Drone Delivery Starts With an Obstacle Course
Crashes happen, but when they happen too often regulation brings the whole thing down.
The world’s first drone deliveries have begun trial runs in the United Kingdom and the U.S. Once primarily used by militaries, small quadcopter and octocopter drones are now so commonplace they are for sale at home improvement stores and toy stores. People are flying drones for fun, for entertainment and for commercial purposes as diverse as filmmaking and farming.
All these uses have one thing in common: The drone’s human operator is required by law to be able to see the drone at all times. Why? The answer is simple: to make sure the drone doesn’t hit anything.
Beyond just wanting not to crash and damage their drones or themselves, drone operators must avoid collisions with people, property and other vehicles. Specifically, federal aviation regulations forbid aircraft – including drones – from flying “so close to another aircraft as to create a collision hazard”. The rules also require that “vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft.” These requirements are commonly referred to simply as see-and-avoid”: Pilots must see and avoid other traffic.
But that places a significant limitation on drone operations. The whole point of drones is that they are unmanned. Without a human operator on board, though, how can a drone steer clear of collisions? This is a crucial problem for Amazon, Google and any other company that wants to deliver packages with drones.