The space above your head--currently filled with sky, maybe some clouds, and the passing bird or plastic bag--is valuable. Many a company would rather see it filled with drones, saving lives with emergency drugs, delivering items you ordered online, monitoring crops, and handling a bajillion other tasks. But if given free rein, some worry, these quadcopter capitalists might darken the sky with their machines, deafen us with their buzzing, and shower debris on those below when they inevitably collide. To avoid an aerial apocalypse, the FAA has so far taken a restrictive approach to drones. It limits commercial operation by requiring permits and imposing restrictions like banning beyond-line-of-sight flights and nighttime operations.
BISMARCK, NORTH DAKOTA – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Wednesday announced 10 sites for a test program aimed at increasing the use of unmanned aircraft for projects that range from monitoring crops and oil pipelines in North Dakota to applying mosquito-killing treatments in Florida and package deliveries in Tennessee. President Donald Trump signed a directive last year to establish the "innovation zones" that allow exemptions to some drone regulations, such as flying over people, nighttime flights and flights where the aircraft can't be seen by the operator. States, communities and tribes selected to participate would devise their own trial programs in partnership with government and industry drone users. "Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace," Chao said in a statement. Chao, who called the rapidly developing drone industry the biggest development since the jet age, said about 150 applications were received.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is moving forward with its plans to accelerate drone testing in the US -- with help from technology companies including Alphabet, FedEx and Intel. The agency announced 10 states that will participate in the the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program, an effort that aims to study the potential uses of drones in agriculture, commerce, emergency management, and human transportation. The 10 pilot winners include the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, in Durant, Oklahoma; the City of San Diego, California; the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority, in Herndon, Virginia; the Kansas Department of Transportation; the Lee County Mosquito Control District in Fort Meyers, Florida; the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority; the North Carolina Department of Transportation; the North Dakota Department of Transportation; the City of Reno, Nevada; and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. First announced last October, the UAS program aims to partner the FAA with local, state and tribal governments, along with private sector technology companies, to explore the integration of drone operations across industries. The program will also address public safety and security risks that go along with bringing drones into the national airspace.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. The drone future that we all know is coming--more drones, everywhere, ferrying our stuff to wherever we want it sent--isn't coming just yet. Before flying robots can speckle the sky from coast to coast, the government needs to pass regulations that allow drones to fly beyond the line of sight of the operator, over densely populated areas, and at night--all things currently prohibited unless the drone operator gets a special waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration. Drones also have to be integrated into the national air traffic control system, which will have to help coordinate their movement and ensure the autonomous flyers don't collide in the sky. But before any of that gets off the ground, the U.S. Department of Transportation is giving the green light to 10 areas across the country to set up test sites for drones to do things like delivery, mosquito-killing, and security.
The US government is making good on its promise to expand the use of drones. The Department of Transportation has named the 10 projects that will participate in its Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, and they represent a wide swath of the country. Most of them are municipal or state government bodies, including the cities of Reno and San Diego, Memphis' County Airport Authority and the Transportation Departments for Kansas, North Carolina and North Dakota. However, the rest are notable: the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma will be part of the program, as will the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and Virginia Tech. Notably, Virginia Tech is working with Google's Project Wing drone delivery initiative as well as transportation and tech giants like Airbus, AT&T and Intel.