Commercial Drone Testing Coming To San Diego
The San Diego region is one of 10 locations selected from across the nation by the U.S. Department of Transportation to take part in an unmanned aircraft pilot program.
The new drone program is officially called the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program.
The program has local governments partnering with the private sector to see how drone use can be safely expanded, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
"For San Diego, of course it means partnering with Qualcomm, and At&t," said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at a news conference Thursday. "To launch cellular towers in the sky to ensure phone service during an emergency."
Other partners include UC San Diego Health, which is looking at transporting blood and medicine with drones. And Uber is exploring a new food delivery system.
“There’s really no drone deliveries out there today right now," said Uber's Director of Engineering for Airspace Systems Tom Prevot. "At least not in the U.S."
Uber hopes that soon it will be flying food to hungry customers.
"We have to do a lot of testing and exploration to actually see how well it works and when it’s going to work," Prevot said.
The San Diego region was one of 149 locations to apply for the program. The city of San Diego's Office of Homeland Security sent in the regional application. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the San Diego project will partially focus on border protection.
"We’ll examine how drones could be used to safeguard critical infrastructure and other areas throughout the area of San Diego," said John Valencia, who is executive director of the San Diego Office of Homeland Security. "But particularly, as far as border enforcement, that’s absolutely a national government matter that this project is not going to examine specifically."
The drones delivering food and other supplies might not look like the smaller drones we are used to seeing.
"They would probably be larger," said James Burns with Coleman University's Electric and Networked Vehicle Institute.
"These (smaller drones) are the ones that have high precision hovering capabilities," Burns said. "Sometimes you don’t need that, sometimes you need more of a longer duration vehicle that can then transition into a vertical flight vehicle."
Regardless of what they will look like — there is still a lot more testing to be done before drones begin flying into populated areas.
"First in a research environment, then in a very controlled demonstration environment," Valencia said. "And then if approved and necessary, at large throughout the community."
San Diego was one of 10 locations selected from across the nation to participate in the pilot program.