founder plans to tackle UAS safety, privacy issues

By Patrick C. Miller | March 19, 2015

Ben Marcus set up as way to give people the option of keeping unmanned aerial systems (UAS) away from their private property, but he has far bigger plans for the organization to address safety and privacy issues.

“We are making available to the entire drone industry a comprehensive data base of airspace information,” Marcus explained. “It’s not just about these private properties. It’s also all of the other airspace information that a drone operator might want in order to fly safely.”

Currently, Marcus said many UAS manufacturers base their airport boundary information on the facility’s center point and then use a relatively small radius based on that point.

“The no-fly zones that they’re putting into their software have nothing to do with where the actual boundaries of the airspace around those airports and whether that’s a class B, C, D or E airport,” he said.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s notice of proposed rulemaking released by the agency last month allows the operation of UAS in that airspace with air traffic control permission, according to Marcus.

“I’m encouraging the manufacturers to start incorporating information about those actual airspace boundaries into their systems now, not waiting for the final rule to come out,” he said. “I think the last thing we need is a drone hitting an airliner. Whether that has a catastrophic result or not, just the fact that a drone hits an airliner would be really detrimental to this industry.”

Marcus believes that the best way for the UAS industry to move forward is to use a proactive approach to privacy and safety issues.

“It’s not a hindrance; it’s an accelerator,” he said. “The reason is that you have a safe integration of UAS into the existing aviation system. You prevent close-call incidents with airliners. That kind of stuff creates more regulatory constraint during the rule-making process.”

Marcus said polls indicate that privacy is a major concern with the public, and he believes that giving people the option of designating no-fly zones in the low altitude airspace above their property is beneficial to the UAS industry.

“The more quickly we can provide the general public the opportunity to express their preferences, the sooner the public will embrace drone-enabled services,” he said. “We’ll be able to see companies like Amazon deliver packages or insurance companies flying at low altitudes doing roof inspections.”

At the website, anyone who wants to designate their home as a no-fly zone can follow the simple process of entering their address and a few other pieces of information. Marcus said 25,000 people signed up during the first month of operation and the response has been positive.

“I don’t really see a good reason why someone should be operating a small UAS over somebody else’s property without their permission. It just doesn’t seem reasonable,” he said.

One common question the organization receives is how the no-fly zone is enforced.

“We have to continue to articulate that it’s voluntary participation only for drone operators to respect individual requests for privacy,” Marcus said.

As the site currently operates, whether someone wants UAS over their property is a simple yes or no question. However, Marcus plans to change that soon by allowing people to customize their choices.

“In the near future, we’re going to be launching an app that will allow you to customize your airspace preferences,” he said. “We want to give people a sense of control with respect to their low-altitude airspace. It will help dissipate some of that public perception problem.”


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