3D Robotics, a drone manufacturing company based in California and Mexico, is sending emails to its international customers that they won’t be fulfilling orders outside of the US and Canada.
Vu Tran, Director of Support, posted to a thread in the 3D Robotics forum on Tuesday: “We appreciate your patience while we work through some complex export control issues that affect the US flight controller industry. We have reduced our international shipping in an abundance of caution while we work with the relevant authorities and hope to fully resume international shipping soon.”
The Terms and Conditions on the 3D Robotics website state that “We do not ship products to the following countries: China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Myanmar (formerly Burma), Yugoslavia and Sudan.” The company may have good reasons to exclude those countries but the more recent apparent change to the shipping policy is clearly of a different nature.
US export controls is an area of complicated regulation. Have a look at the restrictions concerning “Category 7” covering navigation and avionics. It is ok, for example to export a device that uses a gyro, but if the gyro is more accurate than certain thresholds the device becomes subject to export restrictions. A prime concern is the use of electronics in ballistic missiles, as indicated by several references to measuring accuracy over a range of 300 km or more.
My guess is that technology moves a lot faster than the regulation in this area, and that sensors, software and instrumentation for hobby or commercial applications are starting to overlap with what was previously military specs.
Mr Tran stressed in a forum post that it was not a permanent ban and that he would provide another update on Wednesday next week.
In the meantime, I wonder if US based drone owners should carefully consider if they take the devices with them when they travel abroad. It is one thing to argue with the TSA about LiPo batteries where the guidelines are quite clear; it’s another discussion altogether if someone who likes to fly a camera is accused of exporting restricted technology.
I am a big fan of 3D Robotics and the DIY Drones community started by Chris Anderson, 3DR’s CEO. I do hope the restrictions are clarified soon and international shipments are allowed to resume. I have 3DR Y6 on order and look forward to sharing my experiences in these pages.