There has been a lot of discussion around safety and privacy after a small drone landed on the White House lawn earlier this week. With the best interest of the industry in mind, I think it is important to share a few thoughts on where PrecisionHawk stands on this subject.
First, and most importantly, everyone wants the same outcome – safe skies.
As someone who takes more than 100 commercial flights a year, without ever having to worry about my well being, I know that the FAA’s focus on safety has greatly benefited us all.
Looking forward, a meaningful and effective airspace safety solution for drones will require input from both the innovators and the policy makers. As a manufacturer we cannot create policy, but we can be part of the solution. One of the many ways that we can start the conversation is by addressing solutions to some of these safety and privacy issues on our own UAV platform; a few areas that we have specifically tried to address include:
We are intensely focused on building a highly intelligent aircraft that constantly monitors and evaluates safety conditions, before takeoff and in-flight. Our aircraft invokes specific safety protocols in the event of any abnormal condition involving power, communications or navigation.
- Software Design.
Safety is a top priority as our software engineers design and build flight-planning tools. Today, we can limit flight height to provide a safe buffer between the acceptable altitudes of manned aircraft and the guidelines currently set out for model aircraft, COAs and operations in other jurisdictions. In the future, we envision exclusion zones and fleet management software that empowers precise flight parameters (allowing, for example, a company to limit their drones flights to the airspace over their own fields and no where else). This is similar in approach to DJI’s recent firmware announcement; one we applaud (http://onforb.es/18zwM3G).
- Real-Time Information.
We know that you cannot improve what you can’t measure, so our UAVs log all critical flight details in DataMapper. This allows us to recreate every aspect of a flight and helps our clients monitor the safety of their flight operations.
However, real-time tracking will be necessary. Implementing safety solutions is much easier with effective situational awareness. The current manned flight transponder system does not work at low altitudes, so we have built a working proto-type for small UAS low altitude flights called LATAS (www.flylatas.com )– which will, in the future, give our clients and possibly regulators, the real-time ability to track and control their drone fleet in aggregate.
UAVs are computers; and one of the key benefits derived from smart computing is that automation can programmatically reduce risk and make monitoring the skies much more manageable.
Technology raises privacy concerns – but it is also a tool for protecting and securing data. To that end, our DataMapper software only displays the requested “area of interest” bounded by the user in their flight planner. We don’t need, and don’t want, to accidently collect our neighbor’s data, and neither do our clients. We hope to release more software updates in this area over the next year and combine those with increasing methods to secure the data in transit through our encrypted data pipe.
Whether it’s supporting the “Know before you fly” safety campaign (http://knowbeforeyoufly.org), championing the efforts of the Small UAV Coalition (http://www.smalluavcoalition.org), or providing our own online and in-person training courses, PrecisionHawk will continue to act on our belief that an educated small UAS operator is a value to the whole system.
- Data Types.
Drones bring tremendous value in helping us look at how the world is changing over time. Flexibility on data types, the ability to see at higher resolutions and powerful ground truthing, backs many of the most positive impacts UAV technology brings to society. Drones can be a valuable tool for good across industries, helping the world tackle some of its toughest challenges from combating current water issues in California to helping feed a global population that will grow beyond 9 billion in the next 40 years.
As this process towards safer skies continues, our hope is that regulations can be developed in a timely manner such that North American manufacturers, who are using drones for positive purposes, will not be handicapped while competing on a global scale.
Workable solutions exist through smart policy and regulations - solutions that won’t sideline our best companies and brightest engineers from doing what they do best: innovating a path to success around this new generation of computing and information gathering.