Three years ago, Customs and Border Protection placed an order for self-flying aircraft that could launch on their own, rendezvous, locate and monitor multiple targets on the ground without any human intervention. In its reasoning for the order, CBP said the level of monitoring required to secure America's long land borders from the sky was too cumbersome for people alone. To research and build the drones, CBP handed $500,000 to Mitre Corp., a trusted nonprofit Skunk Works that was already furnishing border police with prototype rapid DNA testing and smartwatch hacking technology. They were "tested but not fielded operationally" as "the gap from simulation to reality turned out to be much larger than the research team originally envisioned," a CBP spokesperson says. This year, America's border police will test automated drones from Skydio, the Redwood City, Calif.-based startup that on Monday announced it had raised an additional $170 million in venture funding at a valuation of $1 billion.
Up close and personal: The FPV is the first DJI drone with accompanying goggles to experience the live feed in VR form, and a trigger-based motion controller. A do-it-yourself market in technology always establishes not just inventions, but also a culture. That's certainly the case for the drone racing culture that has sprung up in the last five years, where enthusiasts cobble together drones from parts, complete with virtual reality glasses and audio-video systems to send the live feed from their drones to the goggles, to give one the feeling of racing at two hundred miles an hour through backyards and living rooms. Hence, stepping into that marketplace, for any consumer vendor, is a challenge, because it means taking on a culture. That's the challenge that DJI, one of the world's most prominent drone makers, has set for itself with its first entrée into what is called FPV drones, for "first person view."
Drones are being used to carry Covid-19 test samples and other medical materials up to 40 miles (64km) across four locations in western Scotland. London drone firm Skyports has become the first operator to receive permission from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to carry diagnostic specimens by drone. Cargo – including test samples, medicine, personal protective equipment (PPE) and Covid-19 testing kits – is being transported by the drones in the Argyll & Bute region. A whole fleet of the drones are carrying up to 3kg of the supplies each, improving services for patients and healthcare staff in one of the UK's most remote areas. Drones can complete a journey that takes a whopping 36 hours by road and ferry to just 15 minutes, while increasing the frequency of pick-ups.
Following now-Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's confirmation this week, the enterprise drone sector is abuzz over what the next four years may bring in terms of drone regulation. The FAA has taken a methodical and decidedly cautious approach to enterprise drone restrictions, but over the last few months, and on the heels of substantial testing and stakeholder outreach, the agency has begun to put in place a regulatory framework to guide more robust adoption of unmanned commercial drones over populated areas. Of course, many in the industry feel the agency can do more to encourage a sector that could be worth more than $43 billion globally over the next few years. Which brings us back to the man known affectionately for the past few years as Mayor Pete. The 39-year-old doesn't have a track record in federal transportation regulation, but industry insiders are reading the tea leaves of his Navy Reserve experience and infrastructure oversight as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and there's reasons to be hopeful.
Google this week asked the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to test out the use of drones for monitoring and fighting fires. The request comes as the FAA slowly expands sanctioned drone use in the US. Specifically, Google's Research Climate and Energy Group said it wants to run tests using the HSE-UAV M8A Pro unmanned aircraft system -- a crop-spraying drone built by Homeland Surveillance & Electronics. The Google Research group plans to test fire-fighting and monitoring operations at a private property in Firebaugh, California. Google's sister company, the Alphabet-owned Wing, already has FAA approval to test out commercial drone deliveries.
Honeybees move quickly from flower to flower, landing easily on each one in turn – but a study involving small drones suggests that the undertaking is more difficult than it looks, implying the bees rely on learning as well as hardwired instinct. Bees and other insects judge movement using what is called "optical flow" – basically the rate at which things are moving through the field of view. Optical flow is useful during landing too, particularly to help a bee decelerate.
The FAA has authorized its first-ever approval to a company for use of automated drones without human operators on site. The move comes as the agency is putting new rules in place to evolve regulation of the broader enterprise drone paradigm in the U.S., which has lagged behind other developed nations in adopting industry-friendly commercial drone guidelines. Boston-based American Robotics, a developer of automated drone systems specializing in rugged environments, received the FAA approval last week, marking a first for the federal agency. "Decades worth of promise and projection are finally coming to fruition," says Reese Mozer, CEO and co-founder of American Robotics. "We are proud to be the first company to meet the FAA's comprehensive safety requirements, which had previously restricted the viability of drone use in the commercial sector."
Farms and other agricultural operations in certain rural areas in the US can now use robotic drones to take images of or gather data on their crops. The FAA has approved Massachusetts-based American Robotics' request to be able to deploy automated drones without human pilots and spotters on site. As The Wall Street Journal notes, commercial drone flights typically require the physical presence of licensed pilots making them a costly undertaking. AR's machine eliminates the need for on-site personnel, though each automated flight will still need to be overseen by a remote human pilot. According to the relevant documents (via The Verge) the FAA has uploaded on its website, the pilot "who is not co-located with the aircraft" will have to conduct pre-flight safety checks to ensure the drone is in working condition.
You can officially claim autonomous commercial drones for your 2021 bingo card. On Friday, Massachusetts-based industrial drone developer American Robotics announced it had received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate its fully-automated "Scout" drones without any humans on-site. It's the first waiver of its kind, as the FAA has previously approved the use of autonomous commercial drones exclusively under the condition that human observers be present along the flight path -- or that risk of collision be mitigated through otherwise hyper-strict limitations. Advocates of drone technology say those restrictions have long held the industry back. "Decades worth of promise and projection are finally coming to fruition," CEO and co-founder of American Robotics Reese Mozer said in a press release.
U.S. aviation regulators have approved the first fully automated commercial drone flights, granting a small Massachusetts-based company permission to operate drones without hands-on piloting or direct observation by human controllers or observers. The decision by the Federal Aviation Administration limits operation of automated drones to rural areas and altitudes below 400 feet, but is a potentially significant step in expanding commercial applications of drones for farmers, utilities, mining companies and other customers. It also represents another step in the FAA's broader effort to authorize widespread flights by shifting away from case-by-case exemptions for specific vehicles performing specific tasks. In approval documents posted on a government website Thursday, the FAA said that once such automated drone operations are conducted on a wider scale, they could mean "efficiencies to many of the industries that fuel our economy such as agriculture, mining, transportation" and certain manufacturing segments. The FAA previously allowed drones to inspect railroad tracks, pipelines and some industrial sites beyond the sight of pilots or spotters on the ground as long as such individuals were located relatively close by.