By Lisa Malloy, senior director in Intel’s Global Policy Group, focusing on UAS policy
Most people think of drones as toys or a photography tool, but they are really part of a true “airborne revolution” that can promote safety, security and efficiency. Intel is focused on how aerial technology will revolutionize business and entertainment, while also aiding in humanitarian and disaster relief efforts.
Our success — and the success of this new industry — requires governments and industry innovators to work together. Intel welcomes the announcement of a new Department of Transportation Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Partnership Pilot Program to provide a mechanism for state, local, tribal and private sector partners to work with the federal government to develop and enforce UAS regulations. The Program will provide a foundation for further testing that will support the continued development of UAS technology.
Drones can be used to inspect and help maintain vital infrastructure – pipelines, railroads, cell towers, and oil rigs, to name a few. Many states and localities are looking to drones for cheaper, more efficient bridge inspections. For example, a drone can reach parts of a bridge that are otherwise dangerous and costly for a person to access, providing a real-time view of key structural components. They can even detect temperature fluctuations in concrete that may indicate a structural deficiency. In addition to the safety benefits, the use of drones can reduce the need for bridge closures, preventing major traffic disruptions.
The Administration recognizes that these services may require operations beyond visual line of sight and over people, currently only allowed as part of an FAA waiver process. This announcement builds on the public-private partnership NASA established with industry to support the development of an unmanned traffic management system to enable safe autonomous UAS operations. A pilot program in coordination with localities will allow us to test technology solutions that address concerns, generate data to inform policy and create partnerships that promote the use of drone technology to benefit communities.
Just in recent weeks, drones have been enabling first responders to respond to emergencies and natural disasters more quickly and more efficiently. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, drones were instrumental in supporting not only emergency personnel, but also insurance companies in processing claims more quickly and safely. FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said that these efforts “will be looked back upon as a landmark in the evolution of drone usage in this country.” Intel was proud to lend its drone technology to help inspect and safely reopen a Houston-area bridge that allowed people to begin returning to their homes after Hurricane Harvey.
To fully realize the economic potential and consumer benefits of drone technology, we need to accelerate the development of a regulatory framework under which drone technology can continue to develop. Our CEO Brian Krzanich, a general aviation pilot and drone enthusiast himself, said it best – “a positive regulatory environment can be the great enabler for drone innovation, safety and industry expansion.”
This is a pivotal time for both government and industry, especially as Congress considers long-term FAA reauthorization legislation. Congress should take this opportunity to build on existing progress and shape future UAS regulatory activities. Together, policy makers and industry leaders can ensure the U.S. realizes the full benefits of the airborne revolution in drone technology.