Cities prepare for home delivery by drone

A welcome mat for future aerial deliveries of takeout food, Amazon packages, prescription drugs and more.

The Federal Aviation Administration has released new and looser rules for flying drones over highly populated areas and at night, effectively laying a welcome mat for future aerial deliveries of takeout food, Amazon packages, prescription drugs — you name it.

Why it matters: While the prospect of Jetsons-style convenience with less street gridlock is tantalizing, there are still plenty of logistical hurdles, and it will take some time for cities to figure out how to manage low-altitude air traffic as routinely as they do today’s road traffic.

Driving the news: FAA rules — handed down late last month — will require drones flying over cities to use remote identification technology, so people on the ground can tell what they’re doing and who owns them.

  • This safety and security system will amount to “a digital license plate for drones,” according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, Reuters reports.
  • “With a single announcement, the Federal Aviation Administration is formally pivoting from approving case-by-case exemptions [for urban drone-flying] to setting broad safety standards the industry has long sought,” per the WSJ.
  • The new rules replace “stringent protections that currently bar practically all home-delivery options” and will take effect in about two months, the Journal said.

What’s happening: Cities like Los Angeles have just started trying to prepare citizens for the change, disruption and unanticipated weirdnesses that the era of drone delivery will bring.

  • Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the “Urban Air Mobility Partnership” to get people used to seeing unusual flying things in the sky — and to develop a policy toolkit that could serve as a national blueprint.
  • A company called Urban Movement Labs will lead “a year-long effort to educate and engage Angelenos around [the] low-noise, electric aircraft expected to fly in L.A.’s skies as soon as 2023.”
  • The plan involves building a demonstration “vertiport” where people can try out newfangled aircraft.

Of note: The effort isn’t limited to L.A.

  • On a national level, the National League of Cities has formed a panel of 25 cities and towns that will advise the federal government on integrating drones into U.S. communities.
  • Wade Troxell, the mayor of Fort Collins, Colo., will represent urban interests by serving on the FAA’s Drone Advisory Committee.
  • The World Economic Forum — in collaboration with Garcetti’s office — has developed seven “Principles of the Urban Sky” to help cities consider how best to integrate drones.

What they’re saying: The FAA regs will “allow drones to fly over populated areas provided that the propellers which could possibly hurt someone are covered,” Barry Alexander, CEO of Aquiline Drones, tells Axios.

  • “The drone industry is gaining maturity at a very rapid rate, and I think society — with the right amount of education — will find itself embracing and supporting drone technology.”
  • The benefits could include not only package delivery but “saving lives, or removing humans from harm’s way, and even reducing carbon footprints,” Alexander says.

The bottom line: Expect to get mightily accustomed to the acronym “UAV,” or unmanned aerial vehicle.

Go deeper: Coronavirus brings the age of drones closer

Jennifer A. Kingson

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