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The View From The White House

July 17, 2019 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 25, 2020 16:38 PM UTC

Joseph Van Valen, Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House, discusses his role in tech decisions made in the White House.

So a couple. A couple of things. Joe's boss, Michael Crack CEOs were supposed to be here, and he had some things come up very legitimate reasons, and we're very pleased that you could step in for him. Joe, as a White House fellow and a member of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, has some very Pacific specific policy areas that he's responsible for. And so I am not going to ask him to speak for the Trump administration about anything beyond those policy areas. Uh, and so I just wanted you to know that, and for you to know I appreciate it. Great. So and I also want you attend mentioned Joe is an active duty Air Force officer and the policy maker in the White House, so there's a lot of jargon that comes up in his conversations, and I have encouraged them to use that jargon, but to explain it to us. So you start off by telling everybody just a little bit about your background. Sure, So So I started a techie computer science at Stanford on then. I worked in Silicon Valley for a couple of years for a company called a well in the old Netscape building. Actually, uh, I was a software engineer there, worked on a lot of emerging technologies back in the 5 4007 time frame, and I was really looking for an opportunity Thio to serve our country toe work on policy at the government level and ended up leaving Silicon Valley to join the Air Force on. So I've spent the last 10 11 years in the Air Force. As a pilot, I fly to see 17 which is a large cargo airplane. We fly all over the world, including combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. And fortunately, this this year, I was given a very excellent opportunity to serve in the White House on the in the Office of Science and Tech Policy. My policy area kind of borrows from both my tech experience and from my experience as a pilot in the Air Force. So I lead our advanced transportation portfolio, which includes unmanned aircraft systems, US automated vehicles, SuperSonics on, then this concept of urban air mobility, which is really what is the future of transportation in large cities, look like great so us on manned aircraft systems is the policy area that you've described as being the furthest long. So tell everybody what the White House is doing by way of talking about what this is going to look like, what drones are gonna look like in the United States? Absolutely So So. Drones have been in aviation for a long time on watching the drone industry explode has really been mind boggling, honestly, the speed at which that's happening. And so, around 2016 timeframe, regulators at the FAA were thinking through like, How are we going to enable operations of these types of vehicles in our national airspace system with other traffic over congested areas, et cetera? And I think as they were working through that, they kind of realized that we don't really have any data that would speak to, Well, how safe are these? What type of performance characteristics do they have? Can they safely fly over large populated areas? TV D on that. And so, uh, we kind of were thinking through How can we get data? But more importantly, how can we get data with a local context? Right, So flying a drone in San Francisco is really just a different operation than doing so in the rural parts of Oklahoma. So regulators at the FAA are not necessarily equipped to make all of those decisions to affect all of those different parts of the country. And so we created this this pilot program called the U. S. Integration Pilot Program or I P. P, as we call it, And the idea was really just to use public private partnerships between state, local and tribal governments with private industry toe work through some of the different drone use cases in various communities across the country. So we have nine participants of that of that program, and they're exploring use cases from pipeline, expect inspections to delivery of medical devices, law enforcement uses and whole point. An idea of the program is taking the data from those the various localities and then bring it back to the FAA s so that we can we can make rules that are applicable to these aircraft. When you say participants thes air companies or entities or locations or what s so it's usually it's a government entity. It could be a city. Choctaw Nation is one of them. The city of San Diego is another one and they are partnered with a private company that has a particular use case that would be relevant to that area on. They can explore different parts, uh, of of the policy areas in the different cities. And so it was a competitive process to select all of those that was managed mostly by the department, transportation and the FAA. But we're about a year into that. That program, and we've already seen an expect explosion in terms of the number different types of use cases on the FAA has made some movement on regulatory action as a result of this program. Just recently, about two months ago, we released a notice of proposed rule making on U. S operations over people and at night so prior to the prior to this thing rule on as it as it sits today. Since it's only a proposed rule, those operations are prohibited unless accepted by the FAA, and the FAA would award exceptions on some circumstances. But the majority of the the waiver applications that the FDA would get were for over over people and at night, and so, by proposing a rule that would normalize those operations, were now freeing up a resource is toe work through more complicated use cases. Like what about beyond visual line of sight. So right now, flying a drone is like flying a kite. You can't legally operate it. If it doesn't, you can't see it. However, I think the F a a. Is now looking through our working through waivers and authorizations to allow that beyond visual line of sight happen. Joe. Excuse me. Let me interrupt you that finishing. You're saying that all drone flight that is not that the operator cannot see is currently illegal. So unless accepted by the FAA, and have those exceptions already been issues they have been issued for in some cases. And so you know, when the f a a considers whether or not we're going to accept ah rule. There's a lot of information and data that the vendors need to provide really allow the FAA to accept some level of risk in there. So for beyond visual life site, there was a period of time. Some of the waivers that were approved required chase planes. So in order to fly your drone beyond visual on site, you had to have ah, a manned aircraft flying with it. Um, you know, that's not the most economical approach, I would say. But when it comes to safety, you know everything in airspace under most circumstances is seeing avoid. My hunch is that hobbyist, they're violating the law every day. Is that my Is that a correct assumption? I think that's a fair assumption on. So we, uh I'd say we've been that into you have the criminally criminal criminal and then the negligent on I think most of the concern that we have right now is is really around that the negligent. And so that kind of maybe takes me thio the points of counter us, which is another policy issue that we're working from the White House as well. In the last FAA reauthorization bill of 2018 we lobbying very hard to get additional authorities for Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security to be able to identify. I tracked detect and in some cases mitigate drones that are operating in areas that they're not supposed to be operating. Previously only D. O d. On the department energy had those authorities, so Congress work with us, and that's what we arrived at but moving forward, we don't necessarily see ah federal response every time a drone is flying somewhere where it's not supposed to be. So we would like to see that expanded to state local as well. Pretty interesting. You're that you're talking about an area where the law currently is not sufficient, in your opinion, because the law didn't anticipate this. Can you talk a little? Well, first I want to ask you just put on your pilot's hat for a moment. How concerned are you? Is a pilot about drones? I think your policy outlook is about how do we make this work commercially, and it's a great, exciting new field. I think that's what the White House wants to promote. But how concerned are you as a pilot? A za pilot? Honestly, I'm not. I'm not that concerned. If you think of the types of operations that I would do is on Air Carrier or a large aircraft pilot. Most drones. That FAA ceiling is 400 feet for drones, so drones don't operate above 400 least small us don't operate about 400 feet and 400 feet for a large airplane like the C 17 is we're gonna land in about five seconds, so I'm not concerned. But with that being said, this is definitely something that we need. Thio work towards bring up another kind of a policy. That thing that we're working on on that's the concept of remote I. D. So right now I could take it, downloaded an app on my phone, pointed at the sky, and I could see all of the air traffic that's flying around this guy, and I could say that Southwest Airlines flight Number X, United Airlines flight number. Why can't really do that with drones right now, because they don't admit they don't. They're not required to have transponders. They aren't required to report their position. And as you can understand, that produces a little bit of a security concern from the government side, but also from the traffic management side. What happens when there's a lot of these things flying around and they don't want to? We don't want them all hitting each other. So remote ideas is what we view as the foundation of enabling this. This new industry, I assume, remote idea, something the FAA can do through rulemaking that that's exactly right, and they've been working on it. The current public estimated release date for that by the end of the year. Can you talk briefly about one of the companies that participated in this in this pilot program and also our is the White House involved in the global conversation? Emoji hoo Seo, seated over there, talked about Zip line, which is doing some things in Africa, blood delivery by drone, but also in the United States. I think I would probably avoid talking about any specific company or endorsing any specific action there. But what I would say is that each locality is working through very difficult to different use cases. So I was just out at Oklahoma at a drug conference that they had there with Michael crap CEOs, my boss and the case that they were working on there was baiting feral hog traps. And so that was Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma is a ppd partner. They were working with a consulting firm that provides, manages and packages the drones on, operates them in a way that gets at this problem. And I wasn't aware that that was an issue that drones would be able to address but we watched demonstration. That drone flew in. There was a very G could be their geo tagged or think they were using Keilar codes to identify the drop zone. When way went out there and looked at it and just like, as advertised, it drops a bunch of feed into the draft on. So I think that just really goes to how interesting, exciting and honestly successful this program is because it's getting folks toe work through use cases that none of us would have imagined that you put that in the new new category, right folder. Absolutely another policy you're working on really, really surprised me because it was sort of in the back of my consciousness that we're still interested in commercial applications of supersonic transport. That's a T The Concorde went out of went out of production and commercial flight many years ago. Now, that's why now SS. So it's really honestly, the industry has kind of spurned this this new renewed interest in SST So there's a lot of companies that are working on this right now. Boom aerospace area on lock. He just got in on. They're also working on the X 59 demonstrator with NASA on So industry came to us, and you know they have a renewed use case business case for how these jets are going to be successful. Obviously for Concorde, there's a lot of issues with Concord in terms of noise pollution. Cost on business case didn't really close, and I would argue that in today's society airplanes like Concord, with that noise level, that level of pollutants probably would not be accepted by most communities on. So the industry now is taking another look at it with the benefit of of almost 50 years of research and development in the subsonic category that has made have made engines more efficient noise standards more stringent on. So that's kind of what I would say started this. And our view isn't decide winners and losers in terms of Is this gonna be a successful new area? It's more to enable testing, and then and then mark market conditions are gonna are gonna dictate that. But you have a policy viewpoint you're taking. The White House is taking the time to work on this, so the viewpoint is we think this would be a good thing for it to come back in a commercial sense. Absolutely. And a good thing for to come back from commercial sense. But also, uh, you know, aviation, when you think of our Indian aviation research and development in one particular area has a lot of applications in other areas as well. So we would expect that spurning, getting more research and development going on in the supersonic space is actually gonna help the aeronautics industry as a whole and might even open, you know, our horizons in terms of what is the realm of possible for the future of transportation. I know you said you fly transports for the Air Force. Have you overflown faster than the speed of sound? He has the C 17. We don't fly supersonic intentionally. Uh, so, um no. Would you like to? Oh, sure. Absolutely not in the c 17 though. Yeah, maybe in another flying a plane that built to fly superstar? Absolutely, absolutely. Real quickly. Before we go to questions are used. The expression earlier urban air mobility. I think that means air taxis companies like uber have been tried developing this. What is the White House doing? Is this a real thing, or is it science fiction. I would answer your very quickly. It is very real. And it is coming. You know, I think of small us is phase one, and there's multiple sub phases with small us that we need to get through in order to get, ah, success there. But in terms of what's next, I'm thinking larger US passenger carrying cargo, carrying on that really gets into the realm of the vehicles that, um, uber and others are working on. So but our view is Maura of its own ecosystem, right? So when you think of urban air mobility, it's it's not just the airplane. Eso electric vertical takeoff and landing is the predominant airplane type that is being considered for this new area. But there's additional infrastructure that comes with that. You know, if it's gonna be urban air mobility, where these things gonna land, some of them and I met with a number of the companies that are in this space and this was interesting. One of them told me that these vehicles, when they go to recharge, is roughly draw. The current of an average grocery store infrastructure, you know, may not be able to support just plugging in a grocery store on. That's something that we need we need to think about on. So we are very active in this space. We're working on the the small US first, NASA has, ah, urban mobility grand challenge that they're working. And we've been working with them on on that project. And, you know, I wouldn't say that we're gonna be seeing this this year or next year, but I think it is definitely on the horizon. I don't ask this in sort of a popular political sense, but in a scientific and policy sense. Will the standard for these things, to the extent that they're carrying people, be the same standard that the FDA currently has for airplanes about safety? Absolutely, Absolutely. And that And that's, uh, to be honest, you know, I have a lot of companies from Silicon Valley that come with very lean teams that are working on these vehicles. And they were They come and they ask, will happen. We get these flying on the very first question I have for them. Well, have you talked with the FAA? And are you familiar with the FAA certification process? Our view is that the existing FAA certification process under Part 23 is sufficient to address a lot of the new categories of airplanes that we're seeing. Um, and this is where I would probably lean on the community for a little bit of help. You know, I left private sector to come work in the government, and I think we need in some of these some of these areas, we need more folks with government experience working in with private sector companies to kind of help understand the realities when it comes to aircraft certification operations. Certification. With that being said, we could get there. Probably something I'm really excited about was Google's wing, which is essentially a package delivery element of the I P P. They're going to start doing operations of Virginia. They receive part 1 35 operations certification, which basically means that they are a small air taxi carrier. They comply with the same requirements that sky. Not necessarily SkyWest. That's part of 21. But, you know, small air taxi. If I'm gonna go to Las Vegas, and, uh, I'm gonna fly a tour helicopter that would be apart. 1 35 operation on. There's training requirements for pilots there's maintenance requirements for airplanes on Dhe through working with the FAA. They got there on the certificate, so we're super excited about Interesting. We have time for a couple questions, please. So if there are none, I what with? One thing we haven't talked about is autonomous vehicles. This is a huge policy area and a huge interest in Silicon Valley. You don't in talking about what you pay attention to. You don't lead with that. Why so autonomous vehicles, I think, are a little bit more complicated. So when we think about the aviation issue, for example, the way the FAA likes the couch regulation as we think about the airmen, we think about the airspace and we think about the aircraft, right? And we have to come up with rules that address all three of those things in the autonomous vehicle space. Um, you know, with aviation that's all controlled by the FDA, so that makes it easy for them, relatively on then in the Thomas vehicle space. Some of those elements are all controlled by different state local entities. So, for example, airmen driver's licenses for operators are issued by state. The vehicle is Nitsa for federal motor vehicle safety standards on then the airspace without equate the work roads, different players, their state, local and and, um, federal. And so I think it's a little bit more complicated. And for that reason, I think we need to do a little bit more research before we just integrate automated vehicles into our road systems, much like we're doing with us. So D o T department Transportation has been taking the lead on this. They released a V Principles 3.0, which built on 2.0, which was really just kind of framing the discussion in terms of safety. And it's really in 83.0, they call for for Nitsa, which is largely responsible for certifying these types of vehicles to think through. How are we gonna have to change our certification framework for these to work? And I'll use an example, you know, a vehicle According Thio, minutes 1/2 have a steering wheel in order to be a vehicle on the ropes. That may not necessarily the case if if there's not a person that needs to manipulate the steering wheel, but the way that Nitsa rights has written the rules traditionally, that's that's the way it's been. The FAA has taken a more performance based approach. So when I went out to NASA to fly the X 59 Simulator three airplane has no front windscreen at all. It's just LCD screens that are tied to cameras on dhe. That's kind of the difference between performance based and then specifications. So instead of saying an aircraft must have a windscreen, maybe it should be how you know, the pilot must be able to see unobstructed out the front of the airplane, which could be done by cameras. So it's interesting that so you portrayed a policy situation where drones are less complicated. From a policy perspective. Thomas vehicles are more complicated there, since in your office, that may be. One thing the White House could do would be to try to make a Thomas vehicle policy regulations less complicated. Yes, and so you know, we're working through what our policy options would be in that space. It obviously requires coordination with a number of of different entities, both in the White House, state, local and otherwise national legislation on on a visa. At some point in the future, I wouldn't rule that out. Because when you think about it, we really have to hurt all of these cats in the one kind of unified strategy. Um, and and that's gonna that's gonna take some work on our end. Please, We have time for a quick question. Could answer. Thank you. Yes, you talked about urban air mobility, and the drones are generally under 400 feet. You've got the future of taxis in the air. How do you envision some type of air control system as we look at traffic patterns in the urban mobility space? Is that something you're envisioned? Absolutely. And way we refer to that as a CZ ut m s o in the U. S. Space. That's us traffic management. When it comes to us, that depends very heavily on the remote I d technology that I mentioned earlier. But when we start thinking about larger airplanes, that air now mixing in with, uh, uh, commercial air traffic, helicopter traffic, things of that nature we're gonna have to think about What is UPM looked like in that case? Um, so we're hoping we can get it right for, um Ah, small us first. Andi, we'll tackle that problem. Joe, before you go, your prediction. What will we see on in the United States? First commercial SS tease or level five autonomous vehicles. Definitely. Commercial ethnicities. Commercial license fees before that. Joe Van Valen. Thank you very much. Absolutely, Thank you.