FAA Will Let Some Drones Fly Beyond Line of Sight

A drone maker, a news network, and a railway will beta-test new rules

1 min read
FAA Will Let Some Drones Fly Beyond Line of Sight
Photo: PrecisionHawk

The U.S. government will finally allow a few operators to test the boundaries of rules governing unmanned aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration said today. It represents the latest in a long—even excruciatingly long—process of responding to Congressional directives to speed commercialization of the technology.

The point is to do things right the first time so that people won’t have to “take a step back because we do something too fast,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta, at Unmanned Systems 2015, an annual convocation of UAV makers and users, this year held in Atlanta.

Three organizations will get to break two rules: that of staying within sight of the operator and that of staying out of inhabited areas. PrecisionHawk, a maker of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, will use them to study farmland along an “extended line of sight,” farther than the naked eye can see but still along a straight line back to a control point. BNSF Railroads will use UAVs to inspect railbeds far from the launch point, balancing the lack of visual contact with another means of tracking the vehicle, perhaps radar.

The third operator, CNN, will use UAVs to take video in crowded urban areas, which the FAA normally puts out of bounds. The news network will, however, keep the devices in sight—indeed, it will have them tethered to a ground station.

Such use of betatesters is one way the FAA can prove to its critics in Congress and the aviation industry that it’s on the ball. Those critics have been darkly hinting that they’d start developing their commerce-oriented UAVs in Canada or other similarly hospitable countries. In 2013, for example, the agency allowed ConocoPhillips to use the ScanEagle fixed-wing UAV to explore for oil in waters off the Alaskan coast. 

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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