Yesterday, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) overruled a federal judge, deciding that remote-controlled aircraft (whether or not they’re autonomous enough to be called “drones”) fall under the purview of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). News on that, plus an update on Parrot’s Bebop drone and some new firefighting skills from Lockheed Martin and KMAX, after the jump.
Here’s the meat of the NTSB’s ruling, which is in response to a 2011 challenge by Raphael “Trappy” Pirker, a hobbyist who felt that the FAA’s juristiction applied only to manned aircraft:
An aircraft is “any” “device” that is “used for flight.” We acknowledge the definitions are as broad as they are clear, but they are clear nonetheless.
The NTSB goes on to say that “at this stage of the proceeding...we decline to address issues beyond the threshold question that produced the decisional order.” And with that, the NTSB has made the FAA entirely responsible for aircraft, unmanned aircraft, remote controlled aircraft, and any and all combinations or permutations thereof.
While hobbyists would likely have preferred that the FAA (and everyone else) just kept out of their business, someone needs to be regulating the use of unmanned aircraft, because of abstract privacy concerns as well as the much less abstract risk of someone getting run over by one. The FAA is in the process of developing an official set of rules and regulations, but until they’re done, things remain cloudy.
Not doing potentially cool stuff with drones just got a little bit harder, as yesterday, Parrot announced the pricing and availability for their Bebop drone that we first saw back in May. We were impressed with it, and speculated that it would run a fairly substantial premium over the AR Drone: our guess was something between $600 and $800.
The good news is, the drone by itself is cheaper than we thought, at just $500. The bad news is, the drone with its long-range controller is more expensive than we thought, at $900. Both versions will be available in December at Apple Stores and Best Buy, and we’ll have a full hands-on update for you later this week.
Normally, we save all our robot videos for Friday, but I thought that this one was particularly cool: Lockheed Martin’s K-MAX optionally-manned helicopter (the one that was autonomously running cargo in Afghanistan) has learned some new tricks that will allow it to be useful outside of combat zones, too:
A team of Lockheed Martin and Kaman unmanned aircraft successfully demonstrated its ability to aid in firefighting operations. During the demonstration, the Indago quad rotor effectively identified hot spots, and provided data to an operator who directed the unmanned K-MAX helicopter to autonomously extinguish the flames. In one hour, the unmanned K-MAX helicopter lifted and dropped more than 24,000 pounds of water onto the fire.
Fighting fires from the air is one of those dangerous tasks that robots could potentially excel at. Dropping supplies dovetails into that too, if we’re talking about remote cooperation with human fire fighters on the ground. Or maybe the ideal solution is to just make it a pure robot operation instead.
[ Lockheed Martin ]