Month: March 2017

It starts at the park: Local governments lead the way in drone advocacy and regulation

This summer, families across the world will be upgrading their toy kites to toy drones. A local park is an ideal space for play – plenty of open space, clear skies, and fun activities to film, from jungle gym adventures to grand slams at little league. It’s up to our families and neighbors to decide how, when and where to use toy drones. Local governments are taking a crucial role to lead the conversation in integrating technology in to city programs, and to create local guidelines to help guide residents on safe and proper use of drones.

Local governments are the first responders to drone activity. They’re integrating drones in to their safety programs, to support police surveillance and fire detection. Drone use is the next frontier and integration to the concept of a “Smart City,” a notion that describes how local governments are integrating multiple information and communication technology (ICT) and Internet of things (IoT) solutions to manage a city’s assets. Drone safety starts at the local level, and advocates for drones are using their voices to support fair regulations and create a community that promote accountability, without sacrificing private security.

IoT 101

The concept of IoT is of particular note as it describes everyday devices which are connected to the internet, and can share data with a server. IoT is a tremendous asset for local governments in their development of advanced tech programs for anything from street and traffic lights, all the way to lawn sprinkler systems. At home, IoT devices could include home security systems, heating and air conditioning, and televisions. For Dedrone, drones are considered a part of IoT, as they can be connected through a wireless network to communicate with a pilot and provide real-time imaging. This wireless connection is also how Dedrone’s DroneTracker software can use a Wi-Fi and Radio Frequency sensor to detect the location of a drone up to 1km away.

Dedrone recently connected with the IoT Institute to discuss the ways drone threats are challenging innovators in the IoT industry and engineers in smart cities.

Local governments managing residents, infrastructure and new threats from drones

Municipalities and counties are not only the first resource for creating rules for residents, but also are the leaders of regional airports, prisons and stadiums. Their concerns for drone safety reach every person and building within their city limits, and it’s up to them to decide how and when to integrate drone safety regulations.

For example, Dedrone worked with the local police forces in Hempstead, NY to coordinate security for the 2016 presidential debate of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump at Hofstra University. When VIPs are in town, it’s up to the local police force to ensure roads are blocked, emergency services are readily available, and now, with the rise of drone activity, make certain their airspace is cleared from drone threats. The City of Hempstead needed all security measures signed off by the United States Secret Service and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The local Nassau County police department coordinated the deployment of more than 1,000 police officers. Dedrone also works with Suffolk County to provide drone detection to their local prison, which has been concerned with contraband deliveries onto their grounds.

State and local Governments are innovators for developing and enacting drone regulations

The National League of Cities published the first drone municipal action guide, “Cities and Drones” in 2016 to give insight to local governments on the emerging threats of unmanned aerial systems. In this, they provide how cities can integrate federal law in to their current city programs. The FAA provides authority of state and local officials to pass laws that may touch upon drone operations, noting “laws traditionally related to state and local police power—including land use, zoning, privacy, trespass, and law enforcement operations—generally are not subject to Federal regulation.” Here’s a couple of cities that are spearheading drone regulations and programs:

  • San Diego’s city council will be holding a vote on April 10, 2017 to create a regulation that would give local police new authority to cite reckless users of drones while also requiring the users to obey temporary flight restrictions during emergencies or special events.
  • Miami City Commission passed an ordinance in the Miami City Code titled “Public Safety and Unmanned Aircraft Systems Commonly Known as Drones,” setting requirements and prohibitions “intended to promote public safety and protect people attending large venue public events.”
  • In February 2017, the city of Seattle successfully prosecuted their first case of drone negligence, resulting in physical injury. The operator of a 2 lb., $1200 drone, was filming a parade, and lost control of the drone, which struck a bystander in the head. The victim suffered a concussion. After a four-day trial, the pilot was found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in jail.

For additional reference, Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism provides additional information on local government drone regulations and proposals for unmanned aerial systems at the county and municipal levels.

No matter the type of fence on the ground, there needs to be one in the skies

Whether your neighbor puts up a white picket, wrought iron, bamboo or wood fence, they exist for the same reasons: to protect property from trespassers, and to indicate property lines. Now, any enterprise, family or concerned local government needs to consider integrating an aerial equivalent, as drone activity begins in our backyards, streets and parks.

Certifying city innovation

Photo: Josh*m

Photo: Josh*m

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ What Work Cities initiative announced a new certification program that rewards achievements and provides “a clear path to excellence.”

WWC Executive Director Simone Brody in CityLab:

“We’re trying to help all cities look at the standard and say, ‘Here’s where we are relative to the 50 things we should be doing,’” says Brody. “When a city applies, we won’t just tell them how they’re doing. We will give them a roadmap for what they should be doing in three, six, or 12 months.”

And Brody in StateScoop:

Cities today, Brody said, are, on average, at about “40 percent toward perfect.”

Initiatives such as this have historically been a great way to educate and kickstart modernization efforts, whether it’s open data or open source, but ultimately once the box is checked, it’s back to business as usual.

The key for WWC is to create a meaningful, annual review with accessible, publicly-documented report card of how all certified cities are not just fulfilling the obligations, but also how they’re continuously improving. What qualifies as certified this year may not apply or have been considered next year.

Like sports, civic excellence is a constant quest for perfection, and the greats constantly push the bar. There’s always a new game, new season, new dynamics.

See the criteria and apply for the certification.

Advice to Jared Kushner and the new White House Office of American Innovation

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

The White House reportedly will create an Office of American Innovation, led by White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner.

According to The Washington Post, “the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to infuse fresh thinking into Washington, float above the daily political grind and create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements.”

Here are some ideas for Kushner and the OAI team.

Think local

Many of the current federal digital services cater solely to federal offerings. All future services need to include functionality that addresses the needs of state and local governments, including and (see below).


Procurement is a problem for government, not just federally, but locally. Access to centralized information on a single platform would make it easier for all American governments (federal, state, local) to post opportunities. The current approach taken with FedBizOps is a great start, but the FBO branding must be re-done and the offering should extend to state and local entities. This will also make it easier for American businesses everywhere (not just inside the Beltway) to access and bid on every U.S. government opportunity in a more streamlined, cost-effective manner.

Included in this effort should be actively incorporating the work done with the TechFAR Handbook.

Make great is the linchpin in holistically changing the federal government’s siloed approach to presenting its service offering to citizens. It’s unclear the purpose of, but that domain should be merged with and the latter should be the strategic focus for OAI, U.S. Digital Service, 18F and all agency-specific digital service teams. The collective efforts of these teams in making America’s flagship domain a great user experience is imperative to changing the big picture approach to how we engage with the federal government online.

The potential here to impact change is endless. It’s also your number one recruiting tool.

Fast-tracking a broader approach to that includes state and local government jobs and general better user experience shows the administration is thinking holistically about American jobs, and how the federal government can support this.

Unify the experience

18F and USDS have done a great service developing the U.S. Web Design Standards, and this effort should be championed to all agencies deploying new digital services. Even if you are unable to dictate a strategic and technical approach across the federal bureaucracy, you can at least start with aesthetics, which is a big step. Participation in this can also be tracked via Pulse (see below).

Another aspect of this is the personalized experience of the user. The work being done with should play a key role in creating a simplified, customized citizen experience.

Consolidate data-focused sites, and the siloed approach to open data that agencies have taken is a disjointed approach to structured data and its presentation. By consolidating these (and probably other data-related sites), you begin to build a true dashboard into government operations and the information it has to offer. The former is great government. The latter would be great for businesses.

At some point, in some form or another, I would extend “data” to “intellectual property” and include and agency-level assets like NASA Spinoff.

Streamline software-as-a-service acquisition

The General Services Administration has done a great job negotiating government-friendly terms of service agreements, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. To date, much of the emphasis on digital innovation has been on bespoke development, but custom services don’t scale, software does. The federal government must move away from a default of highly custom services and make it easier to try, buy and transition to easy-to-deploy, cost-effective software-as-a-service.

Publicly track progress

Continue to build on the work of 18F’s Pulse and publicly show the status of standardized efforts to modernization and innovation. This is your greatest tool for encouraging those internally and showing those you serve that progress is being made.

As The Washington Posts writes, “Kushner is positioning the new office as ‘an offensive team’ — an aggressive, nonideological ideas factory capable of attracting top talent from both inside and outside of government, and serving as a conduit with the business, philanthropic and academic communities.”

Largely with the help of GSA and the brand power of USA, the opportunity to truly scale impact is endless. Thinking holistically, unified and scalable when it comes to procurement, branding, technology and public services is the future of American and federal government innovation.

Hope, change and tech

Photo: White House

Photo: White House

It’s Tuesday morning. The Muslim travel ban is four days old. Stories of refugees coerced into signing away their green cards, children separated from parents, doctors denied entry into the land of the free dominate the airwaves. Protests have erupted in airports from SFO to JFK. Court orders are ignored. Chaos reigns.

There are moments in one’s life when you know everything has changed.

I hop on a video chat with the founder of CrowdJustice. The plan had been to roll out the crowdfunding platform for public interest legal cases in the U.S. in a couple weeks. We decide to speed that up and launch in 18 hours. There are two brothers fleeing war in Yemen that were headed to Michigan to reunite with their father. Instead they are forced to give up their visas at Dulles and put on a plane to Djibouti. They need help. The site that turns “legal cases into publicly funded — and backed — social causes” takes on their case.

While moments of darkness have been the soundtrack for much of the year, two trends have given me a lot of hope. People that have never been politically active are showing up at town halls and peaceful protests around the nation in record numbers. And, a new generation of civic-minded tech entrepreneurs are taking center stage — helping empower people with modern online tools and working to fix structural problems to make our government more transparent and accountable.

Both the Trump and Bernie movements tapped into a very real feeling that Americans are being left behind. That they’re stuck on the sidelines and nobody is listening. Many in the technology industry have been working on these issues for years and more are joining since the election. This is an exciting moment to be at the intersection of technology and government.

Countable has made contacting your elected officials and keeping tabs on policies as easy as swiping left or right. The app, which launched in 2014, has suddenly shot up to #2 in the app store in the past month.

California has recently announced a new digital services team to streamline bureaucracy and lead a user-centric revamp of the child welfare system in the world’s sixth largest economy.

A new data collection tool on police use of force — developed by data scientists from Bayes Impact in collaboration with police officers — is shining a light on some of most serious issues facing our country.

The city of New York unveiled the first images of its 258,000-square-foot civic tech hub late last month. Civic Hall will be located in the heart of Union Square. And a new VC, Ekistic Ventures, is looking exclusively for ideas and young companies to invest in to help improve our cities.

The Silicon Valley-based startup OpenGov has seen a surge in interest from state and local governments for its cloud-based software. The Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup is revolutionizing budget planning, improving internal data management, and making critical information accessible to citizens and elected officials to modernize government.

Tech has even managed to bridge the partisan divide. Working with the NAACP, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., and former state Senator Sam Blakeslee, R-Calif., announced the national expansion of a new online video platform for state government, Digital Democracy, which empowers advocates, journalists and everyday citizens.

Our democracy and our institutions are being tested. But an engaged citizenry and a new tech industry are giving me a lot of hope. The power of activism empowered by technology is clear and we are seeing results that matter. Less than a week after the Yemeni brothers were illegally forced out of the U.S., the Virginia attorney general and governor joined their cause. Their stories became national headlines as part of a bigger movement for justice. The 19- and 21-year-olds won their case and are now starting new lives in Michigan with their father.