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NC DOT Wants To Use Drones To Deliver Emergency Supplies

Aeyron Scout drone
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The North Carolina Department of Transportation is applying to be part of a federal drone program.

North Carolina hopes to use drones to deliver emergency supplies in the state, but several issues will need to be worked out first, according to Basil Yap, program manager of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems of the NC Division of Aviation.

“How do drones safely fly beyond visual line of sight, when you can't see the drone flying? You'll need to be able to detect other aircraft in that airspace,” Yap said. “Another concern is, ‘How do these drones communicate securely when flying beyond our line of sight?’ And that would be utilizing technology like cellular technology, or maybe even satellite technology.”

In the U.S., it's currently illegal to operate a drone outside the pilot's line of sight. But this program would collect data before the FAA considers loosening restrictions.

Yap said one model is the use of drones to deliver blood in developing countries, but that operating drones in the U.S. is much more complicated.

“In other countries where these are operating, they don't have as dense or complicated of airspace as the United States does,” Yap said. “So, how do we integrate both our current manned aircraft — with our airliners, or medevac helicopters and our news helicopters —  how do we integrate those folks into this airspace where we have drones operating as well?”

Yap says the three-year program would gather and analyze safety and social issues associated with drone delivery.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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