Well, it turns out that Gary with PARCAP was right – Senate Bill 71 may be dead, but we must now confront a lingering threat in House Bill 2710. The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by our old friend Floyd Prozanski, held a brief hearing on HB 2710 yesterday at the state capitol in Salem. Techinstein and I were on hand so that we can give you this full report.
First of all, a little background. The original intent of HB 2710 is to regulate the use of drones by law enforcement – there was never anything in it about hobbyists or commercial operators or the Oregon National Guard or any other users.
Furthermore, the restrictions it puts in place are not unreasonable: broadly, a warrant is required to conduct drone surveillance, unless it's an emergency and lives are at risk – and any imagery captured by a drone that isn't evidence of a crime must be deleted within 30 days.
Because of our connections to the public safety community, we had some thoughts on these issues. You can read our written testimony to the committee by following this link.
During the hearing, there was some discussion during the hearing of adding parts of SB 71 into HB 2710 – which is certainly cause for concern – but, as hobbyists, we have some powerful new allies on our side.
First among them is Oregon Representative John Huffman, the author of HB 2710. During his testimony to the committee, he stated explicitly that he did not want to see any additional regulation of hobbyists.
He said, “I think we have enough protections on the books right now that if a hobbyist does something that violates the law, it can be dealt with through the regular judicial process.”
Huffman was joined in this by none other than Becky Strauss, the legislative director of the Oregon chapter of the ACLU. She spoke out against a provision contained within SB 71 that would have made the penalties more severe for committing crimes (such as stalking and invasion of personal privacy) with a drone as opposed to some other means.
She thought the law should make clear that it is a crime to stalk someone or invade their personal privacy with a drone, but that the penalty should be the same as if you did it with a camera on a stick or a telephoto lens or something else that isn't a drone. Reason prevails!
She added, “We don't want to shut off the innovation with drones – we just want to shut the door on warrantless surveillance.”
I agree wholeheartedly – that's what the NSA is for...
Although we need to continue to monitor HB 2710 as it moves through the legislative process, I was very encouraged that these folks took such a reasonable position with regards to us hobbyists. I attribute that, at least in part, to our strong initial resistance to SB 71. They know now that if they poke at us, they are going to get deluged with letters and telephone calls and videos and petitions and we're going to pack the hearing room to speak out for our rights.
For now, we need to stay together, stay vigilant and stay strong.
One final note: absent from the discussion was any mention of commercial operators. Based on the tone of the discussion, my presumption is that they will operate according to the same rules as hobbyists, at least so far as this bill is concerned.
This whole video is proof that advertising really does work... I've never owned a Walkera multirotor before, but when I got an e-mail from RC-Fever, promising me a “zero-crash” quadcopter, I just had to give it a try.
It turns out, as I'm sure anyone sufficiently media-savvy to be reading our blog would anticipate, you can crash this bird. However, that doesn't mean that the aircraft itself and its anti-crash technology are without their merits.
First of all, like most small aircraft, this thing can really take punishment. We smacked it into that concrete skate park more times than I would care to admit while we were making this video, and it did great right up until the end – when a particularly hard hit snapped off one of the toothpick-like landing struts.
However, it was bitterly cold that morning, which may have contributed to making the plastic brittle, and a replacement part was $1.45.
If you flew this thing over a more forgiving surface, like grass, I suspect you'd be hard-pressed to damage it with an impact – even if you wanted to.
The ultrasound-based altitude hold worked brilliantly, holding the aircraft at a constant altitude above the ground even as the surface rose and fell away beneath it. Just set the throttle for the altitude you want and forget about it.
The one problem we saw with this system was that when the aircraft got too high – maybe 15 to 20 feet – the ultrasound apparently loses track of the ground and then it just shoots up like a cork. Be ready for that, and realize that you're going to have to take the throttle way, way down to coax it out of the sky. Then, when it gets low enough for the ultrasound to start working again, it inevitably smacks the ground because you've got the throttle set so low.
That aside, I think this altitude hold will be a big help for beginning pilots, because it essentially takes the throttle out of the equation – meaning that they can focus all of their attention on yaw, pitch and roll.
The infrared collision avoidance system is more of a mixed bag. Unlike the altitude hold system, which actually measures the distance off the ground and seeks to maintain it, the infrared sensors respond in more of a binary fashion: they are either on or off, so they don't respond in a graduated manner.
The infrared sensors might be a source of frustration for beginners, because they will have a hard time discerning their own control inputs from the automatic reactions of the collision avoidance system.
Also, you can get caught in a sort of feedback loop where you're fighting the aircraft as its bouncing around, trying to avoid obstacles all on its own. Keep in mind that you can always switch it off if you don't like the results you're getting.
If you're going to buy one of these, I'd suggest getting a couple of additional batteries so you can fly longer before you have to stop to recharge. Also, as I noted in the video, the package does not include batteries for you new transmitter – so if you're planning to start flying right out of the box, make sure you've got some available.
Walkera might want to take a tip from Blade in that regard and include absolutely everything you need to fly. One detail in its favor is that the aircraft arrived already bound to the radio, so once you find those batteries, you're good to go.
Overall, it's a lot of fun (and technology) packed into a small package. We'd be curious to see how a larger quad using ultrasonic sensors for 360-degree collision avoidance would perform. Get on that, guys – then send us one to play with!
PDXDrones continues its nomadic existence this month, as organizer Scott continues his quest for the perfect urban flying site. On Thursday, we're headed to an abandoned high school located on SE Stark between 12th and 14th.
Once we get there, I say we split up so we can cover more ground, 'cause nothing bad ever happened at an abandoned high school, right? Right?
Anyway, the group is set to meet at 5:30 p.m. and we're planning to fly until we run out of batteries or it gets dark – or maybe a little while longer, if we get the FLIR mounted on RQCX-3 “Raven.”
Okay, not really – but back when this whole Oregon Senate Bill 71 issue got rolling, I promised myself that if we ever got to a satisfactory conclusion, I would design a t-shirt for myself to celebrate the occasion. So, that's what I did. I figure I'll get one made for Senator Floyd Prozanski, too... He's really been a good sport throughout this whole process, so I figure he'll get a kick out of it.
Anyway, once I got finished with the design, it occurred to me that some of the other folks who've been involved in this two-and-a-half month odyssey through the Oregon legislative process might want one, too. So, I made the design publicly available over at our swag shop on Cafe Press.
You fought the good fight – now get the t-shirt and announce it to the world!
This morning, the Roswell Flight Test Crew is coming to you live and direct from Hearing Room 343 in the Oregon State Capitol. Moments ago, Senator Floyd Prozanski announced that Oregon Senate Bill 71 is dead.
Moving forward, these issues will be dealt with in House Bill 2710, which I addressed at length in a post last night. In short, HB 2710 deals exclusively with the use of drones by law enforcements. So, at this moment, it appears the threat to hobbyist and commercial unmanned aircraft system operations has abated.
We'll need to keep an eye on this bill as it moves forward, to make sure that the threat does not re-emerge, but I believe this outcome reflects the hard work of everybody in the local UAS community. We came together to effectively educate members of the Oregon State Legislators through an effective campaign that included letters, petitions, online videos and testimony before the judiciary committee.
However, this is really just the beginning. These issues will continue to re-emerge as this technology becomes more widespread.
It is incumbent on all of us to continue to educate government and community leaders, as well as the public at large, about the beneficial uses of this technology. Beyond that, we must always take care to operate our aircraft in a safe and respectful manner – in order to demonstrate that we are worthy of the trust we are asking the community to place in us.
Tomorrow should give us some indication with regards to where we stand on Oregon Senate Bill 71. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by SB 71 author Floyd Prozanski, will hold a work session regarding the bill.
A work session is not a public hearing – it's an opportunity for the legislators to discuss the bill and decide what to do next. The public is welcome to attend and observe the proceedings, but don't expect to have any input.
It's scheduled for 8 a.m. at the Oregon State Capitol, Hearing Room 343. Be advised that several other, unrelated issues will be discussed during the same meeting – including taking public testimony on a number of other bills. Techinstein and I are planning on being there, just so we'll know exactly what happened.
In the meantime, there has been forward movement on another bill regarding drones over on the other side of the capitol building. House Bill 2710 passed by a lopsided majority of 52-7 and has moved on to the Senate for its consideration.
This bill exclusively concerns itself with the use of drones by law enforcement. In brief, it requires law enforcement agencies to get a warrant before deploying a drone, unless they are responding to an emergency situation.
There is one specific change that I would like to recommend. The bill requires that any images captured by a drone be destroyed within 30 days, unless they are evidence in a criminal case. I respect entirely the desire to maintain privacy that motivates this requirement – I'd just like to see an additional exemption for training purposes.
For example, a drone could be used to capture a unique vantage point on a SWAT team during a training exercise – showing how different units are moving through an environment. It makes sense that law enforcement might want to retain this footage for more than 30 days, to refer back to it when they are doing subsequent training.
Also, such footage could be used to train new drone pilots. Imagine having to go out every 30 days and record the same training video, over and over and over again. It doesn't make sense.
And finally – some disturbing news on at the national level. As reported by the BBC, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has called for civilian drones to be regulated, citing privacy and security concerns. This is especially troubling because Schmidt is said to have the ear of President Obama.
To be honest, I'm a little surprised that someone who is presumably ultra tech savvy would take the bait on this one.
First of all, with regards to the privacy issue, I think we should implement what I will call the “camera-on-a-stick” rule. If there is some concern that drones will violate personal privacy, just replace the word “drone” with the phrase “camera on a stick.” If it doesn't change the outcome appreciably, then there is no need to come up with new rules to regulate drones – let the laws we already have on the books take care of it.
Let's apply this rule to Schmidt's comments to the Guardian newspaper in the UK, quoted in the BBC article: “You're having a dispute with your neighbour. How would you feel if your neighbour went over and bought a camera on a stick that they can hold up from their back yard?”
The answer is, I wouldn't like it at all and, here in Oregon, they would be guilty of a Class A Misdemeanor for violating my personal privacy. I'm content with them going to jail for a year, regardless of whether they use a drone or a camera on a stick.
With regards to the issue of security, regulating drones won't help at all – terrorists and other bad actors are going to use whatever tools are available to perpetrate evil, regardless of whether or not they are legal. The genie is out of the bottle at this point.
For less than a thousand bucks, anybody, anywhere can build a remote-control flying machine capable of delivering an explosive payload – and since all of the parts (except for the explosives, thankfully) are commonly available on the Internet – this will be true until the next asteroid strike blasts us back to warring, pre-industrial tribes.
As the horrifying attack in Boston yesterday reminds us, anything – no matter how benign – can be perverted into a weapon. Early reports indicate that the bombs were contained within pressure cookers, and yet there is no outcry from any quarter demanding that we ban pressure cookers.
There is no doubt that we are entering a brave, new world with this technology, but pretending that we can wish it away through new laws will do nothing other than make us less well prepared to deal with it.
Attentive readers (as well as those who have identified the scroll bar to the right of the screen on their web browsers) will recall than when last we left off, Techinstein and I were waiting patiently at Gate C8 for our flight to depart for Los Angeles.
We nearly waited a very long time. You see, C8 had more to do with my seating assignment than it did with our departure gate. With only moments to spare, I discovered my error and we were off to Gate C15, where the terminal crew was waiting anxiously for us to appear.
After landing in LA and checking to see that our birds survived the trip, we rode the shuttle bus over to the rental car agency – then struggled for over an hour to find a mid-sized car big enough to fit our gigantic, oversized multirotor travel case.
After trying nearly every make and model on the lot, the Chevy Impala came out on top. The case didn't quite fit in its cavernous trunk, but we managed to improvise a tie-down using a Turnigy neck strap. Then, it was off to the First Annual Multirotor Challenge.
When I was just beginning my career as a newspaperman, an editor explained to me that there is no such thing as a “first annual” event – because, after all, you don't actually know for sure that there is going to be a “second annual” event and recurrence is a necessary prerequisite before anything can be called “annual.”
I don't think we've got anything to worry about in this case. In fact, I think next year's event is going to be huge by comparison – and this one already exceeded expectations. More than 50 pilots attended and participated in the various games and activities, there was a line of vendors that stretched the length of the Palomar RC Flyers' runway, and everywhere you turned someone was doing something innovative and exciting.
Also, this was a great group of folks – it felt like we were coming home to a place and a family that we had never known. There was an instant camaraderie that I think everyone experienced – a sort of unspoken understanding that we had all met and overcome the same obstacles and we all understood that we are on the cutting edge of something that will change the world.
People helped each other without ever being asked. One kind soul loaned us his generator to keep our batteries charged. Our new friends at DIYCopters.com gave us a cool new microquad frame as well as some MOLLE gear for Techinstein's sparsely populated vest, and the guys at Parallax gave us this sweet light control board which will fit in perfectly with another project we've got going.
In fact, there was so much good stuff that I couldn't pack it all into one video. My plan is to put together two more videos about this event: one focused on all the cool products and technology we saw, and the other one looking at the different competitions held over the weekend.
Thank you to everybody who made this event great and made us feel so welcome, and especially to Lucien Miller and his team at Innov8tive Designs and the wonderful members of the Palomar RC Flyers, who really went above and beyond to host this event.
We'll see you next year!
Having just come through airport security at PDX, I realized that we enter airplanes the same way we enter life: naked and screaming.
Techinstein and I are on our way to Fallbrook, California (the "Avocado Capital of the World") for the First Annual Multirotor Challenge, hosted by Innov8tive Designs. We're already shooting video, so that we'll be able to share the complete experience with you on our YouTube channel.
For the moment, we're waiting at Gate C8 to board our flight to LAX. Little Bird, Raven and a the nameless HobbyKing SK450 you saw in our FeiyuTech FY-901 video are safely (?) ensconced in an oversized case meant for sending bicycles by air.
We arrived early for the hearing on SB 71 this morning at the Oregon State Capitol. We brought along RQCX-1 “Little Bird” as an example of the “drones” that we fly. With her weatherproof housing made out of a Rubbermaid bowl that we spray-painted yellow, we felt confident that she would evoke the appropriate level of terror and menace in our audience – in short, none.
Fortunately, Little Bird didn’t have to spend her time alone, as several other witnesses brought along multicopters for the legislators to inspect. They had a little confab of their own in the back of the room – as you can see in this photo.
As 8:30 a.m. approached, we saw more and more familiar faces gathering in the hearing room – folks we’ve met over the past couple of months, since we came together to oppose SB 71. The silver lining concealed within this dark cloud has been all of the wonderful people we’ve gotten to know through this process – each of them doing amazing stuff with unmanned aircraft systems.
Before the hearing got started, Senator Floyd Prozanski came up and introduced himself with a friendly smile, congratulating us on the video that we put together opposing SB 71 and thanking us for keeping the tone constructive.
At the outset, the committee staff handed around copies of a new version of the bill, designated “SB 71-6” which included some additional language that exempts model aircraft from some – but not all – of its onerous positions.
During his opening remarks, Senator Prozanski explained that the original version of SB 71 had been intended merely as a placeholder. For those of us who fought so hard against it, there was real satisfaction in hearing him say, “In retrospect, maybe we shouldn’t have put quite as much in the placeholder as we did.”
The hearing room was at capacity, with more than 30 people in attendance. Among them, more than 20 took a turn at the witness table. Every single person spoke out against some aspect of the bill, and their perspectives covered a wide range of interests: traditional aeromodeling hobbyists, FPV pilots and commercial operators – even the Oregon Farm Bureau and the National Guard.
You can get the gist of what Techinstein and I had to say by reading our written testimony, which we provided to the committee for subsequent review.
Overall, the testimony seemed to be well received, with the six lawmakers in attendance taking notes and asking the occasional question. The hearing ended with no explicit decision as to the next step for the bill. Senator Prozanski promised to keep us informed when or if they decided to move forward.
You can read more about the hearing (including a quote from yours truly), in this article posted to the website of the Salem Statesman-Journal.
Tomorrow is the big day: the first public hearing for Oregon Senate Bill 71. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. in Hearing Room 343. It's on the third floor of the main capitol building, 900 Court Street NE, Salem, Oregon 97301. Look for the giant marble cog wheel with the golden lumberjack on top of it – you can't miss it.
In addition to the amendments already included in this version, the bill's sponsor, Senator Floyd Prozanski, told us in an e-mail last night that it will be further amended to include an exemption for radio-controlled hobby aircraft. That's certainly good news.
I'm still left with some philosophical objections, some worries about how this bill might affect people who use this technology for benign purposes that go beyond a hobby – such as scientists and aerial photographers – and some concerns about the unintended consequences this bill could have on an industry and a field that is constantly changing and developing, sometimes by the hour.
None of us know what lies just around the corner, and I'd hate to see some brilliant innovation sunk by a law that we all thought was acceptable only because we could not foresee the next innovation.
If you're planning to speak, please be polite and courteous and limit your comments to 3-5 minutes. You can also bring along a written statement to accompany your verbal remarks – have 10 copies available to distribute to the committee.