With apologies to Howard Beale, “We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take this anymore.”
On April 5th, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis approved a change in Florida Statute 934.50, simultaneously flushing over $200 Million in state-purchased drones down the preverbal toilet. And at the same time, DeSantis signed open-ended death warrants for yet-to-be-named toddlers, Alzheimer's patients, and First Responders.
So what did Governor DeSantis do?
Before we dive into that, now would be a good time to mention that this article reflects only my view and opinions of myself and not necessarily those of the Drone Service Providers Alliance, the FAA, AUVSI, or any group or agency I'm associated with. These are mine (Vic Moss) and mine alone.
The Florida bill filed back in 2020 that set in motion these eventual changes is FS 934.50. It proposed only allowing Florida agencies and those contracting with them to use drones listed on the Blue sUAS List.
In and of itself, it is not necessarily a bad idea, but in reality, it is one of the most horrid bills to come out of any state legislature since prohibition.
By adding section (7) to 934.50, no state agency may purchase or use any drone not on a pre-approved list, to be published on the state website.
So as of 4/5/23, every government agency in Florida “… must discontinue the use of drones not produced by an approved manufacturer.”
Blue sUAS List
So who are these approved manufacturers? For now, that list comprises Teal Drones, Vantage Robotics, Altavian, Parrot, and Skydio.
And even then, not all Parrot or Skydio drones are included. For instance, the Skydio S2 isn't, but the Skydio X2 is.
And the price point, features, and ease of use of any of those drones on that list pale compared to the industry-leading Autel and DJI drones.
DeSantis shut down every UAS STEM/STEAM program in Florida
Before I get too deep in the mudslinging, I'm aiming at Governor DeSantis and his minions here. Let's talk about the possible ramifications to the Education system of Florida, specifically the STEM tracks and to the aviation industry based in Florida.
The DJI Tello is one of the most popular drones used in K-12 STEM programs. It's a basic drone that can be used to teach students about flight, coding, and even how to build drones.
Using DJI Tello drones in STEM programs across the country is the most basic way to spark a child's interest in aviation as a career. Every STEM/STEAM program I know of uses Tellos exclusively for beginning students.
I contacted Dr. La'Quata Sumter, founder of STEAM through Drones, and asked her what this does to her company.
“We would not be able offer the curriculums we have,” she answered. “We have to recreate them for another drone.”
When I asked her about other drones, she said, “The only drone for flight is and camera is the parrot mambos but they are extremely hard to find. The Robolink CoDrones are good for flight and programming but no camera.”
So as you can see, there is no current replacement for the DJI Tello.
So Governor DeSantis just shut down every UAS STEM/STEAM program in the state of Florida. I hope he's happy.
Maybe the teachers who have to tell the students they can no longer fly their drones will take this as an opportunity to help their students understand what happens when (supposed) grownups play politics when they should be doing the actual job of supporting education and First Responders.
Impact on Aviation
And as far as the aviation industry, according to Alpha Aviation group, the U.S. aviation industry will need over 85,000 new airline pilots within the next 15 years to replace pilots aging out of the industry. And I won't talk about how airline mechanics and aircraft designers are in that same boat.
And STEM UAS programs are the number 1 way to spark the love of aviation in students today. I guess there won't be many pilots coming out of the Florida Public Education System now.
Governor DeSantis signs death warrant
Now, let's talk about who, DeSantis has signed the death warrant for. And no, I'm not being dramatic.
There will be residents of Florida that will die due to the short-sighted political bullshit DeSantis is playing with Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue Teams, and Fire Departments across the state.
Numerous instances of drones being used to locate missing people and save lives have been documented in Florida for years.
How many of those lives would have ended differently without the use of capable Chinese drones? Of course, no one knows for sure, but we can all imagine it could be more than just a few.
Governor DeSantis let this bill become law, despite the passionate and contentious testimony last month during a Senate Committee meeting on this very subject.
Not only did Senator Pizzo (D) tell Florida DMS Secretary Allende, “You're pimping for a vendor right now. Shame on you!” Rightly so, in my opinion, but there were also multiple examples found in the testimony of LEO and SAR personnel, who are the end-users of the very drones now outlawed for use by the state of Florida.
Here are some notable quotes from that meeting:
“When we were able to use our DJI drones, we're down to six other manufacturers. All of the information received from the drone is completely disconnected from the Internet and our secure network. There is no possibility of any exposure of our network. So once again, I would ask, let us get the shelf life out of these and work through them when we know there is no way for them to download the information.”Lieutenant Mike Crabb, Orange County Sheriff's Office
“DJI was a godsend to us in the technology. In five years of DJI, we saw no losses, no issues, no failures. In one and a half years, approximately, between two different manufacturers, we had a total of five losses. But in one year and a half, we had five failures of the manufacturers on the list. DJI, none. That's going to put us in danger, our officers in danger, and the public in danger when these drones continue to fall out of the sky. My officers are trained; they're also told they have to complete a report because of the failure, it is an asset, it does cost money, that comes out of taxpayer money, and we have to report it.”Sergeant David Cruz, Orlando Police Department
“We cannot get our helicopters fired up, warmed up, our pilots in the air in time. Our drones are there. We've recovered numerous children wandering around the yards near lakefronts, near canals.”Colonel Robert Allen, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office
“I'm an American as well, and I wish we could buy all American-made drones. I'm supportive of the fact that, with you, Senator, my sheriff is supportive of the fact that if there are national security issues with a DJI drone, then show us what it is, and we'll be glad to purchase American.”Lieutenant Mike Crabb, Orange County Sheriff's Office
So who will die as a result of the Florida drone ban?
My guesses are: a) toddlers wondering off near swamps and canals, b) Alzheimer patients near those same swaps and canals, and c) SWAT officers who are now parts of units that drones to penetrate buildings before sending officers in.
Governor DeSantis and his minions are playing politics with the lives of Floridians, and Skydio and Brinc share in this tragedy.
It's their lobbying dollars that are being used to push the Anti-China propaganda and pervert the reality of SAR, LEO, and STEM use of DJI and Autel drones.
And this is just the first domino to fall, folks.
This will spread like cancer if we as an industry don't stand up for what is right.
So keep an eye on your state. The lives of your neighbors (or family) may be at stake too.
While we absolutely must figure out a way to help out the American Drone Industry (including Skydio and Brinc), we cannot let state and federal governments decide the winners and losers of this battle.
And we can't let American companies that cannot compete with the Chinese manufacturers, play Russian roulette with American lives while they try to catch up.
We must come up with a better solution than an outright country-of-origin ban. Whether that's tax credits, non-DOD seed money (we need US drones to complete with the DJI Mavic 3 and Autel EVO 2, not more Skydio X2 type drones), or even outright R&D grants given to US drone manufacturers.
We need to do something that is divorced from politics. Let's make it about U.S. Pride, not Chinese Fear.
Instead of an outright ban, let's develop a cyber security-based set of protocols that all drone manufacturers are required to meet. That would solve the problem and still allow First Responders to use the best drones for the job.
In speaking with Ken Dono today, there will be a bill introduced in the Florida Senate on April 7th, 2023, to attempt to mandate an actual end-of-life (EOL) clause to allow state agencies to use what they have for another four years.
And even with that, it's unlikely the US drone industry will be ready w/o reasonable and rapid federal assistance.
And don't get me started on the US computer chip industry. We made that bed years ago when we allowed chip manufacturers to move offshore. Now we must lay in that same bed until we revive that industry too.
U.S. drone manufacturers must stay in the lane, do what they do well, and leave politics at the door. Drone operators in this country are fed up.
Oh, and by the way, those same drone operators in this country are their client base. A client base with a long memory.
You can't expect the drone industry to grow when you cut the legs out from underneath the industry's leaders.
As Ken Dono said in a recent Dono-esque style video, “Innovate, don't legislate.”
Author: Vic Moss from Moss Photography.
Photo courtesy of STEAM through Drones.
The views expressed in this article are Vic Moss's and not necessarily the views of DroneXL. DroneXL, however, does share Vic's concerns about the consequences of First Responder not being able to use their current drones to save people's lives.
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