To legally drive a car, you must be able to prove not only that you have a valid license but also that you possess adequate car insurance. Driving without insurance or with inadequate insurance leaves you open to all kinds of liability.
The same could be said for other motor vehicles. If you own a boat, motorcycle or ATV, for example, chances are you have insurance policies for them. They are expensive pieces of equipment, after all.
So where does that leave drones?
How episodic drone insurance works
You can buy insurance for virtually anything, and drones are no exception. Traditional policies, like homeowners’ or renters’ insurance, may cover drones as household items of value. However, most businesses and drone enthusiasts prefer “episodic” insurance policies.
Episodic insurance policies only apply when the drone is in flight. Using a smartphone app, consumers create a customized plan suited to their needs for a specific flight. Costs are calculated by assessing:
- The task to be completed
- The risks involved of completing it
- The specific area the drone will operate in
Many episodic policies are based on an hourly rate, with additional options added on depending on flight needs.
Once you finish your task, and the drone is safely back on the ground, insurance coverage ceases until the next time you fly. You don’t pay for coverage while the drone isn’t in use, and you can modify your coverage each time you fly your drone.
Why use episodic insurance vs. a traditional policy?
The main advantage of episodic insurance is that it’s designed specifically for flying drones. With a traditional policy, you could run into the following issues:
- Your policy limits don’t cover all of the damage done to or by the drone.
- Your policy won’t cover incidents related to “commercial use,” which could mean anything from taking landscape photos to sell on your website to creating a promotional video for your kid’s soccer league, even if you aren’t paid for it.
- Your insurance premiums may go up if you have to make an expensive claim (or claims) due to a drone accident.
Some flying clubs seek to mitigate the costs of drone insurance by purchasing a group plan for their members. This is fine, but the above issues may still apply, especially commercial use restrictions. Group plans are generally for hobby flyers, and may not cover anything related to your side hustle.
Most drone users understand the risks and rewards of flying drones. Episodic drone insurance can be just the solution to protect your investment (and your wallet) from potential liability.
In the U.S., drone operation is a rapidly growing hobby. As recreational aviators have taken to the sky in droves, they’ve largely done so without burdensome federal regulation. If one particular company gets it way, however, that could all change.
Alphabet Inc. is leading the charge to encourage congress to enact stricter regulations on drone hobbyists. The company, which plans to launch a commercial drone delivery service, is hitting back against an exemption that it sees as unfair to the business community. In their effort to level the playing field, Alphabet Inc.’s actions could mean a whole new set of rules for the casual drone pilot.
Previously clear skies
In 2012, a law was passed by congress that exempted drone hobbyists from U.S. aviation regulations. This provision accounts for the fact that recreational drone operators must adhere to users’ group rules, which by and large encourage safe operation. As the drone landscape has changed considerably since 2012, however, the Commercial Drone Alliance–a larger trade group that includes Alphabet Inc.–argues that this allows hobbyists to skirt Federal Aviation Administration rules.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics, which is America’s oldest hobby group, has said that additional restrictions aren’t necessary. For their part, the group does acknowledge that renegade drone operators should face consequences.
This push comes at interesting time for drone regulations. The FAA is currently working on new rules that would require nearly all drones to broadcast their identities as a safety measure. More and more companies are also seeking changes to existing laws that would make commercial drone use far more viable. To be sure, federal drone laws could be on the precipice of a major shakeup for corporations and hobbyists alike.
The prospect of commercial drones being used for delivery purposes is an exciting one. The advent of rapid drone delivery for small goods could very well prove revolutionary in the coming future. While this ever-advancing technology is a potential boon for the e-commerce industry, one California company is exploring ways that drones could improve health care as well.
Zipline, a surging startup in the drone space, is currently testing what would be the fastest drone in the world. Hitting airspeeds of up to 80 mph, Zipline’s new aircraft could be an incredible logistics asset for major retailers like Amazon. The company, however, is also working on some nobler ambitions: they’re aiming to use drones to deliver blood to areas that desperately need it.
How the technology works
Zipline’s humanitarian designs for drone technology have already gone into effect. While many companies are still looking into establishing a drone infrastructure, Zipline has already done it in Rwanda, where they’ve been delivering blood to remote clinics.
The company launches its drones from Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, which then travel over difficult terrain to locations where delivery would otherwise take up a costly amount of time. For individuals in dire need of blood transfusions, Zipline’s technology can be an actual lifesaver.
For their part, the company’s team in Rwanda handles the entire delivery process from start to finish. From a medical worker placing a blood order, to then locating the correct product in the distribution center, loading it and programming the flight path, Zipline keeps everything in-house. This streamlined approach has allowed the company to deliver roughly 25 percent of Rwanda’s blood supply, which translates to some 7,000 bags of blood.
Will the FAA allow this practice in the U.S.?
With plans to set up additional operations in Tanzania, Zipline also has an eye on bringing their efforts back home to America. Current Federal Aviation Administration rules, however, are somewhat prohibitive to the company’s progress.
Under the existing regulations, commercial drones must stay within the eyesight of their operators. They also cannot fly higher than 400 feet. In a medical emergency, these rules would be a huge hindrance, but there are some signs that things could change.
The Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, due to launch soon, will allow some companies to work with state and local governments to test new drone technologies. What is gleaned from these tests is expected to heavily influence the FAA’s new drone laws. The FAA is also planning to approve five actual commercial drone use proposals in the near future, and Zipline is vying for one of those spots. Commercial drone laws, in the next few years especially, could be heading for a significant shakeup.
Drones have frequently been in the news for their potential as a delivery mechanism. With major e-commerce companies exploring their viability as a shipping solution, “delivery drones” could be everywhere sooner than later. Their utility makes sense for online retailers like Amazon–a company that ships countless small packages every day–but one big-box chain is looking to bring drones indoors.
Walmart recently submitted a patent application for what it calls a “providing drone assistance” system. At a fundamental level, this would allow shoppers to call on in-store drones when they have questions. It’s an innovation that could potentially revolutionize the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, as well as how drones function as a tool of business.
Drone assistance in the shopping aisle
Walmart’s application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers a slight glimpse into how this technology would work. When a shopper is curious about the location or price of an item, they would simply take out their phone and summon a drone. The drone would then be able to scan barcodes and answer questions via a display or machine-spoken answer.
This service drone would also be able to provide directions to where the item is located in the store. Walmart’s application suggests this would be done by either a visual projection or an audio cue that the customer could follow.
How far off is this technology?
It’s unclear whether or not Walmart will act on this patent in the immediate future. It’s worth noting, however, that the company recently tested inventory assessment robots at some Bay Area locations. While those trials were not of drone technology, they do signal that Walmart is taking a high-tech approach to their retail future in order to stay competitive.
How companies like Walmart and Amazon will use drones going forward is very much in the hands of the Federal Aviation Administration. As the FAA’s regulations currently stand, they are not applicable to indoor drone use. This could be good news for the implementation of in-store service drones, whereas some laws–namely that a drone must remain in the sights of its operator–have been a hindrance in the launch of drone delivery systems.
It’s easy to think of drones in the sense of what they can add to modern life. For recreational purposes, they offer a unique aviation experience that just about anyone can enjoy. As a means of utility, drones can gather aerial imagery and data from hard-to-reach vantage points. Even for consumers, the prospect of drones delivering purchased goods is becoming an increasingly tangible reality. But what if drones could also remove the smog and pollution that looms over some of California’s larger cities?
Drones are an exciting technology and they’ve already proven useful on several different fronts. With a rise in these unmanned aerial vehicles being used for public good—e.g. tracking wildfires and other disasters—what are their prospects for helping to clean up California’s environmental ills? A look at what drones are doing here and abroad could offer a glimpse into the future.
Sniffing out the problem
In Katowice, Poland, drones are already being to put to use as a way to detect pollution. A city with a substantial mining industry, Katowice offers an airspace that’s uniquely fit to test and refine this technology. Polish authorities are using drones equipped with sensors that can evaluate the air’s chemical makeup onboard, and in turn fining the offenders who are releasing contaminates.
While Poland is in the midst of its own pollution problem, these “sniffing” drones could feasibly be just as useful in cities like Los Angeles where smog is an egregious issue. The development of this technology will be interesting to watch, as it could play a role in the evolution of both emissions and aviation regulations.
A decrease in greenhouse gas emissions
When companies like Amazon and UPS began exploring the use of drones as delivery systems, there was a feeling that commerce as we know it could change dramatically. While that may end up proving true, drone delivery could also offer environmental benefits, namely a reduction in greenhouse gasses.
A recent study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory concluded that using drones to deliver packages could cut down on carbon emissions. While drones are not completely harmless in terms of energy use, they’re a far cry from diesel delivery trucks, and the study noted that California in particular could see some stark differences:
- On average, a truck delivery of a package leads to roughly 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.
- In California, a drone delivery of that same package would create about 0.42 kg of greenhouse gas emissions.
For the Golden State, that would mean a 54 percent reduction in emitted greenhouse gasses. The technology and infrastructure are a work in progress for drone delivery, but there are promising signs that it could be a more environmentally-friendly option.
As the proliferation of drones in the U.S. continues, it will be interesting to see how their range of uses expands. With issues of the environment increasingly at the forefront of public discourse, drones may end up being called upon more and more as a greener option.
As civilian drones become more commonplace, laws and regulations are continuing to adapt accordingly. The White House, for its part, is seeking to address the concern that rapidly advancing drone technology could create a significant security threat.
At a recent Federal Aviation Administration-sponsored conference, an assistant to the president revealed that efforts have begun to give law enforcement agencies the ability to track and disable civilian drones. This could mean an overhaul of existing federal wiretapping and aviation laws that make it difficult to track drone flights.
Other new drone regulations could be coming
While lawmakers have introduced similar measures to control drones in the past, they’ve failed to end up attached to legislation. With some recent accidents involving drones picking up headlines–including the first confirmed collision with a manned aircraft–some have expressed urgency in calls for tightening regulations.
The FAA is also working on new regulations that would require some or all small civilian drones to broadcast their location and identity. The agency says that this information would be used for law enforcement purposes in the event that a threat is detected.
It’s worth noting that the technology is already in place to monitor drones via their radio-control signals. It is also possible to disable a drone remotely. If and when these new laws go into effect, law enforcement could begin acting on them in short order. For consumers, this could be a situation worth monitoring, as it would represent a fairly sizable shift in drone laws and regulations.
The world is increasingly viewing drones as a life-saving device with many potential uses. As the tech continues to grow, so do the inventive ways humans are seeking to use them for good.
There are incredible examples around the world of drone users coming to the rescue. As the tech grows, we hope to see more safety uses for drones. However, drone owners must always make sure they are following the law when operating drones, even for the good of others in order to avoid legal consequences.
Rescue missions and predator monitoring
Australia is spearheading dangerous surf drone rescues with their first rescue occurring just last month. Beachgoers alerted the lifeguard that two swimmers were struggling in ten-foot waves. A drone was quickly deployed to drop flotation devices to the swimmers, who survived without injury.
As a driving force of drone safety tech, Australia is also using drones to monitor ocean predators, such as sharks and jellyfish. They hope to keep swimmers safe and watch the environment – keeping both people and animals out of harm’s way in an unobtrusive manner.
Flymotion is a growing tech company that used drone operators to assist rescue missions during Hurricane Irma.
Emerging rescue tech
An Israeli artificial reality tech company just changed their gaming app into a new life-saving tool for disasters. The company, Edgybees, is releasing their First Response app to help rescuers battle through complex and quickly changing environments.
As we see trends in drone-usage leaning toward safety and life-saving, drone laws will undoubtedly be adapting as well.
It is critical for drone owners to stay abreast of changing California (and worldwide) drone laws. This can help you stay aware of illegal piloting behaviors in an emergency situation so that drones can keep others safe.
Drone technology is advancing at such a rapid speed that existing laws can feel restrictive. However, understanding how current law works can protect users from legal issues.
In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration has a “line of sight rule,” which is important for anyone operating a drone to understand. This rule mandates that drone operators keep the unmanned aircraft within eye shot at all times.
Locally, California Civil Code Section 1708.8 forbids drone use to record another person via sound and/or video without their consent.
Recreational vs. commercial use
Recreational and commercial drones are both subject to the line of sight rule. However, the FAA regulations for recreational drones and commercial drones differ, and are typically more lax for recreational use.
For instance, there are no pilot requirements for operating a recreational drone, but commercial drone pilots must have a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate, be at least 16 years old and pass a Transportation Security Administration vetting process.
In both applications, drones must be registered if they weigh more than 0.55 lbs, but commercial drones are also subject to a pre-flight check for safe operating conditions.
Recreational drones must be five miles from airports if they aren’t providing advanced notification to airport and air traffic control. Commercial drones can only operate within Class G Airspace, which is all airspace below 14,500 feet and typically anything very near the ground (1,200 feet or less).
In regards to operating regulations, while all drones must yield right of way to manned aircraft, commercial drones are additionally not allowed to fly over humans or a moving vehicle, and must remain under 400 feet and fly at or below 100 mph.
Drone law is ever evolving, but following existing FAA rules and regulations can keep operators of any kind from facing unexpected legal issues.
According to Recode, nearly 800,000 drones are registered with the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in the United States. In response to the increasing number of drones in the sky, the FAA wrote a number of regulations related to the use of drones for both private and commercial use. How are these laws affecting residents of the Golden State?
FAA guidelines restrict when and where you can use a drone including airports and national parks. As the mechanisms of federalism work, California is expanding on these restrictions to fit statewide needs.
Many of the new state drone laws address privacy and disaster response. As the number of drones in use increases, so could the law related to their use. What should you know about drone law in California?
Filming is restricted
Many people use drones to capture video of landscapes, but where you film matters as much as what you film. When using a drone over private property, the owners of the property have an implied right to privacy, as the designation suggests. When filming over private property, it is important to get the land owner’s permission first.
Don’t interfere with an emergency
You might know that it is illegal to interfere with emergency response crews doing their job, such as hanging out on the street too close to the fire department as they put out a house fire. This same notion can be applied to the use of drones as well.
While filming an emergency response could make for harrowing footage, it is restricted by the FAA. Last year, authorities cited drone owners for filming wildfire footage in Southern California because it put firefighters at risk. Not only can the unauthorized use of a drone result in arrest, but you could also have your drone shot down or confiscated and face civil penalties for any damage caused.
Understand the law before flying
What’s most important is that you understand the law before flying your drone. While operating a drone is a fun recreational activity for many, their use should not fly in the face of public safety considerations. Just as balance is necessary when flying a drone, the law seeks to do the same.
California is known for being on the forefront of new drug laws in the United States. The legalization of marijuana has spurned new and creative endeavors across the state. Technology drives many of these undertakings via smartphone apps and the blockchain. How does the law affect this kind of innovation?
Companies like Amazon are experimenting with drone delivery. The service is not widespread yet because they are facing obstacles from the Federal Aviation Administration regulations against flying drones for commercial use, but that isn’t stopping everyone. At the end of 2017, one California couple pushed the limits of technology and drug laws after allegedly using a drone to deliver controlled substances in Riverside.
Defining drone law
The couple faces charges of possession of a controlled substance for sale and possession of drug paraphernalia, but whether or not they violated the law related to drones is unclear. Because the use of drones both by consumers and businesses is emerging, laws related to safety or wrongful actions may be ambiguous, unclear or too broad.
FAA guidelines and California law restrict the use of drones for commercial purposes. With an understanding of these restrictions, it is easy to see why technology, consumer demand and the law might conflict at times.
Drone use is prohibited in some situations including:
- Flying over crowds at public events
- Flying over disaster areas
- Flying over national parks
- Flying at night
- Flying at high speeds
- Flying near airports
- Flying beyond the operator’s line of sight
- Flying multiple drones at the same time
As technology advances, it could better accommodate the use of drones for commercial purposes, though the law often lags behind technology.
Loosening or tightening restrictions on the use of drones in response to technological advances remains the work of lawyers around the country, and it is often driven – or flown – by business innovation.