White House Gives Thumbs Up to Drone Delivery Test By Google’s Parent

Flying drone with camera
Photogtaph by Buena Vista Images — Getty Images

Drone deliveries are one step closer to becoming a reality in the U.S.

The White House said on Tuesday that it’s rolling out several initiatives designed to increase the use of drones by businesses. The announcement comes after the Federal Aviation Administration’s recently released rules for companies that want to use drones for chores like taking aerial photos of crops and inspecting power lines.

As part of the initiative, the White House said that the experimental drone delivery program by Google’s parent company, Alphabet (GOOG), would conduct a research study at one of the FAA’s six approved drone testing sites.

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The goal of the research study by Alphabet’s Project Wing, overseen by the company’s research arm, X, is to learn about integrating large-scale drone delivery services into commercial airspace. The White House said that it would share data from the project “with government partners to help regulators answer critical safety and human factors questions” for drone delivery operations.

At the yet-to-be-revealed testing site, X will fly drones carrying cargo beyond the line of sight of human drone operators. Currently, companies must petition the government to fly drones outside the field of vision of drone operators.

The White House also said that it’s also giving $35 million to the National Science Foundation for a five-year research project into how to use drones effectively for work like inspections, disaster response, and studying severe storms.

The Department of the Interior will also take on more drone-related projects like creating a training program for emergency crews to learn how to use drones for search and rescue missions. The agency also plans to start using drones to carry cargo by December 2017 as a way to cut costs compared to using conventional aircraft in its operations.

New York State, one of the FAA’s six drone-testing sites, is also investing $5 million into drone projects in an effort to make the state a hotbed for commercial drone activity. One project involves creating “an innovation district” for unmanned systems in a corridor between Syracuse and Rome, NY., according to the White House announcement.

Another part of the plan is for North Dakota, another FAA drone-testing site, to let companies fly drones beyond the visual line of sights of operators at its new drone business park near Grand Forks Air Force Base. The announcement said that “these flights will go from the surface to 29,000 feet without a chase aircraft” to help with the development of larger and faster drones that can fly at higher altitudes.

In addition to the White House’s announcements, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that over 500,000 hobbyists have registered their drones since the FAA debuted a national drone registration service in December.

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In February, the FAA said that over 325,000 people have registered their flying robots in the system, which is more than the 320,000 piloted aircraft registrations in the FAA’s registration system.

Amazon, in addition to companies like Google and Walmart (WMT), is also interested in using drones for delivering customer orders. In July, the giant retailer said it partnered with the British government to experiment on drone deliveries in the country.

The White House did not mention Amazon (AMZN) in its Tuesday announcement, so it remains to be seen whether Amazon will begin testing drone delivery services in the U.S. Amazon is also testing drone deliveries in Canada and the Netherlands.

In July, Project Wing’s head Dave Vos praised the federal government and said it’s made more progress regulating drones over the past two years than the last two decades.

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