By Spencer R. Wood
Dubai announced this week that an autonomous unmanned aircraft system (UAS) would begin providing single-passenger taxi service in that city as early as July. The UAS that is expected to launch this new era of driverless air travel is manufactured in China, and already has flown test runs in Dubai skies.
This same manufacturer signed a deal last year with the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) to begin testing the autonomous UAS at the FAA UAS Test Site in Nevada. A press release from NIAS last year stated that NIAS will help guide the Chinese UAS manufacturer through the FAA regulatory process with the ultimate goal of achieving safe flight.
But while UAS taxis may begin hauling passengers in Dubai as soon as this summer, customers should not expect the service to be available in the United States any time soon. In the United States, UAS technology currently is outpacing regulatory approvals.
In fact, in the United States the FAA is still in the process of developing a regulatory framework for a smaller class of UAS – one that could deliver packages as opposed to the much larger version intended to carry a human passenger. So a passenger-carrying UAS is not on the horizon in the United States even though the technology is in advanced proving stages.
Safety and privacy continue to be factors on which the FAA is focused. In November, the FAA and NIAS teamed together with Northern Plains UAS Test Site to test counter-UAS technology at the Denver International Airport.
According to a recent GOED press release, the FAA and its partners are working to evaluate new technologies for detecting unmanned aircraft near airports and other critical infrastructure. As UAS and counter-UAS capabilities accelerate, you can expect that advancements in this industry will push regulators to implement rules and performance standards that allow for expanded commercial use of the technology in the U.S.
By Spencer R. Wood