That is, if all goes well with a three-year testing program. The city of San Diego was selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct testing as part of the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) Integration Pilot Program (IPP).
Working with several public and private sector partners, the city has been evaluating the feasibility of advanced UAS operations with numerous applications. Those include unmanned traffic management, night operations, flight over people, and flight beyond the visual line of sight.
And the myriad possibilities inherent in drone delivery don’t end there. Uber is seriously exploring tapping the market for UAS with the creation of a new platform, Uber Elevate.
Even McDonald’s in San Diego has gotten involved in exploring the potential of drone delivery. Starting in San Diego as soon as this summer, the fast-food giant could be delivering via drones.
McDonald’s via Uber, however, won’t be sending drones straight to people’s doors. Rather, drones will be sent to designated “safe landing zones” where human couriers will pick up the food for transfer to residences. Uber has said it might also be possible for drones to be sent to parked Uber cars tagged with QR codes, which will then carry the goods to their final destinations.
Accomplishments during the first full year of San Diego’s IPP program include: Successful operation over more than 640 flights in airport, military and defense-area airspaces; high-altitude mapping of the U.S.-Mexico border; successful package delivery operations; operation of more than 17 different unmanned aircraft vehicles; and more than 440 911 calls responded to with drones by the Chula Vista Police Department, which carried out more than 60 UAS-assisted arrests.
Peninsula Beacon caught up with Harrison Andrew Pierce, head of operational compliance for UAS for the city of San Diego’s Office of Homeland Security, to answer a few questions about how drone delivery trials are going.
Beacon: What is the background behind this drone-testing program in San Diego?
Pierce: In late 2017, a presidential memorandum was signed that directed the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement a program testing the feasibility of integrating small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the airspace. The program was named the Integration Pilot Program (IPP), and was designed for public jurisdictions throughout the U.S. to apply for designation, and if selected, test advanced UAS operations that will inform future federal policy for UAS. The city of San Diego was selected as one of 10 awarded jurisdictions.
Beacon: Why was San Diego chosen for drone testing?
Pierce: With an international airport, multiple municipal airports, U.S. Navy airspace, U.S. Marine Corps airspace, and the U.S. Coast Guard, San Diego is one of the most complex airspaces in the nation. San Diego’s role as a national leader in technology, coupled with complex airspace and mild weather that allows for year-round testing, makes our region the ideal place for UAS testing.
Beacon: What does San Diego’s drone testing program entail?
Pierce: The city is exploring two separate concepts of operations (CONOPS) that seek to identify the feasibility of UAS to accomplish specific missions. They are:
CONOPS 1: International transportation and safety. Missions include:
• International commerce: Use of various technologies for unmanned traffic management to determine the feasibility of using drones for freight inspections to shorten border wait times.
• Public safety: UAS will be used to assist first responders by providing near-real time video feeds in response to priority emergency calls, to determine if additional resources are needed to respond increasing efficiency.
CONOPS 2: Package delivery. The developing UAS industry can be used to expedite parcel delivery, which could result in reduced shipping costs, more efficient health care specimen processing, and increase food options citywide. Missions include:
• Food delivery: San Diego will test the feasibility of transporting food and beverages, utilizing technology to advance unmanned traffic management, as well as detect and avoid technology.
• Medical specimen transport: Teaming with UC San Diego Health, San Diego will test the feasibility of transporting specimens to a lab in order to support the health care provider’s ability to quickly diagnose and treat patients.
Beacon: What is San Diego’s role in all this?
Pierce: The city is the lead participant in this program, acting as an intermediary between the FAA and other partners in San Diego. There is a signed memorandum of understanding between the city and the FAA to formalize this relationship.
Beacon: Is the city going to consider having Uber pay fees for access to neighborhoods?
Pierce: The city has had no discussions about fees. This is a pilot program aimed at demonstrating proof of concept, and capturing meaningful data that will inform future policies on safety and integration.
"I think it's important to understand that it's unlikely we'll be delivering packages with drones in dense, urban environments at full scale, tomorrow,” Pierce said. “Instead, I think we should think about these services being deployed in layers, where we use a crawl, walk, run approach and ensure we capture as much meaningful data as possible before we consider the feasibility of advancing another step."