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UAS Takeaways From Texas

By Luke Geiver | March 31, 2016

It’s been hard to hold a private conversation inside the expo hall this week at the Texas UAS Summit. There are small UAVs flying in an enclosed cage and video monitors playing continuous loops of aerial footage or software demos. This is not a huge event (yet) but by the sounds and sights you hear or see standing inside the speakers ballroom or the expo, you’d think there is nowhere else in the UAS world you should otherwise be. Our team knew there would be a nice buzz and sense of energy at this inaugural event in Texas, but I don’t think any of us knew that there would be quite the volume of constant energy that there has been for the past three days.

We’ve been visited by four major newspapers—including the Houston Chronicle and Austin-American Statesmen—and been interviewed and filmed by local and regional news crews.

My notebook has a long list of story leads, hot topics to check into and future ideas for content coverage at an event or in a print piece. Here are just a few:

-Texas Department of Transportation Aviation was not onboard with UAV’s in the past, but over the past year, they have more than committed to implementing UAVs into their own fleet. The group is now going to test commercial platforms and work to develop a set of standards for procedures and flight operations that could be adopted by multiple state entities.

-The Texas Land Office told us about their work with UAVs in the past year. They also told us about the role regulation uncertainty is playing in their organization. Because of uncertainties with regulations, the legal team at the Land Office told the entity to essentially stand-down all uses of UAVs until more certainty is provided by the FAA. This is a perfect example of how regulations, or slow-moving regs, are actually stifling progress.

-Jim Williams, a UAS attorney/engineer/former FAA UAS lead, is an incredible source of knowledge on the history and potential future of UAS and the way the FAA can process the many requests its receiving from the UAS world. Following his speech he had a trip scheduled to another part of the state requiring him to leave immediately. I am almost certain he was late, given the number of people that approached him after he exited the stage or as he was in the foyer of the hotel. Davis Hackenberg from NASA also had several people who wanted to speak with him following his talk.

 

-Oak Ridge National Lab, the largest research lab in the country, signed an MOU with the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence & Innovation for some future work on UAS research. The team Oak Ridge has a bold vision for UAS and is already tinkering with ideas that aren’t being talked about frequently in the UAS industry.

-Thomas Prevot, also from NASA, is gearing up for a NASA Unmanned Traffic Management project April 19-21 that will utilize all six FAA-selected UAS test sites. NASA will have each site fly six UAVs simultaneously to test their system. By October, the NASA UTM also believes it will be capable of handling beyond visual line of sight operations.

-Kerry Cammack, a Texas-based attorney, outlined the history of a UAS-privacy-related bill that has passed in Texas. The bill went through many iterations and could see more changes during the next biennium in 2017. Following his talk, several in the crowd wanted to talk about the privacy issue.

-Several members from the armed forces, oil and gas companies, FAA and Texas-based organizations were in attendance throughout the event.

For more on the event, look for print and online coverage coming soon.