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Question of the week

This week the California state legislature is holding hearings on drone safety. The hearings are being held in conjunction with the introduction of a new drone trespass bill, a bill crafted in part out of concern following the reported drone sightings that grounded aerial firefighting operations earlier this summer. Industry leaders along with emergency responders and representatives from the AMA will speak to the legislature about the proposed bill and about safety and privacy in general.

This, however, is the second incarnation of this drone bill. The first version required that plaintiffs prove the drone pilot violated a series of four conditions to uphold the charge of trespass. In the new bill those narrow conditions have been replaced by one extremely broad one: It’s trespassing if a drone simply flies below 350 feet over someone’s property.

This isn’t very reasonable, and could also have some First Amendment implications. The question of the week, then, is addressed to our California community — but anyone with suggestions can contribute: Do you think this bill is reasonable and proactive? If not, can we as a community take steps now to articulate to the state just what’s wrong with this bill, and what could be made right?

Leave your comments here, or better yet, with your state representative.

And now, the news that mattered last week.


The California state legislature is holding a hearing on drone safety this week. The state is considering a new law that would severely restrict drone use, in response to reported sightings of drones interfering with aerial firefighting operations. (San Bernadino Sun)

This is weird: Until now, Google has apparently been operating its Project Wing drone program strictly by using NASA’s FAA permit. Unlike Amazon, Google opted not to apply for a Section 333 exemption, instead conducting its research “in partnership” with NASA. This research includes flight tests as well as signal and software tests in pursuit of an effective air traffic control system for drones. Google claims all is legal, but just to be safe the company applied for its own Section 333 exemption last week. (The Guardian)

The FAA released a report claiming that drone sightings by pilots this year have already more than doubled the total sightings last year — 650 to 238. (FAA)

In response, the FAA will begin developing tests for studying drones’ impact on airplanes starting October 1. The agency currently mandates manufacturers test engines against bird strikes — for which they use a chicken cannon. For some context: The flock of geese that infamously brought down “Sully” Sullenberger’s (no relation) flight over the Hudson a few years ago comprised birds weighing 20 pounds, and the minimum weight of the birds involved in current engine tests is four pounds; most drones in the U.S. weigh about three pounds. (NBC)

And for some more context, despite this seemingly large number of drone sightings, birds pose a much bigger threat to planes — except this is no longer news. “In 2014, planes hit 13,759 animals, most of which, according to its list of species, are birds.” (Newsweek)

But doesn’t the FAA itself have the power to do more to encourage the education of these new or errant pilots? The agency currently bans drone training, unless it’s done for free as hobbyist or recreational use. “This means that local drone dealers who have years of experience flying drones cannot legally teach their customers to fly their newly purchased drones, even if the lesson is done for free… By the same token, experienced drone operators cannot legally sell their training knowledge to new and inexperienced operators. Even the recent holders of 333 exemptions for commercial training cannot legally allow their students to manipulate the controls of the drones they are learning to fly.” (Forbes)

This week an aerial filming company called Aerobo carried out the first FAA-approved commercial flight over New York City. (New York Business Journal)

The FAA has granted the official North Dakota test site permission to conduct night flights. “The addition of night flying opens up the opportunities for industry partners to test sensor payloads in all lighting conditions,” said Robert Becklund, executive director of the test site. (GovTech)

Culture and commentary

Miami Dolphins owner, Stephen Ross, is investing $1 million to fund the Drone Racing League. (Tech Times)

San Francisco will host the world’s first international drone film festival in November (the Flying Robot international Film Festival — visit for info and submissions). The categories go beyond the aesthetic to include stories about drones. For instance there’s a “Drones for Good” category, for short films that showcase the best uses of drones in humanitarian, environmental and social contexts. “These stories of good don’t get much attention,” says event organizer Eddi Codel. “So many people just assume the worst. With Drones for Good, I hope to offer another narrative as to why we should carefully consider drones as lawmakers start banning them everywhere.” (Wired)

Here’s great critique of that new California bill, modified to be more broad than the original, which now seems extreme and might encourage frivolous and groundless lawsuits: “The proposed legislation makes it a trespass if a drone merely flies below 350 feet altitude above someone’s property. There’s no need to prove that the operator knowingly did so, there’s no need to prove that any privacy harm occurred, or that any image or video was gathered, and there’s no requirement that reasonable people find the action offensive. Taking those proof elements out creates a piece of legislation that effectively prohibits overflights, without any showing that any harm has occurred.” (Forbes)

The number of Indian drone startups has perhaps tripled in the past year, in spite of (or because of?) that country’s muddled drone laws. Uses range from agriculture to medical response and gas leak detection. (Economic Times)

And flying flags: A student-made drone hoisted the Indian flag in honor of the 69th anniversary of the country’s independence.

Drones for good

In Louisiana, contractors are using drones to identify mosquito breeding grounds so they can control the insect population and the diseases they currently spread into chickens. (KTAC)

In Ottawa, drones are being used to chase Canada geese off of Ottawa ponds . Goose control has long been a challenge, with the drones seeming to succeed where dogs, decoys and chemicals have not. One goose can drop a prodigious two pounds of poop per day. However, many Canadians are currently lobbying to name the species the national bird. (Wall Street Journal)

Across a much larger pond, authorities in the U.K. are considering using drones to control the ice cream-stealing seagull population. (The Mirror)

A recent study in Minnesota used drones to monitor bears in their natural habitat. However, the study also showed that the drones flying overhead caused over a 400% increase in the heart rates of bears. This is of interest to biologists, who expect that drones will soon be used regularly to monitor wildlife and environmental conditions. How did they know the heart rates, you ask? By implanting the bears with GPS trackers and heart monitors, which, I speculate, might also cause a little stress. (NPR)

See your world from above

Here’s a dramatic drone’s-eye-view of the scale and context of last week’s terrible explosions at a Tianjin warehouse. Reportedly the warehouse housed some serious chemicals, including cyanide. (The Guardian)

Check out this great aerial love letter to Los Angeles. (LAist)

Drone vs. Eagle. Now that’s talonted! (Please don’t unsubscribe now.) (The Guardian)