Acquisition Global Viewpoint – October 2017

CNN Gets FAA Part 107 Waiver to Fly Drones Over People

CNN becomes the first network to receive an FAA waiver to fly drones over crowds. A Vantage Robotics Snap is currently the approved unmanned aircraft system.

Vantage Robotics Snap drone

Video: PC magazine

In late October CNN received the first, and only, FAA waiver from Part 107 to fly a small unmanned aircraft system (UAS or drone) over crowds. This is the first time any organization has received a waiver to fly drones over people who are not part of the company doing the flying or actors on a movie set. In the application, CNN proposed using a Vantage Robotics Snap drone in a range of environments including operations over “open-air assemblies” (crowds) of people, at altitudes of up to 150 feet.

The FAA waiver allows CNN to operate the Snap UAS, a frangible, 1.37-pound aircraft with enclosed rotors, that is made of deformable (soft plastic-like) material, over people.

The cable network’s waiver approval comes after two years of research and testing by CNN and Vantage Robotics. CNN’s waiver application was based on the “Reasonableness Approach,” under which an applicant’s ability to operate a UAS safely over people is determined based on “the totality of circumstances,” including the operator’s safe history of operations, the safety features of the aircraft, and test data demonstrating that the UAS is safe to operate over people. The network said “The Reasonableness Approach, which CNN designed and proposed to help the FAA analyze the safety of UAS flights over people, is precedent-setting and of significant importance to the commercial UAS industry.”

This waiver is the most recent success in the network’s efforts with the FAA to develop a repeatable process for Part 107 waivers to operate drones over people. In 2015, CNN was selected by the FAA as one of the first three industry Pathfinders to develop safe uses of drones in newsgathering, particularly in urban populated areas. In 2016, the FAA granted CNN the first waiver to fly the Fotokite Pro, a tethered, camera-equipped quadcopter weighing less than two pounds, for operations over people.

Technology inside the drone

The UAS, called Snap, is manufactured by Vantage Robotics and represents a departure from that of competitive products typically used in the media space. Vantage claims the product is redefining flying cameras by offering a portable, safe and easy-to-use interface packaged system. Snap is a small, light-weight and inexpensive drone, unlike the heavier, more powerful and expensive UAS systems often required to support professional camera gear.

Snap Follow Me function

Selling for just over a thousand dollars, the aircraft was first announced in 2015. The company began accepting pre-orders last September and the says deliveries will begin in December.

Three years ago, Tobin Fisher, CEO and co-founder of Vantage Robotics, cut his hand on a plastic-bladed quadcopter. Inspired by his injury, he set out to design flying cameras that operated with the same ease-of-use as products he helped create at the design company, IDEO. He partnered with Joe van Niekerk (co-founder and CTO), a winner of the DARPA Grand Challenge, who previously designed ultra high-end gimbals for military drones.

The 1.37-lb UAS is hinged in the middle and once the two sections, each with two motors and rotor blades, are folded out, magnets hold the assembly together. Each rotor is surrounded by soft rubber-like guards to prevent injury. The operator then snaps on the middle ‘spine’ holding the camera and storage pack over the hinge and it’s ready to fly. The company said the magnetic break-apart design make Snap safer to fly around crowds.

The camera uses a Sony Exmor IMX 377 1/2.3-in 4K sensor mounted on gimbal-stabilized platform. The drone is controlled via an app, which is loaded onto an iPhone or Android phone. The software comes with automatic ‘follow-me’ and ‘out and back’ flying routines. The UAS has a 20-minute flight time and a 30 mph top speed.

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