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Google is testing drones in US airspace by piggybacking on NASA exemption


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Kudos for Google for finding a legal way to do the tests:

Documents seen by the Guardian also reveal technical details of Google’s drone, which is capable of speeds of up to 100 mph and weighs less than 25kg (55lb). The papers also reveal Google’s safety plans should a drone lose contact with its operator.

The US currently has a blanket ban on the commercial operation of unmanned aircraft. When Google revealed its experimental delivery drones, code-named Project Wing, a year ago, a promotional video showed a farmer in rural Australia receiving a packet of dog treats by air. 

Companies wanting to take to America’s spacious skies need special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), involving onerous requirements such as having a licensed pilot control the drone.

However, documents show Google has been skirting these rules by flying its Project Wing aircraft over private land in the US in cooperation with Nasa. For more than a year, Google has been quietly operating its drones in America under Nasa’s Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA), a program originally intended for government agencies.

COAs let public organisations like the military, state universities and police or fire departments experiment with unmanned aerial systems (UAS), as long as they meet safety standards. But COAs come with restrictions. FAA regulations state that a public agency must own or exclusively operate the drone in question, and that commercial operations are prohibited.

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