Product delivery-by-drone in urban areas may be possible within a few years if the U.S. government and the aviation industry agree to work cooperatively on the new technology, the chief of Google Inc.’s drone cargo project said Jan. 11.
The swift adoption of a registration system for small unmanned aircraft, begun Dec. 21 to capture holiday gift buying, is a template for how different sectors of the aviation world can work together to speed approvals for deliveries, Dave Vos, head of Google X’s Project Wing, said in Washington.
“We’re making huge progress,” Vos said, speaking to the Aero Club of Washington, a group made up of mostly traditional aviation-industry members.
Deliveries of small packages by drone are just part of what Vos sees as a coming revolution in the aviation industry as a result of growing computer power and cheaper sensors allowing automation that will increasingly assist the humans guiding aircraft.
Alphabet Inc., the holding company that owns Google, is in a race with Amazon.com Inc., the online retailer, to develop drones for product delivery. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, announced last October it was also developing similar drones.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates aviation, expects to finalize rules for commercial drone operations later this year, but those regulations will only allow the simplest operations within sight of the operator. The agency hasn’t begun the formal process of drafting rules for how automated deliveries would work.
The FAA and NASA are also working on developing a low-level air-traffic system to guide drones and prevent mid-air collisions. Google, Amazon and others are also making their own air-traffic systems.