The U.S. Department of Transportation has selected 10 sites to test advanced drone uses.
Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao announced on May 9 that 10 areas would participate in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program.
The 10 areas are:
▪ North Carolina Department of Transportation, Raleigh, North Carolina
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▪ Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Durant, Oklahoma
▪ City of San Diego, California
▪ Virginia Tech - Center for Innovative Technology, Herndon, Virginia
▪ Kansas Department of Transportation, Topeka, Kansas
▪ Lee County Mosquito Control District, Ft. Myers, Florida
▪ Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, Memphis, Tennessee
▪ North Dakota Department of Transportation, Bismarck, North Dakota
▪ City of Reno, Nevada
▪ University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska
First announced last October, the White House initiative partners the Federal Aviation Administration with local, state and tribal governments which then partner with private sector participants "to safely explore the further integration of drone operations," according to the DOT announcement.
The program will help tackle the most significant challenges to using drones in national airspace, according to DOT, and will work to reduce risks to public safety and security.
The economic impact of the program, which will bring unmanned aircraft such as drones into national airspace, "is estimated at $82 billion and could create 100,000 jobs," according to DOT and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
“Data gathered from these pilot projects will form the basis of a new regulatory framework to safely integrate drones into our national airspace,” said Chao. “The enthusiastic response to our request for applications demonstrated the many innovative technological and operational solutions already on the horizon."
While limited drone use already is legal in most of the United States, since drones fly at lower altitudes, the federal government and local governments will work together on specific regulation.
Ten areas were selected from 149 proposals.
The 10 selectees will work with the FAA over the next two and a half years to collect drone data involving:
▪ Night flights
▪ Flights over people
▪ Flights beyond the pilot's line of sight
▪ Package delivery
▪ Detect-and-avoid technology
▪ Reliability and security of data links between pilot and aircraft
That data will help the DOT and FAA create new rules for drones that could allow more complex, low-altitude operations, accelerating the approval of operations that now require special permission and more.
According to the DOT, the program could create new drone opportunities for:
▪ Emergency management
▪ Public safety
▪ Agriculture and infrastructure inspections
Zipline, a company that provides drone delivery services in Rwanda and plans to expand to Tanzania, uses its drones to deliver medical supplies including vaccines and blood on thousands of flights every year.
The Silicon Valley-based startup company moved overseas so it could better develop and use its technology. Now Zipline has partnered with the NCDOT.
In April, one of Zipline's drones was shown to deliver medical supplies at 79 mph.
“Today is an important first step towards bringing Zipline’s lifesaving drone delivery technology to the United States,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a statement.
The NCDOT is working with Zipline and other companies to set up a network of distribution centers using unmanned aircraft such as drones to deliver blood and other medical supplies quicker.
Unmanned aircraft system companies including PrecisionHawk in Raleigh also are partnering with NCDOT to develop systems to track drones in flight.
Apple is another NCDOT partner in the project. Apple will work to improve imagery on Apple Maps in the state.