Relaxed drone regulations could enable automated deliveries

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The UK aviation regulator has opened the door to automated drone delivery services after giving one operator a test licence to fly drones without prior approval and without having line of sight over the vehicle.

Drone firm Sees.ai will be allowed to fly its vehicles at three nominated sites in order to test the operational effectiveness and efficiency of automated drone use.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said the drones will only be allowed to fly under 150ft (46m) and will initially require an observer to remain visual line of sight with the aircraft and be able to communicate with the remote pilot if necessary. They will be used in industrial environments for inspection, monitoring and maintenance purposes, allowing the firm to prove the safety of its system.

In 2016, Amazon launched a project, with UK government approval, to test the viability of using drones for home deliveries, but the project ultimately failed to take off. Last month, Mobile network O2 and drone firm Skyfarer began creating the infrastructure for a new drone delivery network based around delivering vital medical supplies such as blood samples. But allowing drone use by commercial firms could rapidly see the skies above big cities become swarmed with airborne deliveries.

Industry experts have said that one of the key hurdles for automated drones at the moment is the ability to detect and avoid other objects in the sky.

John McKenna, CEO at sees.ai said: “We are accelerating towards a future where drones fly autonomously at scale - high up alongside manned aviation and low down inside our industrial sites, suburbs and cities. Securing this UK-first permission is a major step on this journey which will deliver big benefits to society across public health & safety, efficiency and environmental impact.”

David Tait, CAA head of innovation, said: “Our innovation team was set up to meet the rapid pace of technological advances in the UK, so to see businesses like sees.ai thriving and creating world-leading solutions that will benefit infrastructure and markets is really exciting. We are proud to have played our part in sustaining the UK’s position as one of the greatest locations in the world for innovative companies.”

Unless they have specific permissions, all other drone operators must keep their aircraft within line of sight and follow the drone code.

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