Hubsan H111 nano drone in hand

The FAA has announced the companies that will be involved in designing the Remote ID systems for all drones in the United States. The initially proposed Remote ID requirements were well thought through for commercial drone operations, but were detrimental to hobby pilots, and potentially even worse for the kinds of toy drones you’d buy for children.

We all had the chance to comment on the proposal, I hope you took part in that effort. If not, I warn you now, when this rule is implemented, all drones will need to be equipped with remote ID technology, which remains true even if the tech is double the weight and triple the cost of the drone you need to put it on.

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Who is making drone Remote ID?

To be clear, what we’re talking about here is the development of “technology requirements for future Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers (USS.)” In other words, the FAA is enlisting help to figure out how the hardware and software will work. As mentioned, the laws are not in place yet, but there will need to be reference hardware developed, software protocols established, security measures identified, and distribution methods defined.

We are calling on Airmap to help us out. We fly simple aircraft here as much as anything, and would hate to see the cost of our favorite drones go up. From the list of companies that the FAA has chosen to work with, I think Airmap is the most likely to help the hobby pilot.

The list of companies helping design drone Remote ID is short:

  • Airbus
  • Airmap
  • Amazon
  • Intel
  • One Sky
  • Skyward
  • T-Mobile
  • Wing

Forgive our negative gut reaction to this, as none of these brands directly represent the hobby or consumer markets. Not to mention that one of these companies just closed their drone division, and one of them we had no idea was involved in UAS operations. Not to mention that half the list is brands that only handle flight logistics for their own commercial operations.

Complaining aside, these are companies that submitted to the project back in 2018 when the FAA put out a call to action. They put their hat in the ring, and are now a part of one of the most important developments for the drone industry that we’ve seen to date.

What’s happening with drone Remote ID?

While the exact rules are still in development internally at the FAA, these brands get to discuss the task of physically implementing drone Remote ID. We will need hardware in our drones and controllers, we’ll need new software to handle incoming and outgoing digital communications, and we’ll need a secure system to store pilot data, track operations and seamlessly integrate with existing systems like the FAA’s LAANC authorization tools.

Interdrone 2019 ASTM F38 remote ID operation

With these tasks in mind, the selection of companies on deck makes sense. Some have experience with long-term flight operations, some have a solid software development background, some understand how to design and build complex electronics, some exist only because of their operational logistics, and one is a telecommunications company, ready to assist with the cell-tower connection that may be required of Remote ID.

Bringing it back around, we feel that Airmap is the brand best suited to stand up for the hobby pilot. There may be nearly 1.5 million drones registered to over 160,000 certificated pilots in the United States, but many of those are simple craft, the consumer drones you and I fly in our backyards. There are also thousands of unregistered UAV in this country. From toys that children fly in the backyard, to the RC airplanes that the hobbyists at the local airfield have been safely flying for decades, these are the people that will be hit the hardest.

We’re not asking to skip Remote ID. Anonymity and privacy concerns aside, we do not begrudge the license plate on our car, as we do not begrudge the existing FAA registration number we’ve stuck to our drones. However, just like our cars, we do not want an always-on cell-tower data connection that is constantly reporting our location and personal info. For our small consumer drones, we desire a simple Remote ID in the form of a unique identifier embedded into the existing signals our drones already produce. No new hardware, and our drone data is only available to those within range of the drone.

From there, Airmap is already a leader in providing LAANC authorizations and allowing users to report their intended operations on a map. That data gets pushed up to ATC and ADS-B systems as needed.

In effect, we think that is good enough. Requiring users to report their flight area on a map in an Airmap-type application before they take off is easy enough, then, having a basic identifier embedded into our signals provides enough transparency and identification for local enforcement to act on a rogue drone operator. These things pretty much already exist, and require no extra hardware or expenses. Win-win.

What about commercial drones?

Inspired Flight commercial drone AUVSI Xponential 2019

That is the distinction we want to see. A hobby pilot in the backyard needs to be safe, but if they are operating within the scope of the existing UAS rules, the potential for trouble is very small. Commercial aircraft, or any hobby craft that is granted a waiver of the standard rules, are great candidates for the advanced Remote ID that the FAA has proposed. Particularly in the case of drones that are flying BVLOS, a constant 5G connection and location beacon sound smart.

The majority of commercial craft are also more extensible than small hobby craft. Some have data ports and mounting points for peripherals like this, many are large enough that they won’t notice the extra weight. My DJI Mavic Mini does not have these things.

VS

Our request to Airmap is straightforward, if not simple, please make sure the steps to conform to drone Remote ID rules are easy and inexpensive. My fear is that it will be too difficult or costly, and instead of parking their favorite flying craft for good, pilots will still take to the sky without the necessary parts. If you argue that there are very few cars on the road without a license plate, I’ll remind you that roadways are restricted by tons of laws, and there are police on the roads actively seeking out illegal operations — Do you want there to be more laws, and drone police?