Drone for Christmas? You might have to register with FAA

One of this season’s most hotly anticipated Christmas gifts — recreational drones — will also come with a big caveat: registering them with the Federal Aviation Administration.

“This is not a kite,” said the FAA’s Marke “Hoot” Gibson, during an interview Wednesday morning at the Drone World Expo in downtown San Jose. “It’s an unmanned vehicle with capability to do wonderful things for society,” but also can cause “great harm” if not flown properly.

Hundreds of thousands of first-time drone hobbyists will have to have to register their quadcopters and other hobby aircraft with the federal government after the FAA finalizes its registration process before Dec. 31, just after as many as 1 million drones are anticipated to be sold during the holiday season. A task force of government and industry representatives has been meeting for several weeks and is due to deliver their recommendations on Friday. While some relatively harmless drones could be exempt from having to be registered, most of those sold at stores are expected to be affected.

The FAA has already promised that the process will be easy and operators shouldn’t need to hire a consultant to register their drones.

Gibson, a former Air Force pilot the FAA hired six weeks ago to help advise the agency on drone traffic control issues, said the registration process is just the first step in a longer-term process to develop an “elegant” drone traffic control system for the United States.

Already working on that system for low-altitude unmanned aircraft are NASA researchers in collaboration with tech giants such as Amazon and Google parent company Alphabet, both of which aim to launch fleets of package delivery drones in the coming years. Their collaboration is aiming to create an autonomous drone traffic control system that uses sensor technology, cellular networks and other tools to keep aircraft from crashing into one another or objects on the ground.

That plan can’t come soon enough for Dave Vos, chief of Alphabet’s Project Wing drone delivery venture, who has previously said he hopes to see the business launched by 2017. Joining Gibson and representatives from NASA and Verizon at a keynote panel in San Jose on Wednesday, Vos said developing protocols is key to getting commercial drone operations off the ground.

“It is probably one of the things I dream of least, but it’s probably the most important thing to do today,” he said.

Above: Google presented this visual to NASA earlier this year showing its vision for an automated air traffic control system for drones that relies on cell phone networks, sensors, drone-to-drone communications and other technology to track the vehicles and keep them from crashing into one another.

 

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