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Question of the week

As of last week, the FAA has approved more than 1,000 commercial drone permits. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these permits have gone to small businesses, not huge industrial, corporate or military players. (The first of these went to companies like AeroVironment and Boeing, operating in remote regions.)

But today: Realtors, film and photography outfits, farmers, freelance pilots, surveyors, transportation and delivery companies, inspectors, journalists, security providers, conservationists — drones can be applied to a broad range of commercial activities. AUVSI observed that the first 500 exemptions covered 20 major industries. To me, this is worth noting.

Drones are what can be called an “asymmetrical” technology. They’re relatively cheap, yet incredibly effective and useful. They can give a small group of people — or a single person — an outsized amount of power or information. But what we’re seeing here, with the wide adoption of drones in smaller businesses, is the rapid spread of asymmetry. In other words, we’re seeing an alignment — in other other words, asymmetry is becoming symmetry.

This is notable because when you have a few people with outsized power, that power can seem like something for the rest of us to fear, or at least be wary of. But now an asymmetrical technology once the domain of the government — and a few intimidating corporations that often work closely with the government — is the realm of hundreds of local businesses all around the country. It’s still a powerful technology, but now it’s becoming a little more symmetrical — which at the same time means more common, and less exclusive and strange. So, yes: This sudden explosion of exemptions signals great promise for drones in small businesses. But this also means that more and more people from a variety of places will become advocates for the many positive uses of this technology, and will have an incentive and voice in educating people about drones, as well as promoting sensible and proactive legislation.

Drones are clearly good for small businesses. Will small businesses be good for drones? Do you have any personal experience that might relate? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

And now, the news of the week.


Milestone: The FAA has now approved more than 1,000 commercial drone permits. (Fortune)

Four commercial airliners reported seeing a drone in their approaches to Newark Airport. None had to take evasive action. Please, don’t fly anywhere near an airport. (NBC New York)

Last month a Kentucky man made headlines when he shot a neighbor’s drone out of the sky. He said the drone was flying ten feet over his property, a claim the drone’s owner disputed, saying the logs show the drone never flying under 200 feet. The drone owner has now released video footage from the drone when it was shot, showing it was flying at an altitude nowhere near ten feet. The shooter will face criminal charges next month. (Popular Mechanics)

Culture and Commentary

Model plane enthusiasts — whose aircraft, due to murky regulatory language, share a classification with drones — are now afraid that drone laws might ground them, as well. (Wall Street Journal)

A commercial pilot with nearly 30 years of experience has come out to say that fears of drones actually downing a commercial airliner are unfounded, citing as evidence the “hundreds” of bird strikes that occur annually and rarely if ever cause any damage. (International Business Times)

But Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger (no relation), the pilot who famously made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009, says it’s not a matter of if a drone will cause an airline crash, but when. (Robotics Trends)

Google’s lesser-known drone story: The FAA has required that, by 2020, all aircraft flying in regulated US airspace be outfitted with devices called ADS-B transponders. The transponders periodically squawk the drone’s location — as determined by GPS — so that air traffic controllers and other aircraft will know their location with greater accuracy than radar allows. The catch: ADS-B transponders are expensive — ranging from $4,000-$7,000. So Google, who wants to deliver via drone, is investing in driving down the cost of this technology. Interesting read for sure. (Airspace Magazine)

Fly Fishing: Watch this fisherman on a San Diego pier hook a drone with a single cast — from the drone’s POV. (Time)

Wired takes a skeptical view of a future where drones fill our skies. If anything, though, it’s a magic eight ball glimpse into the technology that drones will adopt to solve these problems.

Elizabeth Spayd, former managing editor of the Washington Post, discusses the future of drones in journalism. (

A behind-the-scenes look at that Human Torch drone stunt. They used 10 drones to make the film. Each flew for about 30 seconds before flaming out or crashing into a building. The stunt was conducted in a special, controlled location with firemen monitoring the scene. Also, this story is brought to you by The Blaze.

In more burning man news, Burning Man is cracking down on drones. The famous festival will not allow personal drones, and will strictly limit the use of others. (AP)

High Tech

Drones harvest whale mucus, helping researchers collect valuable data on stress and overall health. Related: Ocean Alliance has launched a Kickstarter for a drone built specially for this application, called Snotbot. (Wired)

Carnegie Mellon researchers are working to deliver cellular reception to drones with old ambulances — cell phone towers won’t do the trick. (Engadget)

Drones could help protect us from volcanoes, detecting eruptions before they happen. (Business Insider)

Volunteers in England are deploying drones to help them monitor and protect the longest archaeological site in that country — 5,600 miles of coastline that’s home to over 70,000 sites, threatened by erosion. (The Guardian)

Hack away

At DefCon last week, hackers unveiled a drone that can hack wireless networks — even in a walled compound. The drone was on sale for $2,500. (Defense One)

A Chinese group has demonstrated how easy it is to hack a drone’s GPS using a GNU radio, which can be used to override GPS-based geofencing. (Forbes)

“I hit you with my Resonance Cannon!” “Oh yeah? I block with my Sound Shield!” Researchers in Korea have found out you can knock a drone out of the sky by blasting it with a sound cannon. The technology exploits a natural property of all objects — resonance. The researchers found a frequency above the audible spectrum that can disable a drone’s gyroscopes. But all you need is a shield around the gyros and you’re good. (Techworm)

The view from above

Truly incredible drone stills of Paris, Old Delhi and Amsterdam, from aerial experts AirPano. (Inquisitr)