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Google aiming for commercial drone activity in U.S. by 2017

Tue 3 Nov 2015

The head of Google’s drone delivery research project in Australia has declared the company’s aim of developing its Project Wing drone program into a viable delivery service in the United States within two years.

Speaking at an air traffic control conference near Washington yesterday (Nov 2nd) David Vos said “Our goal is to have commercial business up and running in 2017.” The impetus behind the announcement may have more to do with Alphabet’s behind-the-scenes progress with the Federal Aviation Administration than with the technological capabilities of the 19-pound drone which delivered its first successful payload to Queensland farmer Neil Parfitt last year (see video below). Vos announced during the speech that a framework for drone owner identification, capable of ensuring that UAVs do not come into contact with other aircraft, could be established within 12 months.

“We’re pretty much on a campaign here,” Vos said. “working with the FAA, working with the small UAV community and the aviation community at large, to move things along.” He added “We think we can accomplish a lot in the next three, six, 12 months. And we’re hoping to get some strong support to make this happen.”

The FAA will set rules early next year establishing policy on commercial drone usage in the United States, and in the meantime commercial entities seeking to use UAVs will need a Section 333 exemption to the FAA’s restrictions on drone use of air space. The vast majority of exemptions granted so far have been case-by-case requests to conduct aerial photography. Vos co-chairs an FAA task-force set up to create a drone registry for the United States, but neither he nor Alphabet has given any indication that the Project Wing drone system has received any special authorisation outside of the requests list submissions.

The Project Wing drone is evolving constantly, according to Vos, and so there is no guarantee that the Alphabet UAVs intended for American skies in 2017 will follow the lines of the drones which have been developed by Google in Australia over the last four years.

Vos is working to establish parameters for drone flights, with the hope of classifying “Class G” airspace reservation for UAV use, which would keep the vehicles distant from all but low-flying unmanned helicopters, and under the control of operators via wireless telecommunications and other internet communications protocols.

According to President Obama a U.S. drone registry is expected to be in place by December 20th.

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