Drones in a variety of shapes and sizes have existed for decades, serving purposes ranging from personal fun and professional uses to government surveillance and military attacks. As the technology advances, commercial enterprises increasingly are seeking ways to use drones advantageously and (hopefully) profitably. Experimental pilot projects are underway around the world, and in the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration recently relaxed regulations restricting commercial uses. These developments bring hope for future uses to businesses in retail, entertainment, construction and other industries.
Experimental Delivery Projects
In New Zealand, Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Limited has partnered with Flirtey to launch the first commercial drone delivery service in the world. The pizza delivery service hopes to begin the first store-to-door deliveries to customer homes later this year. A recent successful demonstration test of the service means the final approval to proceed is likely to be granted soon.
At Virginia Tech’s campus for a few weeks in September and October, Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., will use self-guided hybrids to deliver burritos from a Chipotle Mexican Grill taco truck. The drones, which can fly like an airplane or hover like a helicopter, will navigate to the destination and lower the package at the designated drop-site. Though the flight is automated, human pilots will be standing by in case of mid-flight emergency. This will be the most extensive test in the United States of drone delivery technologies.
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These and other pilot projects test several drone-related delivery considerations. Technologies themselves are being tested, assessing the drones’ abilities to accurately navigate, for example, and gauging the machines’ ability to safely transport its packages. The tests also are evaluating humans’ comfort levels with receiving deliveries via drones, as well as helping to figure out how to develop an air traffic system that can keep order in a sky crowded with unmanned vehicles.
Operational Rules for Commercial Drone Flight
While the FAA continues to explore ways to integrate drones, or small unmanned aircraft systems in official terminology, into American air spaces, the agency has issued much-anticipated operational rules to expand commercial use and simultaneously protect public safety. The UAS Rule, known also as Part 107, went into effect August 29, 2016 and details requirements drone operators must follow if flying for business purposes.
At least 16 years old
Must pass an in-person initial aeronautical knowledge test
Must be vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration
Weigh less than 55 pounds
Must be registered with the FAA
Commercial drones must:
Stay in visual line of sight of the remote operator
Fly under 400 feet
Fly no more than 100 miles per hour
Fly during daylight hours only
Yield right of way to manned aircraft
These drones must not:
Fly over people
Fly from a moving vehicle
Carry packages or other goods across U.S. air space
Commercial drone operators can apply for a waiver of exemption from all of these operating rules, as well as from some of the other limitations.
Companies are still far from a future entirely automated, with fleets of drones out delivering all imaginable goods across the globe. However, that future becomes a little more possible with each test pizza delivery and burrito drop.