…The last rule says that all these rules can be broken if you show them it’s safe.
When the FAA finally released commercial drone regulations earlier this year, many executives were disappointed . The rules — especially the requirement that pilots keep drones within their line of sight — dampened dreams of commercial delivery services. Steve Burns, CEO of Workhorse, a company that specializes in electric delivery trucks, has an unusually optimistic view. He tells ZDNet:
“The thing that’s really impressed me about the FAA is, they have groaned under the pressure of trying to get these rules out. And they finally came out with these rules, and instead of giving themselves a high five and saying ‘we finally got it done,’ the last rule says that all these rules can be broken if you show them it’s safe.”
With that in mind, Workhorse plans to start using drones to deliver packages at the end of August. They have already been testing the system with a Section 333 Exemption, and the next step is conforming to the FAA’s new rules.
The company will use a drone call Horsefly, which was designed and built in-house. The maximum payload is ten pounds and it can fly as fast as 50 miles per hour. In accordance with the FAA rules, it was designed for line-of-sight deliveries, but it has a five-mile range when fully loaded.
Horsefly takes off from the roof of a delivery truck and navigates to its destination to unload packages. Then the drone will fly itself back to the truck where it will dock and recharge from the truck’s battery. At first, drivers will stay nearby to watch the delivery. Eventually, though, the goal is to have the drones deliver packages while drivers continue along their route.
Workhorse is proceeding cautiously, with what Burns describes as “belts and suspenders” approach.
“I see the way the FAA works. They’re data driven.”
Says Burns, “Safety is the first paramount thing. We see ourselves going above and beyond more than the FAA is asking for. They’re not asking for someone to watch on a camera as the drone descends, but we’re doing that. We’re going to ease into it.”
It is a pleasure to learn about a well thought through plan like this. I love the idea of the drone doing a delivery while the delivery truck continues down the road to the next stop and the drone catches up with it.
I am also impressed with how methodical the Workhorse team have been about putting together the technology and working with the FAA. It demonstrates that a methodical approach, like the one taken to get approval for night flying for thermal imaging building inspections can pay off.
I suspect that both companies have set the bar for what it will take to get a waiver under Part 107.