Possibly 1st Prosecution of Civilian UAV Operator

Not long ago, the video below was posted of an interview with a lawyer representing a UAV operator being fined $10K by the FAA for alleged reckless flight of his UAV and the illegal commercial use of his UAV.

Now, the lawyer in the video obviously is taking his client’s side, so we don’t hear the FAA’s side of what happened.  However, this case could be interesting as the defense is filing motion to dismiss on the notion that the FAA has issued an unenforceable regulation.  If this case goes in favor of the defendant, I’d be curious if that implies that commercial UAV flight, at least for small, low-altitude craft, is now fair game again.

Drone Journalism documents their COA (FAA approval) process

Mizzou started doing some research into journalism supported by UAV photography, and were unfortunately shut down by the FAA.  Now, kudos to them–they are combining good journalism with the principles of open source to document and share their process of how to get a Certificate of Authorization (COA) through the approval process.  All of their documents have been posted on Github for the world to review.

Drone Journalism documents their COA (FAA approval) process | DIY Drones

NASA Dryden, Nerd Paradise

IEEE Spectrum published an account last month of visiting NASA Dryden to see some of NASA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems programs, detailing some of the ongoing initiatives for research and discovering a few historical nuggets in the process.

I recommend reading the article and watching the videos for details, but here are some of the juicier points:

  • Dryden flies a ‘civilian’ version of the MQ-9 Reaper, which is being used right now for research into integrating UASs into the NAS. Specifically mentioned was studying human factors and what information an operator would need to coexist with normal air traffic.  They’ve also used the Reaper to track forest/wildland fires.
  • They also fly a Global Hawk, which they use for weather research, in particular hurricane monitoring.
  • Dryden is studying the use of an autonomous towed glider contraption, similar to the Spaceship One configuration, for assisting in launch to low-earth orbit.
  • In addition to the UAS stuff, the reporter got to see some very tangible pieces of aviation/spaceflight history, including the X-29, the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV), and the M2-F1 lifting body research vehicle.

Encouragement from a Nervous Traveler in China

As mentioned in a few earlier posts, we visited China a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share some of my (our) experiences from there.

Let me be totally honest–I get wound really tight when travelling in places that I’m not familiar with.  I get nervous about missing flights, or being late for a critical connection, getting lost, getting mugged, running out of money/resources . . . et cetera.  When you add to the equation being in a country so foreign that it seems like another planet–well, lets just say that Robin is a saint for putting up with me.

There are plenty of books and websites that offer travel advice, and I don’t claim to have any special knowledge; but I do want to offer a couple of things that helped me, to others out there with an irrational fear of getting stranded and starving thousands of miles from home.

Have a laid-back traveling companion. There is strength in numbers, and you might feel like your friend just doesn’t care if things go wrong! That’s okay–think of it as the two of you balancing each other out.

Redundant department of redundancy. You have directions of where you’re supposed to go? Print them out twice and keep them in different places.  Make sure they are in the local language.  Get a cell phone with local card and numbers you can call for help.  Have the charger with you.  Carry plenty of money.  Have a backup plan.  Bring food (or at least some protein bars) and bottled water.

Learn how to ask for help in the local language and practice it. It really doesn’t take that much effort or ability to have a few key phrases.  It might be tough and feel very embarrassing to speak the language badly, but take Benny’s word for it–most people are very excited to hear an American give it a go, and most people are happy to offer some help.

McD's--your worldwide security blanket. Now, how do you say quarter pounder in Chinese?
McD’s–your worldwide security blanket. Now, how do you say quarter pounder in Chinese?

Falcon UAV Supports Colorado Flood Relief Until Grounded By FEMA

As if the federal government needs more to be embarrassed about, there is this nugget from the Colorado flooding last month.

It seems that rescue crews in the state had been using UAVs to map the damage due to flooding, potentially speeding the process of getting relief to those who needed it most. In fact, when the Colorado National Guard’s aircraft were grounded due to weather, the UAVs continued to fly. However, when the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived to provide support, they forbid the further use of UAVs under threat of arrest.

This map is illegal.

I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusions.

Robocopters to the Rescue

IEEE Spectrum published on work by Sebastian Scherer and Lyle Chamberlain to outfit the Boeing Unmanned Little Bird (ULB) with a sophisticated suite of laser scanners and a Safe Landing Area Determination (SLAD) algorithm.  I was fortunate to get to hear the presentation from their colleague, Dr. Sanjiv Singh, present on this work at the AHS Forum this spring.  I also owe these guys some thanks, as most of my early obstacle avoidance work was based upon a paper they published.

Boeing ULB. Courtesy IEEE Spectrum.

I recommend this article as it shows the state-of-the-art in our field, without getting too technical.  It’s also an interesting development that they’ve started commercializing the technology through their company, Near Earth Autonomy; contrast that with similar work from NASA Ames, who have been doing similar work with an unmanned Blackhawk (available here, here, and here), but cannot commercialize it due to their government status (I think).