Brendan Schulman, DJI’s VP of Policy & Legal Affairs, leaves DJI

After over six years serving as DJI’s VP of Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman is parting ways with the world’s largest drone manufacturer. Image shared with permission from Haye Kesteloo of DroneXL.

After serving as DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs for over six years, Brendan Schulman is parting ways with the world’s largest drone manufacturer. He announced his exit in an email to colleagues and friends, including DroneXL’s Haye Kesteloo. Schulman will also leave the drone industry, altogether, as he starts a new job as Vice President of Policy & Government Relations on Monday with Boston Dynamics – a company that creates robots ‘to enrich peoples lives’.

Boston Dynamics builds robots that replicate the mobility, dexterity and agility of people and animals.

Schulman’s departure from DJI will undoubtedly leave a large void in the drone industry. Serving on quite a few Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) advisory committees, he was instrumental in helping develop the proposal for Remote ID and using DJI’s vast platform to publicly push back against the FAA’s overreaching rulemaking. An avid drone pilot and hobbyist, Schulman took his role well beyond DJI and advocated for more fair and sensible drone regulations in the United States and abroad.

One major challenge DJI encountered during Schulman’s tenure was the fact that the U.S. government accused the company of spying and sharing sensitive data with China’s Communist party. Because DJI’s drones contained parts manufactured in China, they were temporarily blacklisted. Two DJI drones have been added back for use in government agencies, since, and Schulman has advocated for using universal data security standards instead.

Inside DJI, Schulman was instrumental in developing and improving safety features found in DJI’s drones including geofencing, which prevents users from flying in certain controlled airspace unless permission is obtained, and Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS–B) – a feature that notifies a drone pilot if manned aircraft is nearby.

Here is Schulman’s letter, announcing his departure:

‘Dear Friends and Colleagues,

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 U.S. 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.

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.

Fondly,
Brendan’

DJI released the following statement in response:

‘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.’

At this time, DJI hasn’t shared any news regarding Schulman’s replacement.