The world’s most famous drone lawyer – Brendan Schulman – is leaving DJI. He’s heading to Boston Dynamics. A leading global advocate for sensible regulations, drone safety, and the rights of drone operators, Schulman’s been with the company for six years and has been serving as the company’s vice president of policy and legal affairs. His last day with DJI is today, Friday September 10, and his departure will undoubtedly leave a tremendous void.
For many, Schulman has been the public face of DJI. He has participated in countless committees and task forces over the years, working with regulators, operators, and industry associations to seek a common-sense balance between the rights of drone operators and airspace safety. He’s also been instrumental with many of the safety features DJI has voluntarily installed in its products, such as the Airsense ADS-B detection system.
More recently, Schulman has also been the point person for a number of sticky issues for the company, including data security and – more recently – pushback against drones (and specifically DJI) based on Country of Origin.
In short, his contributions to DJI – and the broader industry – cannot be overstated.
Why is Brendan Schulman leaving DJI?
Good question. Early Friday morning, Schulman announced his departure via an email shared with close contacts. DroneDJ obtained a copy, and it contains some of the reasons behind his decision:
Today is my last day working at DJI. I have been honored to hold this role for six years, advocating for innovation and the progressive regulation of a technology that I love. Together, we have created the policy frameworks and product safety features that have enabled countless beneficial operations, including the growing list of over 730 people rescued thanks to a drone. I will always be grateful for your collaboration and support in this very important endeavor.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the disappointment I feel at how politicized the industry has become in the past few years. This has played a significant role in my decision to leave, and is something that remains a growing challenge for the industry and a genuine threat to innovation. I hope that those of you remaining in the industry find a way to solve these challenges with fact-driven, risk-based policies and standards. Organizations and individuals who have something to lose in this geopolitical game, in which the drone industry is being treated as a pawn, need to speak up and be heard.
But the main reason I am leaving DJI at this time is a sense of having reached the end of a mission. The completion this year of the frameworks for Remote ID, flight over people, night operations, and new recreational rules including reasonable knowledge testing, all mark the culmination of policy work that was started nearly a decade ago when there were no rules in the US or elsewhere for drone use. Much work remains to be done, but the next steps will likely take the better part of another decade to complete, and so this seems as good a time as any to devote some energy to other beneficial technologies that are beginning to be integrated into society.
In that regard, I have found an exciting opportunity in an adjacent technology with the same sense of wonder and opportunity that I experienced years ago with drones. On Monday, I will be joining Boston Dynamics as Vice President of Policy & Government Relations. The agile, mobile robots stemming from its 30 years of research and development are starting to interact with, and bring benefits to, society – prompting familiar misunderstandings, concerns, and fears. When we next connect, let’s discuss which robots are creepier, those that fly like birds or those that walk like dogs. In the meantime, there is much to do to educate and advocate for fair and reasonable policies that promote innovation while mitigating actual risks.
Although I am leaving the drone industry, my enthusiasm for drones and the benefits they are bringing to society remains as strong as ever. For those of you whose work on drones continues: if my personal perspective can ever be of assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I will maintain the @dronelaws account, and I’ve also started a new personal account, @robotpolicy, in case you also have an interest in my next journey. You can also reach me at my new work number…
I thank each of you for contributing in your own way to these amazing years together, and hope my next endeavors in tech policy will allow us the opportunity to collaborate again, sooner or later.
An impressive CV
While Schulman made a number of major accomplishments during his tenure with DJI, he specialized in drones and policy even before he joined the firm in 2015. His LinkedIn profile, which will likely change over the weekend, provides us with a snapshot:
Brendan is responsible for setting and representing DJI’s global strategy relating to public policy, and advocating for reasonable and balanced regulatory outcomes for drone operators at the federal and state level, and internationally. Brendan manages DJI’s public policy professionals in Europe, Asia, and North America. Previously, he was head of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems practice at the law firm of Kramer Levin in New York City, where he handled some of the landmark cases and regulatory proposals in the field. In his career, Brendan has represented various Fortune 500 companies, tech startups, robotics companies, investment firms, and educational institutions in their development and use of drones. Brendan served on three FAA UAS Aviation Rulemaking Committees and was an original member of the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee, which he served on for four years.
R/C hobbyist and drone enthusiast
While most are familiar with Schulman as a lawyer, it’s lesser known that he was deeply involved with R/C aircraft for some 20 years before piloting drones. It’s no doubt partly due to that background that his advocacy and policy work has always reflected the needs of hobbyists and commercial pilots – in addition to those of the industry. In short, he has pushed for, and helped obtain, a balanced regulatory approach.
Prior to joining DJI, Schulman also defended a landmark drone case – Huerta v. Pirker – which involved the FAA versus a civilian UAS operator. The defense was successful, though the ruling was later overturned by the NTSB.
DJI reacts to Brendan Schulman leaving
We contacted DJI’s Adam Lisberg, the company’s corporate communication director for North America. Here’s what he had to say:
Drone pilots around the world have benefited from Brendan Schulman’s tireless efforts over the past six years to ensure that laws and regulations have opened the skies to drones. He has led DJI’s efforts to show that drones are a safe and secure addition to the skies, and that the world is better off when people can fly drones for fun, for work, and for public safety. DJI’s global policy team will continue this important work into the future, and we wish Brendan well in his future endeavors.
And what are those future endeavors? Well, Schulman has not revealed where he’ll be going next. But given his long-time interest in drones and technology, we would not be surprised if it’s in a tech-related space. We would also suspect it will involve regulations, advocacy, etc. since he so clearly excels in these arenas.
Schulman is not the first high-profile DJI employee to choose a new direction. In December 2020, Romeo Durscher announced he was leaving his post as DJI’s senior director of public safety integration. Several other long-term staff departed in 2021.
Regardless, there can be no question of Schulman’s contribution not only to DJI, but to the industry as a whole. Schulman has been an absolutely integral part of the global drone scene during a period when drone technology and popularity – and the regulatory landscape – have changed dramatically. There can be no denying he’s made an incredible and positive impact in both areas.
We wish him well on his next venture, and are hopeful he’ll still weigh in with thoughtful observations (and cool videos) via his @dronelaws Twitter account. We’ll also start following his new @robotpolicy account. If we hear more – and we hope to – we’ll keep you posted.