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article imageAutonomous drone makes first U.S. urban delivery in Nevada

By Ken Hanly     Mar 26, 2016 in Technology
An autonomous drone brought bottled water, emergency food and a first aid kit to an uninhabited house in the small town of Hawthorne in western Nevada.
The drone is operated by the Australian drone-maker Flirtey. Flirtey already made a successful delivery of medical supplies to a rural clinic last July in Virginia. The Nevada delivery is the first in an urban setting. The CEO of Flirtey, Matthew Sweeney said that in the future the company plans to do deliveries over an urban-populated area in the type of environment that people live on a daily basis.
Amazon and others are also working on technology to enable urban delivers but regulations are slowing development. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) claims that the number of commercial unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or drones, is expected to increase four fold over the next four years to reach 2.7 million. Drone sightings in the U.S. are increasing and more drone traffic is causing serious risks to both private and commercial air traffic. Just recently a Lufthansa flight had a close call over California. Pilot sightings of drones has increased from 238 in 2014 to more than 650 in 2015, according to the FAA. One out of five incidents happens in California. A comprehensive study released last year by the Center for the Study of the Drone found 241 near collisions with manned aircraft from December 2013 to September 2015. Twenty of the incidents involved commercial air liners.
The Nevada demonstration was only about half a mile along a pre-programmed route to the vacant Hawthorne residence. The town is southwest of Reno. The University of Nevada at Reno helped with the demonstration. A Flirtey pilot was on hand, along with several observers but were not needed. Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval, said: “I am thrilled that Flirtey is not only testing its cutting-edge technology in Nevada, but also creating jobs through its headquarters’ relocation to Reno,” Nevada is one of six states authorized by the FAA to hold trials of the drone deliveries. Flirtey appears to have an edge over Amazon that started promoting the idea of drone delivery two years ago. It has promised to begin delivering packages soon by Prime Air drone. See the appended video, Executives at Google Wing claim they will launch drone service by 2017. Not to be left behind, Walmart has asked the FAA for permission to test drone deliveries.
In order to be prepared for the increased traffic NASA and the FAA are working on a low-altitude air traffic control system designed to prevent crashes between drones and aircraft. With a few exceptions all commercial use of drones in the U.S. is banned by the FAA. The present exception is that the drone has to have an operator with a pilot's licence and must keep the drone within line of sight while making the delivery. The cost of obeying such a regulation is prohibitive. The technology may still be of use in delivering emergency medical supplies or reaching hard to access places. Drones delivered supplies in Haiti after the earthquake there. Drones also helped deliver blood samples to hospitals in Maseru Lesotho to be analyzed for AIDS.
The Russian "smart pizza restaurant' Dodo Pizza used a tiny helicopter in June 2014 in the city of Syktyvkar where the company opened its first store in 2011. The company boasts: “Everybody who previously announced about pizza delivery by copters was just shooting advertisement videos. We did business from it. We overcame technical difficulties and created an operating business model where pizza delivery is interconnected with the show and active sales,”
More about Flirtey inc, delivery drones, Federal Aviation Authority
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