It’s a big “if.” Google’s Dave Vos, head of Project Wing, told audiences at the Aero Club in Washington that drone delivery in cities is possible within the next couple of years…if the FAA and the industry work together to make it happen. Vos used the swift implementation of the drone registration program as an example of how different sectors can work together to get approvals done quickly, saying “We’re making huge progress.”
While the FAA says that it will finally publish rules for commercial drone operations later this year, those regulations will still only allow the simplest operations within sight of the operator. By all reports, the FAA has not yet begun to formulate rules for drone delivery.
While the FAA neglects to give clear guidance, both government and industry stakeholders have rushed ahead to develop competing systems for air-traffic control and collision avoidance, hoping to preempt safety concerns when the government does move. The FAA, NASA, and Precision Hawk are working on one such system, which NASA says is “ready to be deployed”; Google, Amazon, and other firms have their own ideas for managing drones in commercial airspace.
In the meantime, companies have been forced overseas to test delivery technology. Having repeatedly (an unsuccessfully) petitioned the US government to make progress on allowing drone delivery, Amazon announced that its first deliveries will take place in Japan, which has formed special de-regulation zones to assist with drone innovation; DHL is working on drone delivery in India and the Australian post office is testing delivery down under.
The costs to the US may well be beyond just drone delivery. As with any new technology, advances may have a ripple effect across the airspace. Vos told listeners that increasing computer power, less expensive sensors, improved automation technologies, and other innovations will continue to advance the aviation industry in multiple ways.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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