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Package delivery by drone is one small step closer to reality today.
Federal regulators announced plans Monday to change rules to allow drone operators to fly their unmanned aerial vehicles over populated areas and at night, without having to get special permits.
Many drone operators and enthusiasts complain that federal regulations haven’t kept pace with the technology, arguing that prohibitions on flying drones over people and at night are out of date.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao agrees and announced that the government is, at long last, ready to lift those bans as long as operators are properly trained and the drones are equipped with anti-collision lighting.
“This will help communities reap the considerable economic benefits of this growing industry and help our country remain a global technology leader,” said Chao in a speech at a major transportation conference in Washington, D.C., Monday.
The changes could allow for drones to to be used to survey construction sites and to deliver critical medical supplies to first responders, among other uses.
The use of drones by both hobbyists and for commercial purposes has been, well, soaring over the last couple of years. Chao says that by mid-December, the FAA had registered nearly 1.3 million drones nationwide and had registered more than 116,000 drone operators.
Alphabet, Inc., the parent company of Google, and Amazon.com, Inc., are two of a growing number of companies working to develop prototypes and related infrastructure in hopes of making package delivery by drone a reality.
Drones buzzing Gatwick
But Chao acknowledges that the rapidly growing drone industry is not without problems and safety concerns. She noted incidents last month in London in which drones sighted buzzing around the airspace near London’s Gatwick airport led to the grounding and cancellations of hundreds of commercial airline flights over a three day period, stranding thousands of travelers. Air traffic was also halted into and out of London’s larger Heathrow airport for a brief time after drone sightings there.
“The department [of Transportation] is keenly aware that there are legitimate public concerns about drones concerning safety, security and privacy,” she said, adding, “and recent events overseas have underscored these concerns about the potential of drones to disrupt aviation and the national airspace.”
Chao says regulators are developing and drafting regulations to address such incursions, as well as to protect against national security threats and invasions of privacy from drones.
Time before rules take effect
It will still be some time before the proposals lifting restrictions on flying drone at night and over people will take effect. The new rules must be first published in the federal registry, which may not happen until after the partial government shutdown ends. That publication would then kick off a 60 public comment period for those wanting to weigh in on the rules.
Chao made the comments at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, which is the world’s largest gathering of transportation professionals, bringing together an estimated 13,000 leaders, policymakers, administrators, and researchers from government, industry, and academia.
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Chris Walach, senior director, Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, discusses what it means that Reno will be an FAA drone testing site Benjamin Spillman, [email protected]
Reno’s coming drone zone will host testing for National Airspace System
People watching the downtown skyline will see more action in 2019.
That’s because Reno, along with Henderson, is one of two Nevada communities the U.S. Department of Transportation chose for testing of unmanned aerial systems, more commonly known as drones.
UAS pilots will conduct extensive, in-flight testing to better understand how drones perform in an urban environment.
The Federal Aviation Administration and others will use test results to more fully integrate drones into the National Airspace System, which includes airspace, airports and associated policies, procedures and regulations.
“This is really the first operational test for drones integrating into an airspace platform,” said Chris Walach, director of the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems, a nonprofit that works to promote Nevada as a hub for development of drone technology. “This is going to be the platform the FAA uses to fully integrate drones into the national airspace with manned aviation.”
Commercial drone flying is already regulated by the FAA.
For example, licensed commercial drone pilots are required to follow airspace regulations that restrict where and how drones can operate.
In downtown Reno, pilots are required to get permission from the FAA before flying. The system, however, is passive and based on pilots agreeing to abide by the restrictions, such as a 100-foot ceiling in certain areas as opposed to the more general 400-foot limit for drones.
The testing will focus on new systems designed by NASA that will allow the FAA to take a more active role by using technology that will help controllers see drones while in flight.
“You have active tracking of drones, you can actually bring that display to a tower, and tower personnel can see where a drone is flying,” Walach said.
Also, the testing will include drones flown beyond the sight of their pilots. Currently, most commercial drone flying is done by visual line-of-sight, which means the pilot must be able to see the drone during flight.
It’s a limiting factor that makes it difficult to unleash the potential of drones for everything from power or rail line inspection to package delivery.
Testing systems that allow pilots to fly beyond where they can see will identify best practices for expanding the use of drones, such as how pilots might use the internet or cellular networks to operate drones outside of radio contact.
“When you are operating with radio frequency and you fly behind buildings you lose signal,” Walach said.
The testing announcement Monday comes as Walach is gearing up for the 2019 session of the Nevada Legislature.
Walach said NIAS will seek a budget boost in order to help Nevada remain competitive in the burgeoning drone industry.
NIAS was founded in 2013 with support from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and $5 million in seed money from the state.
The state money is nearly gone and the nonprofit uses money from vendors and government contracts, Walach said.
He said a new infusion of money will help Nevada remain competitive in infrastructure development with states such as New York, which dedicates as much as $33 million annually for drone industry development.
“We have got to put some serious focus on infrastructure here in the state of Nevada,” he said. “You are going to see drone businesses and technology businesses sprout up alongside that infrastructure.”
Read or Share this story: https://www.rgj.com/story/news/2019/01/15/reno-lands-advanced-drone-testing-program/2576920002/
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Drone sightings at Gatwick Airport grounded flights and caused major delays to thousands of travellers hoping to get away during the 2018 Yuletide break.
First sightings were reported on December 19, with the airport adamant that ‘there were multiple confirmed sightings of drone activity at the airport’. The airport announced resumption of flights on December 21, adding that its ‘patrols and surveillance systems…have provided us with reassurance necessary that it is safe to re-open our airfield’.
Gatwick reported that it was back to a full schedule of 785 flights by December 22, but the airborne threat reappeared again last week when Heathrow Airport temporarily halted flights following the sighting of a drone.
According to the Metropolitan Police, ‘significant resources, both in terms of officers and equipment, were deployed to monitor the airspace around Heathrow and quickly detect and disrupt any illegal drone activity’.
“Our priority is keeping the airspace over London’s airports safe for the thousands of planes flying in and out every week,” said Met Police Commander Stuart Cundy. “Any deliberate acts to endanger the airfield and aircraft are serious offences that can carry lengthy prison sentences. If flown into the path of an aircraft, a drone has the potential to cause great harm to those on-board. Anyone caught illegally operating drones will be dealt with robustly.”
In response to the disruption, the government said that police will be given power to land drones and require users to produce the proper documentation. The police will also be able to search premises and seize drones where a serious offence has been committed. At the Home Office, counter drone technology is set for test and evaluation.
A quick Google search shows that a drone can be purchased from a large UK retail outlet for as little as £30, so what action should be taken to prevent people from flying their new acquisition in sensitive areas?
For 42 per cent of respondents, telecommunications-based tech would solve the problem, followed by 31 per cent who advocate aerial interception. Despite their relative ubiquity, just under a fifth of respondents (18 per cent) think drones should be licensed and operators security vetted. Four per cent think no extra action is necessary and the remaining five per cent opted for none of the above.
In the numerous comments that followed, Tim said: “The better drones (maybe 0.3kg, £400) have GPS and airport zones built into the controls and therefore limit their own height and return to take-off location if they lose signal. From a legislation point of view, having that requirement on all drones over a “tiny toy” size would solve anyone accidentally causing problems if all is functioning OK. If it malfunctions then signal jamming would force it to return to take-off location (or at least to start to go home, so police know which direction to go).”
Tim added that legislation means nothing to those using drones for nefarious intent, a sentiment that resonates throughout comments. What do you think? Keep the conversation alive in Comments below, but please familiarise yourself with our guidelines for comment content before submitting.
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I have been shooting more and more videos with my Pixel 3 recently which means that all these files have to go somewhere. I acquired a USB-C expansion card to my PC to speed up the transfer process (review is coming). There was one thing left to make the process quicker and less painful: using Tasker to set USB for file transfer automatically.
Set USB for file transfer automatically with Tasker
The way Android storage is accessed via PC has changed over the years. It was much easier (and less secure in the past) now, the default way is simply annoying. I appreciate the security as any other guy, but c’mon Android, you could do it better! It was time to do what I’m doing best and use Tasker to set USB for file transfer automatically.
As soon as the Nav Bar Action has been released, I knew I would use this for that purpose. Android 9.0 is perfect for the nav bar modifications as it leaves a lot of space in the right corner. With the plan in mind, it was time to shape up Tasker’s behaviour.
You will need the following plugns to make it happen:
Since I’m going to use AutoNotification plugin anyway, I opted out for notification monitoring rather than the USB trigger as an option. This way I only going to enable, then a correct device is plugged in.
When the notification is preset, Tasker will show me an extra navbar button which will:
- [tap once] enable file sharing
- [tap two] close the option
It’s possible to add the third tap, but I barely use any options. If you wish you can add the task to trigger MIDI, PTP or USB tethering.
I will need two actions, one to create the navbar button, and one to restore the original navbar button.
Action: Set USB for file transfer automatically
Initially, I wanted to use the new Keyboard action to toggle between on-screen options, but the method was much slower than AutoInput. (UPDATE: Joao corrected me, all the Tab and Enter keys can be entered as a single action which will speed things up). If you don’t want to use AutoInput (I’m going to use AutoTools to enable and disable the accessibility services to avoid the lag) you can use the keyboard action. It is slow.
To access the USB preferences screen, I’m using AutoNotification Action. This way I can simply “tap” on the message in my notification drawer which will open the correct setting’s menu.
First, enable the AutoInput accessibility using AutoTools Secure Settings, then using AutoInput automated setup navigate to the setting screen and tap on your preferred option. Return to the notification created by the AutoInput and finish up the task.
Since the AutoInput is no longer needed, toggle it back to off with AutoTools Secure Settings and modify the navbar to default values. Lastly, for the clean effect, navigate to the home screen.
Putting it back together
Once you can set USB for file transfer automatically, add the task to the navbar action when prompted to add another, link the task responsible for resetting the navbar to the default state and you are ready to go.
I should have set this up much sooner if I’m honest. It was easier than expected with AutoNotificaiton, and thanks to the AutoTools toggles AutoInput is not running constantly. Now I can set USB for file transfer automatically. It’s not a flashy profile, but something tells me it will be one of the most useful ones for sure.
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