Topeka's 1 of 10 cities selected for drone testing program


U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Wednesday announced 10 sites for a test program aimed at increasing the use of unmanned aircraft for projects that range from monitoring crops and oil pipelines in North Dakota to applying mosquito-killing treatments in Florida and package deliveries in Tennessee.

Others including startup Flirtey, which successfully made the first drone delivery in the U.S. in 2015 test, will be using UAVs to deliver medical supplies to heart attack victims in Nevada, track mosquitoes in Florida and develop other new uses.

Virginia Tech, one of the winners, said that Alphabet's Project Wing, AT&T Inc, Intel Corp, Airbus SE and Dominion Energy Inc are among the partners for its pilot programme that will explore package delivery, emergency management and infrastructure inspection.

The city, in partnership with the city of Chula Vista and San Diego's Regional Economic Development Corporation, applied earlier this year for the program to push the limits of commercial drone testing in real-world environments.

Earl Lawrence, director of FAA's UAS Office, said at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security that development of the remote ID requirement for drone aircraft is vital to greatly expanding the use of larger and heavier UAS craft, and the safe integration of drones into the USA national airspace.

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Approximately 200 companies spanning 149 applications are vying to be part of the program.

"We're focused on developing a safe operating model for drones in the airspace and we will continue our work to make this a reality", said Brian Huseman, Amazon's vice president of public policy. The flights will begin in rural areas and the company will share data with the FAA before securing approvals to deliver to more urban locations in Reno.

Apple plans to use the drone testing programme in North Carolina to gather information to improve its Apple Maps service, the company said. After both are formally proposed, it would take months or possibly more than a year before they are finalized.

Roy Blunt, R-Mo., chairman of the subcommittee, about the need for the remote ID requirement, Lawrence said standardized remote ID technology for drone crafts "helps tie the drone to the operator" and helps other aircraft avoid drones in flight. Several incidents around major airports have involved drones getting close to aircraft. Winners include projects focused on package delivery, environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, pipeline oversight and integrating drones near airports, the USA official said.