Navigating the byzantine FAA Part 107 registration process

I am as excited as anyone in the commercial drone field for the passage of Part 107 and the relaxing of the currently extremely restrictive rules on commercial UAS usage, which will dramatically increase adoption of tools like 3DR Site Scan.

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However, just registering to sit for the exam requires a guide itself. Startlingly, this is even more painful than the process implemented by NCEES for the Engineer in Training and Professional Engineer exams.  The FAA doesn’t appear to have evolved in the last 50 years. All registration is done by phone, all study guides are published in non-semantic pdf documents, and all instructions are scattered about a patchwork of different public and private websites and documents. I hope this post can serve as an easy-to-digest, authoritative guide for registering for the exam.

  1. Find a test center near you. You can either look through the FAA’s awful official test center list here or use a 21st century web app like this one.

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  2. Despite the conflicting information out there, you cannot register for the test online. You must call or email to schedule the exam.
  3. Don’t call the test center directly. They are not in charge of scheduling. You must call the mothership, which in this case is not the FAA, but PSI, a private company with which the FAA has contracted to administer the test who has published very dense website explaining some of the procedures. For some reason, PSI gives two numbers, neither of which were answered on my first attempt, 1-800-211-2754 and 1-800-733-9267.
  4. Once you get through to the operator, I spoke with Deborah who was amazing, you will walk through availability and testing centers. The Oakland test center’s schedule was wide open, so I don’t think this is terribly popular yet. The test center takes a credit card over the phone for the $150 fee.
  5. Prepare everything you need to take the exam. You must bring a photo ID with a current address. If the address on your ID is not current, you must bring a utility bill or other fairly official piece of documentation.
  6. Study! The exam ain’t easy and includes quite a bit of general aviation knowledge with which typical commercial drone operators won’t be familiar.

And that’s it! I will report back when I take the exam on Monday.

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Secrets of the APL Concept 3 exposed

I love scrappy upstarts. I love that my Neato Botvac Connected robotic vacuum cleans the clock of my sister’s Roomba. I love that Dollar Shave Club carved out a billion dollar slice of Gillette’s market with a hundred or so employees. I even love that DJI crushed GoPro in the aerial camera market.

That said, when my Nike Hyperdunk basketball shoes fell apart, I couldn’t help but support Athletic Propulsion Labs (APL), a Southern California startup selling shoes that promise to make you jump higher. I was less interested in the concept of jumping higher (my vertical must have dropped 6″ in the last five years) than by the idea of a scrappy startup challenging the Nikes and Under Armors of the world.

I placed my order for a pair of $175 Concept 3 shoes about a year ago and have played once a week or so in the shoes until they fell apart last week. Overall, they were fine shoes and felt a little springy, but weighted probably 100 g more than a pair of Hyperdunks, to which I switched back. Playing in them was kind of fun–almost like running around in moon shoes. I wouldn’t say that they added to my vertical, but they definitely had some kind of spring buried inside.

However, after searching all over the internet, I couldn’t find a single post explaining what the hell was in the APL Concept 3 shoes, so I decided to dissect mine after they fell apart and show the autopsy to the world right here.

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I sliced the shoe in half perpendicular to the axis of the foot just below the Load ‘n’ Launch pad. Looking toward the heel, the shoe is nothing out of the ordinary–a rubber sole, capping a foam midsole, topped by a foam insole and synthetic upper.

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Looking toward the toe, the Load ‘n’ Launch pad is visible in green. A hinge is visible.

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Slicing along the foot-axis, I exposed the side of the Load ‘n’ Launch. Notice two plastic pieces embedded in the foam and a series of springs.

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Cutting the entire unit out of the sole, I exposed the metal and elastomeric springs. So there it is. The fine folks at APL have embedded springs into the sole of their Concept 3 shoe. I understand how a spring should increase the amount of energy returned when the forefoot compressed the sole, but in practice the technology did not seem to lead to higher jumps for me.

The latest from Site Scan

3DR Site Scan, my precious baby that I have had the pleasure of watching grow up, has been dancing in and out of the news since launch. I picked out some of my favorite pieces to share below.

On June 15th, Autodesk announced an investment in 3DR to support the continued development of Site Scan. The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, TheStreet, and many others picked up the story, pointing to the excitement behind the 3DR/Autodesk partnership. The WSJ article is pasted below for those who don’t have access.

Autodesk Backs 3D Robotics, MakeTime, Seebo out of Forge Fund

The Wall Street Journal, Patience Haggin, June 15, 2016

Autodesk Inc. has backed drone maker 3D Robotics, manufacturing platform MakeTime and internet of things software platform Seebo out of its Forge Fund.

Autodesk’s $100 million Forge Fund, announced in December, backs startups developing products on Autodesk’s Forge software platform, a set of cloud services for design and engineering. These three investments are the only three deals the fund has completed so far, said Amar Hanspal, Autodesk’s senior vice president for products.

Autodesk contributed to a $26 million round of convertible debt that drone maker 3D Robotics announced last week. The Berkeley-based company plans to raise a $45 million bridge financing in debt that will convert when the company raises its next round, 3D Robotics Chief Executive Chris Anderson said.

3D Robotics, backed by Foundry Group and Qualcomm Ventures, is in the midst of a pivot from consumer drones to enterprise, Chief Executive Chris Anderson said.

“It was always the plan to move to enterprise. We just thought we’d have two years to do it, instead of six months,” Mr. Anderson said. He said the company accelerated its move into enterprise drones as it has seen prices in the consumer drone sector plummet 70 % in the course of nine months.

Through the Forge Fund, Autodesk has invested in MakeTime, an online manufacturing service that Mr. Hanspal described as the “the Airbnb for manufacturing.” The Lexington, Ky.-based company last raised funding in April, with an $8.25 million round led by Foundry Group.

Autodesk has also invested in Seebo, a software-as-a-service platform for developing connected products. The Tel Aviv, Israel-based company last raised funding in January, with an $8.5 million Series A led by Carmel Ventures.

Mr. Hanspal described Autodesk’s Forge Initiative as “both software and fund,” likening it to Amazon’s voice-controlled personal assistant Alexa and its counterpart $100 million Alexa Fund for startups working on voice technology. He declined to disclose the fund’s average check size or the amounts contributed to MakeTime, Seebo and 3D Robotics.

Forge investments aren’t conditional on the portfolio companies continuing to use the Forge platform, Mr. Hanspal said. No representatives of Autodesk have joined the boards of MakeTime, Seebo or 3D Robotics.

Autodesk also announced a number of updates to the Forge platform Wednesday, including a new viewer, a new authentication system and several new applied programming interfaces.

On July 6th, ESRI announced its own partnership with 3DR to coincide with the launch of Drone2Map, a Pix4D-based photogrammetry package that pushes processed orthomosaics to ArcGIS Online. GPS World Magazine wrote a nice piece on our integration.

Several weeks later I had the opportunity to chat with UAS Magazine Managing Editor Luke Geiver, who turned our interview into a nice profile of 3DR’s enterprise and Site Scan strategy. In an lovely twist of fate, Luke’s article was also picked up by Yahoo! Tech and Digital Trends.

These external pieces were nicely complemented by our first customer success story, highlighting the one and only Quentin Wheeler, and our first webinar with the Autodesk ReCap team. If you want to hear me drone on (ha!) about some nice reality capture workflows using ReCap and ReMake, you can watch the webinar in its entirety below. Cut me some slack in the first ten minutes, however. We forgot to start recording and I had to repeat the first few slides. It is so much more difficult to deliver a smooth webinar when you know nobody is listening.