This Radar Could Finally Make Delivery Drones Legal

Getty Images / Andreas Rentz

Wouldn’t it be nice to receive a package from Amazon just 30 minutes after it’s ordered? Well, until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decides that drones can fly without a pilot maintaining line-of-sight, that question will be rhetorical. That’s why a company called Echodyne created a new radar that might finally change the FAA’s point of view.

Echodyne’s radar is said to be able to track jet-sized objects from up to 3 kilometers away, while smaller drones can be monitored from a distance of up to 750 meters. (That’s 1.86 miles and 820 yards, respectively.) They can also plot the aircraft’s movement, detect small objects such as birds, and notice stationary obstacles like barbed wire or ground vegetation.

All that information can be picked up by radar on a drone of “a size, payload, and range well suited for package delivery, infrastructure inspection, and agricultural monitoring,” the company said on November 8.

The FAA decided in June that pilots must have line-of-sight with their aircraft, which halted plans to fill the skies with drones to enable faster deliveries.

The White House revealed an initiative in August that would revisit public opinions on delivery drones and let Google test its Project Wing service, but the ultimate authority lies with the FAA. That’s where Echodyne and this new radar could help save the day.

Regulators worry about delivery drones because they might pose a threat to public safety. If the drones were all equipped with radar that could detect other aircraft, see things on the ground, and predict where moving objects might go next, the chances of drones falling out of the sky because they hit a bird, plane, or handsome alien could drop.

Echodyne said this radar will be available in early 2017. Inverse reached out to learn more about the company’s plans and will update this post if it responds.

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