Autopilots are export controlled by the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which is why it's very difficult for US manufacturers to sell abroad without incredibly complicated guarantees about security procedures put in place by the buyer. That doesn't just apply to autopilot hardware; it also covers autopilot software, groundstation code and other technology in digital form such as schematics. And "export" doesn't just mean physically sending boxes abroad, it also covers "export by electronic means" such as over the Internet.

So why haven't we been arrested? We publish autopilot code, schematics and PCB design files here, and nearly half of our user base is outside the US. The answer is the "public domain exclusion" in ITAR. Because we're open source and release everything to the general public, it's no longer subject to export control.

Here's a good briefing presentation on ITAR rules. Page 19 says the following:

No Export License is required if the information is:
– Published in periodicals, books, print, electronic, or any other media
available for general distribution to any member of the public
– Generally accessible or available to the public through sales at
newsstands/bookstores and available without restriction
– Readily available at libraries open to the public or at university
libraries
– In patents and open patent applications available at any patent office
– Released with unlimited distribution at an open conference, meeting,
seminar, trade show, or other open gathering and generally
accessible to the general public
– Available in any form after approval by the cognizant U.S.
government department or agency
– Available through fundamental research in science and engineering
at accredited institutions of higher learning in the U.S. where the
resulting information is ordinarily published and shared broadly in the
scientific community (see 22 CFR § 120.11(a)(8))

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Comment by Ian Mackenzie-Ross on June 30, 2013 at 5:33pm

Chris,

Very old post I know, but I'm looking to see what the latest position is on export controls. You have quoted the ITAR here, but I'm guessing you are using that as a generic export controls reference. Non-military UAV's will not be on the US Munitions List, but on the Commerce Control List and so not ITAR controlled as such. However, I'm trying to understand how you argue the end-use issue in all this. Section 9A012 of the CCL (goes by different names in other countries, but the same items) covers

a. “UAVs” or unmanned “airships”, having any of the following:

a.1. An autonomous flight control and navigation capability ( e.g., an autopilot with an Inertial Navigation System); or

a.2. Capability of controlled flight out of the direct visual range involving a human operator ( e.g., televisual remote control);

b. Associated systems, equipment and components, as follows:

b.1. Equipment specially designed for remotely controlling the “UAVs” or unmanned “airships”, controlled by 9A012.a.;

b.2. Systems for navigation, attitude, guidance or control, other than those controlled in Category 7, specially designed to provide autonomous flight control or navigation capability to “UAVs” or unmanned “airships”, controlled by 9A012.a.;

So the assembled unit clearly falls under this, and I guess everyone here understands that once they put it together they have a controlled item.

Where I worry is that that export controls apply for the intended end use of the items, that why for some items(not these) you can claim an exemption because of civil end use.

So, if you were to sell someone outside of the US an airframe and motor, an autopilot to suit, software and instructions via download (still  an export under US law), then very clearly the intended end use is to produce a UAV with "An autonomous flight control and navigation capability" and "Capability of controlled flight out of the direct visual range involving a human operator".

Have you sought any determination from the Commerce Dept on the issue so far?

 

 

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