Throwing this out hoping to stir a lively discussion. 

Is it reasonable to expect drone manufacturers to add more technology to reduce the number of dangerous drone flights? Specifically, should manufacturers make it much more difficult to fly their drones outside of the rules (above 400 feet, beyond line of sight, in restricted airspace, etc)? 

With hundreds of thousands of drones being sold each year, it seems unreasonable to expect safe flying behavior from all of those new drone pilots. Yes, education is helpful but it's undeniable that the air safety threats are growing. Unfortunately, education is proving to be insufficient.

If air safety is seen as an essential part of a drone manufacturer's responsibility (it is, right?), then shouldn't manufacturers move quickly and proactively to further enhance air safety? It seems the alternative is to wait for the government to create new laws that restrict drone capabilities in the interest of air safety. The Consumer Drone Safety Act is one such proposal. 

Respected experts, including Captain Sully, are calling for new consumer drone regulations and warning of an inevitable future air disaster. It's hard to ignore or dismiss such warnings.

So here are a few questions to get the discussion going.

- Should consumer drones include more robust and secure technology to restrict flight capabilities?

- What technical ideas do people have to make it more difficult to fly drones outside of the current rules?

- Is 3DR (or others) planning to sell drones with more secure flying restrictions? When?

- What initiatives along these lines are ongoing between governments and manufacturers right now?

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Hi Philip, this might not be such a contentious discussion. The effort going into drone safety is unprecedented for such a new technology sector, with extensive government, civil and commercial involvement. The solutions will not be simple and this is why such a huge program is required to resolve the potential dangers.

Without trying to talk out of turn here, I can assure anyone reading this that all the major drone manufacturers are working on safety issues (including 3DR) by developing both hardware and system level solutions. Many technological hurdles have already been overcome and in my opinion, major improvements in autonomous flight safety will be released in the next 12 months.

Here's an example of a long range (100m) LIDAR for obstacle detection and mapping that is undergoing final testing. This small, lightweight, UAV specific sensor is typical of the new technology needed to fulfill certain safety functions but it doesn't by any means represent a total solution. The final system will involve sensors, networks and control software the likes of which have never been seen before :)

Let's not forget that not everyone lives in the USA when talking about legislative restrictions.

Collision avoidance technologies, etc., will be a welcome addition, once they become available. A small LIDAR device would be useful for various missions flown within the rules. 

However, the key question here is whether or not drone manufacturers should include more robust and secure technology to restrict commercial drone so that they fly within the rules. 

BTW, it looks like new U.S. legislation to restrict consumer drone flight capabilities may arrive as soon as this fall. Fighting against new legislation increasingly appears to be a lost cause, IMO. 

Here is another article on the growing air safety threat posed by consumer drones. Note the following quote from Senator Schumer on new legislation. 

In an interview, Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “the number of near misses is astounding” and predicted that it would be “only a matter of time” before a crash occurs.

Schumer pledged to introduce legislation requiring manufacturers to install technology on all drones to prevent them from flying above 500 feet, near airports or in sensitive airspace. Such technology, known as geo-fencing, relies on satellite navigation to pinpoint a drone’s location.

“Every day without this law increases the chances that a bad accident will occur,” he said.


The article also includes the following quote from DJI, which puts the blame on "a handful of outliers". 

DJI, the world’s leading seller of consumer drones, began programming such technology last year into all models sold in the United States. Brendan Schulman, the firm’s vice president of policy and legal affairs, said the software upgrade and public education efforts have proven effective.

“The vast, vast majority of drone users are flying safely and responsibly,” he said. “The real issue is that there are a handful of outliers.”


Saying that there are a "handful of outliers" seems rather dismissive of a growing problem. An estimated 700,000 consumer drones were sold just last year. If just 1% of those buyers fly irresponsibly, that's 7,000 more air safety threats. Sadly, the number is likely much greater than 1%. Either way, it's more than a handful and already enough to be an alarming problem. 

Good point. U.S. laws sometimes drive similar rules elsewhere. It'll be interesting to see how all this develops. 

I agree but also some countries like UK and Canada are ahead of the USA right now (may change) but it would still be wrong for a manufacturer to impose restrictions in a country they are not valid. also consider the people who operate (legally and with local agreements ) out of small airports. that would end.

A better solution would be to identify that the launch position or flight plan DOES conflict with no fly areas but allow the operator to overide this at his peril.  

The onus should be on the operator to conduct his flights in a safe way, just as I can drive my 140mph+ car within the speed limits, if I dont then someone comes after me with a big stick! 

otherwise all our vehicles will have a manufacturer enforced speed limit. dont think we want that. !

Yes, implementation becomes a tougher problem when considering the legitimate issues you mention. As legislation is being finalized, the sharing of ideas and concerns between regulators in the UK, Canada, etc, can be expected. We'll have to see what the final wording contains. 

Since the US market is likely the biggest sales market, the manufacturer's default settings will probably be set to meet US regulations. IMO, those settings should not be too easy to override for average (i.e., non-technical) users, else they risk being ineffective (I'm reminded of US automobile regulations that reduce smog emissions). 

BTW, The Consumer Drone Safety Act proposed by Senator Feinstein even includes requirements to retroactively update existing drones to meet the Act's regulations. Another tough problem. 

It's not clear which proposed consumer drone regulations will make it through the US Congress. If anyone has any insight, that would also be helpful to hear about. 

BTW, Senator Feinstein's proposed legislation includes this requirement to prevent modifications to a drone's flight safety mechanisms. 

"(6) a means to prevent tampering with or modification of any system, limitation, or other safety mechanism required by the Administrator under this section or any other provision of law, including a means to identify any tampering or modification that has been made"

It may or may not be a good legislation BUT the practicalities of this are not simple.

As an example if this is only a USA law then the suppliers will send units to Canada and these units should not be required to comply with the USA requirements then there are going to be a lot of you guys heading North for Christmas. ! Any rule or law must encourage users to comply not merely beat them into submission, 

The US gun law does not insist that a gun be prevented from being pointed at innocents or that it cannot be taken within 5 miles of an airport. maybe it should . 

Not simple, agreed.

Legislators will fashion the rules realistically to achieve safer skies. Their first goal is to close the loophole that prevents the FAA from regulating consumer drones. That's going to happen relatively quickly, IMO.

Yes, new laws won't be able to prevent every last drone pilot from cheating. But if new flight safety restrictions are built-in to consumer drones, and include some protection against tampering, then a vast majority of the problem will be solved. That's about all anyone can realistically ask for. 

Which takes me back to a technical question: What approaches are being considered to protect against tampering? 

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