The top legal expert at DJI is leaving the company, and he’s headed off to the broader world of robots. Brendan Schulman, who most recently served as DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs, announced on Friday that he was quitting.
His next move: Vice President of Policy & Government Relations with Boston Dynamics. And Schulman doesn’t waste a lot of time. His first day at the new gig is today.
“When I started my advocacy, drone rescues were “illegal.” We have come a long way!” Brendan Schulman said in a tweet posted to his personal account on Friday. This year policies were implemented for Remote ID, flight over people, night operations and new recreational rules including knowledge testing. We are at the culmination of my mission to help implement the policies needed for drone innovation to flourish, here and globally.
What is Boston Dynamics?
Schulman won’t be leaving drones completely. Boston Dynamics has its hands in robots of all sorts and has a strong connection itself to the drone industry. The company most famous builds machines that can approximate the mobility, dexterity and agility of people and animals, including that creepy cool parkour robot. Its most famous robot, Spot, has an inherent sense of balance and perception that enables it to walk steadily on a wide variety of terrains.
Boston Dynamics currently works with DroneDeploy to use its 360 Walkthrough software for workflow automation.
Boston Dynamics has been on a tear as of late. In the last year, the company has grown to more than 300 people and is continuing to expand. Boston Dynamics is based in Waltham, Massachusetts and its robots are made in the United States, though the company is majority-owned by Korea-based Hyundai Motor Group (it has an 80% stake). SoftBank, through one of its affiliates, holds the remaining 20 percent.
And Hyundai itself is getting into drones. It has its own Urban Air Mobility Division, which announced in June 2021 that it would start developing drone traffic management technology.
Brendan Schulman’s impact on the drone industry
Schulman began tweeting about the legal side of drones from his personal Twitter account, @Dronelaws, before joining DJI.
Prior to DJI, he headed the Unmanned Aircraft Systems practice for the law firm now known as Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP. There, one of his most notable works was defending the landmark case of Huerta v. Pirker, in which the FAA sued drone pilot Raphael Pirker back in 2011 for alleging operating a drone “for commercial purposes in a reckless manner.” Pirker famously runs Team BlackSheep and is known by many in the drone community as ‘Trappy.’ And, Schulman is personally interested in drones himself, piloting them as a hobbyist too.
Schulman joined DJI in 2015, and his responsibilities grew from there. He served on three FAA UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committees and was an original member of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee.
He set DJI’s own global strategy relating to public policy, and he generally advocated for reasonable and balanced regulatory outcomes for drone operators at the federal and state level, as well as internationally. He was a key player in DJI’s geofencing software, which limits a drone’s ability to fly in sensitive areas like over airports. He played an integral role developing the proposal for Remote ID. He worked to equip DJI drones with ADS-B. And he was there for the launch of DJI Aeroscope, a system that acts like an “electronic license plate for drones.”
But his work at DJI also faced challenges. Among his biggest hurdles of late at DJI are the security concerns around Chinese-made technology, as some proposed regulations could ban U.S. government agencies from using Chinese-made drones amid drone security concerns. Schulman has called concerns about drone security — especially when it comes to DJI products — as a type of “fear-mongering.”
He is also a graduate of Harvard Law School.
Schulman is the latest on a growing list of high-profile employees to depart from DJI in the past 12 months. Romeo Durscher, who most recently served as DJI Senior Director of Public Safety Integration, announced in December 2020 that he would leave DJI after six years with the company for a new role as Auterion Vice President of Public Safety. That same month, month, DJI Director Of Business Development Cynthia Huang said she was leaving the company after nearly three years in the job to take on a new role as Vice President of Enterprise Business Development at Auterion.
These days, you can expect to see that account somewhat active, but Brendan Schulman has also launched a new account called @Robotpolicy that should be more relevant to his new position. Follow his new adventures on Twitter there.