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Amazon has been testing drone deliveries, primarily in the U.K., for more than a year now. In the U.S., however, the dream of drone delivery keeps getting delayed due to various hurdles and regulations. Fortunately, thanks to some successful pressure in the White House, we could see drone deliveries finally arrive in the next few months.
Federal regulators say that drone deliveries could become a reality this summer, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ten FAA-sanctioned pilot programs will begin by May.
Earl Lawrence, head of the FAA’s drone-integration office, said that some experimental drone delivery programs are “getting ready for full-blown operations.” Safety continues to be a top concern, though. For Amazon, which hopes to use drones to deliver small packages weighing under five pounds to consumers within a 20-mile radius, safely flying through a densely populated area and then landing with precision are two continuing challenges. Besides that, federal regulators still need to work with state and local community leaders to alleviate privacy, security, and noise-related concerns. Companies like Amazon, meanwhile, are also working towards establishing clear operating protocols and approvals of new drone designs.
It could be that Amazon Prime and burrito deliveries take a backseat to other kinds of drone deliveries at the outset, however.
In an interview with NPR, John Walker, an aerospace consultant with more than 30 years of experience at the FAA, predicts that timely hospital deliveries of medical supplies, blood, and lab samples will be among the first drone deliveries to gain acceptance in urban environments. After that, other kinds of deliveries will follow. Such drone usage has already proven crucial during disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, where drones were able to survey for damage and survivors in need of rescue. Drones also helped deliver medical supplies, when roadways were still blocked due to extensive flooding. These drones were allowed to operate as exceptions to traditional FAA regulations due to extenuating circumstances.
Amazon began its drone delivery program in the U.K. in late 2016 with two beta users. In Iceland, companies have even used drone deliveries for beer. Google’s parent company Alphabet has also reportedly tested drone-based burrito deliveries in Australia. With the FAA’s selection of pilot programs kicking off this summer, the U.S. will finally join the rest of the world in embracing the full utility of drones and UAVs.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.