WASHINGTON: We love being able to say “we told you so,” and today we can. During a 30-minute conference call with reporters Monday, the president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), Michael Toscano, used the word “drone” four times. Not too long ago, Toscano might have washed his own mouth out with soap if he’d caught himself uttering the D-word.
“We’re very excited today to announce the launching of an Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS or as most people call them — drones — safety program called ‘Know Before You Fly,'” Toscano said in opening the conference call, in which two other unmanned aircraft advocates, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration, and half a dozen or so reporters participated.
“In just a few days, kids old and young are going to unwrap presents, and many of them, maybe tens of thousands, will have unmanned aircraft,” Toscano said. “This technology is very accessible, in very high demand, but information about how to fly safely is not that readily available. That’s why we’ve created this campaign to provide prospective users of unmanned aircraft, or drones, with information and guidelines that will help them fly in a safe and responsible way.”
Sixteen months ago, at a Washington conference, AUVSI required reporters using WiFi in the event’s media room to log on with the password: “DONTSAYDRONE.” Toscano and many of his members insisted back then that the only proper terms for the technology were UAS, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or, as the Air Force prefers (but almost no one uses), Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA).
What’s changed? The words and acronyms certainly haven’t. Instead, Toscano insisted in an interview after Monday’s conference call that it’s the meaning of “drone” that has changed. (By the way, he’s retiring on Jan. 10 as AUVSI’s leader after nearly six years of leading the organization.)
“Back almost two years ago, when someone said the word ‘drone,’ they thought military, hostile, weaponized, large, and autonomous,” Toscano said. “They thought ‘Predator with a Hellfire missile.’ You say drone today and what do most people think of? They think of Amazon, (which has declared its intention to deliver books and other goods by drone some day), they think of the small ones.”
The small ones, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta noted during the conference call, mostly consist of helicopters with four or six rotors, better known as quadcopters and hexacopters. Many carry a miniature camera and can be flown using a smart phone. The FAA, AUVSI, the Academy of Model Aeronauticsand the Small UAV Coalition want the hundreds of thousands of kids who may get one for Christmas to understand that there are federal rules for how they can legally fly their drones. No higher than 400 feet above the ground. The operator has got to be able to see it. Away from crowds. Not within five miles of an airport. And only for fun, not for profit or for a business.
The advocates have created a web site, www.knowbeforeyoufly.org, to spread that information. In the future, they also want to distribute it at the point of purchase.
“The whole purpose of today’s kicking this thing off is that you’re going to have hundreds of thousands of individuals that are going to receive a drone, and that’s what they’re going to call it — a drone,” Toscano said in the interview. “I have no problem if they call it that, because now they know what it is, whereas before, when you said the word ‘drone,’ people didn’t have one, and what they thought it was, was the Predator with a Hellfire missile, which was in the news. I never had a problem with the word ‘drone.'”
We accept Toscano’s surrender of the term.