According to Bard College (who is keeping a running total of local drone laws) there are now over 130 local laws in place for drones across the nation. Almost every week there is a new law being proposed or a new law being enacted.
The most recent major drone regulation to go into effect is in San Diego. Due to its natural beauty, beaches and other tourist attractions San Diego has been a hot spot for drone activity and local authorities thought it was best to regulate drones use for safety issues. San Diego took a common sense approach and basically took existing FAA regulations on drones and made them part municipal code so police can fully enforce them.
This is in contrast to cities like Orlando, Florida that are adding extra lawyers of control to existing FAA regulations. For instance, even though the FAA has an official drone registry, the city of Orlando requires those who want to operate inside of its city limits to pay a fee and register with the city.
Then there is a proposed law from Toms River, New Jersey which would effectively ban drone flight below 400 feet. The city says it is doing this to limit aggressive real estate agents who have been using drone video to show off properties. The city also says it would still allow drone flight, but there needs to be consent from the owners of the property that is flown over. The real questions here is does Toms River even have the authority to ban flight below 400 feet?
In both the US and the UK drones are an increasingly popular way for criminals to smuggle contraband into prisons. You don’t have to stuff Ziplock bags in unmentionable places, you don’t have to bribe guards—all you have to do is buy a drone and tape drugs and cell phones to it.
Every year in the UK prison officials are seeing an increase in smuggling via drones and now they are doing something about it. Earlier this week Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah announced that the UK was creating a special drone squad (consisting of both normal police and prison police) to address the problem head-on.
Gyimah told the press, “The threat posed by drones is clear, but our dedicated staff are committed to winning the fight against those who are attempting to thwart progress by wreaking havoc in establishments all over the country.”
According to UK government figures there were 33 cases of drone smuggling into prisons in 2015 and an unreleased “large increase” in 2016. The new special drone squad will work with various law enforcement agencies in the UK to try to reverse the expansion of drone smuggling.
It is our guess that although this new squad will give it their best, they probably don’t have that much experience with drones. And even if they do, there are easier ways to secure locations from illegal drones use. They could use geofencing or hire the services of experts like Dedrone.
Insurance companies across the nation are looking into using drones to assess insurance claims. One area where the benefit of drones is immediately obvious is in inspecting property and rooftops for damage after a major storm.
Before drones a claims inspector would have to climb a ladder unto a potentially dangerous roof to assess damage. It was an arduous process that could take hours. Now drones can perform the same task in as little as 20 minutes without putting a claims inspector in any danger.
This week, Farmers Insurance was testing the use of drones to assess hail damage on selected houses in the Denton, Texas area. According to Farmers Insurance spokesman Chris Pilcic, “We’ve been engaged in numerous test flights in a number of states to better understand how UAS [unmanned aircraft systems] technology might serve as an additional tool to our claim teams. So far we are pleased with the progression of our research and development.”
Farmers Insurance has been looking into using drones for a while, but this test in Denton marks the first time that have put that plan into action. The Insurance Council of Texas is following such testing and their spokesman Mark Hanna perfectly summed up the impact drones could have on the insurance industry when he said, “For a lot of insurance adjusters, the ladder might soon be a thing of the past.”
The future of drones is autonomous flight. While the technology to make autonomous flight a reality is almost there, the willingness of many aviation authorities has not advanced as quickly.
However, authorities are starting to adjust. While the FAA still prohibits beyond-line-of-sight flying (something which is key to autonomous flight), it has granted waivers to companies like PrecisionHawk for such operations. This week two important development also happened overseas.
In Switzerland the American company Matternet successfully delivered laboratory samples between two hospitals via autonomous drones. Matternet was given permission to test autonomous flight by the Swiss Aviation Authority with plans by Swiss authorities to make such deliveries more common place by next year. Matternet’s M2 drone which was used for this test is, “Designed to operate around people and infrastructure within urban, suburban and industrial environments.”
Then in Israel, home-grown Israeli company Airobotics, was authorized by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones without a pilot. Airobotic’s fully automated Optimus drone has its own little drone house. It self deploys, self lands and can autonomously do tasks like monitoring a facility, which makes it ideal for industrial applications.
Airobotics Optimus system is already in use and the company is now eyeing moving into helping with traffic analysis and emergency response using autonomous drones.
A new bill is being considered in Connecticut that would allow police in that state to arm drones with deadly weapons. If passed, Connecticut would be the first state to allow drones to be armed with deadly weapons. (North Dakota has allowed police to use drones armed with “less than lethal” weapons since 2015) This proposed law was picked up by numerous news sources and is getting a lot of attention on social media.
Some are worried that this could be a turning point that starts to fill American skies with armed police drones. Drone Dossier understands that this law could set a important precedent for use of armed drones but it may be too early to accurately know the potential impact of this bill. For example, the bill could fail and set an example for states not to arm drones. Also, the bill does not explain how the drones will be armed, or what kind of drones will be used. Most of the drones that police departments around the country are acquiring are commercially available drones that are not designed to be weaponized.
If passed, it appears Connecticut is planning only a minor role for weaponized drones. State Senator John Kissel said, “Obviously this is for very limited circumstances. We can certainly envision some incident on some campus or someplace where someone is a rogue shooter or someone was kidnapped and you try to blow out a tire.”
Consumer drones are a big business that is still growing. The FAA believes that in the next three years around 2.5 million more drones will be sold and a NPD report from 2016 said drones sales have jumped by over 200% from 2015.
Growth like this always draws nefarious businesses. Remember the Lily drone? The company that made the drone, Lily Robotics, got over $15 million in funding and $34 million in pre-sales for their autonomous flying camera drone. Earlier this year, they went bankrupt, were raided by police and admitted to falsely advertising the capabilities of their drone—and just for kicks then didn’t deliver a single drone.
While there is room in the market for more drone manufacturers, the Drone Dossier team can’t help walk the floor of a drone convention and think half of the companies presenting aren’t going to make it. Onagofly looks like another for this category. Onagofly gained fame by raising over $3.5 million on Indiegogo for its $260 mini drone that claims to have a GPS-enabled follow feature and a high-res camera. In other words another selfie drone!
While they have delivered drones, the reviews are terrible. On top of that, earlier this week a class-action federal law suit was filed against Onagofly and other questionable drone companies in a Los Angeles Federal Court. According to complaints, the camera was not the 15-megapixels promised, that batteries are smaller than stated and don’t work well, the GPS performs badly and the propellers break.
So please, everyone, be careful what drone you buy, there is a lot of bad ones out there!
Police in the the City of Upland, East of Los Angeles, just added two drones to their crime fighting arsenal and didn’t pay a dime to do so.
According to reports in a local paper, Police in the city are repurposing two drones that they recently seized. Local Police Chief Brian Johnson was quoted as saying, “We have the authority, in the evidence code, that allows us to convert seized assets or property to the police.”
Even the training of pilots will be free as the local police federation will pick up the costs. All-in-all a very cost efficient plan!
The Upland police plan to use the drones as eyes in the sky for cases of complicated traffic incidents and dangerous situations like a barricaded and armed suspect. They also are considering letting the city use the drones for promotional purposes.
Many local police are starting to use drones, but this has to be the most interesting way Drone Dossier has heard of a police department acquiring drones.
The Australian Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is now using drones to clean up the environment. In particular, they are aiming at surveying landfills to see if their operations are environmentally safe. The idea appears to be working as EPA authorities in the State of Victoria recently used a drone to find out a landfill was operating in breach of its license.
According to the report, drone surveillance of a B.T.Q. Group landfill found “extensive areas of exposed waste”, even though the group’s license requires them to put at least 30 cm of soil on exposed soil every day. Based on the drone-collected evidence, the Australian EPA fined the landfill 7,000 Australian dollars.
Australian authorities aren’t the only ones using drones to enforce laws and regulations. Police in the UAE city of Ajman use drones to catch traffic violators and monitor the structural integrity of roads. The drones are equipped with infrared sensors and cameras capable of reading license plates from the air. From March to December of 2016, drones recorded over 2,000 violations in the roads around Ajman. The police say that the use of drones has helped to clear up traffic problems in the city.
Police in the Indian city of Pun are also doing the same thing. Over one week in August, 2016, Pun police used live drone footage to catch and fine 15 traffic violators on the Pun to Mumbai expressway.
The last few months European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has been in the news a lot, not because of planes, but because of its recent moves in the drone industry.
In early March, Airbus announced that it’s working on a car-drone hybrid called Pop.Up with its partner Italdesign. The drone can operate on land or in the air thanks to a modular three part design. A passenger capsule can lock into a car chassis or lock into a large quadcopter to fly through the air. The Pop.Up is designed to be controlled by AI and the idea is of it to be summoned for use via a mobile app. The obvious limiting factor is that the Pop.Up cannot just take off or land anywhere it wants because its car chassis is left behind when it flies.
Airbus is also heavily invested in Singapore’s Skyways project which seeks to safely integrate drones into Singaporean airspace. Additionally, the aircraft-maker signed an agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) to test a drone delivery service at the National University of Singapore sometime in the middle of this year.
In the US, Airbus Ventures was part of the new round of funding for drone software startup company AirMap. The Santa Monica-based company has an app that makes it easy for drone pilots to check for flight restrictions and even map their flight info to share with others. As part of their funding agreement, Airbus will be involved in AirMap’s business strategy and will help it build relationships with airports and regulators the world over.
The team here at Drone Dossier wants to believe that this is part of a well thought out plan by Airbus, but in some ways it seems they are throwing out as many ideas that they can and hoping that one sticks.
As more and more drones take to the skies members of Congress are concerned that the current FAA regulations don’t adequately address the privacy concerns raised by drones. Earlier this week, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass introduced the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act to create a framework for privacy protection from drones. Since drones are basically data collection platforms the proposed bill takes aim at restricting how data is collected and used.
Here is a quick summary of the main points of the bill:
- Law enforcement would need to get a warrant to use drones (to collected data).
- The FAA would only be able to approve drones licenses to operators who provide specific details about what kind of data they will collect and if the data will be sold to 3rd parties.
- It would create a pubic disclosure requirements for drone operations including: location, timing, and ownership of drone.
- The FAA would have to provide drone licensing information online as well as a database of those that have breached FAA regulations.
“The Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act requires transparency in domestic drone use and adds privacy protections that ensure this technology cannot and will not be used to spy on Americans,” Sen. Markey said. Rep. Welch and Sen. Markey introduced similar legislation in 2015, but failed to gain any traction at the time.
It will be interesting to see if the bill can gain any traction this time and if the FAA believes it will be useful in its plan to integrate drones into the National Airspace System (NAS).