“It’s bittersweet,” says Anthony Foxx. “I’ll leave things a little less complete than I would like to.”
The former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina has taken what may seem a drab job—enforcing car safety regulations, putting up highway signs, and the like—and used it to push emerging technologies closer to consumers. In September, his DOT released guidelines defining a new approach to regulating self-driving cars. He launched the Smart City Challenge, a $50 million competition that pushed urban centers to prepare for the future. And under Foxx’s direction, the FAA finally opened the skies to commercial drone operations, albeit with a couple of serious restrictions: no deliveries, and no flying past the human operator’s line of sight.
“I totally get the level of urgency from folks in industry who see all kinds of applications,” Foxx tells me later, as we stand outside, watching more drones take flight. He sees the potential, too: to beam internet all over the world, to transform medical supply chains, to get people their Amazon packages even faster. “But we’re not dealing with a complete green field here. There are other users of our airspace. The challenge for us is an integration challenge.”
Foxx is glad he helped push the traditionally stodgy government this far, but knows he won’t be around to finish the job. “It’s bittersweet,” he says. “I’ll leave things a little less complete than I would like to.”
Come January, it will be up to the Trump Administration to give the FAA that next big push.
A very nice story in WIRED built around a visit that the reporter made to a Zipline test site with Foxx. He will be remembered as a champion of the UAV community. Hopefully the tradition of balancing new opportunities with traditional aviation will continue. It is going to get a lot more complex as we move from commercial use to commerce.