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  • “The FAA, Drones, and Caltrops”

    Posted by Jonathan on December 2nd, 2014 (All posts by )

    Some thoughts about drones and govt regulation, from the always interesting John Robb:

    Here’s one of the reasons that the FAA has seized control of all drones (including toys) and is slowing the development of automated aviation to a crawl. It’s a dumb move, since it won’t work, but they are doing it anyway.
     
    The reason is that drones make disruption easy.
     
    [. . .]
     
    The big question: Will the FAA effort to control drones protect against this type of disruption? No. It won’t.
     
    It actually makes the situation worse. It prevents the development of the safeguards an economically viable drone delivery network would produce.

    Read the whole (brief) post to get Robb’s full argument, which is a plausible one.

    Perhaps the FAA is motivated more by inertia and typical bureaucratic risk-aversion than by any sophisticated consideration of the likely downstream societal effects of drone development.

    The FAA’s proposed regulations would mainly affect commercial drone users who would probably be constrained by liability in any case. The pilot-license requirement makes little sense except to restrict entry into the market and as a means of tracking users. These regulations are not going to be easily enforceable. Maybe the FAA is being driven in part by lobbying from airlines and police agencies. Overregulation will incentivize the development of quiet drones, camouflaged drones, miniature drones, RF-shielded drones, autonomous drones that can fly programmed courses without radio control, etc.

    Big companies that can game the political system will get drones. Governments will get drones. Hackers, criminals and terrorists will get drones. Small and mid-sized businesses will pay up for approved outsourced drone services or will go without. The availability of liability insurance to cover drone-caused damage may be a significant issue.

    Someone wrote that operating a drone should be like owning a dog: minimal formal regulation, ad hoc restrictions based on local conditions, and liability for damages. That seems about right.

    We shall see what happens. At this point I’m more concerned about the FAA than about caltrops.

     

    12 Responses to ““The FAA, Drones, and Caltrops””

    1. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      It’s clear a drone could release caltrops. Or nerve gas. So can automobile. So can people on foot. Anyone with a rifle could bring traffic to halt on a major highway. Why don’t they?

      Most people have a stake in order, in things functioning in a way conducive to achieving their happiness or goals. We see that some people, those at Ferguson for example but there are others, are invested in bringing the current system down, chaos now so they can rise to the top later. They have a limited and local impact. The other 99.999% of society goes on though. They have no interest in chaos. And won’t.

      On the question, Does the FAA, aka The Government, need control over all drones? Nay.

    2. ErisGuy Says:

      Is there anything the government can’t cripple through regulation?

      Nearly 100 years ago the Congress abandoned its law-making powers, assigning them to the execute bureaucracy. One argument was that the advanced technology of the 1930s moved too quickly for Congress, the deliberative body, to act on new challenges that demanded new laws immediately. (I feel like I need a shower after writing that.)

      Has the argument been proved false?

      There is zero chance of Congress retaking its powers from the executive.

    3. ErisGuy Says:

      Just imagine Brutus, the Polish Home Army, Georg Elser, Jan Kubis, or Jozef Gabcik with drones and the worry by the executives at the FCC become apparent. Justice might be done upon them and their masters.

    4. David Foster Says:

      Concerns about drones and air safety are not imaginary. What happens when a drone hits an aircraft windshield, or the advancing rotor blade of a helicopter, or get sucked into a jet engine intake? The results will depend on the mass of the drone and the relative speed of the aircraft and the drone, but there are certainly cases where the results could be disastrous. And how is an air traffic controller supposed to manage traffic when there are objects within his scope of responsibility that do not carry transponders (which greatly improve radar visibility), and not optically visible (to a tower controller), and with which there is no way to communicate?

    5. Jonathan Says:

      David, I agree with you about safety. However, I suspect that regulation of the type that’s apparently envisioned by the FAA is not likely to be effective. Commercial drone operators are probably going to be constrained by the threat of liability for damages in any event. Perhaps insurance companies could be helpful in creating an informal but reasonably cautious regulatory system, if allowed to.

      Meanwhile as the technology becomes cheaper and more readily available any problems will likely come from drone operators who are outside of the scope of conventional regulation. Perhaps the FAA could be most helpful by undertaking public campaigns of persuasion and shaming, akin to the anti-forest-fire campaigns of past decades, to foster a culture of responsible drone use.

    6. pouncer Says:

      David says: “Concerns about drones and air safety are not imaginary. What happens when a drone hits an aircraft windshield, or the advancing rotor blade of a helicopter, or get sucked into a jet engine intake?”

      Back in my teens, in the wilds of Western Kansas, where the population density (in the tables by county of a popular almanac) is marked with an asterisk to denote square miles per person rather than people per square mile, and my county of residence enjoyed the distinction of a double digit figure…

      ANYWAY, way out west where we called the wind Maria a few friends and I “daisy chained” dime-store paper kites. One kite lifts a couple hundred feet of string. Add another kite, add another spool. After a few bucks of investment and a long afternoon of teen male focus the top kite was about as high as Denver, supporting a barely visible catenary cascade of kitestrings from over a dozen or so air-traffic hazards.

      Good thing nobody in military or commercial jets ever ever flew from Wichita to Denver, huh?

      AnyHOW, the point is not that, in my own personal experience, teen-aged males will take any technology available and obliviously use it in unapproved and possibly unanticipated fashion that pose hazards to unsuspecting adults trying to earn a civilized living. Or maybe it is. But the REAL point is that no government bothered to go public and scare the citizenry with such fears and –genuine– risks. The public-relation aspect of risks and the media debate over the need to “do something”, meaning to “turn over freedoms to un-elected bureaucrats”, is the point. It’s a new thing. It’s a “progressive” thing. But it’s not the country I was raised in.

    7. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      In a Progressive (aka Regressive) Society, anything done without specific permission or controls is, by definition, illegal. All power not specifically delegated to the citizen rests with the government, its cronies, its bureaucrats, and ‘special’ friends. Freedom = Uncontrolled = Illegal. Clear now?

    8. Joe Wooten Says:

      AnyHOW, the point is not that, in my own personal experience, teen-aged males will take any technology available and obliviously use it in unapproved and possibly unanticipated fashion

      Quite possibly the quote of the month. Male teen age hackers, and this does not just mean computers, but ANY technology, are going to outstrip any attempts by a bureaucracy to stop them.

    9. David Foster Says:

      Joe W…”Male teen age hackers, and this does not just mean computers, but ANY technology, are going to outstrip any attempts by a bureaucracy to stop them.”

      So would this imply that when the technology in question is automobiles, and the hacking consists of souping them up, we should be okay with drag racing in the street?

    10. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      I’m more comfortable with the occasional drag racing teens than a police state.

    11. Joe Wooten Says:

      Not just souping up cars and drag racing. That is as old as cars themselves. I’m talking the really bright boys who make large rocket engines, explosives, turn semi auto rifles into full auto, build big R/C airplanes from lawn mower engines, etc.

      I either did those or saw them done by others as a teenager.

    12. Subotai Bahadur Says:

      ErisGuy Says:
      December 3rd, 2014 at 5:49 am

      I note that if things reach that point [and the clock does seem to be ticking] the technology is in the public domain. And Americans are an inventive and resourceful lot. And they may not give an obese rodent’s gluts if the government approves of the mission with an outlaw drone, because the mission itself will already be highly illegal.

      For some reason, I am reminded of the STEN gun. Crude, but effective. Possession was, of course, a death penalty matter in Occupied Europe. The Danish Underground made them out of bicycle parts.

      Different mindsets for different times.