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Does a drone flying overhead make you uncomfortable? The NCDOT wants to know.

Drone delivery coming to Holly Springs

Flytrex, an Israeli company, plans to begin delivering food using drones through a test program in Holly Springs this fall. Flytrex teamed up with eCommerce company AHA to begin drone food deliveries in Iceland last year.
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Flytrex, an Israeli company, plans to begin delivering food using drones through a test program in Holly Springs this fall. Flytrex teamed up with eCommerce company AHA to begin drone food deliveries in Iceland last year.

Media, real estate and other companies use drones to get a bird’s-eye view, and corporations such as Amazon and UPS have big plans for drone deliveries in the future. Drones already move lab samples across WakeMed’s campus in Raleigh, and by year’s end they’re expected to begin delivering food in Holly Springs.

The N.C. Department of Transportation wants to know what you think about all that. It has created an online survey to gauge public opinion about the growing use of drones and try to determine what about the flying machines makes people uncomfortable. The survey can be found at www.ncdot.publicinput.com/3139.

It is not yet legal in the United States for most pilots to lose sight of their drones, known also as unmanned aircraft systems or UASes, which limits their use for such business enterprises as deliveries. The Federal Aviation Administration has made exceptions under a program to test possible commercial uses of drones and determine how they should be regulated in the future.

North Carolina is one of those test sites, making the deliveries at WakeMed and Holly Springs possible. As part of its involvement in the FAA program, NCDOT must get public feedback on drones, and the survey is one way of doing that, said Basil Yap, head of the department’s UAS program.

Yap said NCDOT hears from people at public meetings it holds at various stages of the testing program, but says so far those tend to attract drone enthusiasts. The survey, which will remain available online through the end of the test program in the fall of 2020, is a way to broaden the reach.

“We really do want and need to know what the concerns are from the public,” he said. “If we don’t have any negative feedback, then we don’t have a complete picture.”

Yap said the results of this and similar surveys around the country will be shared with the FAA, which may use it in crafting regulations or in developing public education materials and campaigns.

For example, the sight of a drone flying overhead makes some people nervous about privacy, Yap said. But drones used for deliveries don’t have cameras, something companies and government agencies may need to stress in the future.

“There shouldn’t be any privacy issues or questions about ‘Is the drone spying on me or not?’” he said.

The survey includes questions about situations people would find drones most useful and whether they would ever want food delivered to their homes by drone. The survey also asks people to rank their top concerns about drones, such as noise, privacy and safety.

Yap said early results from surveys in other FAA test sites, notably Reno and San Diego, show general support for commercial use of drones. Last month, the City of San Diego said its online survey and feedback at public events “have found a majority of residents believe drones will have a net positive impact on their lives.”

The city also said that residents there seemed most enthusiastic about the use of drones by fire departments and other first responders and for “infrastructure inspections.”

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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