New rules allowing small drones to fly over people in U.S. take effect

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that final rules announced in December took effect on Wednesday allowing for small drones to fly over people and at night, a significant step toward their eventual use for widespread commercial deliveries.

The effective date was delayed about a month during the change in administration. The FAA said its long-awaited rules for the drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, will address security concerns by requiring remote identification technology in most cases to enable their identification from the ground.

Previously, small drone operations over people were limited to operations over people who were directly participating in the operation, located under a covered structure, or inside a stationary vehicle – unless operators had obtained a waiver from the FAA.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday the rules “are an important first step in safely and securely managing the growing use of drones in our airspace, though more work remains on the journey to full integration” of drones.

Drone manufacturers have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators will have an additional year to provide Remote ID.

Companies have been racing to create drone fleets to speed deliveries. As of December, the United States had over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.

For at-night operations, the FAA said drones must be equipped with anti-collision lights. The final rules allow operations over moving vehicles in some circumstances.

The new rules eliminate requirements that drones be connected to the internet to transmit location data but do require that they broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast.

One change, since the rules were first proposed in 2019, requires that small drones not have any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

UAE signs deal with U.S. to buy 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 drones: sources

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates has signed an agreement with the United States to purchase 50 F-35 jets and up to 18 armed drones, people familiar with the situation told Reuters on Wednesday.

Although the UAE and the United States were working to ink a deal before President Joseph Biden took office on Wednesday, the new president has said he will re-examine the agreements.

The UAE, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal when it agreed to normalize relations with Israel last August.

One of the people said the agreement was signed about an hour before Biden was sworn into office. The document gave the United Arab Emirates the chance to accept the negotiated schedule and configuration of the jets while also making the purchase request official.

The UAE has had the paperwork for more than a week, the people said. The UAE and the United States had once hoped to have a deal in place in December, but the timing of jet deliveries, their cost, the technology packages and training associated with the deal extended negotiations, the people said.

The jets are a major component of a $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp to the UAE announced this fall.

The UAE government also signed a separate agreement to buy up to 18 drones, the second-largest sale of U.S. drones to a single country, the people said.

The final in-country delivery date for the F-35 jets could not immediately be confirmed, but the initial proposal sent to UAE said 2027, the people said.

(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Iran tests drones in military exercise

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran launched exercises featuring a wide array of domestically produced drones on Tuesday, Iranian media reported, days after the anniversary of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq.

Iran and the regional forces it backs have increasingly relied in recent years on drones in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.

Iran’s armed forces are to test combat drones used as bombers, interceptors and in reconnaissance missions in the two-day exercises in central Semnan province, the semi-official Fars news agency said.

“The fingers of our heroic armed forces are on the trigger, and if enemies commit the slightest mistake, the armed forces will surely respond fiercely,” said Mohammad Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, quoted by state media.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said U.S. President Donald Trump may be trying to find an excuse to attack Iran in his last days in office, or Israel might try to provoke a war. Israel rejected the allegation.

The exercises coincided with increased tensions between Iran and the United States, two days after the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport.

Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and also carry out a “kamikaze” flight when loaded with explosives and flown into a target, according to a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters.

Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes barring it from importing many weapons. Western military analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its ballistic missiles contributed to Washington leaving the nuclear pact.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Peter Graff)

U.S. to allow small drones to fly over people and at night

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Small drones will be allowed to fly over people and at night in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday, a significant step toward their use for widespread commercial deliveries.

The FAA said its long-awaited rules for the drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, will address security concerns by requiring remote identification technology in most cases to enable their identification from the ground.

Previously, small drone operations over people were limited to operations over people who were directly participating in the operation, located under a covered structure, or inside a stationary vehicle – unless operators had obtained a waiver from the FAA.

The rules will take effect 60 days after publication in the federal register in January. Drone manufacturers will have 18 months to begin producing drones with Remote ID, and operators will have an additional year to provide Remote ID.

There are other, more complicated rules that allow for operations at night and over people for larger drones in some cases.

“The new rules make way for the further integration of drones into our airspace by addressing safety and security concerns,” FAA Administrator Steve Dickson said. “They get us closer to the day when we will more routinely see drone operations such as the delivery of packages.”

Companies have been racing to create drone fleets to speed deliveries. The United States has over 1.7 million drone registrations and 203,000 FAA-certificated remote pilots.

For at-night operations, the FAA said drones must be equipped with anti-collision lights. The final rules allow operations over moving vehicles in some circumstances.

Remote ID is required for all drones weighing 0.55 lb or more, but is required for smaller drones under certain circumstances like flights over open-air assemblies.

The new rules eliminate requirements that drones be connected to the internet to transmit location data but do that they broadcast remote ID messages via radio frequency broadcast. Without the change, drone use could have been barred from use in areas without internet access.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International said Remote ID will function as “a digital license plate for drones … that will enable more complex operations” while operations at night and over people “are important steps towards enabling integration of drones into our national airspace.”

One change, since the rules were first proposed in 2019, requires that small drones not have any exposed rotating parts that would lacerate human skin.

United Parcel Service Inc. said in October 2019 that it won the government’s first full approval to operate a drone airline.

Last year, Alphabet’s Wing, a sister unit of search engine Google, was the first company to get U.S. air carrier certification for a single-pilot drone operation.

In August, Amazon.com Inc’s drone service received federal approval allowing the retailer to begin testing commercial deliveries through its drone fleet.

Walmart Inc. said in September it would run a pilot project for delivery of grocery and household products through automated drones but acknowledged “it will be some time before we see millions of packages delivered via drone.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Howard Goller)

Exclusive: Taiwan in talks to make first purchase of sophisticated U.S. drones – sources

FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is negotiating the sale of at least four of its large sophisticated aerial drones to Taiwan for the first time, according to six U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, in a deal that is likely to ratchet up tensions with China.

The SeaGuardian surveillance drones have a range of 6,000 nautical miles (11,100 km), far greater than the 160-mile range of Taiwan’s current fleet of drones.

While the sale of the unmanned aerial vehicles has been tacitly authorized by the State Department, two of the people said, it is not known whether the U.S. officials have approved exporting the drones with weapons attached, one of them said.

The deal has to be approved by members of Congress who may receive formal notification as soon as next month, two of the people said. Congress could choose to block a final agreement.

It would be the first drone sale after President Donald Trump’s administration moved ahead with its plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

While Taiwan’s military is well-trained and well-equipped with mostly U.S.-made hardware, China has a huge numerical superiority and is adding advanced equipment of its own.

Taiwan submitted its request to buy armed drones early this year, one of the people familiar with the talks said. The United States last week sent Taiwan the pricing and availability data for the deal, a key step that denotes official approval to advance the sale. It is, however, non-binding and could be reversed.

A deal for the four drones, ground stations, spares, training and support could be worth around $600 million using previous sales as a guide. There could also be options for additional units in the future, one of the people said.

The island is bolstering its defenses in the face of what it sees as increasingly threatening moves by Beijing, such as regular Chinese air force and naval exercises near Taiwan

Relations between Beijing and Washington – already at their lowest point in decades over accusations of spying, a trade war, the coronavirus and Hong Kong – could fray more if the deal gets the final go-ahead from U.S. officials. The Pentagon has said arms sales to Taiwan will continue, and the Trump administration has kept a steady pace of Navy warships passing through the Taiwan Strait.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory, and Beijing has never renounced the use of force to bring the self-ruled island under its control. Beijing has denounced the Trump administration’s increased support for Taiwan.

China’s sophisticated air defenses could likely shoot down a handful of drones, according to Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, a Washington think tank. But she still expects “China to scream about even the smallest arms sale that the U.S. makes to Taiwan because any sale challenges the ‘One China’ principle.”

“They get particularly agitated if they think it’s an offensive capability,” she said, adding that she expected the Trump administration to be less cautious than its predecessors.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States did not respond to a request for comment.

“As a matter of policy we do not comment on or confirm proposed defense sales or transfers until they have been formally notified to Congress,” a State Department spokesman said.

ONLY FOR FEW U.S. ALLIES

The U.S. has been eager to sell Taiwan tanks and fighter jets, but the deal to sell drones would be notable since only a few close allies – including Britain, Italy, Australia, Japan and South Korea – have been allowed to purchase the largest U.S.-made drones.

Currently, the Taiwanese government has a fleet of 26 Albatross drones made by Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology, a quasi-defense ministry research agency, that can fly 160 nautical miles (300 km), or 80 before returning to base, according to records kept by the Bard Center for the Study of the Drone.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc’s SeaGuardian has an airframe that can handle carrying weapons – but only if contractually allowed by the U.S. government.

The United States has sold France unarmed MQ-9 Reapers which are similar to SeaGuardian’s, and later gave permission to arm them.

Last year, the United States approved a potential sale to Taiwan of 108 General Dynamics Corp M1A2 Abrams tanks worth around $2 billion as well as anti-tank and anti-aircraft munitions. A separate sale of 66 Lockheed Martin-made fighter jets also made it through the State Department’s process.

In recent weeks, China said it will sanction Lockheed Martin Co for involvement in the latest U.S. arms sale to Taiwan.

(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, D.C. ; Editing by Mary Milliken and Edward Tobin)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now 6-12-20

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Second-wave fears

Governors of U.S. states that are COVID-19 hotspots pressed ahead with economic reopenings that have raised fears of a second wave of infections.

The moves by states such as Florida and Arizona came as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States could not afford to let the novel coronavirus shut its economy again and global stocks tanked on worries of a pandemic resurgence.

In Europe, health experts said the risk of a second wave of COVID-19 infections big enough to require lockdowns to be reimposed is moderate to high.

India reported a record daily increase of cases and became the world’s fourth worst-hit country, raising the prospect of the return of a lockdown just days after it was lifted.

Insurers beat back virus claims

U.S. property and casualty insurers have cast the coronavirus pandemic as an unprecedented event whose cost to small businesses they are neither able nor required to cover.

The industry has warned it could cost them $255 billion to $431 billion a month if they are required, as some states are proposing, to compensate firms for income lost and expenses owed due to virus-led shutdowns, an amount it says would make insurers insolvent.

A Reuters examination of the estimate, however, suggests the possible bill may not be so onerous.

British economy battered

The UK economy shrank by a quarter in the March-April period as entire sectors were shuttered by the coronavirus lockdown.

“This is catastrophic, literally on a scale never seen before in history,” Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, said. “The real issue is what happens next.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says Britain – with its huge services industries that are hit hard by social distancing measures – could suffer the worst downturn among the countries it covers, with an 11.5% contraction this year.

Bottlenecks? Glass vial makers prepare for vaccine

Drugmakers are warning of a potential shortage of vials to bottle future COVID-19 vaccines, but their rush to secure supplies risks making matters worse.

Schott AG, the world’s largest maker of speciality glass for vaccine vials, says it has turned down requests to reserve output from major pharmaceutical firms because it does not want to commit resources before it is clear which vaccines will work.

“We have to keep the door open to give capacity to those who really are successful in the end. We don’t want to be portrayed in the press as the ones who were unable to package the best vaccine,” Chief Executive Frank Heinricht told Reuters.

Roping in the drones

Airspace Systems, a California startup company that makes drones that can hunt down and capture other drones, on Thursday released new software for monitoring social distancing and protective face-mask wearing from the air.

The software analyzes video streams captured by drones and can identify when people are wearing masks, standing close together or points where people gather in clusters. Airspace aims to sells the system to cities and police departments.

The company says the system does not use facial recognition and does not save images of people or pass those images to its customers. Even with those protections in place, the system is still “a step toward robots that are monitoring our behavior,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

‘Digital twins’ can help create healthier cities after coronavirus

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The use of new technologies, such as virtual reality, by planners to help design more sustainable and healthier cities has accelerated during the coronavirus pandemic, urban experts said on Friday.

The respiratory disease, which has infected more than 5 million people worldwide, has already triggered the widespread use of robots, drones and artificial intelligence to track the virus and deliver services.

Now, planners and authorities are also turning to new technologies – including so-called Digital Twins of cities, or virtual three-dimensional replicas – to tackle future health crises, said Michael Jansen, chief executive of Cityzenith, a Chicago-based technology firm.

“A Digital Twin that could track the progress of the virus in real-time is the perfect platform for aggregating and distributing information at scale in a crisis,” he said.

“Digital Twins would also help assess and implement economic recovery plans for affected cities and urban regions,” he said.

Virtual Singapore, a digital twin of the island city, models and simulates climate change, infrastructure planning and public health studies, and can be used in crisis management, a spokesman at the Government Technology Agency said.

Modeling a city’s street grids, transport networks, buildings and population can help planners predict how design changes would affect them, said Fabian Dembski, a researcher at the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS).

“Cities are complex. But if we can simulate factors such as climate, air quality, traffic flow and movement of people, then planning decisions can be more efficient, equitable, and inclusive,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“But even these models and simulations do not capture human emotions, which play a big role in the success of urban design.”

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE

Dembski and other researchers built a digital twin of Herrenberg, a small city near Stuttgart in Germany.

They then invited residents to use an app to record their emotional responses to simulated scenarios in public spaces.

Using virtual reality, about 1,000 residents noted whether they felt comfortable, happy or unsafe in those areas.

“The idea was to see what they thought made a good public space, and use that data to support planners and architects to improve spaces where residents didn’t feel happy – like areas with heavy traffic or poor lighting,” Dembski said.

“As a planner, you don’t have that kind of information beforehand, and this is a democratic way to do it,” he said, adding that respondents included women, older people, migrants and people with disabilities who are otherwise excluded.

Digital Twins are particularly helpful for cities that are vulnerable to climate change, or are in environmentally fragile areas, as problems can be simulated to find solutions, he said.

Researchers are now modeling pandemics – which have affected urban planning decisions in the past – and also hope to simulate the effects of factors such as regional migration and gentrification on cities, Dembski said.

Technological tools such as Digital Twins “offer the possibility of testing a variety of different concepts,” said Thomas Sprissler, the mayor of Herrenberg.

“Considerably more innovative ideas can be tried out that might otherwise never be tested in reality,” he said.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

U.S. attorney general highlights ‘new threat’ to security from drones

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday issued guidance to Justice Department agencies on the use of protective measures against drones, including the destruction of any that pose a threat to national security.

Congress in 2018 gave the Justice and Homeland Security departments new powers to disable or destroy any threatening drones, which can compete with satellites as modern day spies in the sky, after officials raised concerns about their use as weapons.

The United States ranks among the world leaders in drone warfare after employing the technology widely in countries including Afghanistan.

Barr, in a statement, said the guidelines issued Monday “will ensure that we are positioned for the future to address this new threat, and that we approach our counter-drone efforts responsibly, with full respect for the Constitution, privacy, and the safety of the national airspace.”

The guidance says the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Prisons and other Justice Department agencies can intercept communications from a threatening drone or destroy it without prior consent. It also details how agencies “may seek approval for the use of counter-drone technologies and request designation of facilities or assets for protection.”

Justice Department agencies under certain circumstances may maintain records of communications intercepted from drones for up 180 days, the guidance says.

In a reference to the downing, destruction or disabling of any threatening drones, the guidance says agencies must work with the Federal Aviation Administration and conduct a risk-based assessment to examine the impact of operations on the national airspace. That “includes potential effects on manned and unmanned aircraft, aviation safety, airport operations and infrastructure, and air navigation services.”

Agencies, the guidance adds, “should consider and be sensitive at all times to the potential impact protective measures may have on legitimate activity by unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems, including systems operated by the press.”

More than 1.5 million drones have been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and they are flown by more than 160,000 certified remote pilots.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

U.S. aviation regulator proposes tracking most drones

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. aviation regulator on Thursday proposed a rule that would allow for remote tracking of most drones in U.S airspace.

The Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, said the proposed rule would require all drones operating in the United States to be compliant within three years.

Congress directed the FAA in 2016 to issue regulations or guidance by July 2018 to permit the public, the FAA, law enforcement and others to remotely track and identify drones and their operators during flight.

The race has been on for companies to create drone fleets as a complement for online retailers.

United Parcel Service Inc. said in October that it won the government’s first full approval to operate a drone airline, which gave it a lead in the nascent drone delivery business over rivals Amazon.com Inc. and Alphabet Inc.

Earlier this year, Alphabet’s Wing, a sister unit of search engine Google, was the first company to get U.S. air carrier certification for a single-pilot drone operation. It is testing home deliveries in a rural area around Blacksburg, Virginia.

Amazon, known for its splashy drone delivery tests, also has won experimental certifications to test its drones.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Diane Bartz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Drones, sanctions, contamination: supply surprises leave oil unfazed

By Ahmad Ghaddar and Noah Browning

LONDON (Reuters) – They should have started a bull run, but supply shocks that have rocked the oil industry this year have failed to deliver a sustained rise in crude prices.

Drone attacks crippled Saudi Aramco’s oil plants, U.S. oil sanctions knocked out exports from Iran and Venezuela, and massive contamination tainted Russian oil flows.

Yet, instead of sky-high prices, the market has been kept in check by a flood of oil from the U.S. fracking boom and worries about a global recession weighing on the demand outlook.

And there is unlikely to be a spike anytime soon, analysts and data indicate because high-tech industry understands better than ever just how replete their market is with oil.

“Between fears of peak oil demand, unlimited shale growth, a looming global recession and the possibility that millions of barrels of OPEC barrels (sanctioned or otherwise) could return to the market fairly quickly, there is no faith in the future,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspect.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which includes Iran, Venezuela and its de facto leader Saudi Arabia, has continued to rein in supply this year but the group’s efforts have not delivered the hoped-for price surge.

Oil futures markets indicate that supply outages have not dealt a boost to prices as investors see the unexpected shocks to oil output will not massively dent overall supply.

SAUDI BOUNCE-BACK

The Sept. 14 attacks on Aramco sites knocked out around 5.7 million bpd of capacity from the world’s biggest oil exporter, nearly 6% of global oil supplies.

Despite the unprecedented damage, Saudi Arabia has swiftly restored its production capacity to 11.3 million barrels per day, just shy of its regular output, sources briefed on Aramco’s operations told Reuters.

Brent oil prices surged 15% in the wake of the attacks but have since lost most of their gains and are trading at around $62 a barrel.

 

While U.S. oil output continues to surge along with the productivity of existing wells, the increasingly sparse number of operating wells could eventually drag on output and provide a boost to prices.

“We think the outlook for U.S. supply growth is far too optimistic,” Mark Hume, portfolio manager at investment giant BlackRock’s Energy and Resources Income Trust.

“There’s a real chance of U.S. growth going to the downside and I think balances will be tighter than one might anticipate right now,” he added.

DATA TRANSPARENCY

Another aspect that has softened the impact of supply shocks on oil prices is the wide availability of data which gives investors a much clearer view on the operations of the market.

BP chief executive Bob Dudley said this week that the reaction to the Saudi attacks was “sensible”.

“It says something about the market – there’s instantaneous data on storage levels which didn’t exist in the past,” he said.

Technology firms increasingly offer real-time data pinpointing storage levels in oil tanks, detecting if a refinery unit is operating using heat cameras and tracking ships.

“The data availability is a bit of a game-changer,” said Norbert Ruecker, head of economics at Swiss bank Julius Baer. “This speeds up what financial markets are all about.”

(Reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar and Noah Browning; Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Ron Bousso in London and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Editing by Edmund Blair)