In an era where it seems that some pilots can barely control one drone, some companies want to operate dozens or even hundreds at a time.
Companies like Intel Alphabet’s Project Wing, Qualcomm and Disney are working on technology to make it possible for dozens and even hundreds of drones to fly together, operated by a single person. The drone industry calls them “swarm drones,” and you might have seen them operating in fireworks-style shows at Coachella or Walt Disney World, where hundreds of Intel drones flew over the skies of the famous entertainment spot. They most famously performed behind Lady Gaga in the Super Bowl.
You may have thought Intel’s drones flew over the Super Bowl. But due to complicated technological and legal hurdles, they were actually just superimposed on your TV.
But those drones weren’t actually performing behind Lady Gaga. The entire segment where drones created shapes of the American flag and Pepsi logos was actually prerecorded and superimposed on television so the drones wouldn’t have to do complex maneuvers over thousands of people in the stands and nearby.
That is the big issue for swarm drones, which could make specific tasks—including data gathering and delivery—more efficient, but are causing a legal and technical headache.
The Federal Aviation Administration won’t allow any aircraft to fly near stadiums during major sporting events for safety reasons, out of fear that two drones might accidentally collide and crash into a crowd. Despite the hurdles involved in making swarm drones legally happen on a wide scale, companies are pioneering ways to use swarm drones to take over jobs too difficult or costly for humans.
In the future, the Federal Aviation Administration could implement a system of remotely identifying drones while they’re in the air, as well as finding the pilot operating that drone.
Many suspect that the FAA could implement some sort of drone identification system similar to automotive license plates, which allow law enforcement to identify a vehicle’s owner without stopping the car. Others have suggested that the FAA could come out with a system that tracks or records the location of all drones in real time.
The FAA created a UAS Identification and Tracking Aviation Rulemaking Committee (sometimes referred to as ARC) to make proposals about the details of a drone identification and tracking system. The ARC group had its first series of meetings last week.
“During this initial meeting, the ARC considered issues such as existing regulations applicable to drone identification and tracking, air traffic management for drones, concerns and authorities of local law enforcement, and potential legal considerations,” according to a statement from the FAA. “The group developed some preliminary questions and identification parameters, and reviewed a sample of existing identification technologies.”
Every day 110 million orders are placed online. 91% of those orders — 100 million of them — are less than 5 pounds. If just 1% of those were delivered by drones, that would be 1 million drone package deliveries per day.
That’s according to economic research firm Skylark Services, which is forecasting that the world will see 8 million operations per day within 20 years on the pessimistic end, and as many as 86 million package deliveries per day within 20 years on the optimistic end.
For a typical FedEx package that costs $8.50, the ground costs are approximately $2.72, according to Skylark Services. Amazon’s purported cost of last-mile delivery with USPS is $2.50. Hence, $2.50 becomes the benchmark for whether or not drone delivery is economically worth it.
Here’s how that cost breaks down, based on average data from 25 commercial drone operators:
Wholesale cost of an individual commercial-grade battery that can power a drone weighing up to five pounds and for at least 10 miles is $100 when purchased in bulk
Battery life for each commercial-grade battery is at least 250 hours
Cost of 4 motors that can lift a 10-pound drone that can travel at least 6 miles is less than $60 for each one and the motor can be expected to last for approximately 750 hours
Wholesale cost of a set of four commercial-grade rotors is $1
Marginal electricity costs to be approximately $.25 per trip
As El Nino hits California, drones are heading into the air — documenting the impacts of the rainfall on California’s coastline.
With El Nino comes surge in storms, coastal flooding and erosion. And the pace of shoreline change is rapidly speeding, meaning that the sea level rise and storms could destroy natural habitats and our own infrastructure. Drones can generate aerial data that documents those changes, allowing scientists to make decisions.
On Sunday, hours before Cyber Monday, Amazon.com Inc. published a video starring TV host Jeremy Clarkson purporting to be from “the not-too-distant future” that showed how its drones could deliver a child’s soccer shoe within 30 minutes. “In time, there will be a whole family of Amazon drones,” Clarkson intoned.
When companies such as Amazon and Alphabet Inc.’s Google X unit talk about drone delivery as the next iteration of consumer retail technology, the response is sometimes a combination of incredulity and skepticism. But it’s already happening in some parts of the world — and there’s nothing magical about it.
Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup Matternet has been running drone deliveries of medical supplies and specimens in countries around the world, including Switzerland, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, since it was founded in 2011.
1. Point of departure
A doctor needs to send a blood sample to a lab across the city for testing. Samples would be packed up and taken to a landing pad, possibly on the roof or courtyard of a hospital. Matternet’s landing pads need only a small yard or rooftop of clearance to take off.
Matternet’s drones can hold up to one kilogram (2.2 pounds) and transport items about 10 miles, traveling up to 40 mph, which is about standard for current drone technology. Including lift off and landing, a 10-mile journey should take about 18 minutes.
“The FAA has finally provided the first set of documents in response to a FOIA request I filed back in April 2013, requesting copies ‘of all records related to investigations and enforcement actions related to alleged violations of regulations, rules, policies, or advisory circulars by operators of unmanned aerial systems,’ McKay wrote. “After months of delays, excuses, and requesting extensions, they have provided copies of 17 cease and desist letters sent by various FAA regional offices to UAS operators in 2012 and 2013.” Continue reading FAA releases commercial drone cease and desist letters→
The FAA is now more than 7 months overdue on responding to requests for documentation regarding drone operators who have received cease and desist letters for commercial drone use.
Journalists at MuckRock.com submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FAA requesting this information, which has been subject to numerous approved extensions. The FAA last requested an extension through Dec. 30, 2013. Since then, the FAA has not responded to MuckRock’s requests.
Above is the text exchange between MuckRock and the FAA.
Below is the last message from the FAA, in which they ask for an extension.
Since we have yet to receive public records from the FAA, in the meantime, Drone Girl has created an online Document Tracker to study where and to whom the letters of gone. Check out our document tracker here.
Under FOIA, the FAA is legally obligated to provide the general public with full or partial disclosure of previously unreleased documents, including the ones we requested regarding commercial drone operation cease and desist orders.
Stay with Drone Girl for the latest updates on this information.
The FAA has stated that they will release an updated law by Sept. 30, 2015 that would allow commercial drone use. Until then, commercial drone use is illegal.
Numerous drone operators have been issued Cease and Desist letters by the FAA. But it’s unclear exactly who has gotten letters. (All we’re aware of is what we’ve discovered online through forum, blog and web searches.) That’s why TheDroneGirl.com submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FAA, requesting copies of all the letters that have been sent out.