Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Commercial Drone Service - Set to Take Off?

The Guardian: A committee sponsored by the US government is recommending standards that could clear the way for commercial drone flights over populated areas and help speed the introduction of package delivery drones and other uses not yet possible... The Federal Aviation Administration currently prohibits most commercial drone flights over populated areas, especially crowds. That ban frustrates a host of industries that want to take advantage of the technology...

The first category of drones would weigh no more than about a half-pound. They essentially could fly unrestricted over people, including crowds. Drone makers would have to certify that if the drone hit someone, there would be no more than a 1% chance that the maximum force of the impact would cause a serious injury.
For the three other categories, the drones would have to fly at least 20ft over the heads of people and keep a distance of at least 10ft laterally from someone.
Drones in the second category are expected to be mostly small quadcopters – drones with multiple arms and propellers, and weighing 4lbs to 5lbs – but there is no weight limit. Flights over people, including crowds, would depend on the design and operating instructions. Manufacturers would have to demonstrate through testing that the chance of a serious injury was 1% or less.
Drones in the third category could not fly over crowds or densely populated areas. These drones would be used for work in closed or restricted sites where the people that the drones fly over have permission from the drone operator to be present. Those people would be incidental to the drone operations and flights over them would be brief, rather than sustained. Manufacturers would have to show there was a 30% chance or less that a person would be seriously injured if struck by the drone at the maximum strength impact possible.
Drones in the fourth category could have sustained flights over crowds. Working with the FAA and engaging the local community, the operator would have to develop a “congested area plan” showing how flight risks would be mitigated. As before, the risk of serious injury would have to be 30% or less. Safety tests would be more exacting and the FAA would set a limit on how strong the drone’s maximum impact could be.

The FAA initially described the panel as a “micro” drone committee. The agency defines such drones as those weighing less than 4.4lbs. But the committee decided not to set a weight limit for most of the categories. That means it’s possible that any “small” drone, which the FAA defines as weighing less than 55lbs, could win approval to fly over people if the drone met the safety criteria laid out in the recommendations. For example, a smaller drone that flies at higher speeds with fast-moving propellers may prove more of a risk than a heavier drone that flies more slowly and whose propellers don’t rotate as quickly.
Read more at the Guardian...

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