7 posts categorized "Drones" Feed

Drone Strikes Commercial Airliner While Landing At London Airport

Image of drone. Click to view larger version Several news organizations reported this morning that a drone struck a commercial airliner during its approach to land at an airport in England. CNN reported:

"British Airways Flight BA727 from Geneva, Switzerland, was coming in to land at London's Heathrow Airport when the pilot said he thought a drone had struck the front of the aircraft, London Metropolitan Police said."

During the drone strike, the plane was descending and at an altitude of about 1,700 feet. The plane landed safely and no passengers were injured. Officials inspected the plane and found no damage. Government authorities are investigating. They do not know who operated the drone, nor the type of drone. So far, officials haven't found any debris from the drone, during a land search.

In the United Kingdom, as in the United States, drone operators are supposed to operate their drones within flight restrictions (e.g., 400-foot maximum altitude, not near airports). The trouble is enforcement. There doesn't seem to be any way for government authorities to enforce the restrictions.

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for maintaining the safety of our skies. Current flight restrictions by the FAA for drones (also called Unmanned Aircraft Systems):

"Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles. Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times. Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations. Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying. Don't fly near people or stadiums. Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs. Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft

What does "near" mean: 5 feet, 5 yards, 50 yards, 500 yards, or 5 miles? What does "careless" mean? Enforcement seems to be an open security issue. There is nothing stopping drone operators from violating these flight rules. The FAA registration rules seem equally problematic:

"Anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft that weighs more than 0.55 lbs. (250g) and less than 55 lbs. (25kg) must register with the Federal Aviation Administration's UAS registry before they fly outdoors. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties... The owner must be: 13 years of age or older...A U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident."

How is this enforced when anyone can walk into a retail store and buy a drone (or order one online)?

The Heathrow drone strike should not be a surprise. There were two near misses in New York in August last year.The CNN news story also reported:

"A recent report, based on the center's analysis of Federal Aviation Administration data from August 21, 2015 to January 31, 2016, said there were 519 incidents involving passenger aircraft and unmanned drones in the U.S. within that period."

Last year, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) proposed an amendment to Federal Aviation Administration Re-authorization bill to require all remote-controlled aircraft sold in the United States to have tracking mechanisms installed. The mechanisms would use geo-fencing technology to keep drones away from high-value targets, such as airports, major parades, the Pentagon, major sporting events, and sports stadiums.

Drones have many valid uses, including faster, easier safety inspections of infrastructure, such as bridges, residential roofs, towers, and stacks; plus commercial package delivery. While drone pilots have been required to register with the FAA since December, there are still many unregistered operators.

The Heathrow drone strike could have had a very different result. It seems the drone bounced off the plane's metal exterior. A strike that punctures a windshield, or damages an engine, could produce a different outcome.

Once terrorists figure out the security hole with drone flight enforcement, you can bet they will test security limits. Heaven forbid terrorists pack explosives on larger drones and successfully fly them into a commercial airliner. If this happens, the travel industry will take a huge economic hit as consumers fly less often; or stop flying altogether (and takes trains or buses). Related tourism industries and locations would also be affected economically. People will lose jobs.

Image of M1A2 Abrahms battle tank. Click to view larger image A more sensible approached would have been to have put in place drone flight rules combined with effective enforcement processes before allowing consumers to purchase drones. One could argue that limits also apply. Consumers cannot buy an M1A2 Abrahms battle tank or a howitzer cannon. Maybe consumers should not be able to buy drones until effective enforcement and safety processes are in place first. Last year, a person installed and fired a handgun on his drone.

If this bothers you (and I sincerely hope that it does), tell your elected officials. What are your opinions of drones safety?


Updated Laws And Protections Needed Regarding Drone Privacy

Image of a drone or unmanned aircraft Consumer Reports explored the issues with drone privacy: what privacy protections consumers have, if any, and who enforces them. A 70-year-old lawsuit involving a farmer in North Carolina has now taken on new importance:

"The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1946. And one result of United States v. Causby was that the Court set the limits of private airspace: If you own a house, your property rights extend 83 feet up into the air... the 70-year-old ruling has new importance in the age of drones. It remains the only clear federal statement of law on how far above the ground your property ends..."

Basically, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for setting rules and enforcement. Drones (also referred to as unmanned aircraft) have many valid uses, including faster, easier safety inspections of infrastructure, such as bridges, residential roofs, towers, and stacks; plus commercial package delivery. Thankfully, drone pilots have been required to register with the FAA since December.

To improve things, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a federal lawsuit, to try to force the FAA to set rules protecting citizens from privacy intrusions by drones:

"... EPIC wants the FAA to make it easy for citizens to find out whether drones flying overhead have surveillance capabilities. The group also wants to protect the privacy rights of drone pilots..."

While some states have "paparazzi" laws that apply when photos or video are taken, improvements are needed to help consumers distinguish between drones flying overhead versus drones performing unauthorized recording:

"... existing nuisance and invasion-of-privacy statutes would apply to drone owners. If you could prove you were being harassed by a drone flying over your house, or even that one was spying on you from afar, you might have a case against the drone operator. But proof is difficult to obtain... and not everyone agrees on how to define harassment."

Other legislative efforts:

"A law proposed by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, the Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act, would require the agency to ensure baseline privacy and transparency safeguards, which would apply to both private drone operators and law enforcement. The ACLU, which supports the Markey bill, argued as far back as 2011 that a lack of oversight could lead to excessive surveillance by law enforcement using drones."

Related blog posts:


Smart Devices Create Challenges And Privacy Threats For Consumers

There are plenty of smart devices you can buy online or in retail stores for your smart home: smart televisions, home audio speakers, fitness bands, smart watches, light switches, talking dolls and toys, smart home thermometers, cars with GPS and sensors, drones, and much more. And, your utility company probably uses smart meters to transmit via wireless your usage, instead of paying technicians to visit your home.

Many or most of these devices have hands-free voice controls. That feature provides a huge convenience, but along with it comes the privacy threat that it can (or does) record everything you say... whether you intend it for the device or not.

The Times Union highlighted several problems smart devices create for consumers. The first is the hope that the device manufacturer adequately protects your information from data breaches and thieves:

"You may never know for sure. At best, you can hope the company keeps its promises on privacy. More important, you have to trust that its computer systems are really secure, or those promises are suddenly worthless. That part is increasingly difficult to guarantee — or believe — as hacking becomes routine."

At least one fitness maker already had a substantial data breach. People want to try the new devices to see if and how they might benefit. There's nothing wrong with that. The second problem:

"Every technological benefit comes with a cost in the form of a threat to privacy. Yet not paying that price has its own cost: an inability to participate in some of technology's greater achievements."

There has to be a better way. Consumers should not have a to choose between giving up privacy in order to use smart devices versus living under a rock without smart devices to maintain privacy. What are your opinions?


U.S. Senator Calls For Geo-Fencing To Keep Drones Away From High Value Targets

Image of a drone or unmanned aircraft Most people like to travel. That includes airplane trips for business or for pleasure. And, everyone wants to travel safely. Newsday reported:

"The FAA reported 52 instances of pilots spotting drones in June and July 2014, but the rate of such sightings has risen to 275 in June and July 2015, the senator said. Schumer said he fears a drone may eventually be sucked into the engine of a plane or otherwise collide with aircraft."

This blog reported in August about two near misses in New York. For safety, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) proposed an amendment to Federal Aviation Administration Re-authorization bill to require all remote-controlled aircraft sold in the United States to have tracking mechanisms installed. The mechanisms would use geo-fencing technology to keep drones away from high-value targets, such as airports, major parades, the Pentagon, major sporting events, and sports stadiums.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for maintaining the safety of our skies in the United States. The incident highlights the need for continued and stronger enforcement of aviation safety laws by drone operators:

"Unmanned aircraft systems are neither supposed to fly within five miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator and control tower nor are they supposed to go above 400 feet."

There will likely be a fight in Washington about the FAA Re-authorization bill. General Aviation News reported in July 2015:

"The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has delayed plans to release its proposed FAA reauthorization legislation. That occurred after the House majority leader informed the committee that consideration of the FAA reauthorization bill has been moved to September. The current FAA authorization expires Sept. 30. It was put into place after an agonizing 23 short-term extensions that stretched from September 2007 to February 2012. While some lawmakers had promised that wouldn’t happen with this reauthorization, a short-term extension of the authorization may be needed while lawmakers pound out the final bill."

About his bill amendment, the Senator said in a statement:

"There needs to be a clear strategy to address the public safety dilemma of reckless drone use because a future drone crash could spell real trouble. That’s why I am unveiling brand new federal language in Congress that would virtually eliminate any chance of drones crashing into planes and causing serious danger... If geo-fencing technology were mandated in every drone sold in America, it would go a long way toward preventing the kinds of near-misses that have occurred over the past few months, and still allow hobbyists to fly drones in safe places.”

I agree. What are your opinions?


Can You Legally Shoot Down a Drone Hovering Over Your Property?

Image of a drone or unmanned aircraft During the coming months and years, this is a question more and more people will ask: can citizens shoot down a drone hovering over your property? Many drones are outfitted with surveillance cameras. One person outfitted a drone with a handgun (video). Some hobbyists outfitted their drones with paintball handguns. Newsweek explored the problem:

"A New Jersey resident who shot down a neighbor’s drone was arrested and charged with possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief. After a Californian shot down a neighbor’s drone thinking “it was a CIA surveillance device, ”the drone’s owner won a suit in a small claims court that found the man “acted unreasonably... regardless of whether it was over his property or not." "

Last month, a Kentucky homeowner was arrested after shooting down a camera-equipped drone that hovered directly over his property while his teenage daughter sunbathed in the back yard. You might think that the case should have favored the homeowner, but it didn't. Why? Keep reading.

The legality of shooting down a drone depends upon whether or not it is threatening. The Newsweek article explored the legal issues:

"... unlike pedestrian trespass, your options for removing drones from your property are limited. More troubling is this: How do you know when a drone is truly threatening? As Michael Froomkin, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, writes, neither the law nor technology has developed far enough to clarify what constitutes a threat and what measure of self-help is appropriate."

So, there is ambiguity about what constitutes a threat and what a reasonable response is. Our laws both lag behind the rapidly advancing technology and inconsistency treat crime versus privacy:

"Ryan Calo, a professor at the University of Washington School of Law, writes, “[T]he lack of a coherent mental model of privacy harm helps account for the lag between the advancement of technology and privacy law.” But not so in criminal law, where tough-on-crime mania routinely drives quick application of broadly phrased statutes to new contexts."

Reportedly, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has responsibility for all civil airspace (e.g., non military) above cities and towns. Based upon the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, there are different rules for government, non-government, and recreational operators of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly referred to as drones. The FAA rules for recreational or hobby drone usage:

"Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles; Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times; Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations; Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying; Don't fly near people or stadiums; Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs; Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft"

How close is "near" -- 3 feet, 30 feet, 30 yards? That seems vague. Nor do the rules mention privacy, so i guess it is legal to film anyone without consent. And, I guess you can modify your recreational drone with any attachment, as long as you stay under the 55-pound limit.

Some people have used drones to record natural sights, such as a volcano and lava river, that would be too dangerous to record otherwise. Some local governments have used drones to inspect building rooftops after snowstorms for damage or collapse risks. Other local governments want to use camera-equipped drones to inspect structures, such as bridges, that otherwise would be costly or inaccessible. Both make sense.

There already are film festivals for drone operators. The New York City Drone Film Festival debuted in March, and the Flying Robot International Film Festival is scheduled for November 19. Some consumers have already used drones to record landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge near San Francisco. Predictably, one recreational drone crashed into the bridge's roadway. While it didn't cause a traffic accident, the risk is there. I'd hate to think that legislators waited until a catastrophe before taking action.

Does this bother you? I hope so. Contact your elected officials and demand updated, effective drone laws that protect both your safety and privacy.

What are your opinions?


Drones: Near Misses Over New York, Shoot Down In Kentucky, And DHS Bulletins

On Sunday, CNN reported two near misses between a drone and passenger airplanes in the skies over New York:

"Two airplanes flying near one of the nation's busiest airports each came within 100 feet of a drone on Friday, according to audio from each flight's radio calls. The first, JetBlue Flight 1843, reported spotting a drone at 2:24 p.m. while approaching John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. In the audio recording, the cockpit says that the drone passed just below the planes nose when the jet was flying at an altitude of about 800 to 900 feet."

Details about the second near miss:

"Then at about 5 p.m., Delta Flight 407 -- which had 154 people on board -- was preparing to land when the cockpit reported seeing a drone below its right wing. The Delta flight had its drone encounter near Floyd Bennett Field, located in Gateway National Recreation Area. A Gateway National Recreation Service park ranger told CNN that the field does not permit drone flying but many aviation enthusiasts can be found flying "radio-controlled propeller crafts and unmanned small jets." However, there is a space within Floyd Bennett field where people with a permit and members of an aviation club may fly their own small craft, the ranger said."

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for maintaining the safety of our skies in the United States. The incident highlights the need for continued and stronger enforcement of aviation safety laws by drone operators:

Unmanned aircraft systems are neither supposed to fly within five miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator and control tower nor are they supposed to go above 400 feet."

On Friday, National Public Radio report a dispute between two Kentucky residents after one shot down a drone the other person was operating:

"William Meredith, 47, of Bullitt County, Ky., was arrested after he used his shotgun to bring down a drone that he said hovered above his property in Hillview, a suburb of Louisville..."

Meredith alleged shot down the drone when it flew over his property. NPR also reported:

"Police were called to the scene; Meredith now faces felony charges of wanton endangerment and criminal mischief, with a court date set for September. The drone's owner, David Boggs, says the drone wasn't hovering low over anyone's property, showing flight tracking data to local media that indicates an altitude of more than 250 feet. And he says he wasn't trying to invade anyone's privacy."

The FAA began investigations in November last year after reports of rogue drones outfitted with cameras at large, outdoor sporting events... college football stadiums.

Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent bulletins with intelligence assessments to police departments around the nation. CBS News reported that the bulletins:

"... warned that unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones could be used in the U.S. to advance terrorist and criminal activities... According to federal officials, "The rising trend in UAS incidents within the National Airspace System will continue, as UAS gain wider appeal with recreational users and commercial applications." The bulletin goes on to say, "while many of these encounters are not malicious in nature, they underscore potential security vulnerabilities... that could be used by adversaries..."


Amazon's Plan For Drones To Deliver Packages To Customers, And A Primer About Drones

During an interview on the 60 Minutes television show, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos disclosed a test plan -- called Prime Air -- for the online retailer to use drones to deliver packages to its customers. The plan is years away, doesn't have approvals by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and would deliver packages to customers only within 10 miles of a fulfillment center.

Regardless, the news meda is on fire with reports -- many with photographs and video of the drones, also called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles): Associated Press, Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, CNet, Huffington Post, PSFK, the New York Times, and countless others. Almost immediately, some satire images appeared online.

This Atlantic article explored the issues with package delivery by drones. Some retailers view the new technology as a way to solve the last-mile delivery problem. Matternet wants to use drones for package delivery in remote areas and in developing countries. Forbes Magazine reported about the societal disruption this new technology poses:

"Bezos says that Amazon is on its 7th generation of fulfillment centers. The public never heard much about those seven evolutions because they were all invisible, all back-end optimizations, all techy algorithmic stuff. Amazon’s service kept getting better in the form of faster delivery times... But drone delivery is a different kind of evolution. It’s visibly and behaviorally disruptive. And, as a marketer, Bezos wisely sees the need to start softening up the consumer market well in advance of these devices even being legal. Because he likely understands that there will be several critical phases to the public’s ultimate adoption of this technology, and each phase will take time."

The Forbes article emphasized the calculation Amazon has made: it is cheaper to let the news media normalize a new, disruptive technology rather than pay for the large amounts of advertising necessary. Others reported that the announcement coincides with Cyber Monday, and may have garnered for Amazon.com as much as $3 million in free advertising.

Wired reported that the concept isn't really new; that FedEx previously considered it. Wired also reported:

"Some weary of the use of unmanned aircraft have already pledged to shoot them down... there are more subtle ways to take down a small electric octocotper, including nets, even “mist nets”–virtually invisible nets used to catch or control birds–that would allow everybody from protesters to simple thieves to stop a delivery. And of course there is probably a hacker or two who would like to tackle the problem."

Besides military usage of drones for both warfare and cargo delivery, a wide variety of institutions want to use drones domestically: local police departments, journalists, paparazzi, movie studios, farmers, colleges and universities, and the National Guard (for rescues). FAA Administrator Michael Huerta predicted that there could be as many as 7,500 commercial drones in U.S. airspace within the next five years. So, there needs to be laws and guidance, about who can (and cannot) possess and operate drones; plus where and under what conditions.

TechCrunch discussed the three major limitations of drones: technical, privacy, and poor judgement by operators. We've all experienced crazy automobile drivers on the roads. Now, imagine the skies filled with drones controlled by crazy operators. Similar to driver's licenses, some experts say drone operator's licenses are likely.

The Guardian has a pretty good primer about drones. Way back in January 2012, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) discussed drones and privacy:

"Drones are capable of highly advanced and almost constant surveillance, and they can amass large amounts of data. They carry various types of equipment including live-feed video cameras, infrared cameras, heat sensors, and radar. Some newer drones carry super high resolution “gigapixel” cameras that can “track people and vehicles from altitudes above 20,000 feet... Predator drones can eavesdrop on electronic transmissions, and one drone unveiled at DEFCON last year can crack Wi-Fi networks and intercept text messages and cell phone conversations... some have suggested that drones carrying weapons such as tasers and bean bag guns could be used domestically."

Like any other technology, there is a market for drones. The EFF reported:

"According to a July 15, 2010 FAA Fact Sheet (PDF), “[i]n the United States alone, approximately 50 companies, universities, and government organizations are developing and producing some 155 unmanned aircraft designs.” According to one market research firm, approximately 70% of global growth and market share of unmanned aircraft systems is in the United States (PDF)."

Companies frequently test new technology in other countries before introducing it in the United States. Examples that come to mind include smart recycling trash bins in England, and smart shopping carts in Brazil. Some experts expect drones to be tested in other countries before the USA. As CNBC reported:

"The FAA is way behind the curve.. Drone experts are not optimistic for a 2015 deadline." It is just a little over a year away... and they don't even have the test sites named, much less the framework laid out."

Discovering the entities that already use drones domestically is difficult. Disclosure rules are weak or nonexistent. No doubt, there will be plenty more discussions about drones.