Category Archives: Drones

Google joins AMA, AOPA, and EAA asking the FAA to make fundamental changes to the FAA’s Remote ID proposal

This is significant: AMA, AOPA, EAA and Google’s sister company, Wing, urge FAA to Make Essential Changes to Remote ID Rule | AMA IN ACTION Advocating for Members

Last December, the FAA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for Remote ID of remote control small aircraft that will de facto ban home made radio controlled model aircraft. That ban is not subtle but intentional in the FAA’s rules. The FAA fully intends to ban the nearly 100 year old model aircraft hobby – under the new rules, only certified, manufactured model aircraft which continuously transmit their location in real time (probably at the cost of a monthly subscription fee) would be permitted.

Additionally, the FAA would move flights of existing model aircraft to about 2,400 “reservations” – a number that would gradually shrink over time to the point that all home made radio controlled aircraft would be banned in the United States.

The purpose of the FAA’s proposal is to seize the public airspace over the United States and turn it over to private industrial drone operations, and to increase costs to members of the public – by mandating realtime, continuous location data transmissions into cloud databases for a likely fee – so as to largely eliminate all model aircraft. This is why it is significant that Google has joined in this effort to retain the traditional model aircraft hobby.

The FAA largely banned ultralight aircraft through a convoluted and confusing set of multiple rule making proceedings. The effect was to ban the use of two-seat ultralights for training purposes. The ultralight flying community has largely vanished as a result. The FAA has gone down the same path to regulate all airspace not only in your backyard, but under their proposal, to regulate the airspace even inside your home. The effect is to ultimately eliminate model aircraft in the U.S. in order to turn over the airspace in your backyard to private corporations. This is not wild speculation – this is exactly how their NPRM was written.

Let’s just mandate it: “NSA Warns Cellphone Location Data Could Pose National-Security Threat”

The National Security Agency issued new guidance on Tuesday for military and intelligence-community personnel, warning about the risks of cellphone location tracking through apps, wireless networks and Bluetooth technology.

The detailed warning from one of the nation’s top intelligence agencies is an acknowledgment that Silicon Valley’s practice of collecting and selling cellphone location information for advertising and marketing purposes poses a serious national-security risk to many inside the government….

Source: NSA Warns Cellphone Location Data Could Pose National-Security Threat – WSJ

In December 2019, the FAA released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requiring mandatory radio-based Remote Identification and tracking of all hobby radio controlled aircraft weighing more than 250 grams (about 1/2 pound). The Final Rule is expected in December of 2021. The NPRM itself eventually ends the radio control model aircraft hobby that currently exists, makes it legal to fly only certified, manufactured drones that are tracked in real time. The primary purpose is to clear the air space above your home and turn it over to AmazonGoogleUPS. The FAA asserts all rights to the airspace in your back yard, for example.

Every remote controlled aircraft would be required by Federal regulation to connect to the Internet and log its activities in an Internet cloud database, in real time. Those providing the cloud databases may offer them for free in exchange for who knows what – but the FAA itself proposed they might collect photo images and telemetry – such as WiFi and Bluetooth communications collected by the craft.

In effect, the FAA mandates a nationwide low level altitude surveillance network of potentially millions of drones collecting data in real time and logging it in data bases – that may as well be located in China.

Meanwhile, the US DoD and the US Department of the Interior banned the use of Chinese made drones over fears of their use for espionage.

While the left hand bans drones from collecting data, the right hand mandates that all drones must collect potentially invasive data on behalf of foreign organizations.

We know that U.S. firms and others are collecting massive amounts of private data through the use of apps on our smart phones. Google itself collects your location data, even when you turn location services off.

The primary business function of the Internet is surveillance to be used for many purposes.

FCC Fines HobbyKing Nearly $3 Million for Marketing Unauthorized Drone Transmitters

HobbyKing sells radio control model aircraft, subsystems and parts. For quite some time, they sold dozens of models of transmitters, especially for video links and telemetry, that operated on unauthorized frequencies and at unauthorized power levels.  They were also selling transmitters that had never received FCC approval. The FCC previously fined them $2.9 million for violating FCC rules and regulations.  HobbyKing pulled the products and protested the fine, but the FCC noted, they did not dispute they had been actively marketing illegal transmitters – and the fine stands, due within 30 days.

Source: FCC Fines HobbyKing Nearly $3 Million for Marketing Unauthorized Drone Transmitters

When was the last time the media hyped a “drone sighting”? I can’t even remember.

Reports to the FAA of “drone sightings”, used by Congress and the FAA to drive forth draconian remote identification and mandated national surveillance networks using drones, with the goal of pricing drone flying out of the public’s reach – were based on bad data and media hysterics, much of which was false reporting.

  • Remember the Aeromexico flight in late 2018 that had a collapsed nose cone? The media blamed that on a drone. Six months later the official investigation found it was due to a maintenance defect on the nose cone.
  • Remember the Gatwick Airport fiasco? The only confirmed drone sightings were of the fleet of surveillance drones operated by the Sussex Police over the airport.
  • Remember the temporary Newark Airport closure due to a “drone sighting”? That drone report was from 20 miles away from the airport and may not have even been a drone at all.

Take a look at this – drone sightings have magically disappeared: Drone Sightings: The Actual Non-Hyped Numbers Analyzed (Graphs, Trends, etc.)

After awhile, when the FAA isn’t stealing Youtube content, they seem to have been busy making up fake drone reports to justify a remote ID proposal that mandates all drones be connected to the Internet cloud, in real time, and used as part of a massive national surveillance program, collecting imagery and telemetry and potentially sending it to China. Brilliant. Not like any drones would so something like that.

The FAA’s primary goal is to make hobby flying of radio control model aircraft so expensive and cumbersome as to eliminate it entirely. The reason is to clear the low altitude airspace for AmazonGoogleUPS delivery drones. The FAA asserts that it and it alone owns the airspace in your front and backyards from the ground up. Literally, the airspace below your head when you stand outside is controlled by the FAA and they intend to use it for corporate delivery and surveillance networks. (See my comments to see how that works.)

Learn how to safely fly a quadcopter

I originally posted this in an online drone/camera forum. This information may be helpful to a wider audience.

Judging from the large number of videos people post on Youtube of crashing (and often damaging or destroying) their quadcopter, I opted for a cheap toy quadcopter to practice with first, before eventually getting something better. I think starting inexpensively is a good idea!

I started with a $30 toy and then later bought a Bugs 3 toy class (all manual, no automated features). Good thing as I made errors, crashed a bit, broke a prop, burned out an ESC and a motor, and eventually broke one of the arms. Fortunately, the Bugs 3 is easily repairable if you are a little bit handy with DIY and electronics. I learned a lot!

I recently bought a used higher end drone for $300 (which is selling for $700 new). I’m confident in my use of this drone due to my building up skills on the “disposable” toys 

After at lot of practice, my goal is no crashes.

  • I use standard safety practices all the time.
  • I use a checklist before flight.
  • I log my flights and make notes afterward.
  • I don’t fly if the winds are too high or the weather is bad.
  • I stay clear of obstacles. If others are flying near me, I talk to them so we coordinate what we are doing.
  • If I forget my check list (has happened), I do not fly. To avoid crashes you need to take safety seriously and adhere to it at all times – no excuses.

This sounds a bit nuts to many, but I used to fly real aircraft and decided to apply the same aviation safety mindset to my model aircraft. And since then, I’ve had zero crashes.

Some tips – when you start flying, fly in an open area well clear of obstacles. Start by  taking off to may be 10 feet (3 meters) and learn how the basic controls operate. Then do a practice landing – remember, slow it down as you approach the ground. Take off again and repeat. Fly around – gently and slowly – in a small area. Gradually build confidence. Model aircraft hobbyists tell me it takes a dozen or more flights to start feeling comfortable with the aircraft.

Don’t go out on day number one and plan to fly your quadcopter like the pros and super experienced hobbyists! Take your time, build your skills and confidence slowly!

Most of the new drones have highly automated features. That’s ok to start, but be sure to learn how to fly competently under full manual control. Too many Youtube videos show people relying on their automated “Return to home” or automated landing feature – and then crashing because the path goes right through a tree and they didn’t know how to manually fly the quadcopter! Seriously! Or not realizing that “return to home” means “close to home” – and watching their quad land itself in the pond 10 feet from where they took off!

Know how to take control and fly manually! Don’t let this happen to you!

Lastly, before you buy, where will you fly? My nearest legal flying spot is ten miles out to a model aircraft airfield to fly because we have a bunch of airports around us (no flying within 5 miles unless you notify the airport and tower).

Hope this is helpful!

Update – If you are within 5 miles of an airport (or near certain other types of facilities) you may be prohibited from flight. Use an app such as KittyHawk (Android) to view flight restrictions for your location, and if possibly, you can use KittyHawk to file a LAANC airspace authorization request with the FAA. You’ll generally get a reply in seconds to less than a minute. I live about 3 miles from a small airport that also has air carrier flights and I have to use LAANC each time I fly at my house. I have never had a problem obtaining authorization.

DJI’s Go 4 Android app found to have significant spyware capabilities, possibly unused

In my comments to the FAA regarding their NPRM to require mandatory Remote ID and data logging into cloud-based data bases, I pointed out that the FAA was establishing a nationwide aerial surveillance network. This finding appears to validate my comments to the FAA:

According to the reports, the suspicious behaviors include:

The ability to download and install any application of the developers’ choice through either a self-update feature or a dedicated installer in a software development kit provided by China-based social media platform Weibo. Both features could download code outside of Play, in violation of Google’s terms.

A recently removed component that collected a wealth of phone data including IMEI, IMSI, carrier name, SIM serial Number, SD card information, OS language, kernel version, screen size and brightness, wireless network name, address and MAC, and Bluetooth addresses. These details and more were sent to MobTech, maker of a software developer kit used until the most recent release of the app.

Automatic restarts whenever a user swiped the app to close it. The restarts cause the app to run in the background and continue to make network requests.

Advanced obfuscation techniques that make third-party analysis of the app time-consuming.

Source: Chinese-made drone app in Google Play spooks security researchers | Ars Technica

DJI admits the software has these capabilities with this double speak:

DJI officials said the researchers found “hypothetical vulnerabilities” and that neither report provided any evidence that they were ever exploited.

The FAA said they processed all 50,000+ public comments received in regards to their NPRM on Remote ID in just 60 days and are now full speed ahead on implementing their final rule, to be released in December of 2020. My expectation is the FAA will ignore most public input and will ram this rule through at all costs, as they were bought off by AmazonGoogleUPS. While the rule will not ban drones, it is likely to make flying a personal drone expensive and difficult, with mandatory real time tracking and logging into cloud databases of every flight – in other words, a potentially de facto ban on most personal flying. Their proposed rules, in fact, do call for the eventual banning of all home made radio controlled airplanes – a large hobby that has existed safely for over 90 years.

The FAA is, like most government agencies now, acts as authoritarian tyrant.

FAA is establishing Remote ID technical standards before reviewing public comments

FAA Press Release

For Immediate Release
May 5, 2020
Contact: pressoffice@faa.gov WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today announced the eight companies that will assist the Federal government in establishing requirements for future suppliers of Remote Identification (Remote ID). Remote ID will enable Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly called drones, to provide identification and location information while operating in the nation’s airspace.

The FAA selected the following companies to develop technology requirements for future Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers (USS): Airbus, AirMap, Amazon, Intel, One Sky, Skyward, T-Mobile, and Wing. These companies were selected through a Request for Information process in December 2018.

“The FAA will be able to advance the safe integration of drones into our nation’s airspace from these technology companies’ knowledge and expertise on remote identification,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

This initial group will support the FAA in developing technology requirements for other companies to develop applications needed for Remote ID. The applications will provide drone identification and location information to safety and security authorities while in flight.

The technology is being developed simultaneously with the proposed Remote ID rule. Application requirements will be announced when the final rule is published. The FAA will then begin accepting applications for entities to become Remote ID suppliers. The FAA will provide updates when other entities can apply to become qualified Remote ID USS on FAA.gov.

Drones are a fast-growing segment of the transportation sector with nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots now registered with the FAA. The agency’s ability to develop Remote ID technology simultaneously with the rule enables the FAA to continue to build on a UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system that has demonstrated global leadership through the small UAS rule and the implementation of the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which automates the application and approval process for most UAS operators to obtain airspace authorizations.

The FAA bungled this press release. The Remote ID Cohort group was something in the works long ago. The FAA, though, issued this press release without clearly explaining that the review of pubic comments is ongoing and that the public will not be ignored. Many of us (just look at social media) saw this press release and read it as saying that public input in the NPRM on Remote ID was being ignored. The FAA really bungled this.

I’ve emailed an inquiry to the FAA to see if they can elaborate on what this is about and what is happening in regards to the public comments. Why does the comment evaluation period need to be done in total secrecy – no information on how it is performed, how many comments have been processed, or any time frame information.

Update: May 8 – FAA has issued a 2nd press release on this

Thanks for the questions we received after yesterday’s press release on the Remote ID Cohort. To clarify, the Cohort is  not part of the decision-making process for the  proposed Remote ID rule final rule. The Cohort will help the FAA develop technology requirements for other companies to develop applications needed for Remote ID.  The comment period on the  Remote ID Notice of Proposed Rulemaking  closed on March 2, 2020, and the FAA is reviewing the more than 53,000 comments

Transportation: Tesla deletes car features via software update, after cars are sold, used

Should Tesla be allowed to remove features from a vehicle that’s bought secondhand?

Source: Tesla yanks Autopilot features from used car because ‘they weren’t paid for’ | ZDNet

This is a troubling issue where we rely on software for every feature of consumer products. Software that can be updated to add features can also be downgraded to remove features.

Years ago, Amazon deleted e-book copies of George Orwell’s novel, 1984. Apparently Amazon did not have the distribution rights signed up correctly and customers who had bought the e-book addition discovered Amazon remotely deleted their copy of the book. (Amazon did refund the purchase price). That this was a giant corporation removing, of all things, 1984, was a bit of a shock to many.

Meanwhile, the FAA has proposed a massive, Rube Goldberg-like regulatory scheme for small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS), also known as remote control model aircraft. The FAA envisions a world where all model aircraft regulations are enforced by software, logging their position with government designated Internet databases, once every second during flight – rather than the traditional trust and enforcement mechanisms of all other laws. There are multiple issues with the FAA’s proposal, but one side effect of their attempt to enforce the law via software is they’ve managed to eliminate essentially all indoor flight by model airplanes and quadcopter – because a one-size fits all rule does not work. They’ve also created a monster that would enable automated  drone fleets – and consumer drones – to be enlisted by foreign adversaries in international espionage, permitting – indeed, encouraging – all drones to collect aerial imagery and other data as they fly over our homes and cities.

FAA plans to regulate home built model aircraft out of existence – you need to file comments now

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rule Making for Remote ID goes well beyond just remote ID. I have not had time – yet – to read the entire proposal, but it does include a requirement that all model aircraft be tracked in real time, once per second. Where “Internet is available” (which they mean 3G to 5G cell service), the position information must be relayed through a phone app to an Internet cloud database for real time tracking. They propose that third parties will run this air traffic management system and everyone will be charged an annual subscription fee. They’ve pulled a number out of a hat and say this might cost $30 per year (presumably PER aircraft); if this estimate is as accurate as the Affordable Care Act estimates were, then it will probably cost more like $100 per year. They will also change pilot registration to per aircraft registration, charging $5 per aircraft to be registered.

This is contrary to the recommendation of their own consensus of stakeholders advisory committee which recommend EITHER Internet tracking OR broadcast remote ID depending on the use and application. The FAA instead said it wants BOTH to be mandated. It is not entirely clear what happens when Internet is not available, and how they define that. If you have TMobile and no service, but Verizon has coverage are you required to also have Verizon service? While you can fly without Internet service such as in remote lands, there may be enforced restrictions such as a 400 foot horizontal limit (enforced by the certified quadcopter controller).

When the rule takes effect, they say all existing drones will be prohibited from flight after a grace period. Only new drones with certified real time tracking will be permitted. Only certain manufactured drones that can be updated by the manufacturer could be updated with transponder remote ID support. All others must be trashed.

The proposal would limited home built model aircraft to selected FAA approved sites only. This part of the rule is written in away that it gradually eliminates the sites over time and eventually, it will be illegal to fly any home built model aircraft. Only manufactured aircraft with certified remote IDs would be permitted.

Start here https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsid=89404

We have 60 days to file public comments. Do that here

https://www.regulations.gov/searchResults?rpp=25&po=0&s=FAA-2019-1100&fp=true&ns=true

While it is easy to post a rant comment, it will be more effective to write logical, fact and evidence based comments. It is likely that in the next days to weeks that we will see recommended talking points from the AMA, and FPV organizations. If you are not following discussions on social media, you may wish to look for FPV groups, drone groups and model aircraft groups on such places as Facebook. Several of them are or soon will be posting guides to help with comments.

It will be helpful for the sheer number of comments to be large, even if you only say little. With the FAA saying there are low millions of quadcopters, there needs to be more than 100,000 comments filed in opposition.

It is clear that the FAA’s intent is to raise very high hurdles for recreational use of the low altitude airspace – effectively, the FAA is attempting to privatize and sanitize the low level airspace for the de facto exclusive use of corporations such as Amazon and UPS. They are not even hiding that this is the goal.

Reminder: Quadcopters have killed zero people.

In the 4 days after the FAA released their preliminary proposal, there were 3 light plane crashes in Hawaii, Louisiana and Maryland, taking 13 lives. In late 2018 and early 2019, 346 people lost their lives in the crash of the FAA certified 737 MAX. In that case, the FAA had sold itself to Boeing, and the FAA has now sold itself to Amazon and UPS.

There were 14,400 aircraft collisions with birds at just 700 of the 15,000 airports in the U.S. in 2017. 285 people have died since 1988 due to bird strikes. From 1990 to 2017, there were 311 human injuries attributed to wildlife strikes with US civil aircraft.

0 people died due to drones.

Source: https://www.faa.gov/airports/airport_safety/wildlife/faq/

Adds perspective to the hysterical mania regarding the public use of model aircraft and their alleged danger to aircraft.

Again, there have been zero deaths due to model aircraft. The FAA is intent on regulating them out of existence while the FAA’s own malfeasance on the 737 MAX contributed to the death of 346 people in the past 16 months.

Transportation: #Drone delivery of consumer packages is mostly hype but does have some specific good use cases

This euphoria is largely based on assumptions that drones inevitably deliver better customer service at lower costs with a better environmental footprint than conventional delivery by a driver in a parcel van. These claims are little more than flights of fancy that cloud a more realistic assessment of the potential for the use of drones in logistics.

For the technology to work in commercial practice, however, the economics must also work.

Source: Commentary: Drone-Delivery Projects Must Look Beyond the Hype – WSJ

The primary value in drone delivery may be

1. Delivering value dense items that need to be delivered quickly. Medicine is the classic example.

2. Very short hop delivery. The USPS is experimenting with drones that launch from your local postal delivery vehicles to carry small packages up to home door steps, rather than having the postal worker have to take time to walk that distant (and deal with loose dogs!)

3. Delivering items to remote customers, not urban customers. When a delivery truck comes through my neighborhood, they commonly stop and deliver packages to multiple homes. This is pretty efficient. But delivering to remote (e.g. farms, ranches) and rural properties is not as efficient.

The dreams promoted by Google, Amazon and UPS of zillions of drones flying miles out from warehouses to drop off low value packages at consumer homes are not realistic at this time.