Things to Know This Week: Drone Rules, Flying Cars, and Really Old Beer
February 18, 2019      

Happy Monday, everyone! Here’s a quick wrapup of some things that we missed last week, things that will make you smarter, and maybe some other things that I found interesting recently.

1. FAA moves forward on drone ID, other projects

Now that the latest government shutdown is over, the FAA has been a busy little beaver, announcing some new initiatives in the drone space, including:

  • Requiring small drone owners to display the FAA-issued registration number on an outside surface of the aircraft. Effective Feb. 25, the markings must be in place for any flight after that date. More details here.
  • Modifying its process to request new service suppliers for the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC). As part of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act, the FAA is tasked with expanding LAANC capability, so the agency has extended its application period, and there will now be only one application period in 2019 instead of two. More details here.
  • Establishing restrictions on drone operations over DOJ and DOD facilities. In cooperation with the Department of Justice and Department of Defense, the new rules restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of several federal facilities that include prisons and military bases. More details here.

2. Flying before self-driving?

After looking over the reports filed by self-driving car companies as they do their autonomous vehicle testing in California, I’m really starting to think that we’ll see full-scale “flying car” services before we see full-scale autonomous vehicle services.

Clearly, self-driving cars currently exist in limited applications – Waymo vehicles are shuttling people in Arizona, and smaller transit companies are driving people around in Michigan and Ohio (via May Mobility). So they have a head start, for sure.

But as I was reading this article on Japan’s plan to create a flying vehicle business by 2023, I started thinking that there are fewer obstacles in the air than there are on the ground. Mainly, less people.

There are many, many more cars on the roads and highways around the world than there are planes in the sky. Even with the amount of air traffic we have, it still feels like you could add urban air mobility services that shuttle people through vertical takeoff and landing vehicles without causing too much distress.

Larry Hutchinson, Toyota Canada

Larry Hutchinson, President and CEO of Toyota Canada addresses key Canadian automotive industry influencers at annual stakeholder dinner (CNW Group/Toyota Canada Inc.)

A self-driving car has to worry about lots and lots and lots of human drivers, not to mention motorcyclists, pedestrians, animals, and other random objects that could appear in the roadway at any given moment. And those are the good drivers. In the Boston area, we’re used to seeing drivers taking a left-turn from the right-hand lane, and have trained ourselves to be ready for that.

In addition, there’s likely going to be a backlash from people who like driving in their cars. Speaking to a group of Canadian automotive industry leaders, Larry Hutchinson, president and CEO of Toyota Canada, said the industry has forgotten that people like to drive in its race towards fully autonomous vehicles.

“We have so many automakers that lost their passion for driving. They seemed to be so focused on the ‘next big thing’ – on the self-driving electric pod – they’re forgetting that driving is fun,” Hutchinson said. Again, another obstacle, especially as we get more people saying this.

I’m not saying the path to flying cars is going to be smooth sailing – there are lots of issues that remain, and there are still lots of questions about safety and reliability, as this article suggests. But I think that the people factor will present more long-term problems towards mass adoption of self-driving vehicles in areas beyond the ones where they’re located now. Plus, people seem to want flying air services.

3. Revenue growth because of accidents

I get a lot of news releases whenever research companies have a new prediction about a particular market in the robotics space, and I generally save these for reports and other articles to point out the particular growth rate prediction. For example, in recent weeks I’ve seen predictions about the delivery robot market ($34 billion by 2024), the image-guided and robot-assisted surgical procedures market ($3.7 billion by 2026), and the smart harvest market ($15.6 billion by 2023).

Most of the time, the reasons given for the market are driven by positive growth and market demand, things like that. But in one case this week, I laughed out loud when I saw the reason given for the growth of lidar and radar systems ($2 billion by 2026) – an increasing number of road accidents.

“In addition, various government organizations are also taking the necessary steps to ensure better safety of their people. The number of cases related to road accidents has increased drastically, providing a fillip to automotive LiDAR in this market,” said Transparency Market Research.

OK, if it will sell reports, let’s go that route.

4. Charts and maps and stats and stuff

Regardless of how you feel about Walmart, if you love statistics and visual interactive maps, you should take a look at this report.

Walmart Demographic Map

Screen grab from Walmart interactive map.

Walmart has published a report titled “America at Work: A National Mosaic and Roadmap for Tomorrow” that examines the country’s capacity to respond to change, particularly automation. The report looks at the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. “with the goal of helping communities plan for their individual situations and develop responses that will position them to survive and thrive in a changing economy.

Instead of a “red state vs. blue state” or a “East/West Coast vs. the Middle” dynamic that lots of pundits claim, the report breaks down regions into eight community archetypes, ranging from urban centers to smaller independent economies, Americana, rural service hubs and resource-rich regions, to name a few.

A cool part of the report is this interactive visual map, which lets you zoom into the county that you live in to see some interesting dynamic stats. It turns out that I live in an urban periphery, where I thought that I lived in a house (“Thank you, I’m here all week! Try the veal!”).

If you’re a statistics or visual information junkie, you can spend hours looking at different areas. I know I did.

5. Non-robot story to tell at the watercooler

Beer from 1886 shipwreck may yield new brew

“No Bill, you try it first…”

6. Catching up on last week’s robotics news

In case you were too busy last week buying flowers and chocolates for your sweetie on Valentine’s Day, here’s a list of our favorite articles from the week. As always, give these a read or click so I can increase my page views!

Peace, love and crinkle-cut French fries, everyone!

Keith