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FAA approves first autonomous commercial drones

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You can officially claim autonomous commercial drones for your 2021 bingo card. 

On Friday, Massachusetts-based industrial drone developer American Robotics announced it had received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate its fully-automated “Scout” drones without any humans on-site. 

It’s the first waiver of its kind, as the FAA has previously approved the use of autonomous commercial drones exclusively under the condition that human observers be present along the flight path — or that risk of collision be mitigated through otherwise hyper-strict limitations. Advocates of drone technology say those restrictions have long held the industry back.

“Decades worth of promise and projection are finally coming to fruition,” CEO and co-founder of American Robotics Reese Mozer said in a press release

“With this set of approvals, American Robotics can begin safely operating our automated Scout platform for the benefit of the energy, infrastructure, agriculture, and security market verticals, helping unlock the projected $100 billion commercial drone market.”

Although company operations will be limited to low altitudes in rural areas across American Robotics’ properties in Massachusetts, Kansas, and Nevada, the regulatory development promises big things for the future of uncrewed aerial vehicles. 

Per American Robotics, the Scout system (tested over four years with FAA oversight) is equipped with “acoustic Detect-and-Avoid technology,” designed so Scout drones will always maintain a safe distance from other aircraft. Safety checks are still required to be performed by a human through a remote web portal before every flight — and a “layered, redundant system of safety” is in place to address other concerns (presumably including the possibility of a robot uprising.)

“We are very grateful for the FAA’s willingness to work closely with American Robotics over the past four years on this precedent-setting authorization,” Mozer added in the press release. 

You can see Scout in action in American Robotics’ weirdly jazzy sizzle reel:

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