Other nations have been more aggressive than the United States regarding drone testing. To accelerate the development of a robust US market, drone operators need to have approved spaces to test the devices. The UAS Integration Pilot Program was created to accelerate safe Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)–otherwise known as drones–integration by partnering state, local, and tribal governments with UAS operators or manufacturers. Earlier this month, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced the long awaited ten integration sites for the UAS Integration Pilot Program. The ten sites of state, local, and tribal governments include:
- Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Oklahoma
- City of San Diego, California
- Center for Innovative Technology at Virginia Tech, Herndon, Virginia
- Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, Kansas
- Lee County Mosquito Control District, Ft. Meyers, Florida
- Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, Tennessee
- North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, North Carolina
- North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, North Dakota
- City of Reno, Nevada
- University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Arkansas
The responsibility of these locations will be to collect data on drone usage over the next two years. This data will be reported back to the USDOT where they will be able to craft more precise rules for UAS to expand both recreational and commercial use, which will in turn benefit the UAS market.
As the market grows, drone manufacturers–as well as manufacturers of drone accessories–will continue to improve on current technology. It is predicted that drones and cameras will become more lightweight and compact for improved flight and handling. Companies that innovate and test drone technology are eligible to receive research and development tax credits to offset expenses.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- Must be technological in nature
- Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business
- Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
- Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives
Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Beginning in 2016, the R&D credit can be used to offset Alternative Minimum tax for companies with revenue below $50MM and for the first time, startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll taxes and cash rebates.
UVify, a drone company headquartered in San Francisco, has been using 3D printing technologies for both prototyping and production of their drones. UVify focuses on racing drones, which entitle lightweight technology for maximum speed. Using 3D printing allows UVify to prototype with different materials to determine the best combination of material and design for the optimal racing drone. Additionally, their drones are built modularly so damaged parts can easily be 3D printed and replaced within hours.
In recent years, Local Motors made headlines for being the first company to 3D print an entire car. But their recent mission and accomplishment has been to 3D print an accompanying drone for the vehicle. The drone will further enhance the 3D printed, self-driving car by being able to fly ahead and relay camera footage to the car’s screen. It will be able to warn the car of traffic ahead as well as let the car know when it is driving over the center line. By using 3D printing technology Local Motors is able to mass produce customized products, diminish investments in tooling, and reduce penalties for redesigns.
Drones have proven to be useful for the US military as a safety precaution. They are used by the Marines to scout potentially dangerous areas or situations with a small camera. However, this is not new to the military sect as they have been using drones for several years. Specifically, the Marines used the RQ-11 Raven, an unmanned aircraft that can cost upwards of $30,000. Due to the nature of drones, the Raven aircraft constantly needs repairs or needs to be replaced, further increasing the cost of using a UAS.
While researching for lower cost options, the Marines determined that 3D printed drones could perform effectively while only costing a fraction of the previously used drone system at $615. The 3D printed drones are built modularly, allowing for easy replacement of damaged parts.
Thanks to the new UAS Integration Pilot Program and the 10 approved integration sites, the drone market will be able to flourish as new regulations are made and more autonomy is given to both recreational and commercial drone operators.
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Charles Goulding and Rafaella July of R&D Tax Savers discuss 3D printed drones.