Why Drones Need 2 Types of ID

A proposal for why drones should carry two types of identification: a physical tag and an electronic tag.

Photo Caption: A modest proposal for why drones should have two types of identification: physical and electronic tags. (Photo Credit: Hobbytron)

Editor’s Note: This is part of our series on drone commentary leading up to the Nov. 20 deadline for the task force’s recommendations to the FAA. These opinions were originally submitted to the FAA during the drone registration open comment period. These opinions have not been edited.

I propose that drones carry two types of identification, a physical tag and an electronic one. I believe this is an opportunity for the drone industry to establish some self-regulation ahead of the government doing the job for us.

What’s the problem? Increasingly we hear stories about drones flying (and sometimes crashing) in places where they shouldn’t be. Drones are being used in improper and in some cases, unsafe ways and often we never identify the responsible party. Chris Anderson at 3D Robotics calls this “mass jackassery.” As the number of drones is now increasing by millions annually the potential for more misuse is a growing concern.

Self-Regulation
The UAV industry has grown through innovation without much regulation and most of us like it that way. However, as drones share the national airspace with other aircraft, it is clear that there needs to be a few common sense rules. The drone market has grown faster than regulations to oversee it but I believe it’s time for the industry to do something before others, (ie government) do it to us. In recent drone related forums, readers have been asking the manufacturers to step up and assume more responsibility for reducing improper use.

So What’s the Answer?
There are numerous ways that could identify people misusing drones or limit improper drone operation including: education, geofencing, altitude limiters, flight log tracking, ADSB, operator licensing, and more. Some would include hardware changes, others could be implemented through software, and still others require ongoing management oversight. I would like to save discussions on the merits of these solutions for another time and focus on one very simple change that could be implemented fairly quickly and at low cost, namely the adoption of two types of drone IDs.

Physical Tags
Manufacturers could place a serial number on each drone and register the owner when it is sold. This one is straight forward and easy to implement. Plus we have years of experience registering automobiles from which we can draw best practices. When a drone is lost, stolen, or found crashed in a sports stadium, its owner can be readily identified.

There are details to be worked out about Manufacturer Serial Numbers at Event 38. The company registers all its drones keeping records current, change of ownership, wholesale sales, DIY builders, etc. but all are fairly simple and economical to resolve through online systems. I promise, no standing in line at the drone DMV!

Electronic Tags
Virtually all drones have some sort of telemetry to communicate between drone and base station. I propose adding an encrypted data stream consisting of manufacturer ID, serial number, GPS location, altitude, and direction that could be sent from the drone every 10-30 seconds while it is in flight. These data can be ignored by ground stations but through a simple-to-build handheld device, authorities could capture the information and then take appropriate action. So the next time some miscreant flies over a sporting event, his information can be captured and easily identified.

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Additional work needs to be completed to determine ‘who’ should have access to these data and how to interface with manufacturer’s databases, but once again, a few common sense rules and systems could solve these issues. One big issue that needs to be determined is the penalty for misuse.

Too Simplistic?
Maybe, but while this solution won’t solve misuse by people intentionally trying to foil the system, I believe that it will help us identify the vast majority of people who are either inadvertently or intentionally operating their drones recklessly. We could hope that knowledge that their drone is being tracked, could act as a deterrent for some of the “jackassery” crowd if they knew they were facing stiff fines or worse.

Finally, please note that this proposal is not intended to solve all the problems associated with drones, merely focusing upon the identifying those responsible for misuse.

Next Steps
Ultimately the key will be to get buy-in from the major manufacturers. And as a group we should solicit input from users, regulators, and authorities before any final decisions are made. But first we need to see if members of our drone community are interested in pursuing this idea. If there is enough interest, we can use some of the industry forums to gain consensus on approach, and then as the old Nike commercial espoused, ‘just do it’.




About the Author

John Blair · John Blair is COO of Event 38 Unmanned Systems, a company that designs and manufactures drones, specialized optical sensors, and a Drone Data Management System for Construction, Environmental Conservation, Mining, Surveying and Precision Agriculture.
Contact John Blair: jblair@event38.com  ·  View More by John Blair.
Follow John on Twitter. LinkedIn



Comments

Stephen Mann · November 11, 2015 · 4:11 pm

“BTW, I submitted 36 changes to the draft NPRM in February”
Beats me, mine was only 30 pages.

From my comment to the Task Force docket:
“Please define the problem and look for a solution that will work without the extraordinary
step of declaring a future emergency as the basis of an emergency SFAR. “Minority
Report” was just a movie – please don’t take the movie literally and create an emergency
rule based on what might happen.”

John Blair · November 11, 2015 · 3:24 pm

Stephen, No offense but I think it is foolhardy to distinguish consumer/hobby from commercial use. I know the RPA-hobbyists have been flying safely for a 100 years. They took time to educate themselves, many built their own equipment and joined groups with a code of ethics…

But unfortunately times have changed. When do we see crossover? For example, your 14 year old daughter gets a 3DR Solo for the holidays and next door realtor-neighbor offers her $100 to fly over one of her listings. Consumer or commercial?

The current registration process is even worse than you mention. It’s not just the FAA but now DOT is involved. Two bureaucracies with different agendas, priorities, etc is going to be a !@#$%.

That is precisely why I suggested that we, in industry do something before it is done to us…
Oh well, that cow left the barn. Let’s see what happens when meaningless registration and FAA commercial drone rules get published next year…
BTW, I submitted 36 changes to the draft NPRM in February - http://droneyard.com/2015/04/23/event-38-response-to-faa-draft-regulations-for-commercial-use-of-drones/
and submitted my License Plate suggestion to the current open comment period - http://droneyard.com/2015/10/06/license-plates-for-drones-a-modest-proposal/
AND desperately tried to get in contact with FAA and State officials before the task force was convened, and NO ONE even had the courtesy to respond….

And the final insult is we wait for a decade for rules, and at the last minute some knee-jerk !@# task force gets established to create a bogus program in a rush-rush basis and guess who pays the bill? Our taxes!

Stephen Mann · November 11, 2015 · 2:45 pm

I am not opposed to registration or anything that makes flying safer. The FAA has a mandate and pressure from the media to “do something”, but not “do something stupid”.  I anticipated the cutoff would be one pound and it would include all model aircraft. Precisely, how do you define a personal drone that doesn’t also define traditional model airplanes? This means the FAA could be looking at registering two-million model aircraft.

What could possibly go wrong?

John Blair · November 11, 2015 · 1:56 pm

Dear Stephen, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. And I agree that there are many issues still to be resolved.

However, my recommendation was for manufacturers to step up and play our part on two fronts, identification and enforcement tools .
1) Identification - While it doesnt matter to me who registers the drone, ie the end customer or the distributor or manufacturer, I dont think that that anyone driving a car without a license plate would get too far. Whether a unique ID is created by a manufacturer or the end purchaser, that ID can be established at time of registration. I know, there are other issues like wholesale sales, private party transactions, re-sales, replacement airframes, and others that need to be figured out but we have ample examples & best practices to draw from, ie registering your new toaster or automobile title transfer upon sale…This is not an unsolvable problem in my opinion.

2) Enforcement - Virtually all drones (other than toys—a definition still to be defined) have ongoing telemetry communication with a ground station. By sending Drone ID/registration number or other identifying code, combined with some telemetry data, (ie GPS location, altitude, direction being raveled, and some more), either encoded or not, a special device can be built to intercept those data by authorized individuals. The auto analogy is that everyone can see my license plate but only law enforcement officials have access to registration info. Others are proposing jamming technology and even shotguns to stop a drone, but there are undesirable outcomes to those ideas as well.

One could imagine a drone illegally flying over a sporting event at an altitude high enough that no one could realistically read the physical ID. Further the drone operator could be at a location far from the drone. By capturing the data stream, an enforcement official could learn who the owner is and take appropriate actions. I completely understand there are legal issues, ie “someone else was flying my drone”, “You cant prove I was flying it”, and much more—we have a similar auto analogy with traffic cameras issuing tickets.

Finally, I completely understand that if someone wants to fly illegally he/she will find a way. However that is no reason to not at least try to keep the vast majority of “mass jackasses” from doing stupid things…

I fear that the soon to be published FAA registration program will not provide for the tools necessary to enforce the program. I guess we will see. We all support responsible use of drones to ASSURE safety and privacy and my recommendation is only one small part of the equation… Frankly education and accountability should be stressed in my opinion. Thanks - j

Stephen Mann · November 11, 2015 · 10:49 am

John, “The company registers all its drones keeping records current, change of ownership, wholesale sales, DIY builders, etc.” - this is fine if Event38 wants to do this for their customers. This works fine for a high-dollar value aircraft with a limited ownership trail. But according to an analysis of almost 2,000 Section 333 exemptions for commercial flight of small drones by ‘the333.org’, there are 498 different drone models among 168 different manufacturers.  And that’s just the commercial drone operators. A number of them are DIY and have no serial numbers. further there are many manufactured without a serial number. The manufacturers sell these aircraft to distributors, then to wholesale operators, then to end-user sellers, individual dealers or web site dealers.  Defining Point of Sale would be a Sisyphean task. (State sales and use tax authorities have been fighting over this for decades).

Small UAS world contains everything from a 1-pound toy aircraft to the civil version of a Reaper.

Having the manufacturer record sales by serial number simply won’t work. Imagine the teenagers at the mall kiosk selling drones for Christmas gifts - many weigh more than a pound. They probably never heard of the FAA let alone any registration process. 

I could be wrong, but I don’t think the FAA can mandate a technological solution for an aircraft without a Type Certificate.


Stephen Mann · November 11, 2015 at 10:49 am

John, “The company registers all its drones keeping records current, change of ownership, wholesale sales, DIY builders, etc.” - this is fine if Event38 wants to do this for their customers. This works fine for a high-dollar value aircraft with a limited ownership trail. But according to an analysis of almost 2,000 Section 333 exemptions for commercial flight of small drones by ‘the333.org’, there are 498 different drone models among 168 different manufacturers.  And that’s just the commercial drone operators. A number of them are DIY and have no serial numbers. further there are many manufactured without a serial number. The manufacturers sell these aircraft to distributors, then to wholesale operators, then to end-user sellers, individual dealers or web site dealers.  Defining Point of Sale would be a Sisyphean task. (State sales and use tax authorities have been fighting over this for decades).

Small UAS world contains everything from a 1-pound toy aircraft to the civil version of a Reaper.

Having the manufacturer record sales by serial number simply won’t work. Imagine the teenagers at the mall kiosk selling drones for Christmas gifts - many weigh more than a pound. They probably never heard of the FAA let alone any registration process. 

I could be wrong, but I don’t think the FAA can mandate a technological solution for an aircraft without a Type Certificate.

John Blair · November 11, 2015 at 1:56 pm

Dear Stephen, Thanks for your thoughtful reply. And I agree that there are many issues still to be resolved.

However, my recommendation was for manufacturers to step up and play our part on two fronts, identification and enforcement tools .
1) Identification - While it doesnt matter to me who registers the drone, ie the end customer or the distributor or manufacturer, I dont think that that anyone driving a car without a license plate would get too far. Whether a unique ID is created by a manufacturer or the end purchaser, that ID can be established at time of registration. I know, there are other issues like wholesale sales, private party transactions, re-sales, replacement airframes, and others that need to be figured out but we have ample examples & best practices to draw from, ie registering your new toaster or automobile title transfer upon sale…This is not an unsolvable problem in my opinion.

2) Enforcement - Virtually all drones (other than toys—a definition still to be defined) have ongoing telemetry communication with a ground station. By sending Drone ID/registration number or other identifying code, combined with some telemetry data, (ie GPS location, altitude, direction being raveled, and some more), either encoded or not, a special device can be built to intercept those data by authorized individuals. The auto analogy is that everyone can see my license plate but only law enforcement officials have access to registration info. Others are proposing jamming technology and even shotguns to stop a drone, but there are undesirable outcomes to those ideas as well.

One could imagine a drone illegally flying over a sporting event at an altitude high enough that no one could realistically read the physical ID. Further the drone operator could be at a location far from the drone. By capturing the data stream, an enforcement official could learn who the owner is and take appropriate actions. I completely understand there are legal issues, ie “someone else was flying my drone”, “You cant prove I was flying it”, and much more—we have a similar auto analogy with traffic cameras issuing tickets.

Finally, I completely understand that if someone wants to fly illegally he/she will find a way. However that is no reason to not at least try to keep the vast majority of “mass jackasses” from doing stupid things…

I fear that the soon to be published FAA registration program will not provide for the tools necessary to enforce the program. I guess we will see. We all support responsible use of drones to ASSURE safety and privacy and my recommendation is only one small part of the equation… Frankly education and accountability should be stressed in my opinion. Thanks - j

Stephen Mann · November 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

I am not opposed to registration or anything that makes flying safer. The FAA has a mandate and pressure from the media to “do something”, but not “do something stupid”.  I anticipated the cutoff would be one pound and it would include all model aircraft. Precisely, how do you define a personal drone that doesn’t also define traditional model airplanes? This means the FAA could be looking at registering two-million model aircraft.

What could possibly go wrong?

John Blair · November 11, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Stephen, No offense but I think it is foolhardy to distinguish consumer/hobby from commercial use. I know the RPA-hobbyists have been flying safely for a 100 years. They took time to educate themselves, many built their own equipment and joined groups with a code of ethics…

But unfortunately times have changed. When do we see crossover? For example, your 14 year old daughter gets a 3DR Solo for the holidays and next door realtor-neighbor offers her $100 to fly over one of her listings. Consumer or commercial?

The current registration process is even worse than you mention. It’s not just the FAA but now DOT is involved. Two bureaucracies with different agendas, priorities, etc is going to be a !@#$%.

That is precisely why I suggested that we, in industry do something before it is done to us…
Oh well, that cow left the barn. Let’s see what happens when meaningless registration and FAA commercial drone rules get published next year…
BTW, I submitted 36 changes to the draft NPRM in February - http://droneyard.com/2015/04/23/event-38-response-to-faa-draft-regulations-for-commercial-use-of-drones/
and submitted my License Plate suggestion to the current open comment period - http://droneyard.com/2015/10/06/license-plates-for-drones-a-modest-proposal/
AND desperately tried to get in contact with FAA and State officials before the task force was convened, and NO ONE even had the courtesy to respond….

And the final insult is we wait for a decade for rules, and at the last minute some knee-jerk !@# task force gets established to create a bogus program in a rush-rush basis and guess who pays the bill? Our taxes!

Stephen Mann · November 11, 2015 at 4:11 pm

“BTW, I submitted 36 changes to the draft NPRM in February”
Beats me, mine was only 30 pages.

From my comment to the Task Force docket:
“Please define the problem and look for a solution that will work without the extraordinary
step of declaring a future emergency as the basis of an emergency SFAR. “Minority
Report” was just a movie – please don’t take the movie literally and create an emergency
rule based on what might happen.”


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