Last-mile drone delivery in the United States is heating up with the addition of a request by Uber to operate a food service in San Diego.
An application filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) by Luke Fischer, Head of Flight Operations for Uber Technologies [NYSE: UBER] affiliate Uber Elevate, Inc., follows Wing Aviation’s recent approval to operate commercial drone services in southwestern Virginia. Wing Aviation is a subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet Inc. [NASDAQ: GOOGL]
Uber Elevate is seeking exemptions from 16 federal safety and operational regulations typically required of more traditional aircraft, such as onboard navigational and communication equipment, so that it can begin “food delivery in very small packages” with operations limited to roughly four miles at or below 400 feet.
According to its application, Uber plans to use the AirRobot (AR) 200 Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), a star-shaped six-propeller drone that has a maximum takeoff weight of 25.5 pounds. Electrical power is supplied by a lithium ion battery pack.
Comments on Uber’s petition, published in the federal register on May 21, are due by June 10.
As with Google, Uber has been working closely with the Trump Administration’s UAS Integration Pilot Program, along with the City of San Diego, to test drone operations and provide feedback to the government that will help the integration of commercial drone services into the national airspace.
“Granting Uber’s petition will help enable Uber’s operations in this space, providing meaningful operational information to the FAA and to [the U.S. Department of Transportation], while helping to demonstrate the utility of the existing regulatory structure to support this type of operation,” Fischer stated.
An Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued by the FAA earlier this year to identify major drone safety and security issues generated over 1,800 comments by the April 15 comment deadline. A related proposal during the same period seeking comment on the use of drones over people and at night generated over 900 comments.
The Commercial Drone Alliance, of which Uber and Wing Aviation are members, submitted early comments urging the FAA to consider Uber’s petition. “In the absence of an existing certification pathway for commercial UAS operations, thoughtful approaches like this one will set a precedent for other operators seeking to enter the system safely and effectively,” the group stated.
As major tech companies like Uber and Google push for federal approvals for drone delivery in the U.S., drone startups worldwide looking to compete for both freight and human transport are attracting major funding from investors, with Zipline one of the most recent examples. The question remains, however, whether drones can drive down the cost of last-mile delivery.