This week I'm traveling to the first-ever ag-focused unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) show - the Precision Aerial Ag Show (PAAS) - in Decatur, Ill. The event is being held at Progress City, the long-time Illinois home of the Farm Progress Show. I'll be on familiar ground, but I'm pretty sure what I see won't be familiar.
Full disclosure - Farm Industry News is a media partner for PAAS as is our sibling the Farm Progress Events Group.
The meteoric rise in popularity of the remote-controlled machines has capture the minds, if not the hearts, of a lot of farmers. They see the value of collecting better information for their farms and putting it to use to keep on boosting yields. Trouble is the UAV still can't be used for commercial purposes and right now they amount to little more than hobby aircraft until the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) changes the rules.
We heard recently that FAA will definitely rule on two areas for UAV use - the movie industry and agriculture. That word comes from Kevin Price with RoboFlight, Inc., a UAV maker and software company that is using cutting edge tools to rethink how crop measurements are made. Price, who left Kansas State University in 2013, is heading up the effort for the new company that will include production of the company's own UAV and proprietary software services for farmers.
Whether FAA will rule on ag and the film industry in November remains to be seen. Recently Fox News reported an audit by the Department of Transportation's Inspector General warns that FAA will misse the deadline set by Congress for UAV rules. According to the report:
"FAA's delays are due to unresolved technological, regulatory and privacy issues, which will prevent FAA from eeting Congress' September 30, 2015, deadline for achiving safe [unmanned aerial system (UAS)] integration. As a result, while it is certain that FAA will accommodate UAS operations at limited locations, it is uncertain when and if full integration of UAS into the [National Airspace System] will occur."
The story notes that FAA has simplified rules for authorizing UAV flights, and that the agency will be on track to issue a proposed rule for small UAVs this year.
The FAA's ability to regulate UAVs is also a question being pondered in the courts. In March, a ruling by an administrative law judge threw out a fine by FAA for a filmmaker - Raphael Pirker - claiming there was "no enforceable FAA rule" that applied to model aircraft. The FAA is appealing the ruling arguing that the judge was mistaken, according to a report in USA Today.
According to the story:
The FAA traditionally had policies allowing hobbyists to fly models lower than 400 feet, but has insisted that commercial flights such as Pirker's aren't allowed until comprehensive rules are approved.
Congress set a deadline of September 2015 for the rules, but the Transportation Department's inspector general is skeptical the deadline will be met or that drowns will be allowed in general airspace.
Interestingly if the appeal fails, the courts would signal that there aren't any regulations governing commercial use of UAVs until the FAA completes its rules.
UAVs aren't just popular in the U.S., Canadian hobbyists and others are putting the aerial vehicles up for a number of reasons. However, a recent incident of a UAV flying into airspace of commercial airport is causing come concern. Both Canada and the U.S. have rules regarding operation of a remote vehicle near an airport, but apparently some UAV hobbyists missed that word.
A report at The Weather Network explores the Canadian and U.S. rules and how they may be changing. New technology often pushes the envelope of regulation I new ways, and UAVs are apparently just the right vehicle to push a lot of government hot buttons.
Everyone into the act
Of course, the questions surrounding UAVs probably wouldn't be that intense if people would take better to operate them over big areas with permission. Recently someone flew a UAV over PNC Park during a Pirates-Mets game, which caught fan attention and was even seen on television.
According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story, authorities located the operator who brought the machine down quickly when requested. The challenge of UAVs is the worry over snooping and other privacy issues, and this kind of incident just raises more questions.
Of course everyone wants to get into the act, and that's creating a stir as well. In New York, realtors selling high-end properties have been using UAVs to get better images. The result, according to a New York Post report, is time in court since FAA notes that the remote-controlled devices can't be used for commercial purposes.
Realtors like UAVs for the same reasons some farmers do - they take stunning pictures of big buildings and other features. Those are of interest to buyers of high-end properties. However, FAA is arguing they can't be used by realtors because the machines aren't cleared for commercial use. The FAA has subpoenaed the records of at least one UAV company.
To wrap up, we in the media like UAVs because they offer us the potential of capturing images in new ways to better tell the story. CNN and Georgia Institute of Technology are teaming up to "better understand the opportunities unmanned aerial vehicles present for media organizations" according to a recent post.
The program will look at the tech and safety needs to operate effectively in national air space. CNN and Georgia Tech plan to share their research with FAA as the agency looks at ways to allow safe operation of UAVs by media outlets.
If you want to learn more about UAVs join us this week in Decatur where you can see them in the air - a first - and talk to the companies offering the systems as we all wait on the FAA.