FAA to facilitate Google's US drone delivery testing

The tests are part of a large public-private initiative announced by the White House to advance the adoption of drones in the US.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Project Wing, Google's commercial drone delivery initiative, is partnering with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to conduct drone delivery testing and advance the development of drone safety regulations.

The tests, part of a larger public-private initiative to advance the US drone industry, were announced by the White House on Tuesday.

Project Wing will conduct operational research at one of six FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) test siites, the White House said, "to gain full operational experience of its delivery service in a safe testing environment." The tests will include flights with external cargo loads and should build toward developing beyond line of sight (BLOS) capabilities. Project Wing will also test an open-interface, airspace management solution for low-altitude, small UAS operations.

Along with Google, the company Zipline is partnering with the government to advance commercial drone use. The California-based startup will demonstrate the viability of using drones to delivery critical medical supplies to remote parts of the US. They'll carry blood, medicine and medical products to parts of Maryland, Nevada and Washington. Zipline has already established a partnership with the country of Rwanda to deliver life-saving vaccines and blood for transfusions across the country.

Additionally, the White House announced that the company Flirtey -- which recently partnered with 7-Eleven to demonstrate the drone delivery of a Slurpee -- is partnering with the nonprofit International Medical Corps to advance the humanitarian applications for drones. They'll work together to develop lightweight, temperature-managed payload containers for medicines and vaccines.

While the administration is endorsing these experiments and demonstrations, it's also funding $35 million in research through the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years. This research will explore ways to effectively design UAS applications for functions like monitoring physical infrastructure, deploying smart disaster response, monitoring agriculture and studying severe storms.

Meanwhile, the US government continues to work on UAS regulations. In June, the (FAA) on Tuesday issued its first formal rules for commercial drone use, making it easier to deploy drones for certain uses. However, the sort of drone delivery services envisioned by Google, Amazon and others require further rule-making.

The White House said that a proposed rule for Operations of Small Unmanned Aircraft Over People is scheduled to be published for public comment by this winter. This will become the regulatory framework for using drones near crowds, which could be useful for aerial photography or newsgathering.

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