Friday, March 10, 2017

Sheriff blasts Federal Aviation Administration for Super Bowl’s drone flights while county waits for approval

Grand Forks County Sheriff Deputy Lee Mewes

GRAND FORKS — The Grand Forks County sheriff wants to know why the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t approved a waiver for law enforcement to fly drones anywhere in the country while it took only weeks to give a company permission to fly drones during the Super Bowl’s halftime show.

“During the daytime, we can fly anywhere in the nation,” Sheriff Bob Rost said. “All of our pilots are FAA-certified pilots. They are not amateurs flying UAS.”

Grand Forks County is home to the Northeast Region Unmanned Aircraft Systems Unit, which is staffed by members of the Grand Forks Police Department, the Grand Forks County Sheriff’s Department, the UND Police Department and the Cass County Sheriff’s Department.

The unit has permission from the FAA to operate drones at night for three years in 18 counties in northeast North Dakota, though Rost said his department may be called to other parts of the country to assist agencies that may need drone support.

He gave the Dakota Access Pipeline protests as an example. The department was called to help, but it could not fly drones at night in central North Dakota.

Rost said his department has contacted the FAA numerous times but has not heard a response regarding the request.

Deputy Al Frazier planned to ask FAA Administrator Michael Huerta during a panel discussion in Dallas on unmanned aircraft to give priority to emergency responders when it came to approving waivers to fly drones for commercial purposes. Particularly, Frazier wanted the FAA to approve a waiver submitted by his agency more than six months ago to fly drones at night anywhere in the country.

Huerta did not speak during the panel, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory said, but an FAA speaker took Frazier’s information and promised to research the issue.

Rost called the delays “inordinate and inappropriate” and criticized the FAA for approving a request by technology giant Intel to fly 300 drones at the Super Bowl last month. The drones had LED lights that created illuminated designs for Lady Gaga’s performance.

Intel needed permission from the FAA to fly the drones above NRG Stadium in Houston, and Rost said in his statement it took less than six weeks to process and approve the flight.

The approval of the flight during Lady Gaga’s performance sends a message that “the Super Bowl halftime entertainment is more important than public safety,” Rost said.

“We’re talking a public safety issue versus a show,” he said. “It is hard for me to comprehend how public safety could be perceived as less important than the entertainment industry.”

Rost said he hopes the FAA will prioritize public safety, especially for law enforcement agencies that choose to go the extra mile, such as having their pilots FAA-certified.

“We are doing this thing the right way,” he said of the drone unit. “We just don’t joke around with it. It is a very serious thing for us.”


Police on lookout for drone thief

Prince George RCMP are asking for the public's help in tracking down a man suspected of stealing two drones from a Westgate electronics store.

He is described as Caucasian, about 60 years old, with a fair complexion and medium build. An image of the suspect from a security camera was released Thursday.

The incident at the 6300-block Southridge Avenue store was reported to RCMP on Jan. 4.

Missing are two DJI Phantom drones are worth $2,200 in total.

Anyone with information on where he could be found is asked to call Prince George RCMP at 250-561-3300 or anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

Tips can also be provided online at, or by texting CRIMES using keyword "pgtips."

- Story, photo and comments:

New Mexico drones to prowl Canadian skies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s Silent Falcon solar-powered drone will soon monitor agriculture, natural gas and forestry operations throughout Canada under a new partnership with a Vancouver firm.

Silent Falcon UAS Technologies announced the deal this month with Precision Vector Aerial Inc. of British Columbia. That company will exclusively use the Silent Falcon for all its air monitoring services, expected to begin this summer. Precision Vector will also help Silent Falcon sell its systems throughout Canada.

That could put at least 10 Silent Falcon systems, and possibly many more, in Canadian skies within five years, said Precision President and CEO Lorne Borgal. Silent Falcon’s long-range and long-flight-endurance capabilities make it ideal for Precision’s ground teams to fly drones beyond line of sight, he said.

“It is by far the most advanced and commercially viable unmanned aerial vehicle for (those) operations,” Borgal said. “Five hours airborne, 100-kilometer range, and the ability to map 6,000 acres in one flight symbolize what makes this a unique platform.”

The partnership could help blaze a new market for Silent Falcon in Canada and elsewhere because most commercial drones operating worldwide today are rotary-type craft made for short flights of less than one hour and up to three kilometers, said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown. As a result, using drones for things like surveying oil and gas pipelines, or monitoring crop health on farms of 2,000 acres and up, is only just beginning.

“It’s in those large, beyond-the-line-of-sight missions that we see the most opportunities, and that’s the market Precision Vector is focusing on,” Brown said. “That market is still very new.”

The Silent Falcon is homegrown technology that Brown and Colorado company Bye Aerospace launched in Albuquerque in 2010. The solar-powered drone is made with light-weight carbon fiber and designed to carry a broad range of sensors. It’s equipped with state-of-the-art communications technology for networked, real-time monitoring from the ground.

“It’s not just an aircraft, but an integral system to collect many kinds of data, from video and photos to hyperspectral imaging,” Brown said.

The company assembles the drones at a 5,000-square-foot facility in Albuquerque’s Southeast Heights. It’s targeting foreign markets now because Federal Aviation Administration regulations don’t yet permit commercial drones to fly beyond the line of sight in the U.S.

The company earned about $1 million in revenue annually in the last two years, but it now has nearly $20 million in new contracts in the pipeline, Brown said.

Precision Vector flew a demonstration flight for an Alberta gas pipeline company last year.

“The company had flown four other unmanned systems, but only the Silent Falcon was able to detect gas leaks,” Borgal said. “It’s the best UAV platform I could find for our operations.”


Around Fremont, Nebraska: Drone license

Vic Rader, owner of Vic’s Photography & Video in Fremont, recently has received a remote pilot license by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drone aircraft.

In November, Rader passed an exam from the Federal Aviation Administration and now holds a remote pilot certificate.

For over 20 years, Rader has been a commercial licensed aircraft pilot, in single-engine and multi-engine aircraft.

Rader has been offering photography and video coverage for events such as weddings and commercial events for over 25 years in Fremont and the surrounding area. He also offers large screen projection and sound support services, portrait and aerial assignments.


It’s Drone vs. Drone as Airspace Systems Takes Flight: Silicon Valley startup unveils mobile command center as market for defensive services heats up

The Wall Street Journal
March 9, 2017 7:30 a.m. ET

On a recent afternoon, a large white van parked outside The Battery, a private club for tech elites in San Francisco.

Passersby stared at the cumbersome vehicle on the busy city block, some snapping photos of the large antennas emerging from its trailer that suggested something out of a spy movie.

That wasn’t far off—the van acts as a new mobile command center for a Silicon Valley startup aiming to defend the skies against rogue drones. Airspace Systems Inc. wants to help federal agencies, sports stadiums, amusement parks and other businesses protect against drones that pose a threat.

After venture capitalists funneled millions into companies commercializing drones, a growing cadre senses opportunity in providing defensive services as well. In addition to Shasta Ventures-backed Airspace Systems, companies like Dedrone, D-Fend Solutions and DroneShield have arrived on the scene in recent years.

“There are probably just as many companies making counter-unmanned aircraft systems as there are making unmanned aircraft systems,” said Michael Blades, a senior industry analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan.

One of the market leaders is Dedrone, which raised a $15 million Series B last month. Dedrone uses a combination of microphones, sensors and frequency scanners to detect drones, and then takes counter measures like catching them with nets or jamming their signals.

“Everybody who has a fence has a fence for reason, and the reason is to keep people out of his property,” said Dedrone Chief Executive Joerg Lamprecht. “And we believe that everyone who has a fence needs an aerial equivalent.”

The startup’s drones monitored the skies above several U.S. presidential debates last year, as well as this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Its customers include data centers, prisons, airports and nuclear power plants.

Airspace Chief Executive Jaz Banga, a serial entrepreneur, said the threat of rogue drones is on the rise.

He cited cases ranging from Islamic State’s increased use of drones to more mundane but intrusive domestic episodes. In Los Angeles, for examples, drones have recently been used by paparazzi to capture unauthorized images of celebrities.

Mr. Banga says counter measures are needed in cases of amateurs who don’t know how to pilot drones, drones that suffer mechanical failures and ones used by threatening or criminal actors.

Airspace uses machine vision to detect anomalous drones in the sky. Traditional air traffic-tracking technology like radar often isn’t effective to detect drones because they can be as small as some birds.

When an unwanted drone is detected, an Airspace drone is able to track and intercept it, shooting out a Kevlar-fiber net. Like a spider trapping a fly in its web, the Airspace drone snares the enemy drone and carries it away.

But like drones themselves, counter-drones are entering a highly regulated market.

Federal Aviation Administration rules prohibit capturing an aircraft from the sky. Many commercial customers and clients in local law enforcement have only relied on these vendors for “detect-and-alert” services.

Airspace’s Mr. Banga says the regulations were written with airplanes in mind, and his company’s approach of catching the drone in a net falls into a gray area because it doesn’t damage the drone.

“It’s undefined right now,” he said.

Other companies are avoiding regulatory challenges by focusing primarily on detection. A sports stadium may detect a drone in its airspace, follow its signal to find the pilot, and confront the pilot on the ground. When a prison security team detects a drone, officers can determine whether it has dropped a parcel and where it can be picked up. Celebrity clients may want to be notified of an unwanted drone’s presence so they can close their blinds.

“When you have to spend money on something that is a cost item, some people will be progressive, but most people are more likely to drag their feet on it,” said Bilal Zuberi, a partner at Lux Capital who has spoken with several counter-drone startups but not invested in any. “It’s very early-stage for these companies, both in terms of technology and business traction.”

It might take a major catastrophe involving a drone before commercial businesses take note, predicted Anthony Albanese, president of drone detection provider Gryphon Sensors LLC, a subsidiary of defense contractor SRC Inc.

Rob Coneybeer, a managing director at Shasta Ventures who invested in Airspace, said it’s still early days for the industry. That contributed to Airspace’s recent decision to make its command centers mobile.

“It’s an opportunity for these people to try this out and see how it works,” Mr. Coneybeer said.

Original article can be found here: