US turns to NASA for drone traffic plan

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America’s space agency is entering the second phase of a four-step plan to draw up rules for small drones that fly under 500 feet.

The NASA project is meant to develop performance standards for drones that would be used for commercial purposes by companies such as Amazon and Google.

The system will be designed to help drone operators deal with weather conditions, restricted air space, airport congestion, and other obstacles.

NASA is looking to present its research to the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of 2019.

By that time, it estimates there will be 7 million small drones in operation, including 2.6 million aircraft for commercial use.

The second phase of the project will include testing flights beyond visual line-of-sight of the operator.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) cleared online shopping giant Amazon to experiment with drone deliveries in April last year, stipulating that they can only be flown in daylight and operators need to maintain a visual line of sight.

Walmart then filed an application with the FAA last October to test its drones to fulfil deliveries to customers at its own outlets and customers’ homes, as well as curbside pickups.

Alphabet’s Google also jumped on the idea of drone delivery a little while ago, with Project Wing — the search giant’s initiative aimed at making deliveries via autonomous vehicles — hoping to have a to-market product come 2017.

Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg got a step closer to seeing Facebook’s internet drone Aquila take full flight, following a successful 90-minute full scale test flight last month. As part of the trial, the unmanned aircraft flew at low altitude but Facebook plans to take the drones above 60,000 feet and fly it up for three months at a time.

In April, new regulations were introduced by the Australian government to allow drones to fly commercially, without the need to obtain a number of regulatory approvals.

Under the changes, which come into effect in September, drone operators will need to notify the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) they intend to fly their aircraft and adhere to a set of standard operating conditions, which include flying only during the day within a visual line of sight, below 120 metres; keeping more than 30 metres away from other people; flying more than 5.5 kilometres from controlled aerodromes; and not operating near emergency situations.

For aircraft weighing 25 kilograms and over, the operator needs to hold a remote pilot licence in the category of aircraft being flown.

Shortly after the regulatory changes were announced, Australia Post revealed plans to begin trialling the use of drones to deliver small parcels, in particular critical items like medication, around the country later this year.

The government-owned organisation will work closely with Melbourne-based startup ARI Labs, the developers of the proprietary technology, to demonstrate the reliability and applications of the technology.

Hopping on the drone bandwagon more recently was Australian pizza giant Domino’s, which enlisted the help of drone delivery experts Flirtey last week as it aims to soon use drones to deliver pizza to a customer’s front door.

Domino’s has chosen to kick off its drone initiative in Auckland, New Zealand, as the country’s current regulations allow businesses to utilise unmanned aircraft.

Domino’s said it expects to be able to trial store-to-door drone deliveries from selected Domino’s New Zealand stores, with flights to customer homes tabled for later this year.

“We are planning a phased trial approach which is based on the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) granting approval, as both Domino’s and Flirtey are learning what is possible with the drone delivery for our products, but this isn’t a pie in the sky idea. It’s about working with the regulators and Flirtey to make this a reality for our customers,” Domino’s Group CEO and managing director Don Meij said.

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Katie Wang

Katie is a senior writer of smartphone, she is column writer of for Chinese smartphone brands, including Huawei,ZTE,Xiaomi, Lenovo and HTC. She has profound knowledge of development of Chinese smartphone industry. Katie is a marathon enthusiast and took part in several international marathon events. Contact Katie via katie@driversdown.com