You can imagine what's inside this FreeFlight ADS-B: a small microprocessor and a transmitter. If the Futaba type companies can't produce that for under $100 they aren't even trying...
Of course they could. But getting it through the FAA certification would cost a fortune and throw us right back into the thousands of dollars range. It's like hearing aids; they cost a fortune, despite the fact that you can buy the same thing in a package which carefully avoids making medical claims for an order of magnitude less money. And to be legal, a drone operator would have to use an FAA-certified one. If you really could get a lightweight and reasonably-priced transponder, I'd agree it would make sense for autonomous drones... but like I said, the FAA has operated completely in bad faith with respect to drones, and I do not believe they will be reasonable in the future.
Yeah, probably a nomenclature issue there. When I say "drone" I mean an autonomous vehicle, thus my comment about the GPS. I recognize there are human directed RC vehicles as well. I don't see them as nearly the problem that the autonomous vehicles are, but they still should have access to the NAS. One question for you is what kind of distances people reasonably want to operate in LoS.
You're missing a category, which I think most using drones for aerial photography fall into -- First Person View flight, where the drone is human directed but flown not by watching it from the ground (where the view may be obstructed or the drone too far away) but from the real-time camera view from the drone.
I also think that featherweight drones (the weight of a small bird like a sparrow) should probably be able to be operated without any required gear below some altitude like 500 feet with some common sense limitations like not right at an airport (but probably even 1/4 mile away from the airport should be okay).
A sparrow weighs about as much as a Hubsan X4, a 4" toy. You're not really offering much here.
So, yeah, in their mind the way to proceed is to not allow the proposed action until it can be researched, tested, run up and down the flagpole several times, and finally promulgated as law.
I'm not going to live that long. Or at least not long enough for a set of regulations that would allow me to fly, assuming they actually ever come about. "Let them eat cake" style regulations that require a team of lawyers, thousands of dollars, and some sort of official notification for every flight do not help me at all. If you start with complete prohibition and then slowly relax things until powerful people stop screaming, you're going to remain pretty darn close to prohibition.
The good part for drone operators is that I actually see that the subject is now being talked about in FAA circles - it's actually being thought about.
it's been talked about because they've already missed congressional deadlines to actually do something. And because they've been coming up with ways to stop people from flying (like threatening those who buy images made with drones). They have shown no interest in allowing a practical way for people to fly drones.
I assume you've already read this FAA web page
Yeah, that's the page that says my non-commercial operations are illegal (thanks partially to the AMA). I fly within 5 miles of an airport (a rule which covers a surprisingly large area, considering all the small airports around) without notifying anyone, and I do not fly "in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization" (because I don't belong to the AMA nor fly on an AMA field.)
In practice the only plausible (and unlikely) danger is to helicopter operators like yourself, because I fly between two ridgelines and not much above the treetops (if at all); if there's an airliner in there it's got bigger problems. A helicopter coming in for a landing on the field I operate on or a nearby field is a possibility (e.g. medevac), but it's not like I won't hear and see the thing coming and land.
I know in practice the FAA has not yet gone after non-commercial operators of non-autonomous drones. But I'm in NJ and the state is full of officious busybodies who might drop a dime on me, and of course I'm violating the letter of the law.