In October, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took a major step toward full autonomy for drones. At that time, Skydio received permission for four years to survey any bridge in North Carolina with its drones, as long as they were free of people and machinery. Now the regulator has taken the next logical step.
American Robotics said it was the first to be allowed to operate drones without the help of a pilot or observer monitoring the launch and operation of the UAV in its immediate vicinity. People aren’t entirely ruled out, though: FAA documents show that American Robotics will still need to assign a person for each flight who will remotely perform safety checks before takeoff and inspect the drone. So we’re not talking about 100 percent automation.
But after a formal remote check, the Scout drone will take off from a special container and take over all mission control, and if necessary, it will automatically abort the flight. Scout includes an acoustic detection system that allows the drone to evade other aircraft that can be detected more than 3 km away.
In addition, the FAA has approved similar automatic flight authorization for only a few specific locations in Kansas, Massachusetts and Nevada owned by the company or its customers. Scout’s technology is not aimed at delivery services, but at companies that wish to conduct automatic aerial inspections of their property. The FAA hopes that American Robotics’ experience with fully autonomous flights will allow the practice to spread more widely in the future, increasing the efficiency of many industries: agriculture, transportation, mining and so on.
American Robotics has previously received permission to operate drones out of sight, but pilots still had to be at the takeoff site physically, conducting all pre-flight checks in person.