The Drone-o-sphere has been abuzz this week with the Department of Transportation announcement regarding the new Drone registry for all unmanned aircraft systems. To be MORE precise, this system is for all drones that meet certain criterion as of yet undefined. It’s interesting to see the tacit embracing of AUVSI, AMA, HAI, Precision Hawk, and AirMap; all invited to represent industry representatives on stage and a de facto endorsement for these “favorite” technology companies in the private sector. The announcement came on the heels of an increase in “close-calls” between manned and unmanned aircraft similar to the airspace separation issues found through Australian airspace, but better documented by investigators and meaningful reporting down-under.
The DoT sighted the two main needs for registration of all UAS as 1) an educational measure for those involved and granting the opportunity to engage recreational pilots with more knowledge and a better understanding of their responsibilities in the NAS and 2) A registration allows for the elimination of anonymity in UAS accident and incident cases.
Anonymity is the root of all evil. Well, perhaps this is a bit too harsh, but the latest trend in technology solutions for safety and security is through unique identification of “friend or foe.” Utilizing cellphone serial number and phone records, app-data information, and IP surveillance focuses on “knowing a user” as the first step in preventing criminal activity. Most often, however, these solutions are less significant in preventing unwanted activity than the feeling that the surveillance exists. A person acts differently when they feel like a known entity, when they have registered into a system, when they are no longer anonymous. While constitutional questions are concern to many, pervasive surveillance is the easiest methodology to ensuring that an individual “feels known” even when they , quite simply, aren’t.
Perhaps the first explanation of anonymity driving human behavior can be found in Glaucon’s portrayal of the legend of the Ring of Gyges in Plato’s Republic. “If you could imagine any one obtaining this power of becoming invisible, and never doing any wrong or touching what was another’s, he would be thought by the lookers-on to be a most wretched idiot, although they would praise him to one another’s faces, and keep up appearances with one another from a fear that they too might suffer injustice.” Perhaps a more recent example would be this research paper from Japan (A reinforcing analysis of anonymous behaviors in students). Whether you prefer the ancient Greeks or modern psychological, evidence based analysis, the message is clear: anonymity drives anti-social behavior.
You can read the Press Release Here
Recognizing that an estimated 1 million drones will be sold this holiday season, the FAA correctly understands that anonymity is the root of many of society’s ills. It is this very separation from the real self that enables online bullying, a willingness to steal (illegally download) movies and music, or create alternate identities for “catfish” crimes. Without the Lord of the Flies like masks that protects the anonymous ground-pilot, a registered pilot will feel the necessity to act in accordance with FAA guidance and regulations and be more likely to act in good faith in the national airspace. Ultimately, this registry will provide one more step in the pathway for the continued development of FAA regulations in mid-2016.
You can read the brief statements from stakeholders Here
The DoT also referenced the sUAS NPRM and the 4500 comments related to that rule. The speaker announced over 2000 Section 333 Exemptions to date, and recognized the importance of expedited handling of UAS Regulations. December 2015 is the set timeline for getting this drone registry up and running after the Task Force of industry representatives offers recommendations by November 20th, 2015.
Questions that Arise
When asked directly why a drone operator needs to register, the Department of Transportation representative sighted that, “When you enter the national airspace, it is a very serious matter. You are going into a space where other users are also in that space and there are responsibilities for doing that.” Why Now? Well, as mentioned above with regard to a strengthened feeling of anonymity, “Finding the drone hasn’t been a problem so much as finding the person using that drone.”
There are also a number of questions as to the practicality of the new policy. What and how much information will be required for registering a drone? How will that information be protected as Federal databases seem to be targeted by foreign entities in the most high profile and recent hackings seeking personal information? How do you ensure that those with malicious intent will comply to UAS regulations? How do we eliminate the condition of the good guys following laws while the “bad guys” continued to skirt them? What do civil penalties look like for not registering unmanned aircraft? Who will enforce these regulations and bring about investigations?
The most telling answer to a number of issues raised came from Michael Huerta himself. “This a signal being sent to users in the national airspace. It is not the final step, but the next step.”
Reducing anonymity is a positive move in regulating unmanned aircraft and hopefully the task force of industry representatives will come to a well-reasoned balance between safety, innovation, safe skies, and safer populations. A size and weight classification approach to registration qualification seems to follow, with a micro-uas category exempt – there is simply no sense in registering a $75 drone with 50 FT maximum altitude.
The sUAS NPRM calls out 100 MPH and 55 LBs or less for their designation, and thanks to Brendan Schulman of DJI, a small call-out to Micro-UAS as a potential non-regulated classification exists. Hopefully the task force strengthens this sub-classification and ensures that a significant number of those drones set for sale this Christmas is exempt from this classification system. If not, the industry will undoubtedly cry-foul and the 8-year old quad-copter pilot could be China’s next hacking victim.