From military to personal use, most Americans are now familiar with the capacities — and controversies — of drones. One local woman has made it her mission to demystify the remote-controlled, pilotless flying machines.
Chrissie Engh, co-founder of UA Solutions Group, a consulting firm focused on unmanned aircraft, is also making strides in convincing the D.C. entrepreneur community of the potential of these technologies.
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Engh cites the reality of being based in the greater Washington region. ”The regulations happen within the beltway, but the technology and the innovation… happens outside of that.”
“We’re fortunate that we do have our politicians right here so we can just, at any time… talk to our representatives, we can talk to our senators about our concerns,” she told What’s Working in Washington.
Yet, this proximity isn’t being taken advantage of by everyone. “There is kind of this disconnect sometimes between… the people that are literally in their garages and in their basements tinkering with this technology,” that don’t talk to the regulators that make laws concerning drones, said Engh. “It’s more of the policy people, the lawyers involved with the companies are the ones that are up there talking with our politicians, and it needs to be the tinkerers,” she said.
“The military has noticed the importance, unfortunately, of Silicon Valley. So you can see that the military has moved some organizations out there to try and tap into that market. What’s really nice about that is that technology will come home. It’ll come back here to the Pentagon,” said Engh.
As a retired Blackhawk helicopter pilot, Engh understands the specific problems of “that 500 feet and below airspace, which is really where the majority of this unmanned aircraft technology is going to reside,” she said. “We’re also probably one of the most affected by it in case there’s some sort of catastrophic event when it comes to an unmanned aircraft possibly running into a helicopter.”
Engh decided to bring her first-hand knowledge of the emerging technology to the marketplace that continues to embrace drones.
“Before I started my company, I worked at the [Federal Aviation Administration] in the unmanned aircraft office,” said Engh. “There wasn’t anybody from that office who was out in industry promoting unmanned aircraft.” This led to a lot of misinformation about the technology being perpetuated with little response, leading Engh to realize “when you work at the FAA, your hands are tied. You really can’t do a whole lot, you can’t do as much as you want to, and as much as the industry needs you to do.”
“By starting a company, it allowed me to be the voice and get out there and talk to people,” to help spread true information about drones, including regulations and who to talk to about them, Engh said.
Despite regulations making room for home delivery by drone, Engh said that the technology required for the service is still a few years off. The drones themselves need to be tracked by an overarching structure, the Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management System, a project currently being headed by NASA. “We have to figure out, how are we going to integrate thousands of drones into this 400-foot and below airspace,” said Engh.
Listen to entire March 27 show: