January 12, 2021
Drones have a myriad of applications, from surveying and reconnaissance to waste collection and delivery. They go in safely where others fear to tread and are veritable time, money, labor, and (occasionally) lifesavers. But, as you may know, you can’t use a drone commercially willy-nilly – you must comply with a long list of rules and regulations first. And flying autonomous drones – unmanned, pre-programmed machines based on artificial intelligence – is all but illegal in the US.
Fortunately, times are changing. The government isn’t unaware of the potential drones represent and is slowly but surely laying out the groundwork necessary to make them more accessible, mainstream, and – eventually – autonomous.Watch Video
The government released two new drone-use rule mandates at the end of 2020. We’re thrilled by this development – we see it as the next big step toward drone autonomy. If you haven’t heard about them, watch our overview video, or here’s a summary:
Every drone over 0.55 pounds (0.25 kg) must broadcast a unique “Remote ID” when in the skies. This is akin to a digital license plate. The information sent out will be your drone’s location, an identification number, the speed, altitude, and most importantly your –the pilot’s – location. This rule will be applicable for all new mass-produced drones in 2022. And by 2023, all old drones must also comply with the standard too.
Currently, you’re only required to tack on a sticker to your drone, which isn’t exactly safe from a security standpoint. With the new system, law enforcement can potentially find and take down dangerous fliers fairly quickly. The new system may be based on Bluetooth and WiFi broadcasting technology. The logistics are to be worked out by the manufacturers.
What does this have to do with autonomy? A primary reason the government regulates drones so strictly is that they’re a security risk. By making Remote ID mandatory, the government will have an easier time regulating them. It makes unmanned drones less of a threat, especially in FAA-approved designated fly zones. The new law is paving the way for autonomous drones to take to the skies.
If you’re a licensed drone pilot, you can now conditionally fly over people, vehicles, and at night without individual part 107 waivers from the FAA. The new rule separates drones into 4 individual categories based on weight and injury potential, with different requirements for every category. Of course, you will still need a permit to fly over people, vehicles, and at night. This requires taking the test, which has been updated for night operations, and acquiring a license.
Further, there are some conditions you need to comply with. For flying at night, the drone must have anti-collision lights that can be seen for 3 miles. The flash rate should also be up to par. All this is to prevent collisions. If you’re flying a drone over vehicles, it should only be briefly for transit. For flying drones over people, you must comply with the Remote ID rule. Category 3 drones can’t be flown over gatherings of people, only in private areas when certain conditions are met.
Essentially, the new rules are reasonable and relaxed. They reduce the hoops you and your pilots have to jump through to fly over people and at night. It’s a step toward making out-of-line-of-sight, autonomous operations over public and commercial places a reality.
Once, drones were highly restricted and you had to have an actual pilot’s license to fly one. Slowly, they’ve become available to consumers. If you want to fly for commercial purposes (like SR’s drone pilots do), you must take an FAA Part 107 course and be certified to fly a drone (the same rules apply if you have a drone over a specific size). You don’t need a license or certification if you’re just flying for personal or recreational reasons. Now, they’re talking about this concept of remote IDs and making it even more relaxed for you to fly your drone.
It’s not all just talk either. Last year, Amazon’s Prime Air received a license to carry packages outside of the line of sight. Walmart is partnering with Flytrex to deliver items in North Carolina. Wing and UPS have also received FAA licenses and have operator training programs up and running. BNSF Railway is asking for a waiver from the FAA.
The technology for autonomous drones is likewise evolving at a rapid clip, which puts further pressure on the government, this time for commercial reasons. Drones manufacturing is a rapidly-growing, lucrative market. The government doesn’t want to see production going overseas and being taken over by the competition. If regulations don’t keep up with developments, there’s a real danger of that happening. Skydio has already announced a commercial autonomous drone called Skydio 2 Dock. This is a fully self-flying device housed in a special charging box. It can run surveillance operations by itself and then comes back to the box for recharging, no human intervention needed.
We expect the government to continue down this path of “relaxing” the rules and legalizing out-of-sight drone operations. Autonomous drone flights are on the horizon.
Why is there such a hoopla around autonomous drone operations? Autonomous drone flights are a gamechanger for business and, by extension, society as a whole. In most cases, they are cheaper, faster, and plain better:
Autonomy will happen soon but soon is a relative term. It’s going to be 2023, at the earliest, before autonomous operations are approved. Stockpile Reports has been in the surveying and information gathering business for a very long time. We didn’t wait around for drone regulations to be relaxed. Instead, we proactively built a solution that allows measurements – autonomously with a bare minimum of human intervention. The system is based on fixed-cameras and is tried-and-tested. You can use receive real-time inventory volumes on every one of your piles, any time.
We offer cutting-edge technology to give you actionable insight into your inventory. Our system is based on installed cameras, drones, and an iPhone app. Get in touch with our team of experts and we’ll help you determine the tools that you need to make autonomy a reality for your organization now.
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