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Speaker Spotlight: Susan Shaheen

Shaheen-headshotSusan Shaheen is a co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California (UC), Berkeley. She was the first Honda Distinguished Scholar in Transportation at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis from 2000 to 2012. She served as the Policy and Behavioral Research Program Leader at California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways from 2003 to 2007, and as a special assistant to the Director’s Office of the California Department of Transportation from 2001 to 2004.


USI: Apart from your teaching, what projects are you working on at the moment?

We have several research studies ongoing at Innovative Mobility Research at the University of California, Berkeley. For instance, we are working with some carsharing operators to investigate new innovations, such as using electric vehicles in their fleets, viability and improvements to one-way carsharing operations, and peer-to-peer vehicle sharing. We are continuing to monitor real-time ridesharing and ridesourcing (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Sidecar) developments and are hoping to conduct more research on the social and environmental impacts to urban transportation of all shared-use mobility services (e.g., bikesharing, carsharing, shuttle services, ridesharing, ridesourcing, shared delivery services, etc.).  

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Getting Schooled on UAS

Every semester, a new university is announcing its new unmanned vehicle program

June is the time when high school seniors walk across the stage in their cap and gown to receive their diploma, ready to move onto bigger and better things. For many this means college, which in turn means deciding a major and an eventual career path. Those who are undecided may want to consider what is already a lucrative option – unmanned aviation. The number of UAS programs offered by universities in constantly growing, with Indiana State University being the newest to join the fold.

Jumping on the UAS bandwagon now can lead to short and long term financial benefits. UAS operators and engineers, entry-level or experienced, are in very high demand and big companies are willing to pay very well. If you’re looking to pay off those student loans quickly, a UAS degree can be a big help.

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Speaker Spotlight: David Weekly

weekly-picDavid Weekly

David Weekly will be speaking on the “UAS Investment Opportunities & Growth” panel at USI 2015, December 14-16, 2015. For more information on the event, please see our agenda or register to attend.


USI: Why were you inspired to begin droneVC?

I saw that the non-military drone industry overall was rather in its infancy, with a surprisingly small group of technologists pioneering the fundamentals for a technology that could end up becoming a multi-hundred billion dollar opportunity to change how we transport light matter and perform sensing. While some folks had made investments in drone companies, it didn’t seem like anyone else had specialized in doing a drone fund. I was also interested to try out AngelList’s syndicate platform with its low time and capital overhead. If I was to do this part time, I’d need something that required very little backoffice overhead – starting a full traditional fund requires managing several Delaware corporations, sending out K-1s annual to partners, etc. AngelList takes care of everything for me. Investors also don’t pay a management fee to me. In a traditional fund, they’d pay somewhere between 1% to 2% of the fund annually to managing partners. In this model, substantially all of their capital goes to the company and is put to work immediately.

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Where’s Our Center of Excellence?

Update: On May 13, 2015 the FAA selected Mississippi State’s proposal and established it as the head of the UAS Center of Excellence. Additional details can be found on the FAA’s press release.

It’s May – How much longer do we have to wait?

Last August, the Federal Aviation Administration issued their final solicitation for Center of Excellence (COE) requests. The deadline for submissions was September 15, 2014 and it is estimated that nearly every state in the nation applied to host the UAS COE site.

It has now been almost eight months and there has been no announcement of a “winner”, or even finalists.

To be fair to the FAA, some of these proposals are likely very lengthy. According to the solicitation, the “Proposal” portion of the submission has a 60-page limit. It’s possible many pitches reached this limit. Other sections such as “Certifications and Declarations” have no page limit.

The FAA took 10 months to decide on its six UAS test sites, which received only 25 proposals. It is assumed the COE received more than 25 requests, as this distinction would greatly enhance the UAS-related industry in that area.

But if the FAA is prioritizing the establishment of UAS regulations, awarding this COE should be a top priority. The NPRM issued a few months ago bought the FAA some time, but it also showed how far the FAA is from making concrete rulings. By establishing a COE it can pass on some of the testing and regulation creation to the site.

The recent influx of 333 exemptions granted has also put the FAA in a better light, but the matter still stands that these companies are focusing on UAS as it applies to their business before focusing on UAS as it applies to the nation.

While we focus on the growing trend of UAS, we must also remember that the FAA deals with more than just unmanned aircraft issues. It has somewhat of a justification for the delay in a COE announcement, but this immense amount of work to be done also shows why having a COE is so important to the administration.

Being awarded a COE would be a major coup for any state, and the FAA needs to act sooner rather than later instead of teasing the applicants. The faster it moves on this issue, the quicker other UAS-initiatives can pick up.


To keep up with FAA news regarding the COE, keep an eye out for a press release on their announcements page.


Gavin Holdgreiwe | Unmanned Systems Institute

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Speaker Spotlight: Steve Brown

Chairman Steve BrownSteve BrownBoard of Commissioners
Fayette County (Ga.)

Steve Brown was elected to the Board of Commissioners in 2010 and is serving his second four- year term, which will expire on December 31, 2018. He is the commissioner for District 3, representing Peachtree City.

In an effort to promote state legislation to aid and protect Georgia’s cities and their citizens, he co-founded the Metropolitan Atlanta Mayors Association, a collaborative alliance comprised of the 67 cities in the greater Metro Atlanta area. He has held numerous posts with Georgia Municipal Association and served on the Policy Cabinet of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. Mr. Brown is a leading conservative voice in metropolitan Atlanta on mass transit, traffic congestion mitigation, transportation funding as well as multi-use path infrastructure. 

USI: How did you first become interested in the growth of automated vehicles?

SB: One of my main areas of focus is transportation.  I had become discouraged at how traditional road engineering methods never really seemed to address traffic congestion issues.

After watching some of the early DARPA competitions, I began thinking that autonomous-type vehicles might resolve one of the key factors in traffic congestion: human error.  In metro Atlanta, accidents and poor driving decisions create a great deal of congestion which harms our economy and quality of life.

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You Get a Section 333! You Get a Section 333!
FAA approving more 333 exemptions; Petitions granted has exceeded 60

San Diego Gas & Electric became the latest organization to gain FAA approval to fly UAS for commercial operation. SDG&E, the second energy company to gain 333 status, originally had approval to fly small UAS in remote areas of San Diego County but now has approval to fly across its service area.

The California energy company was one of many organizations to get Section 333 approval in March 2015. 30 companies and individuals gained FAA approval, with 16 coming in the last eight days. The following gained approval since March 24, 2015:

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Car Wars: A New Road
The race to be the first on the streets with AVs

Many consumers have already seen the affects of automated vehicle technology – automatic breaks, sensors that keep vehicles in their lane, adaptive cruise control, etc. This technology will continue to grow and bring us past the early phases of automation, with many companies introducing hands-free highway driving over the next few years.

While the legal and policy hurdles will dictate when self-driving technology will be utilized on a grand scale, the technology will be present sooner than many of us think. 2020 has been the magic number that multiple companies say they will have an AV on public roads that can drive itself at least some of the time.

But which companies appear poised to roll out this technology first? Google, Apple, and Uber have received a lot of press – but what is the competition like among traditional car manufacturers? Early implementers of this tech may be able to control the market early on and shift the balance of power in the automobile industry.

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Speaker Spotlight: Greg Fitch

What are you working on at the moment?

I lead the User Experience Group in the Center for Automated Vehicle Systems at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. My research focuses on driver interaction with technology. I’m currently investigating the human factors pertaining to automated vehicles, the distraction potential of automotive head-up displays, the reliability of automatic emergency braking systems on commercial vehicles, and driver performance and crash risk when using portable aftermarket devices.

What are the most critical obstacles to overcome to move from near-automation to fully automated vehicles?

Survey results from subject matter experts indicate that regulation will be the greatest barrier to overcome for the deployment of highly automated vehicles. The main question that has yet to be answered is who will be at fault if a highly automated vehicle crashes. However, there are other significant obstacles that must be addressed in parallel. One being what sensors are needed to yield reliable performance in inclement weather. This is of interest to me because we routinely perform controlled vehicle testing in artificially-created snow, rain, and fog on the Virginia Smart Road test track at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

How will the timeline for truck-automation compare to car automation? Will certain features be more critical to one than the other?

Car automation will be driven by the need for improved convenience and comfort, while truck automation will be driven by return-on-investment decisions. Given that car drivers want improved comfort, I think systems like traffic jam assist and self-parking cars will be in high demand and undergo rapid development. Given that truck fleets want leaner operations such as improved fuel efficiency and logistics, I think systems like platooning will be sought after. Although safety is a fundamental reason automated vehicle technology should be developed, it will likely not be the primary reason people purchase the technology. Fortunately, safety improvements stand to be potential secondary benefits of the above technologies because of the automatic braking these systems provide.

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Is There A Pilot In The Building?
The need for UAS experts is growing more and more

Although we are still waiting on regulation to be passed by the FAA, job listings for commercial UAS operators are popping up everywhere.

In a still recovering economy, pilot positions are one of the few areas of tremendous growth. It is not difficult to find an entry-level position starting over $50,000, and companies looking for more experienced operators are willing to shell out over $100,000 per year.

In addition to a sizeable salary, many of these companies hiring UAS operators are tech heavyweights that are sure to bring some added perks. Google, Facebook, and Amazon are famous for having ultra-modern work environment catered to employees.

Whether you want to be among the first in the U.S. to deliver packages with Amazon or want to help Facebook expand its digital empire, there are UAS jobs available. If you still need time to work on your flying skills, The agriculture industry is eagerly waiting to use UAS to monitor crops, and journalists are hoping they’ll be able to shoot from the sky sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile on the defense side, General Atomics, Northrop Grumman and others are making these devices now for military operations.

“This fiscal year, which started on May 1st, we’ve already hired 50 new people,” Steven Gitlin, VP of Marketing and Communications for AeroVironment, told NBC News. “And we’re looking to hire about 50 more.”

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CNN, NYT, & More Taking Flight

Major news organizations are exploring UAS’s potential

The race to utilize remote-controlled reporting has picked up speed.

After CNN reached an agreement with the FAA to test UAS in newsgathering efforts on January 12, a group of major media corporations announced it would be doing its own testing in Virginia.

The coalition of media companies (Advance Publications, A.H. Belo, Associated Press, Gannett, Getty Images, NBCUniversal, New York Times, E.W. Scripps Company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, and Washington Post) will conduct testing at Virginia Tech’s FAA-approved test site. Companies will use small UAS in controlled areas to see how they may be implemented in the organizations’ newsgathering efforts.

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