UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) seem to be the hottest mobile mapping technology fright now. We reported about microdrones, a multi-copter aircraft, as well as fixed-wing, unmanned aerial mapping platforms (Smartplanes.)
The more we keep looking into these systems, the more UAVs pop up from manufacturers all over the world.
To top the news, Trimble, one of the largest GPS manufacturers in the world, just announced that they acquired Gatewing, the Belgium manufacturer of a fixed-wing, smartplane that has been widely used for aerial mapping and photogrammetry.
This acquisition makes a lot of sense for Trimble. They have been known as a leader in the surveying and mapping fields. They have purchased other advanced mapping technologies before, including Geo3D, a manufacturer of mobile mapping vans, and Applanix, the integrated GPS-IMU positioning and orientation platform.
There’s only one problem: UAV’s like the Gatewing are currently not legal for commercial use in the US.
Yes, this is true.
While every other country in the world from Argentina to South Africa and Germany to Australia has commercial companies flying UAVs for surveillance, mapping, news reporting and emergency response, the FAA is still struggling to define rules on how to regulate these systems in the US.
The US is the world leader in military applications of UAVs. Drones over Pakistan and Afghanistan have been used by the US military for years. However, we are lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to civilian and commercial use of UAVs.
The good news is that this will change. The FAA is feverishly working on establishing rules and regulations that will allow private companies to operate Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).
Unfortunately, this may still take a few years.
I just listened to a webinar on proposals for the selection of test sites. These proposals are due by the end of 2012. The FAA does not expect to have final rules in place before 2015.
What are the Rules for UAVs in the USA?
Remote control aircraft for hobby use, like RC model airplanes, are exempt from FAA regulations. A bill has been reauthorized in March of 2012 that protects Radio Control Model Aviation.
The commercial use of unmanned aircraft is not permitted in the USA:
“Currently, civilian companies may not operate a UAS as part of a business without obtaining a Special Airworthiness Certificate – Experimental Category (SAC-EC). However, this SAC-EC is very limited in scope of operational use. Only public agencies operating an unmanned aircraft” [can apply for such a Certificate]