White House Hosts Major Meeting, Laying Groundwork to Expand Drone Use: Here’s What You Need to Know

Yesterday was a big day for the commercial drone industry. Those of us who use, make, and sell unmanned aerial systems should be encouraged by the many positive announcements that came out of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Workshop on Drones and the Future of Aviation.

Social media and news outlets are on fire right now with stories from government agencies, private companies, and a variety of organizations broadcasting their participation in the workshop and contributions to help safely expand UAS use across the United States.

With so many different voices and interests involved in the conversation, it can be difficult to see the big picture of this important event. For your convenience, we’ve pared down the information to just the basics, outlining key developments of the workshop below.

What happened (in a nutshell)

On August 2, 2016, the White House OSTP hosted a gigantic workshop gathering together government, academic, and industry stakeholders for the purpose of celebrating the potential of drones and discussing immediate steps to further the use of UAS in America.

Many positive developments came out of this industry meeting-of-the-minds, but some of the most important were:

  • The National Science Foundation (NSF) will provide $35 million in research funding over the next five years to improve understanding of how we can use drones to better inspect infrastructure, respond to disasters, study severe weather, monitor agriculture, and more.
  • The State of New York has committed a $5 million down-payment to support the growth of the UAS industry.
  • Many industry organizations announced plans to participate in a concerted effort to educate the public about UAS and the industry about best practices.
  • The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) will utilize drones to improve search and rescue and many other operations.

The meeting was made even more meaningful by the recent passage of the highly anticipated Part 107 commercial drone legislation. (Check out how Microdrones is celebrating this development.) This summer, the government has made it clear that safely incorporating drones into the American airspace is a top priority. The following outlines specific initiatives that will be implemented following this workshop to nurture the expansion of this promising industry.

Executive actions will expand drone use.

Several executive actions were announced that will help expand the use of UAS across the nation.  Here’s what the government is going to do:

  • Pave the way for new UAS operations with new policies. The next critical rule Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People is expected to be published this coming winter.
  • Form a UAS Safety Team comprised of FAA members and industry stakeholders. This group will use a data-driven approach in developing non-regulatory interventions to address UAS safety issues.
  • Fund critical research. (Read: the $35 million in NSF money mentioned above.)
  • Foster safe integration of drones into the airspace by implementing new research and developing a standard format for data to be presented so operators and air traffic managers can more easily understand and interpret it.
  • Improve current missions with UAS, including but not limited to search-and-rescue efforts and sharing real-time data on wildfires.
  • Rapidly develop UAS-related technologies, such as new UAS payloads and faster post-processing capabilities. DOI has also committed to implementing processes that will allow for speedy development and approval of technology.
  • Help keep coastal communities safe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has pledged that by 2017 it will help reduce the risk of hurricanes, tsunamis, storm surges, and other severe weather by adding UAS to their fleet of ships and using drones to collect gravity data.
  • Investigate public opinion on using drones to deliver mail and packages.

States will provide critical resources.

The states of New York and North Dakota will provide resources that will help to accelerate the growth of the UAS industry.

New York State’s Empire State Development agency announced it will invest an initial $5 million toward the development of a UAS innovation corridor between the cities of Syracuse and Rome. (This makes us especially happy because Microdrones has offices in Rome, NY!)

Pending FAA approval and agreements with Grand Forks County for an enhanced use lease, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota will develop a drone business park where companies can conduct beyond visual line of sight testing. This park will be the first of its kind.

The private sector will make important contributions.

Private companies, professional organizations, and not-for-profits committed to a variety of initiatives that will improve conditions for industry growth. Some of these include:

Improving Access to Medical Supplies

  • Zipline International, Ellumen, ASD Healthcare, and Bloodworks Northwest, will work together on projects that demonstrate how UAVs can be used to deliver medical supplies to remote communities.
  • Flirtey and International Medical Corps will cooperate to develop special containers for the aerial delivery of medications and vaccines to areas that are difficult to access.

Educating the Public

  • The Commercial Drone Alliance committed to leading a broad initiative to educate the public and promote acceptance of UAVs in the airspace.

Educating the Industry to Improve Safety

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) will collaborate to produce public service announcements about safe UAV use.
  • The Drone Racing League will release best practices for drone racing and launch a website focused on providing resources for understanding drone racing safety.
  • PrecisionHawk will release the results of a study that shows the safety of extended visual line of sight drone use in rural areas.

Addressing Privacy Concerns

  • A group of several professional organizations will collaborate to disseminate information and educate UAS users on privacy best practices.
  • The Future of Privacy Forum, Intel, and PrecisionHawk released a report that explains how top UAS companies incorporate privacy protections into their products and services.

Testing Potential of Delivery Applications

  • Project Wing will be deployed on an experimental basis to study UAV use for delivery service for the purpose of informing policy-making.

Making the Industry More Accessible

  • Women of Commercial Drones and the Commercial Drone Alliance will create mentorship programs to promote UAS career development among women and involve females in the industry at early ages.
  • DJI will help create opportunities for STEM engagement among youths by sponsoring 4-H’s National Youth Science Day with the theme of “Drone Discovery.” Through this program, more than 100,000 students will explore the technology and how it is being used to solve world problems.
  • DroneBase and Drones & Good will provide qualified veterans with 10 hours of free UAS training to help them begin a career in the industry. They will also make apprenticeship opportunities available to these veterans.

Anyone who is close to this industry knows that drones offer tremendous potential for economic growth and solutions to many of the world’s toughest problems. The outcomes of this important workshop in Washington show that key decision-makers and stakeholders understand the value of UAS technology and are committed to supporting its growth. This is great news, not just for those of us who stand to profit from enhanced market opportunities, but for the lives that will be changed and even saved by innovative drone applications.

Have a question, need more info, or want to discuss specific developments in more detail? Join our Facebook group and strike up a conversation!