Drone delivery in the United States has been a game of inches. Every so often the FAA will marginally loosen the restrictions holding back drone delivery, and drone companies will gain an inch of progress. Remote identification, operations over people, nighttime operations –– these are just a few of the small victories for drone delivery companies, but FAA regulations continue to keep the U.S. behind countries like Ireland, Canada, Uganda and Rwanda when it comes to drone delivery.
For the FAA, it all comes down to drone safety. Fears surrounding the unsafe integration of drone delivery networks have made the government agency into a bit of a stalwart, and paradoxically that’s made it more difficult for drone companies to test new safety features and train pilots for flights beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS), which are currently restricted.
But the solution, like many others in drone delivery, may come from technology. In a bid to accelerate the progress of drone safety, drone company DroneUp has announced the acquisition of AirMap, a digital airspace and automation company that operates an airspace traffic management system.
As the volume of drone flights increases, taking humans out of operations can help DroneUp manage its flights at scale. AirMap’s Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) service uses automation to plan routes, request clearance and account for any hazards or airspace restrictions by geographic area.
“Not only is AirMap a UTM company, they are also a global leader in digital automated air traffic management with a best-in-class market share, geographic footprint and seamless platform technology that supports stakeholders across several ecosystems,” said John Vernon, CTO of DroneUp.
“Transformative advances in technology are driving positive change for society, fueling decarbonization, decongestion and the democratization of transportation,” said Vernon, who is also a representative to the FAA’s BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee. “UTM is a key enabler to high-density drone and urban air mobility (UAM) operations while unlocking autonomy and flight safety at scale. We look forward to continuing positive innovation.”
As DroneUp continues to grow its pilot network and ground infrastructure, AirMap’s system will keep safety at the forefront. AirMap’s UTM currently services up to 100,000 global daily drone flights, and it also allows other drone operators to publish their flight plans on the platform, improving safety across the board.
“We believe DroneUp has a moral obligation to continue investment in and expansion of the AirMap platform,” said DroneUp CEO Tom Walker. “We will ensure this resource remains openly available to the drone industry, municipalities and the FAA.”
The acquisition of AirMap comes on the heels of DroneUp’s partnership with Walmart (NYSE: WMT) to conduct commercial drone deliveries at three locations in Arkansas. The massive retailer logged an undisclosed investment into the drone manufacturer earlier this year, and now both companies are starting to see a return on that investment with the establishment of DroneUp “Hubs,” small drone airports that house on-site operations and act as headquarters for flight engineers.
Now, with the AirMap acquisition, DroneUp can begin integrating airspace traffic management systems into its budding Arkansas drone delivery network.
“We are excited to be joining the DroneUp team,” said Ben Marcus, co-founder of Airmap. “Since its inception, AirMap has worked to create a future where drones deliver value to millions of people in their everyday lives. DroneUp is also committed to this mission, and through its resilient, extensible network and partnership with Walmart, I am confident that we are going to create this reality.”
At the moment, the Walmart-DroneUp drone delivery partnership is operating out of one location in Farmington, Arkansas, with plans to open the two other locations in Rogers and Bentonville in the coming months. But with AirMap’s technology on board, scale is no longer a limitation for the two companies — the sky truly is the limit.