White House Drone Day Focuses on Future of Industry



Today, the White House Office of Science, Technology and Policy held a drone workshop in conjunction with the AUVSI Foundation, which featured multiple announcements by speakers that aim to push the budding industry even further.

The event came with a large financial investment pledge from the White House. OSTP announced the Obama administration has put $35 million in new research funding on unmanned aircraft through the National Science Foundation over the next five years. Research areas will include infrastructure monitoring, disaster response, agriculture and severe storm studies. 

Administrator Michael Huerta, from the Federal Aviation Administration, discussed drones’ transformative path thus far. 

“UAS are transforming entire industries,” he said. “They are improving the safety of our transportation infrastructure. … They are tackling jobs that are dangerous for other people or aircraft to do.” He added that just last week, two people died in crop duster accidents, “exactly the type of job that unmanned aircraft can do.”

He said the FAA wants to move at a faster pace with this technology, so it doesn’t stifle innovation and enthusiasm. In the coming months, in addition to the implementation of the small UAS rule on Aug. 29, the agency aims to have a propose a rule about drone flights over people by the end of the year. 

Huerta announced the FAA is forming an unmanned safety team, chaired by Intel Group CEO Brian Krzanich. Kzanich spoke after Huerta, and he showed a video of a swarm of drones flying over Sydney. He said it’s Intel’s goal to have swarms like that one, numbering up to 1,000 at a time, so companies can inspect quicker and more thoroughly. But drone displays like the Sydney one also offer an aesthetic value.

“This whole technology has the opportunity to not only drive enhancements in the economy, but also change the way we have experiences,” he said, adding that drones could one day even replace fireworks. 

However, Kzanich outlined that work still needs to be done on technology, like collision avoidance, and drones also need to get smarter and be much more autonomous vehicles. 

He commended the FAA for its work on the small UAS rule, which and paves the way for widespread, legal commercial drone operations.  

“Don’t tell me what I can’t do. Just tell us what we have to invent; tell us what we have to overcome. Give us those rules and methods. Give us what we need to invent … and we’ll go invent it,” he said. 

Phil Moeller, senior vice president of energy delivery at Edison Electric Institute, discussed how drones have been a boon to utilities inspection, but there remains a need for beyond line of sight flights, an application not permitted in the small UAS rule but available through a waiver process. EEI is teaming with drone company Sharper Shape, and in the coming weeks, they will apply to fly beyond line of sight in the United States for these types of applications.  

During a panel discussion on the role of data and research and development in policymaking, Howard Zemsky, commissioner of economic development for the state of New York, announced that the governor, Andrew Cuomo, made a $5 million investment today in the UAS industry in Central New York. The investment will support NASA’s UAS Traffic Management infrastructure, UAS testing and rating facilities, and a UAS innovation corridor between Syracuse and Rome, New York. 

The final panel, moderated by AUVSI President and CEO Brian Wynne, discussed advancing technological progress in UAS.

“We’ve been talking a lot about policy. At the end of the day it’s incumbent on industry to bring technology solutions to the marketplace,” said Wynne. 

In the session, Trumbull Unmanned CEO Dyan Gibbens announced the company is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory on operating in more challenging environments, since energy companies they work with are often in harsh and GPS-denied locations. The company is also performing an exercise offshore San Francisco this fall to simulate an oil spill response. This summer, they are also working with Insitu, PrecisionHawk and 3D Robotics on a project that will access UAS use in electricity. 

“I’m excited about efforts like this and how we can move forward together,” she said. “It’s going to be a much better project because we are working on this together.”

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