Sci-tech

Sites selected for program aimed at expanding drone flights

Sites selected for program aimed at expanding drone flights

The North Carolina Department of Transportation was one of the awardees, with the FAA describing their proposal as seeking "to test localized package delivery within a defined airspace by establishing drone delivery stations in local communities".

Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who is up for re-election in November, said in a press release the city of Reno was named one of the winners.

The city of Reno, Nev., is partnering with drone delivery company Flirtey - along with FedEx, T-Mobile (TMUS) and others - to test defibrillator delivery via drones.

No federal funds will be spent on the drone program, though each company will share data with the FAA and the Department of Transportation.

Over the next two years, the selected cities and organizations will collect drone data involving night operations, flights over people and beyond the pilot's line of sight, package delivery, detect-and-avoid technologies and the reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft.

FedEx, GE and Intel drones will inspect aircraft and runways at Memphis International Airport (coincidentally FedEx's USA operations hub).

Chao mentioned several specific areas where drones can help: agriculture, commerce, health care, disaster assistance, emergency response and human transportation.

Notable by their absence, however, are both Amazon, which arguably launched the whole drone craze with its Prime Air drone delivery project, and Chinese firm DJI, a leading maker of consumer drones.

Uber is working on air-taxi technology and will deliver food by drone in San Diego, California.

"There's a lot of excitement", said Lisa Ellman, a partner in the Washington office of law firm Hogan Lovells, who represents companies in the industry.

A total of149 bids were drawn from locales looking to host flights at night, flights over people and other drone operations that are now prohibited under United States regulations. Apple will apparently be a partner in North Carolina's program and thinking of using drones to seize aerial images to improve Apple Maps services.

The projects are part of an effort called the Integration Pilot Program announced in November.

"By tackling these challenges head-on, I think we're going to get to better paradigms for how drones can operate around people - and make money in the process", Goodwin said.

Numerous programs include plans to fly on longer-range operations outside of the view of a drone's ground operator.

Amazon, which hopes to one day deliver packages with a fleet of drones, said it was unfortunate its applications were not selected but supports the USA efforts.

Apple has requested to engage in a pilot program which allows the company to administer drones.

Chao said companies that didn't win should keep the federal government abreast of their work, because there were "no losers" after yesterday's announcement.

The agency has said it hopes the proposed rules, laying out safety provisions when drones are flying above people and a requirement for them to transmit their identification, would be issued this year.