DRONELIFE Exclusive: SkySafe CEO on Making Remote ID Work as Intended

SkySafe CEO on Remote ID

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SkySafe CEO: Making Remote ID work will take a group effort

By DRONELIFE Features Editor Jim Magill

Ensuring that the FAA’s regulation requiring drones to have Remote ID works as intended will require a cooperative effort among drone manufacturers, airspace-management entities, drone operators and the FAA itself, the CEO of a drone-detection software company said.

“I think that there has to be some process of accountability to ensure that the drones are actually following these rules,” Grant Jordan, CEO of SkySafe, said in an interview.

The FAA’s Remote ID regulations — requiring drones to be equipped to broadcast identification and location information to third parties such as law enforcement agencies – were set to go into effect last September, but the FAA has extended the compliance deadline to March 16, 2024.

Under the new rule, all drones requiring registration – whether used for recreation, commercial applications or public service work – must be equipped with internal Remote ID software or have an external broadcast module attached to them. As drone traffic continues to proliferate across the U.S., the regulation is expected help federal officials regulate air traffic and help local law enforcement track down the operators of drones not following the rules of the sky.

Jordan said the promulgation of the Remote ID rule marks just the beginning of the process of establishing a well-regulated system for managing unmanned vehicle air traffic.

“The first half of it is: you’ve got to make sure all the drones are actually broadcasting their remote ID, that you’ve got these license plates in the sky. But then the second half is: How is it actually being received? Is anyone actually receiving it? And, who’s sharing that information? Is it being shared? And what tools are there to do that?” he said.

It turns out that establishing a regulation requiring drone operators to have Remote ID broadcasting ability was the easy part. The real work lies ahead in establishing the infrastructure of a system for enforcing the new rule.

“For the drone manufacturers or the operators, right now it’s one thing if the FAA just says, ‘Hey, everybody’s got a broadcast remote ID.’ But the question is, what happens if people don’t?” Jordan asked.

“What happens if manufacturers don’t actually turn on remote ID? What happens if users don’t equip things with transponders? What happens if, for example, manufacturers implement remote ID wrong or it doesn’t work? Who’s actually going to notice that or hold anybody to account?”

Currently the FAA hasn’t implemented any monitoring program or announced any plans for how it plans to enforce the new regulation, he said.

Managing a crowed airspace

Jordan views the situation from the airspace-management side of the equation. His company, SkySafe, creates technological solutions for governments, law-enforcement agencies, airports, corporations and municipal governments to manage their airspace with real-time drone data and analytics.

Over the past year, as drone manufacturers developed different technologies to bring their products into compliance with the Remote ID regulations, Jordan said SkySafe began noticing problems.

“We found pretty quickly that Remote ID implementations were either incomplete or not present or full of mistakes and there’s no way for the FAA currently to spot that or to do anything about that. None of the manufacturers are being held accountable in any way to actually follow the rules,” he said.

The fundamental question facing the drone industry regarding Remote ID is: who is going to be responsible for enforcing the rules and holding the responsible party accountable when the rules are not followed?

Jordan said he doesn’t blame the FAA for rolling out the Remote ID regulations before a fully developed enforcement regime was in place.

“I don’t know that I would say they rushed it. I think it’s more that they focused much more heavily on the challenge to make it standard. How do you get all of the drones to be transmitting something, right?” he said. “You have to solve all these problems and you have to start somewhere.”

He called on all parties interested in establishing a well-regulated air management system for UAVs to work together to develop an accountability process to ensure that the drone manufacturers, operators and other stakeholders are following the same set of rules.

There are a multitude of challenges to developing such a system. On the drone operator side of the equation, these range from rouge drone pilots flying their aircraft for nefarious purposes such as carrying illegal drugs or other contraband, to operators who are just ignorant of the rules flying their aircraft over crowded football stadiums.

“I think we see instances of all of this. We see drones smuggling stuff into prisons. We see drones flying unsafely near airports. But I think one of the challenges here is if, even if you’re a drone pilot who is trying to follow the rules completely, one question would be if that drone pilot buys a drone off the shelf, how do they know that it’s broadcasting remote ID?” he said.

System must hold drone makers to account

He noted that, as the developer of sensor networks that track the airspace around critical infrastructure, such as airports, SkySafe is likely to be on the first line of defense in spotting drones that are not complying with the Remote ID rule.

“If we’re providing coverage for an airport, we’re showing all of the drones that are around that airport that are reporting their Remote ID,” Jordan said. If the system shows a drone that’s in the airspace but that is not identifying itself using Remote ID technology, “is that on us as the airspace data provider or is that on the operator? Or is that on the manufacturer?”

Jordan thinks that much of the blame for UAVs failing to follow the Remote ID rule can be placed on the drone manufacturers themselves.

“We’ve seen examples where drone companies have rolled out Remote ID support. They checked the box, they said, ‘Yeah, we’re doing Remote ID,’ and it’s not totally true,” he said. “Either it didn’t actually work as intended, or it was implemented wrong, or, in some cases we’ve seen drone manufacturers where they rolled back Remote ID support after the enforcement deadline was extended.”

Jordan said the team at SkySafe has put a lot of thought into how companies such as his can help the FAA and the industry validate that everyone is playing by all the same rules.

“We can be kind of a confirmatory step, showing that a particular drone manufacturer or transponder manufacturer’s implementation of remote ID does follow the standard,” he said.

“If it doesn’t, we could actually help to provide that feedback to say, ‘Oh hey, this doesn’t follow it in this way, and here’s what it would take do to follow the standard.’ But I think there needs to be some kind of collaboration between industry and government on doing that, so that we can kind of close the loop.”

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Jim mug2Jim mug2Jim Magill is a Houston-based writer with almost a quarter-century of experience covering technical and economic developments in the oil and gas industry. After retiring in December 2019 as a senior editor with S&P Global Platts, Jim began writing about emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, robots and drones, and the ways in which they’re contributing to our society. In addition to DroneLife, Jim is a contributor to Forbes.com and his work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, U.S. News & World Report, and Unmanned Systems, a publication of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.

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