The Department of Transportation declared the first 10 winners, out of 149 submitted entries, of the Drone Pilot Projects. This happens six months after the Trump Administration’s announcement of its new program. It will support the development of drone testing across the United States. The three-year commercial drone program is meant to delve into the future use of drone delivery with the assistance from private firms. Those private companies will be accompanied by three state transportation agencies, two universities, and two US cities.
The 10 programs will tackle the major challenges in incorporating drones into the county’s airspace. It will have minimal risks related to security and public safety. These programs offer greater efforts, for those enrolled to the program, on regulations and stability to the general public and local governments, Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operators, and owners. The estimated potential economic benefits of UAS to the country’s airspace will amount to $82 billion. This will happen in the next 10 years. The projected job opportunities will hit 100,000 jobs.
The program also aims to evaluate several operational concepts. Examples include flights over people, night flight operations, package delivery, flight over the line of sight of pilots. It also includes counter-UAS security procedures, security and reliability of data connected between drones and pilots, and local operations. All of these are UAS strategies regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Immediate opportunities arising from the program cover a wide range of industries. The industries cover photography, commerce, precision agriculture, emergency management, and infrastructure monitoring and inspections.
US Drone Pilot Projects Winners—But Who was Left Out?
Among the winners are Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, and Qualcomm, which are involved as tech partners, along with AT&T, Airbus, NASA, FedEx, Uber, and many others. Amazon and the popular drone manufacturer DJI are not on the list. Listed here are the first 10 approved proposals from local, state and tribal entities.
1. City of San Diego (California)
The proposal focuses on using various technologies, such as 5G test networks, 4G LTE network, along with AT&T’s FirstNet—the national first responder network authority. In addition, the program aims to address efficient delivery of packaged foods and to improve border protection. It will also focus on autonomous vehicle interconnections, international commerce, and surveillance.
2. Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma (Durant, Oklahoma)
This project uses drone operations in public safety, agricultural, and infrastructure inspections, with scheduled night flights and BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight) operations. Its listed partners are the Green Valley Farms Living Laboratory and CNN.
3. Kansas Department of Transportation (Wichita, Kansas)
Microsoft is one of the the its supporting partners. This project’s focus is to deploy drones to support rural areas during BVLOS operations, with the assistance of UAS for improving agriculture.
4. Innovation and Entrepreneurship Investment Authority (Herndon, Virginia)
This proposal is partnered with NASA, AT&T, Intel, Alphabet’s Project Wing, Airbus, Dominion Energy, and Virginia Tech. It aims to study the feasibility of package delivery services by drone in urban and rural settings, using the latest technologies like detect and avoid, radar systems, identification and tracking, and mapping tools.
5. Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority (Memphis, Tennessee)
The program has a projected annual benefit of $500 million, with partners including Agricenter International and FedEx. The program will use drones for aircraft inspections and autonomous system that can support airport operations. It will also include package delivery and perimeter safety and security.
6. Lee County Mosquito Control District (Fort Myers, Florida)
The goal is to deploy low-altitude drones to survey and monitor the mosquito population within the area. Likewise, it aims to use satellite connectivity and infrared imaging.
7. North Carolina Department of Transportation (Raleigh, North Carolina)
The program targets to explore local package delivery in a defined and safe flight zone via developing drone delivery stations within the local communities. The Depart of Transportation also believes that small companies will greatly benefit from this project.
Apple, one of the program’s major technology partners, will surely benefit. The company will deploy the UAS to enhance their mapping technology.
8. North Dakota Department of Transportation (Bismarck, North Dakota)
This drone pilot projects proposal includes a wide array of applications that can improve and expand drone operations during night flight and beyond visual line of sight.
9. The City of Reno (Nevada)
The drone program focuses on the time-constraint delivery of life-saving medical devices and materials in rural and urban settings, including medical equipment in emergency situations.
10. University of Alaska-Fairbanks (Fairbanks, Alaska)
This proposal’s main focus is on pipeline inspection and developing drone systems that can work effectively during harsh climates and in remote areas. And the program will use several technologies for its development. These include ADS-B, satellite services, collision avoidance, and infrared imaging.
According to the Department of Transportation, the tasks for drone pilot projects have just started. They still need to require the winning agencies to submit their memorandums of agreement to the FAA. For this reason, once these participating agencies have met the requirements, they have around two and half years to conduct the trials. Additionally, they need to share their progress and data to the DOT and FAA, which can be used to create better nationwide regulations on how drones should be used in the long run.