The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has been very cautious about drone testing in the US so far, but that’s about to change. The FAA has granted Google’s sister X division (under Alphabet) permission to test Project Wing delivery services below 400 feet at six sanctioned test sites, according to the White House. The flights will be part of a new push by the US National Science Foundation, which is spending over $35 million on unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) research and testing over the next five years
Alphabet’s Project Wing UAVs, first revealed in 2014, aren’t like Amazon’s drones — they take off vertically then fly like a fixed-wing plane. While not as maneuverable as standard UAVs, they can fly much farther and carry more weight (see the video, below). Though the FAA released its final rulesfor drone operations in June, deliveries still aren’t allowed. However, Alphabet has reportedly been testing them in the US anyway, skirting the regulations via a NASA waiver. It plans to launch the service commercially in 2017.
Alphabet will be able to test drones with cargo beyond line-of-site, which is another current no-no by FAA rules. It will also “develop and deploy an open-interface, airspace management solution for safe low-altitude operations,” according to the Feds.
The initiatives were unveiled during a big event today that included keynotes from US Chief Technology Office Megan Smith, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta and Intel CEO Bryan Krzanich. The White House emphasized that government must be more flexible about allowing companies to test drones and other tech over US soil. Amazon, for one, was forced it to test its delivery drones in the UK due to restrictive US rules.