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Monday, April 04, 2016

Here Come Commercial Drone Flights

by JASmius

Remember "the Singularity"?  Remember "the fight for Fifteen"?  And remember "the Global Jihad's best friend"?

Think of this as "the confluence":

A government-sponsored committee is recommending standards that could clear the way for commercial drone flights over populated areas and help speed the introduction of package delivery drones and other uses not yet possible, the Associated Press has learned.

The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, especially crowds. That ban frustrates a host of industries that want to take advantage of the technology.

"Every TV station in the country wants one, but they can't be limited to flying in the middle of nowhere because there's no news in the middle of nowhere," said Jim Williams, a former head of FAA's drone office who now advises the industry for Dentons, an international law firm.

Cellular network providers also want to loosen restrictions so drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, can inspect cell towers, which often are in urban areas. Amazon's vision for package deliveries entails drones winging their way over city and suburban neighborhoods.

It's impossible to put a technological genie back into its bottle once it escapes.  And technology, recall, is neutral in and of itself, whether it be TV or the Internet or guns or drones.  It's how human beings use it that provides the moral context.

And really, these FAA deliberations pertain far more to possible drone accidents than to their terrorism uses.  Laws are not going to prevent jihadists from getting their hands on these contraptions and using them for destructive, murderous ends.  At most, common commercial drone traffic would provide more ample cover for such attacks, and that is definitely a factor that should be taken into account in these deliberations, but it's highly unlikely to squelch the idea altogether, because with government mandating ruinous increases in labor costs, drones just make too much irresistible economic sense

But because they come in many different sizes, not all drones will be treated equally:

The first category of drones would weigh no more than about a half-pound. They essentially could fly unrestricted over people, including crowds. Drone makers would have to certify that if the drone hit someone, there would be no more than a 1% chance that the maximum force of the impact would cause a serious injury.

For the three other categories, the drones would have to fly at least twenty feet over the heads of people and keep a distance of at least ten feet laterally from someone.

According to the recommendations:

Drones in the second category are expected to be mostly small quadcopters — drones with multiple arms and propellers, and weighing four pounds to five pounds — but there is no weight limit. Flights over people, including crowds, would depend on the design and operating instructions. Manufacturers would have to demonstrate through testing that the chance of a serious injury was 1% or less.

Meaning that one out of every hundred such drones crashing into a crowd and injuring or killing several people will be considered acceptable.  Just so that's understood.

Drones in the third category could not fly over crowds or densely populated areas. These drones would be used for work in closed or restricted sites where the people that the drones fly over have permission from the drone operator to be present. Those people would be incidental to the drone operations and flights over them would be brief, rather than sustained. Manufacturers would have to show there was a 30% chance or less that a person would be seriously injured if struck by the drone at the maximum strength impact possible.

i.e. Forewarned is forearmed, wearing protective clothing, bump caps, etc.

Drones in the fourth category could have sustained flights over crowds. Working with the FAA and engaging the local community, the operator would have to develop a "congested area plan" showing how flight risks would be mitigated. As before, the risk of serious injury would have to be 30% or less. Safety tests would be more exacting and the FAA would set a limit on how strong the drone's maximum impact could be.

"The risks are nominal," said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition. "The reality is the technology would likely save lives rather than threaten them."

I dunno about this last one.  Thirty percent seems like awfully high odds for serious injury if you ask me.  And I'm presuming that doesn't include the Category-4 drones that would be deliberately used for inflicting serious injury, as aforelinked above.

But as I say, the genie is out and buzzing away.  And it's still better to have drones than to become one.....

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