVs used for commercial operations. The micro-aircraft must weigh less than 55lbs (25kg), must not exceed 400ft (121-meters) above ground level, and must not exceed a speed of 100mph. They can only be flown during daylight hours, with a 30-minute window on each side of dawn and dusk.

Critically, the operator must maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) with the aircraft – and that a first-person view from a camera does not satisfy the “see and avoid” criteria. You also can’t fly them above people not directly participating in the operation, or under a covered structure.

The operators (a strange term when applied to the unmanned variants) must be over 16-years-old, and also be eligible for flying certificates – i.e. be able to read, speak, and understand English, and not have a medical disqualification. Gone are the individual waivers that the operators had to seek from the regulator, which were the largest barrier of the former system. If operators want to use drones at night or at altitudes above 400ft, individual waivers can still be applied for.

DJI, which appears to be the largest maker of commercial drones at the moment, said “the old FAA scheme required commercial drone operators to spend months waiting for an exemption and to employ a pilot with a manned aircraft license from the FAA. Those high barriers to entry have prevented many companies from exploring the benefits of drones in their industry, and have been a source of frustration for business owners for years.”

The new rules certainly make it easier for companies to carry out large test projects, to decide how to integrate the technologies into their existing business. Security and surveillance are going to be some of the most popular installations in the US, but using drones to monitor infrastructure like pipelines, bridges and cell towers, or buildings that might have been damaged in the extreme weather that much of the US suffers from are other obvious candidates.

Those sorts of projects are unlikely to garner much opposition from the citizenry, but the government bodies looking to enforce laws are going to be a ready source of tension once people start receiving parking tickets from drone-sweeps, or uninsured vehicles start being spotted on driveways. The recent Dallas police shooting spree that was brought to an end using an IED affixed to a bomb-disposal robot may also have set something of a precedent for the lethal use of drones too – although the rules do say that drones can’t carry hazardous materials.

While that latter example is of course rather speculative (far-fetched may be a better term), it’s important to note that it isn’t so much the flying platform that has brought these potential uses to the fore, but rather the miniaturization of high-definition camera systems and the ability to stream the high-quality images to cloud platforms that has enabled drones to perform these seeing-eye functions.

Small fleets of drones based out of a central depot also present a great opportunity for delivering small packages to suburban populations. Being able to leave packages in yards or even meeting someone in a defined space would allow companies to offer speedier deliveries, as well as reducing their truck roll and potentially drastically increasing their deliveries-per-hour-per-dollar. Amazon, DHL, Google and even Domino’s Pizza have all started drone delivery trial projects.

As is the way on most catch-all buzzterms, “drone” means many things at once. From the off, the term has been plagued by the negative association with the USA’s Predator and Reaper UAVs. But UAV isn’t a particularly clear-cut term in that instance either, as the aircraft will operate autonomously until a decision has to be made on whether to fire the weapons systems – at which point a human operator takes control and ultimate makes the final decision.

With the FAA rules for commercial usage, it will be interesting to see how companies and lawyers interpret the term. Some small-scale uses will cater for drones performing autonomous navigation, so would the human monitoring the camera feed be classed as the operator? What if the camera operator is not in the same state as the aircraft being flown by an operator? What happens once that operator’s job can be carried out by a computer?

Written by Alex Davies | First published  at ReTHINK IoT

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