When Dan O’Toole came up with the idea for DroneDek, he was just one man following Amazon’s vision of nationwide delivery by drone.
“I was daydreaming and I just started thinking about drone delivery,” O’Toole told Modern Shipper in an interview in October. “And then I thought, OK, the drone’s the easy part, the glamorous part, right? But where’s all this stuff gonna end up?”
Fast-forward a couple of years, and O’Toole was rivaling Amazon for that very same vision — and winning. Amazon’s drone ambitions had certainly not subsided, but O’Toole managed to beat the massive company to the patent rights for a smart mailbox that would become the foundation of DroneDek.
Now DroneDek wants to be a voice for the drone delivery industry at large. On Monday, the maker of the smart mailbox penned a letter to federal transportation officials, urging them to accelerate the relaxing of drone restrictions in an effort to alleviate supply chain backlogs. The letter was sent to FAA Administrator Steve Dickson and U.S. Sens. Mike Braun and Todd Young of Indiana, where DroneDek is headquartered.
“Right now trucks have to drive around and around neighborhoods to deliver packages. You’ve seen them prowling your area if you work from home or are at home any day of the week — even Sundays,” O’Toole explained to Modern Shipper. “With drones, a driver can park his truck in an area and then have drones deliver to that last inch within the last mile in a radius determined by the truck’s load. We think delivery companies will quickly use drones to better deploy their drivers.”
In the letter, O’Toole acknowledged the FAA’s past efforts to lighten restrictions on drone delivery. The organization announced two new rules in April: the Remote Identification rule, which provided for the identification of drones in flight, and the Operations Over People rule, which permitted small drones to fly over people and moving vehicles, as well as at night.
But according to O’Toole, it’s not enough.
“They’ve tried, but this is new technology,” he said. “Government just can’t keep up with technology, whether it’s telecommunications and internet regulation or anything else. They just need to trust the market and get out of the way.”
In the letter, O’Toole asked for a few specific regulations to be relaxed. For one, he pushed for the relaxing of beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) regulations, which he feels are inhibiting pilots trying to hone their skills, among other things.
“Also, regulations that currently prevent nighttime drone flying and the ability to fly drones over crowds. Those are the big three areas where we think regulatory relaxation will really help the industry get into the air.”
The FAA’s April Operations Over People rule addresses those last two points, but it also contains a lengthy list of conditions and applies only to “small unmanned aircraft” less than 55 pounds. Another issue is that without more lenient BVLOS regulations, drone delivery, which typically requires flying outside of the range of sight, can’t take advantage of the provisions under the Operations Over People rule.
“We’re seeing drone delivery rolling out in Ireland, Canada, Uganda, Rwanda and other places,” O’Toole said in a press release. “Given the current supply chain backlog, it seems to me that addressing drone delivery regulations should be a big part of the conversation, and I just don’t see that happening.”
If the FAA listens, it could open up the drone delivery industry to tremendous growth. Research and Markets views the North American region as a global growth engine for drone package delivery over the next decade, but only if there are “favorable FAA regulations in the U.S.”
More information about drone delivery regulations in the U.S. can be found here.