June 15, 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic has made the use case of drone delivery services abundantly clear, said Lisa Ellman, founder of the Commercial Drone Alliance, on a FBCA sponsored webinar Monday.
The healthcare industry has been one of the first to utilize commercial drones for better service.
An unexpected effect of the pandemic was the increased public acceptance of delivery drones, said Dontai Smalls, vice president of global public affairs at UPS, adding that a portion of consumers have grown to prefer drone delivery.
Drones have the ability to go places so that people, vulnerable to infection, don’t have to. Commercial drone services have become necessary in delivering critical supplies, like testing kits and prescription medicines.
UPS Flight Forward Inc. received the Federal Aviation Administration’s first and highest-level certificate to operate a drone airline just over a year ago.
The UPS subsidiary immediately launched the first drone delivery flight under the agency’s standard at WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C.
The flight was flown under a government exemption allowing for a “beyond visual line of sight” operation.
This exemption was a result of the Integration Pilot Program, which works to enhance community outreach, seeking to bring state, local and tribal governments together with private sector entities to evaluate and accelerate the integration of drone operations.
The stakeholders delivered mutually beneficial regulation recommendations to the FAA.
The members said that they are currently waiting for rulemaking from regulatory bodies to further drone operations.
“Technology moves very quickly — we need the regulatory framework to move at the same pace,” said Smalls.
The FAA is set to enact future regulations, including proposed regulation surrounding night time operations and remote identification, which would require drones to have license plates.
A further obstacle impeding drone operations is the lack of spectrum allocated by the Federal Communications Commission for drone operations.
While the agency has proposed the usage of the 6 GigaHertz (GHz) band for commercial drone operations, no spectrum has yet been reallocated for this purpose. Currently, drones operate on unlicensed spectrum.
Smalls said that unlicensed spectrum is a suitable initial solution but called on federal agencies to provide additional spectrum for future operations.
“We need the dedicated resources to make this work and regulations will enable us to do more,” Smalls said.
Drones Will Need Access to 5G Services to Put Out Forest Fires and Do More Advanced Tasks
WASHINGTON, February 13, 2020 – Meeting at the building of the wireless industry association CTIA on Wednesday, John Kuzin, vice president of government affairs at Qualcomm, likened drones to flying smartphones.
By the same token, drones will require similar speeds and connectivity of 5G telecommunication services. The current 4G standard allows drones to move, turn, and perform other simple operations. “You don’t need a lot of spectrum” to operate today’s drones, Kuzin conceded.
But 5G technology – and spectrum – will be required to unlock the potential for drones to do things like put out forest fires, track objects of interest, and communicate with other drones. Kuzin argued that the cellular network will provide the best framework for inter-drone communication, and panelists agreed.
Others vented their frustrations with government regulation.
Melissa Glidden Tye, associate general counsel of emerging technologies at Verizon, lamented how the Federal Aviation Administration took two years to release a proposal for a system of remote drone identification.
Remote identification is the technology that would allow the FAA to digitally assess a drone in the same way a cop can check the license plate of a car to find its owner. Kuzin also summarized the top-priority roadblocks that the FAA has yet to tackle: Finalizing the rules for remote identification, flying drones at night, flying drones above people, and flying drones outside of the operator’s line of site.
Joe Cramer, director of global spectrum management at Boeing, said that the FAA may be holding back its approval out of a desire to see stronger assurances by industry regarding oversight.
Specifically, he said the FAA wants drone operators to use an “aviation safety spectrum allocation.” This allocation would preserve a small slice of bandwidth for emergency drone operations, such as movement and landing and prevent property from being damaged and lives from being lost.
Cramer said that if the U.S. doesn’t work on securing parts of the 5 GigaHertz (GHz) band of spectrum for unmanned aircraft systems soon, then other countries will launch satellites that take that bandwidth. That would be nearly-impossible to undo.
As Tye said earlier in the panel, ” there’s not a lot of spectrum just layin’ around.”
Greater Commercial Use of Drones Will Force Revisions of Federal Aviation Administration Regulations, Say Experts
WASHINGTON, August 7, 2019 – As drone flying becomes more commonplace, unmanned aircraft system regulations must be updated to promote safe flights, experts said at a Wednesday webinar on the topic.
Current federal regulations are written with the assumption that a pilot is operating the aircraft, said David Russell, program analyst at the Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Office, an arm of the Federal Aviation Administration. The a webinar was hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act reiterated Congress’ interest in national airspace safety, he said. Under Part 107 of the Code of Federal Regulations for unmanned flights, aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds is allowed for “limited recreational operations.” These small UAS aircrafts also do not require any certifications for use.
Russell outlined several recommendations for non-commercial UAS users. Through the FAA DroneZone website, owners must provide the make, model and serial number of each small UAS. UAS larger than 55 pounds require paper registration.
Furthermore, the Reauthorization Act gives the FAA full authority over all UAS operating in national airspace. The FAA is also in the process of developing UAS knowledge and safety tests as well as establishing a list of “fixed site” model flying locations.
Ben Snyder, director of business and development at Consortia, presented an outline for a UAS operations manual. The ideal manual, he said, would result in safe, standardized and auditable operations across business units and regions.
AUVSI’s Protocol Certification Manual provides guidance for UAS standard operating procedures. Additionally, it outlines operational safety framework and training criteria for flight. Snyder said that the Trusted Operator Program would make UAS programs safer and help mitigate risk.
Despite the safety precautions employed with noncommercial unmanned aircraft, it is unlikely that drones will be used for personal delivery in the foreseeable future, panelists said.
Chinese Drone Manufacturer DJI is a New Target for Charges of ‘Industrial Espionage’ in Senate
WASHINGTON, June 18, 2019 – The Senate on Tuesday unleashed further criticism of Chinese technology players as witnesses told a Commerce subcommittee that unmanned aircraft systems are targets for “industrial espionage.”
One witness, Catherine Cahill of the Alaska Center for UAS Integration, said that the Chinese company DJI dominates the U.S. market for small, commercial UAS.
“DJI is the most cost-effective system available for many uses, including law enforcement, but the data from DJI UAS was automatically being sent back to the manufacturer in China,” she said. She was speaking at the Commerce Subcommittee on Security.
In a statement, DJI strongly disputed the allegations, and said that DJI does not share any data from a DJI drone back to the manufacturer.
At the hearing, Sen. Rick Scott, R-FL, stated that the Chinese government is “stealing” American trade secrets and “not opening up their markets.”
Part of the problem with the security of drones involves “looking at open source and invigorating our own market here in the United States,” said Harry Wingo, faculty at the National Defense University, in response to Scott’s comment.
“What we need to do is look at drones as infrastructure and consider a Manhattan Project-style investment because this relates to smart-driving cars and trucks, the Internet of things,, the internet of everything, really,” Wingo said.
However, Wingo also said that the Defense Department banned the use of DJI drones in the military.
“The Federal Aviation Administration considers cyber and data security risks and mitigations in every aspect of our mission, including as they apply to aircraft certification and systems as well as to protection of our own air navigation services infrastructure,” said Angela Stubblefield, the agency’s deputy associate administrator.
As with manned aviation, the FAA takes a “risk-based approach” regarding system and data protection regarding unmanned systems, she said.
Because of these data security issues, the FAA needs to “develop a holistic framework for detecting and mitigating UAS” and to put in place procedures for “how to respond to national security threats, which includes clarity about who has the authority to engage,” said Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
China has been “very clear that they want AI dominance over the next couple of years,” said Wingo. With their capabilities put together, this results in a “very damaging information set that puts the nation at risk.”
DJI Corporate Communications Director Adam Lisberg said: “The speculation about the security of DJI’s technology presented at today’s hearing is false. As a privately-held global technology company, DJI gives customers full and complete control over how their data is collected, stored, and transmitted. DJI drones do not share any data with DJI, over the internet, or in any other manner unless the operator deliberately chooses to do so. The security of our technology has been independently verified by the U.S. government, and our products meet all of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s data management recommendations.”
Editor’s Note, June 21, 2019: This story has been modified to reflect DJI’s denials of some testimony at the hearing, and to include a comment from their corporate spokesman.
(Photo of DJI drone from pxhere used with permission; photo of Senate subcommittee hearing by Masha Abarinova)
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