Does Your Drone Have a ‘Remote’? Canada’s Definition of Autonomous Operations is a Scene out of Chappie

Chappie, the new robo-film on the block, takes place in Johannesburg, where the police force is made up of robots. In one of the early scenes, the main characters, Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi take part in a drug deal that is raided by robot cops. Hoping to avoid a similar fate in their next deal, Yolandi suggests that they find the robots’ remote so that they can switch them off like TV sets. Do the robots have a remote, and do Ninja and Yolandi find it? No spoilers here, but let’s take up the underlying question in the context of drone regulations…

What is Canada’s position on autonomous and automated operations? Well, does your drone have a ‘remote’? If it does, according to Transport Canada, it is not an autonomous drone. Transport Canada defines an autonomous drone as one that does “not allow pilot intervention in the management of the flight.” It is not enough for an autonomous drone to be capable of self-governance, rather it must not allow for any possibility of human intervention.

What about drones that have a remote but can complete automated tasks such as take-offs or landings or that can execute pre-defined waypoint operations? Transport Canada distinguishes these drones from autonomous drones by pointing to the fact that they require operator initiation or intervention.

Although there is no express prohibition, truly autonomous operations are outside of the scope of Canada’s current regulations. For the time being, if your drone doesn’t have a remote, you wouldn’t be able to operate. Our framework permits operations that involve automation, but it requires that an operator have the capability to intervene – or rather, as Ninja and Yolandi would hope, your flying robot must have a remote.

How Canada Handles Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight Drone Operations

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) proposes to restrict operations that are completed beyond visual line-of-sight (BVLOS). However, the FAA has invited comments regarding the proposed BVLOS restriction.

In Canada, BVLOS operations are not yet mainstream, however they are attainable under the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) system. Transport Canada’s Staff Instruction 623-001 establishes the following conditions for BVLOS operations:

• BVLOS flights cannot take place outside of restricted airspace, unless the operator can mitigate risk to an acceptable level i.e. through the use of ground-based radar
• BVLOS flights must not be conducted over populated areas
• BVLOS flights must be conducted in visual meteorological conditions
• BVLOS flights cannot be conducted within controlled airspace
• BVLOS flights can only be conducted within 5 nautical miles of the point of departure
• The take-off and landing/recovery must be conducted within visual line-of-sight
• Direct radio line-of-sight capability must be maintained throughout the operating area

Canada is not alone in having established conditions for BVLOS operations. In fact, quite a few jurisdictions have more advanced regulations for BVLOS operations, including Australia, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Israel and Poland. As stakeholders submit comments to the FAA over the next two months, it’s important to look at how other jurisdictions are managing risk in BVLOS operations.

Canada’s Approach to Risk Management for Nighttime Drone Flights

The FAA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for small unmanned aircraft systems (SUAS) limits SUAS operations to daylight hours. The FAA concedes that the restriction on nighttime flights may negatively impact the ability to use SUAS in northern regions such as Alaska that have very few hours of daylight during winter months. The FAA has invited stakeholders to comment on how risk may be mitigated in the course of nighttime operations. Here is a breakdown of the Canadian approach to risk management for nighttime flights…

In Canada, nighttime operations are possible under the Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC) system. Transport Canada’s Staff Instruction 623-001 outlines the following conditions for nighttime operations:

• If the UAV has lights, the lights must be on during night flights
• If the UAV does not have lights, there must be a means of illumination that would enable visual contact with the UAV
• The crew must have a portable emergency light source available
• The pilot must not have visual limitation of depth perception, colour blindness or problems seeing at night
• Visual observers providing the sense and avoid function (i.e. where the pilot is using FPV) cannot use night vision goggles

Transport Canada further states that if light emitting diodes (LEDs) are used to satisfy the lighting requirement for nighttime operations, the LEDs must have sufficient intensity to enable the pilot or visual observer and other airspace users to have visual contact with the UAV.

FAA Regulations Draw Inspiration from Canada, But Miss Key Aspect

Various aspects of the anticipated proposed small UAS (sUAS) regulations that were released by the FAA today draw inspiration from Canada’s approach to regulation. In fact, the FAA provides a handy comparison chart on pgs. 55-56. The Canadian comparison is limited to Canada’s new exemptions for sUAS. Canada’s exemptions operate very differently than FAA exemptions, as they do not require approval from our regulator, Transport Canada. If you meet the requirements of either of our two exemptions, you can operate without applying for a Special Flight Operations Certificate (SFOC). SFOC allow for broader applications than what is shown in the FAA comparison chart, including FPV and beyond visual line of sight.

Practicing in the Canadian jurisdiction, I believe that one of the most valuable aspects of our system is its flexibility and the fact that the system rewards safe operators. For instance, in Canada, first time SFOC applicants are typically rewarded narrow certificates in terms of time, geography and level of operational risk. As operators develop a track record of conducting safe operations, they are able to receive ‘standing certificates’ allowing them to operate for up to three years over large regions of the country.

The FAA should consider adopting a similar approach that rewards safe operators by allowing them to complete less restrictive operations. For instance, the proposed rules state that operators would not be able to fly over persons not involved in the operation. If an operator has a good track record of conducting safe flights, there is no reason why the FAA should not consider removing this burden.

As the FAA crafts its final regulations, it is important to find ways to build flexibility into the system, and to not only focus on punishing irresponsible behavior but also rewarding safe operators.

Summary of the FAA’s Proposed Drone Regulations

This morning the FAA held a conference call to announce its highly anticipated small UAS (sUAS) regulations. Sunday morning might strike as odd timing, however it’s likely that the timing had to do with the leak of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, which I wrote about on here yesterday. Below is a summary of the critical aspects of the proposed regulations from the FAA summary (the proposed rules have not been made available at the time of writing).

Operational Limitations

• UAS must be under 55lbs
• UAS must be operated within visual line of sight
• FPV is not permitted
• Operator must not fly over people not involved in the operation
• Daylight operations only
• Maximum speed of 87 knots
• Maximum altitude 500 feet AGL
• A single person cannot act as an operator for more than one UAS operation at a time

Operator Certification and Responsibilities
• Operators must pass an aeronautical test
• Operators must obtain an sUAS operating certificate

Aircraft Requirements
• Airworthiness is NOT required
• Aircraft markings required

Model Aircraft
• Proposed rule would not apply to model aircraft
• Proposed rule would codify the FAA’s enforcement authority in respect of model aircraft operators who are endangering the safety of the national airspace

Some of the items that are not addressed in the FAA summary which I am particularly interested in are: (1) whether the proposed rules allow a single person to operate a fleet of drones within the same operation, and (2) what the TSA security clearance check will entail.

Possible Leaked FAA Document Provides Hints Regarding Proposed Rulemaking for sUAS

A new document purporting to be prepared by the FAA Office of Aviation Policy and Plans provides hints regarding the anticipated proposed small UAS (sUAS) regulations. The possible leaked document is dated February 2015 and is titled “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Regulatory Evaluation, Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems.” The document’s authenticity has not been established, however assuming that the document is authentic, here are some of the more noteworthy insights into the upcoming proposed regulations…

Line of Sight in Daylight Below 500 ft

The FAA proposes that operators must fly within visual line of sight. The document states that at this time “there is no acceptable technological substitute for direct human vision.” The document also proposes that operators are only permitted to fly between sunrise and sunset. The rationale provided for this requirement is that sUAS will be flying at low altitudes and flying at night would make it difficult to see people on the ground. The proposed rule requires operators of sUAS to operate below 500 ft. The logic behind this ceiling height restriction is that manned aircraft generally operate above 500 ft.

sUAS Registration Requirements, No Airworthiness

Each sUAS would have to be registered with the FAA. Registration would cost around $5 and would have to be renewed every three years. According to the document, the FAA Aircraft Registration database would enable the FAA and the public to identify registered owners and operators. The document states that “this information is necessary for FAA Aviation Safety Inspectors to perform their routine checks or to investigate an incident or accident.” Although sUAS would have to be registered, airworthiness compliance would not be imposed. Because sUAS pose a lower risk to people and property, the document provides that airworthiness compliance “would not result in significant safety benefits.”

No Pilot’s License but Requires Knowledge Test and Operator Certificate

A pilot’s license would not be required to operate sUAS. The document admits that the “training, testing, proficiency and experience requirements for obtaining a commercial pilot’s license have limited relevance to the nature of small UAS operations.” Instead, operators would have to pass a test demonstrating aeronautical knowledge and would be required to obtain a small UAS operating certificate from the FAA. The test would take roughly 3 hours to complete.

TSA Security Threat Determination

According to the document, the “TSA would [need] to determine if the operators pose a security threat. The TSA considers someone to be a security threat when he or she is known to pose or is suspected of posing a threat to national security, to transportation security, or of terrorism.” The estimated cost of a security threat determination is $130 per applicant. Although the proposed rule does not impose this fee on the operator, the document states that “at some point in the future these costs may be passed directly to the operator.”

Physical Capacity Certification

The document provides that sUAS applicants would have to certify that they have “no physical or mental condition that could interfere with the safe operation of a small UAS.”

Alternative Approaches

Finally, the document reveals alternative approaches that the FAA considered in the rulemaking process. For instance, the FAA considered parsing sUAS into subcategories based on weight, operational characteristics and operating environment. The FAA dispensed with this approach as it was deemed too burdensome. However, the FAA is apparently considering a micro sUAS rule for UAS under 2kg that meet certain operational parameters including operating at less than 30 knots below 400 ft within line of sight without use of FPV. Under the micro sUAS classification, the operator would not have to complete the knowledge test however a micro sUAS operating certificate would be required.

Before Comparing Dating Profiles, Determine which Platform has Privacy Characteristics that Suit Your Needs

With Valentine’s Day looming on the horizon, it’s an ideal time to have a look at how popular dating sites and apps fare up in terms of privacy. In order to prepare this post, I reviewed the privacy policies of Match.com, OkCupid, JDate and Tinder – you’re welcome ; )

An interesting fact I came across was that several popular dating sites are part of a family of businesses that share information. For instance, Match.com and OkCupid are both part of the IAC group of companies (which also includes non-dating sites such as Ask.com, College Humor and About.com). Similarly, JDate, ChristianMingle and BlackSingles.com are all part of Spark Networks. Both IAC and Spark Networks share personal information about their users that is collected from a particular member site with other entities in the same family. But that’s just the beginning…

Match.com and OkCupid (which incidentally have the same privacy policy) state that they use personal information collected from users “to register [them] with and display [their] profile on other online dating and other social websites owned by IAC”. The policies further state that “[a]s part of our online service, your profile may be registered on and/or appear in search results or other areas of other online dating websites owned by IAC.” This disclosure is somewhat unclear, however it doesn’t seem to suggest that the use of profile information from one site on additional sites only occurs to the extent that a user chooses to register with such additional sites.

Third-party platforms offer an additional source of information. For example, if a user accesses Match.com, OkCupid or Tinder through Facebook, information from the user’s Facebook profile and from cookies placed on the user’s device by Facebook may be captured. While registering through Facebook is presented as merely an option on some dating sites, those who wish to swipe right for Tinder have no choice but to register using their Facebook account. The implication of this is profound – users have no option to keep their Facebook information separate from their Tinder account.

So, what does Tinder do with Facebook information? Tinder’s privacy policy states that “other users will be able to view information you have provided to us directly or through Facebook, such as your Facebook photos, any additional photos you upload, your first name, your age, approximate number of miles away, your personal description, and information you have in common with the person viewing your profile, such as common Facebook friends and likes.”

In what other contexts is information shared? Besides the typical law enforcement and service provider disclosures, in some cases, personal information collected by online dating platforms may also be sold or transferred to third parties. For instance, JDate’s privacy policy states that “should Spark Networks file for protection, or have a third party petition filed against it under the bankruptcy code, any assets of the company, including member personal and non-personal information may be sold or transferred, in whole or part to a new entity.” The policy doesn’t seem to impose restrictions on how such information may be used when transferred in this context.

What about communication practices? Does the platform require users to give their express consent to receiving communications through an opt-in model, or does it presume communications are desired? Each of the four platforms that I reviewed adopts an opt-out model, meaning that the provider will send communications to a user until such time that the user indicates a desire to stop receiving messages.

For the millions of users of dating sites and apps, it’s important to keep in mind that there are privacy costs to consider when setting up a profile. Just as selecting the right partner is an important choice to be made, so is determining if online dating is right for you, and if so which platform offers the privacy characteristics that you are looking for. Happy searching…

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