from LA Times
Monrovia drone maker AeroVironment Inc. announced a contract that marks the first time unmanned aircraft will be performing routine commercial services over land in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
The company’s small drone, called Puma AE, is now scouring BP Exploration Inc.’s Prudhoe Bay oil field in Alaska.
Since Sunday, the drone has been flying above the largest oil field in North America using high-tech sensors to create 3-D computerized models of roads, pads and pipelines for industrial applications.
The five-year contract could be a sign of things to come as drone technology becomes more advanced and demand increases from police agencies and others for using drones in the commercial world.
The Puma, which takes off after being thrown into the air, was designed to give troops on the ground a bird’s-eye view of what’s happening over a ridge or around a bend.
In one mission for BP, the AeroVironment drone assisted drivers moving 3.5-million-pound drill rigs on tight roadways in low visibility conditions by giving them high resolution 3-D models of the road ahead.
“This is an important achievement for our joint team and for the industry in demonstrating the safe and effective use of our proven UAS technology for commercial applications,” said AeroVironment Chief Executive Timothy E. Conver in a statement.
AeroVironment is the Pentagon’s top supplier of small drones — including the Raven, Wasp and Puma models. But the company, which makes drones in its Simi Valley facilities, has seen sales decline as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to a close.
Hoping for new revenue streams, AeroVironment has been waiting for the FAA to allow drones fly freely for commercial purposes here at home.
Currently, drones are not allowed to fly in the U.S. except with special permission from the FAA. As demand increases from commercial industries, though, the agency has moved to ease restrictions.
Oil and gas companies, like BP, want to utilize them to keep an eye on their pipelines. Movie makers want to use drones to film action scenes. The idea of using robotic aircraft as transport vehicles has been discussed as a way to deliver books for Amazon.com and pizza for Domino’s.
The FAA is working to meet a congressional mandate to integrate the airspace with robotic aircraft by September 2015.
However, the prospect of thousands of unmanned aircraft flying around U.S. airspace in populated areas beginning at that time appears unlikely. The FAA has said that remotely piloted aircraft aren’t allowed in national airspace on a wide scale because they don’t have an adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com