News Article | March 26, 2016
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) predicts that the number of drones flying in the sky will reach up to 7 million by the year 2020. In a newly released report, the agency provides forecasts for the air carrier industry for 2016 to 2036. Aside from domestic and international flight passenger predictions, the report also included the growing sector of unmanned aircraft or drones. For 2016, the FAA forecasts that the annual sales transactions involving drones may potentially reach up to 1.9 million. Such number may increase by about 4.3 million units every year until the year 2020. Having said that, drones sold by the years 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 may reach up to 2.3 million, 2.9 million, 3.5 million and 4.3 million respectively. Such numbers are for drones used by hobbyists or what is also known as model aircraft. The number for commercial, non-model aircraft is a much lesser. FAA predicts that these types of drones will have higher sales, with 0.6 million and 2.5 million for the years 2016 and 2017 respectively; 2.6 million each for the years 2018 and 2019; and 2.7 million units in 2020. Combining the numbers, the total number of possible drones flying in the skies by 2020 will reach up to 7 million. The data above is based on the trend of a registration rule that the FAA set up to identify drone owners and ensure that aircraft operators are aware of the unmanned aircraft system (UAS). UAS is the system behind unmanned aircraft and is associated with elements such as communication links and control systems to operate the aircraft. Such system is required so that drones can safely and efficiently fly in the national airspace system (NAS). On Dec. 14, 2015, FAA implemented a rule necessitating all UAS that weigh more than 0.55 pounds but less than 55 pounds to register in a new online system. Such rule will enable the agency to have better investigations when necessary and keep track of UAS use. "As of mid-March, 2016 there have been over 408,000 registrations," the report states [pdf]. While drones are helpful in various fields such as agricultural research, safety monitoring and many others, it does not come without danger. Take for example the recent incident of a drone that nearly collided with a Lufthansa jet near the L.A. airport. In another report by the FAA, the agency was able to record 583 drone incidents from August 2015 to January of this year. Most of the incidents though are not highly dangerous and commonly involve pilots or bystanders reporting that drones are flying in restricted areas. The FAA has already started an educational campaign called "Know Before You Fly," which advocates the safe and responsible use of drones as it fly through NAS. Such campaign now has a mobile app called B4UFLY, which provides aircraft operators with airspace requirements and restriction details prior to flying drones.
News Article | April 20, 2016
Large aircrafts toting passengers from one destination to another follow an air traffic system that keeps them safe as they travel through the national airspace system. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots, who are flying from Los Angeles to Baltimore, will talk to around 28 air traffic controllers in 11 different facilities across the United States. Each day, the FAA provides this service to tens of thousands of aircrafts. Drones, or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), aren’t like aircrafts. Their surge in popularity is recent, with proliferation in both the public and private sector. Their utilization as delivery systems is on the cusp of becoming a reality. But much work has to be accomplished before that becomes the norm. Working to anticipate these changes are the FAA and NASA. This week, they conducted the largest test of NASA’s UAS traffic management (UTM) research platform. The test consisted of 24 drones flying simultaneously at six different FAA UAS test site locations around the country. The test sites were located in Fairbanks, Ala.; Grand Forks, N.D.; Reno, Nev.; Rome, N.Y.; Blacksburg, Va.; Bushwood, Md.; and Corpus Christi, Texas. “UTM is designed to enable safe low-altitude civilian UAS operations by providing pilots information needed to maintain separation from other aircraft by reserving areas for specific routes, with consideration of restricted airspace and adverse weather conditions,” said project lead Parimal Kopadekar in a statement following an initial test of the system in the fall. During the fall test, the drone pilots would submit their operation plans and positions to the UTM system for approval. The UTM system checked the airspace for conflicts and tracked the drones. To make the drone management system a reality, NASA is researching a variety of technologies in airspace design, dynamic geofencing, congestion management, and terrain avoidance. According to Popular Science, the agency needed only 16 of the drones to work with the system to count the test as a success. However, all 24 worked. “Research results in the form of airspace integration requirements are expected to be transferred from NASA to the FAA in 2019 for their further testing,” according to the agency. In the interim, NASA plans on testing the system in high-density urban areas for tasks including news gathering and package delivery, among other tests scheduled over the next three years. Establish your company as a technology leader! For more than 50 years, the R&D 100 Awards have showcased new products of technological significance. You can join this exclusive community! Learn more.
News Article | March 24, 2016
The Federal Aviation Administration is working on new technology that can detect and identify drones and drone pilots who fly near airports, according to a contract obtained by Motherboard using the Freedom of Information Act. The contract, between the FAA and CACI International, notes that the tech will allow the FAA to “identify rogue unmanned aircraft systems” near airports and suggests that the agency believes some of its drone education outreach efforts are not working. Specific details of the program were redacted from the contract without an official exemption listed by the FAA FOIA office. Motherboard has appealed this decision. The existence of the program, called “Pathfinder,” was announced by FAA Deputy Administrator during a hearing before the House Aviation Subcommittee in October. In a press release, CACI CEO John Mengucci noted that the agreement “provides a proven way to passively detect, identify, and track UAS–or aerial drones–and their ground-based operators, in order to protect airspace from inadvertent or unlawful misuse of drones near U.S. airports. This CACI-built solution will help ensure a safe, shared airspace while supporting responsible UAS users’ right to operate their aircraft.” The FAA redacted large portions of the contract without an explanation. Since that announcement, few details of what the project is or how it works have been made public. The contract obtained by Motherboard, embedded below, titled “Cooperative Research and Development Agreement,” reveals more about the impetus behind the program—namely that the FAA believes its many drone education outreach efforts aren’t making the skies safe for manned aircraft. “Data shows that current training, outreach, and educational campaigns are not sufficient deterrents to UAS interference at airports and other critical airspace,” the FAA wrote in the contract. What to do about drones that fly near airports or at high altitudes has been quite the conundrum for the FAA, which recently mandated that all hobby drone pilots register themselves with the agency. As part of the registration process, you must promise to “not fly near aircraft, especially near airports.” The FAA has also started the “Know Before You Fly” drone education campaign to discourage people from flying unsafely. The bulk of the contract is fairly standard and is a modified version of a basic contract of this type posted online by the FAA. “The purpose of this Cooperative Research and Development Agreement is to serve as a mechanism to safely explore procedures and processes in and around the FAA’s airport environment to identify rogue unmanned aircraft systems consisting of the unmanned aircraft and pilot in command,” the contract says. Under the terms of the two-year contract, which will last until October 6, 2017, the FAA will not pay CACI but will allow it to test its technology at airports and the FAA will provide technical details and support that might help the company. “The FAA may provide engineers, scientists, or any other form of professional or clerical personnel; facilities and equipment (especially facilities that cannot be found in private industry and are necessary to the testing and development of aviation technology); intellectual property; or any other resources, with or without reimbursement. The FAA may provide anything but money to the collaborating partner,” according to an FAA presentation about these types of contracts. “CRDAs are sensitive to the needs of business organizations to protect commercially valuable information,” the presentation continued. ”Trade secrets or confidential information supplied by a partner shall not be disclosed. Trade secrets or privileged information that develops during the course of a CRDA can be protected from disclosure for up to five years.” In a cover letter sent to me with the request, the FAA noted that it withheld seven pages of the contract that contain “commercial or financial information that was voluntarily submitted to the government,” an exempt class of information from FOIA requests. However, details on one page of the document were redacted (seemingly with a marker, which is unusual) without any exemption being cited. Motherboard has appealed this particular redaction and asked for more information about where the program will be deployed and how it will work—information that I requested in my original request but was not provided.
News Article | September 4, 2016
As wildfires ravage the American west this summer, teaching robots how to start still more fires might seem like a pretty terrible idea. Nevertheless, that is exactly what a team of researchers at the University of Nebraska’s Intelligent Mobile Unmanned Systems Lab (NIMBLE) is doing. The researchers have been tasked with figuring out how to use small drones to intentionally start fires, a technique known as prescribed burning. This is a tried and true conservation technique which helps prevent wildfires from spreading and protect an environment from invasive species. The problem is that the methods used to carry out prescribed burns today (which requires people to travel to the burn spot and use chain-saws, drip torches, and flare launchers) place firefighters directly in harm’s way, assuming that the spot that needs to be burned is even accessible to humans on foot. Prescribed burning via helicopter helps get firefighters into tricky spots, but this is also a somewhat risky proposition and the cost of using a helicopter is often prohibitive for most users. The Nebraska researchers’ Unmanned Aerial System for Firefighting (UAS-FF) hopes to tackle all these problems at once by keeping humans out of the line of fire while also giving them access to hard to reach spots for controlled burns. The UAS-FF is essentially a run-of-the-mill personal quadcopter which the researchers have outfitted with a basket full of objects that look like ping pong balls. Each of these balls is filled with a flammable liquid that ignites when it hits the ground, allowing the drone pilot to control the fire’s perimeter with the necessary precision from up to half a mile away. The firefighting drone is still in its testing phase, but according to the Nebraska researchers they are working with the FAA and local fire agencies to test the technology with the hope of deploying it commercially in the near future.
News Article | January 23, 2016
Nearly 300,000 drones have now been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the first 30 days since the agency's online registration system went live. On Friday, the regulators revealed that several unmanned aircraft owners who use the drones for recreational purposes have registered their UAVs in the federal database. The database aims to reduce and address the increase in rogue UAVs in public areas and near airports. Debates over the registration of drones have been waging for a while now, owing to the nuisance they can cause. In October 2015, we reported that more than a million drones were expected to be given as holiday presents, which would spell trouble for the FAA. The registry came into effect on Dec. 21, 2015, and according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, so far 295,306 owners have registered with the FAA. These UAV owners have received an identification number from the FAA, which will be displayed on the drone. Those registering within the first month will get the $5 application fee as a refund. "I am pleased the public responded to our call to register. The National Airspace System is a great resource and all users of it, including UAS users, are responsible for keeping it safe," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx about the FAA's unmanned aircraft system registration. The FAA registration is applicable for drones that weigh anywhere from 250 grams (0.55 pounds) to 25 kilograms (55 pounds). The owners of the eligible drones are required to register their aircraft prior to flying it outdoors. Owners who deployed their UAVs prior to the registration coming into effect on Dec. 21 are required to register the drone by Feb. 19, 2016 at the latest. The registration process is pretty simple and is done online. It is available for owners of drones who use the aircraft for recreational use. To register, an owner has to key in their email address, full name, mailing address and physical address. Once registered with the FAA, the drone owner gets a certificate and registration number that can be printed. The registration number on the certificate is required to be marked on the aircraft. It can either be written on the drone or placed in its battery compartment. The battery compartment, however, has to be accessible without having to use tools. Moreover, users are required to have the certificate handy when they take the UAV out on a flight. The registration is valid for three years. Those who do not register their UAV could be subject to fines of $27,500, possible criminal penalties of $250,000, as well as three years in prison if the offense is serious. Come March 21, the FAA also intends to make the online registration system accessible for commercial operators.