In this time of global pandemic, greater drone adoption is driven not by technological advancement, but by the utility of drones. When major players such as Walmart and Amazon throw their hats in the ring, one can count on fast adoption of new ideas. For example, the retailing giant Walmart has undertaken drone trials, one to deliver select grocery and household essentials, and another to test delivery of certain health and wellness products. They have expended into drone delivery of at-home COVID-19 self-collection kits, to provide contactless, testing options. And Amazon inches closer to FAA approval.
Dire times drive innovation. In this instance, the innovation is not in technology, but in policy. While some argue that drone technology wasn’t mature enough to be trusted at large scale – and cultural questions around privacy, noise and annoyance have hampered the expansion of flights – a societal and governmental shift in evaluating acceptable risk is driving greater implementation. With air travel down nearly 90% and dramatically fewer cars on the road due to shelter-in-place orders, the risks drones might present in the air and on the ground are significantly reduced. Meanwhile, pressure has been mounting to streamline drone use to deliver vital goods, support social distancing and enable essential workers to operate with greater efficiency and efficacy.
The Federal Aviation Administration has approved American Robotics to become the first company to operate smart drones without needing on-site pilots or spotters. American Robotics, an industrial drone developer based out of Massachusetts, will still need a human pilot overseeing each flight’s takeoff remotely, so the process isn’t technically 100% autonomous, as the Verge notes. Still, the decision brings the U.S. one step closer to seeing fully automated commercial drone flights.