Top Drone Industry News 15 May 2017 Skytango

Top drone industry news, hand-picked for you by the Skytango team with comments from Steve Flynn, Skytango’s CEO. Edition: May 22 2017. 

I’m back to the States for the coming 2 weeks, spending some time at home and getting ready to speak at Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, North Dakota. If you are around, I’d love to meet with you!

Hot topics this week: US Court of Appeals Ruling against FAA, More On Drone Regulations, China’s New Drone Policy, Drones & Street Art. This news roundup is supported by Drone Industry Insights.

Drones, Laws & Regulations

The top news this week is the United States Court of Appeals ruling against the FAA in the Taylor v. FAA case, regarding hobbyist drone registration.

John Taylor, a small unmanned aircraft (UAS) enthusiast, and a Maryland insurance lawyer, filed a lawsuit in 2015 against the FAA arguing that the FAA did not have the authority to impose registration rules over model aircraft, which includes recreational drones.

The Court determined on May 19, 2017 that the FAA was outside its rights in enforcing a new rule for hobbyist drone operators and ruled that model aircraft are now exempt from required registration. During the case, AMA supported Taylor while FAA’s position was supported by AUVSI and the Small UAV Coalition. Just to clarify, the ruling does not affect commercial drones.

This news got a lot of media attention. Christopher Korody in his last newsletter provided a list of selected interesting articles with contrasting positions on the ruling and on what’s going to happen now:

I personally believe this ruling is a step back, as the FAA’s registration had been set in place mostly to ensure operational safety and provide educational guidelines to recreational pilots. I’m really curious to see how the situation will develop.

So my impression is that the U.S. seems to struggle in dealing with such a complicated landscape of local, state and federal laws and regulatory changes, which reminds me of this well written article by David Schneider on IEEE Spectrum, and of this press release from NABB (National Business Aviation Association) expressing concern about the possibility of fragmentation of FAA’s authority on the airspace over drone use.

In the meantime, China just announced that drone pilots will have to register with the government. The registration, which can be done online since May 18, is now compulsory for drones heavier than 250 grams (0.55 pound).

This decision, announced by CAAC (Civil Aviation Authority of China) on May 16, 2017 and published by the state-owned press agency Xinhua the following day, comes as an official response to a rash of airport safety incidents mostly caused by amateur pilots.

There are concerns however, that the data could be used by the government to crack down on drone pilots when operating against the government, for example when filming public protests. Mashable offers a good recap on this new regulation which analysts expect to have a positive impact in the medium to long term on the drone industry in China.

This week I read other interesting news related to drone regulations.

First, I’d recommend the interview with Loretta Alkalay conducted by Laura Amico for Harvard Business Review. Don’t forget to check the interesting related chat on Facebook.

A great article by Ryan Martin on USA Today explains how the different state regulations in the U.S. can create situations where drone uses allowed in some states become illegitimate in others. The article focuses in particular on the problems that Indiana laws create for the local police departments willing to use drones in their daily activities – Indiana laws that state a police department needs a warrant to use a drone, to protect the privacy of the citizens.

The last article I read on the topic of drone regulations comes from the University of Melbourne in Australia. Professor Jeremy Gans explores how local criminal laws try to keep pace with the uptake of new technologies like drones, which in particular intersect several law domains like privacy laws (using some pretty specific guidelines), property rights, aviation rules and surveillance.

Drone Industry News

Talking about privacy concerns. Writing in ComputerWorld, Ira Brodsky explains the top 5 factors inhibiting the adoption of drone technologies by enterprises: limited flight endurance and payload capacity, pre-existing competing solutions, FAA’s set of rules is hardly applicable to local contexts which would require local regulations, the industry is taking too much time building a UTM which is not needed, and concerns among the public about privacy, security, and safety.

When talking about UTM, Ira Brodsky mentions Amazon as a possible alternative. The e-commerce giant is actually starting to develop its own air-traffic control system to manage its fleet, reports Bloomberg.

In the meantime, DJI is moving ahead towards the integration of their drones into the airspace system: they just incorporated ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast) in its DJI’s Matrice 200 series, reports Digital Circuit. ADS-B allows the drone to broadcast its position to other aircraft or ground control in real time. DJI partnered with uAvionix, recent winner of the AUVSI Startup Showdown, and manufacturer of drone safety hardware, for this development.

The Harvard Business Review has launched an amazing series of articles on the ‘Drone Economy’. The first article – Drones go to work – is written by Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics, and offers great insights on how drones are revolutionizing the construction industry, but also on how specific technological advancements such as autonomous flight, or cloud connectivity will create a drone economy.

There’s a new addition to the C-Suite! Does the fact that a big company like Firmatek appointing a CDO (Chief Drone Officer) offer a sign of the drone economy rising?

Don’t miss other articles on the Harvard Business Review, in particular, Flying Cows and other drone apps which gives a peek at what AT&T is doing with drones. A few more articles are coming soon – follow the magazine to keep updated.

More about Chris Anderson and 3D Robotics: Ian Smith of Commercial Drones FM interviews Daniel McKinnon, VP of Product at 3D Robotics, on why the company is now focusing on enterprise drone software for the construction industry.

Now the usual couple of pieces on DJI. The Chinese giant drone maker is experiencing a slowing in the growth rate, reports South China Morning Post, and is now targeting women as a new segment! The same magazine reported last week that more Chinese drone manufacturers were shifting focus to the commercial market.

Unless you update your DJI drone at the next software update, DJI will restrict the use of the drone, reports Gary Mortimer on sUAS News. According to DJI, this is to ensure “you will use the correct set of geospatial information and flight functions for your aircraft, as determined by your geographical location and user profile“. Can this stop your drone flying in countries where flights are restricted, asks Gary. Good question.

Virginia Commercial Space Authority has launched U.S.’s first runway dedicated to drones on Wallops Island. The $5.8 million drone airfield will be used for R&D and testing, in particular of autonomous UAVs. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe took a 20-minute ride on a remotely piloted Centaur UAV to reach the airfield for the launch ceremony.

Last industry news, the FAA has released a database containing registered private drone owners.

Drone Technologies/New Products & Ideas

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA are developing algorithms that let swarm of drones fly safely. The algo controls the flight path pushing the drones to stay as close to the planned, collaborative behaviors as possible, while only deviating from the planned paths as little as is mathematically possible.

Toyota has contributed funding to the development of the “Skydrive”, a drone-like vehicle that would fly 10 meters (33 feet) above the ground at speeds up to 100 km/h (62 mph), which is being built by a startup. The aim of the project is to get the car ready for commercialization by 2020.

Flyability has introduced a range extender for indoor drones working in limited signal propagation environments such as galleries and mines.

Citylab reports that drones will soon be used to spray paint street art. A new project from Italian design firm Carlo Ratti Associati, whose founder partner Carlo Ratti is Director at MIT SENSEable City Lab, uses a centralized management system to control four or more drones, each painting one color in the CMYK scheme. “Paint By Drone” – the name of the project – will debut this fall in Turin, Italy, and in Berlin.

Kittyhawkio has released Flight Deck, a suite for real-time drone operations.

DJI this week announced the launch of a new Apple TV app, which is designed to allow users to watch aerial content and 4K videos captured from around the world using DJI drones. DJI will be revealing a new product on May 24, 2017 in New York – Digital Circuit speculates on the possible product: the new DJI Spark drone, which would allow DJI to enter the under $500 range.

Any drone engineers reading? A guest post on Dronenr by Jala Mosay explains how to possibly extend the hovering time optimizing the drone efficiency in the design.

Industry Stat

820,000: that’s the number of drone operators registered with the FAA since December 2015, reports Matt McFarland on CNN.

Drone Journalism

I read an interesting interview with KTVB Executive News Director Kate Morris by Jennifer Nelson of RJI Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the Missouri School of Journalism, focused on the experience of the TV station in integrating drones into their activities.

Aerial Filming & Photography

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a system for shooting professional quality video with drones, taking human operators out of the picture. The system allows a filmmaker to define certain framing parameters for the drone which the UAV can stick to while in the air.

No camera swiveling or operation by the pilot or filmmaker is necessary. I’m not sure camera operators need to worry too much about their jobs in the near future – but “it’s another important wrinkle in the way new hardware and software is changing filmmaking, big or small“, says the author of the article Sean O’Kane on Verge.

DJI will launch a series of in-depth seminars on aerial photography open to the public. The seminars will take place in U.S. cities during summer 2017, and will be conducted by well-known photographers Randy Jay Braun and Stacy Garlington.


In Oklahoma State University, students are now learning to use drones to find evidence on crime scenes.

Grand Canyon rangers’ drones reach remote corners in search for missing hikers. The use of drones for search and rescue has seen a tremendous increase in the region, and the article highlights some of the latest episodes when drones have been used.

Canadian-based startup Droneseed has received the first FAA approval for using drone swarming to deliver agricultural payloads. Precision forestry is a field with lots of potential for drone applications.

Farmers in Limburg, Netherlands will be checking their crop with drones, searching for cannabis plants which are secretly planted by criminal organizations and usually harvested before the corn’s harvest period.

It’s a boom of drone adoptions by public agencies and local authorities in the U.S.

Alaska’s Division of Forestry will use drones to help fight fires this summer. The agency will use drones to help locate fires, create maps, assist crews on the ground and identify fires risks throughout the state. The state’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has also added drones to its team, assisting with land surveys. In the case of the Division of Forestry, the agency will save thousands of dollars in a year by opting not to charter a helicopter for fire identification needs.

The City of Richmond in Georgia, USA has bought a DJI Matrice 210 to be shared by different departments, for search and rescue operations, thermal imaging and inspections etc.

Counties in Virginia, USA are buying drones for similar purposes. For example, Carolina County launched the Caroline County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Management drone program in 2016, and they recently bought a DJI Phantom 4, planning to use it for post-storm damage assessment, incident situation awareness, search and rescue, hazardous material response and other activities.

A new video, shot by two drones near Nunavut, Canada, sheds light on the mystery of how narwhals use their long tusks. The narwhal’s tusk, which can sometimes reach up to 9 feet in length, is actually a tooth that spirals out from their head. Until now, the purpose of the tusk was relatively unclear. Adam Ravetch for the World Wildlife Fund Canada and researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada were able to get a closer look at the sea creatures:

Drone Events

I read a few articles still related to Xponential. If you missed the event:

Ascend Conference and Expo, initially planned for Portland, July 2017, has been canceled. I had been invited to speak there – I really appreciated the educational principles of this project and the quality of the lineup and of the programme.  I can only imagine the effort they put into this event, and I really wish the best of luck to Drone 360 and the whole team behind the event in re-defining the format. Looking forward to hearing good news soon from you in the future.

I’m speaking soon at Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, which was mentioned by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch, when interviewed this week by Randy Goers for the Drone Radio Show Podcast. Are you planning to attend? Don’t forget to use our coupon FriendsOfSkytango to get $50 off your conference ticket.

The Commercial UAV Expo Europe in Brussels, another event where I’ll be speaking, has released their conference programme.

Upcoming B2B events in the next 30 days. The list is getting longer and longer:

Drone Film/Photo Festivals

Are you a drone operator who loves creating video, or a filmmaker using drones? Get the chance to submit your film to DroneUp International Film Festival 2017, an international drone film festival which takes place in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in August. You can do it for FREE using our coupon code which will give 100% discount on the submission: DroneUpandSkyTango.

Watch the 7 great winners of the second edition of the Australian blue2blue Drone Film Festival in our recent post.

Now open for submissions:

Video of the Week

French photographer and filmmaker Hadrien Picard shot some wild footage of a nighttime mountain bike ride by Red Bull rider Loic Bruni, using a drone carrying a bank of LEDs.

Petapixel explains that Picard attached an 800w LED to an octocopter, and quickly discovered that the hardest part was keeping the drone’s lights beaming steadily down onto the fast-moving cyclist. To solve the problem, the water-cooled lighting rig was attached to a gimble, making it possible to remotely direct the LED bank like a camera. Pretty ingenious and effective:

Thanks for reading and for sharing and as ever, safe flying.