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Commitments to Accelerate the Safe Integration of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in the United States

The latest in the Drones and Small Unmanned Aerial Systems Special Series, in which Kike profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on using drones, UAVs and remotely piloted vehicles for journalism and photography.

 

WASHINGTON, DC – Since President Obama took office in 2009, developments in aviation, sensing, and software technology have powered a revolution in unmanned flight. In the next decade, the burgeoning commercial drone industry is projected to generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy and, by 2025, could support as many as 100,000 new jobs.

DJI Phantom 4 Drone with Anti-Collision Sensors. Photo © Kike Calvo

 

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has announced new steps, sustained by public and private support, to promote the safe integration and innovative adoption of unmanned aircraft systems across the United States. These announcements build on the Administration’s efforts over the past seven and a half years to support the safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the highly-complex network that comprises the National Airspace System, including: air navigation and air traffic control facilities, airports, technology, and the appropriate rules and regulations. Most notably, these announcements expand on the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)’s “Small UAS” rule announced earlier this summer to provide for the operation of non-recreational unmanned aircraft under 55 pounds.
Key actions announced included:

  • $35 million in research funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years to accelerate the understanding of how to intelligently and effectively design, control, and apply UAS to beneficial applications. This will include areas such as monitoring and inspection of physical infrastructure, smart disaster response, agricultural monitoring, the study of severe storms, and more;
  • A broad range of actions by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to use UAS to support search and rescue operations, to augment manned aircraft operations, and improve government processes around technological adoption;
  • A $5 million down-payment by the state of New York to support the growth of the emerging unmanned aircraft systems industry across New York; and
  • A collective commitment made by UAS industry associations to implement a broad educational effort around privacy best practices for users of UAS technology, among other private-sector commitments to support UAS technologies.

These announcements were highlighted as part of the White House OSTP Workshop on Drones and the Future of Aviation to advance and celebrate the potential of unmanned aircraft systems.

 

BACKGROUND

As a result of rapid innovation, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, are now commercially available on a large scale. This new technology has already helped government, the research community, and industry carry out their work more efficiently and safely. UAS will also enable high-impact research, create new jobs and industries, save lives, and provide scientific, economic, and social benefits that public and private entities are only beginning to explore.

The announcements released included actions that expand the Federal Government’s capacity to use unmanned aircraft operations to advance agency and department missions and accelerate research discoveries related to airspace integration, and private actions to enhance mobility, expand participation, and promulgate privacy best practices. In addition, these efforts will enable advances in inspection of critical infrastructure, protection of endangered species and habitats, delivery operations that will increase accessibility to remote communities, suppression of wildfires, enhanced emergency response operations, and ever-more capable UAS platforms to gather critical data to help protect and further explore the world.

In addition to opening up the airspace for small UAS flight, in February of 2015, the President issued a Presidential Memorandum titled: Promoting Economic Competitiveness While Safeguarding Privacy, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in Domestic Use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems. In May 2016, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta announced the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee—a broad-based, long-term advisory committee that will provide the FAA with advice on key unmanned aircraft integration issues by helping to identify challenges and prioritize improvements related to this emergent technology. And in June 2016, OSTP announced the White House Future of Artificial Intelligence initiative—assisted by the National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisors—to ensure smart policymaking on emergent technologies like unmanned aircraft systems and other intelligent platforms.

 

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