Drones serve far more than recreational purposes; this technology has powerful commercial potential. It has made advancements in agriculture, construction, and even disaster management. The drone revolution at Virginia Tech (VT) has shaped the future of unmanned aviation.
This research institution successfully tested a drone delivery service with Wing, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet. Wing launched the service in Christiansburg, VA, in 2020. The intention was to help residents and businesses get their goods faster with contact-free delivery. Moreover, customers had positive responses to the service, which prompted the university to explore possibilities in drone technology.
The FAA approved the VT Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership (MAAP) ‘s Means Of Compliance (MOC) in operating small uncrewed aircraft over people. Working with biomechanics researchers, the MAAP measured the kinetic energy transferred from a drone to an object during impact. The results conformed to FAA rules that drones can fly over people if the injury potential is low. However, there are still limits to flying drones over large crowds.
As a reward for their hard work, the MAAP earned the first waiver for drone operations over people and certification for drone air carriers. With these, they don’t have to ask the FAA to issue safety permits for every drone operation. The waiver also decreases commercial risks for drone manufacturers and provides better opportunities for drone operators.
VT Researchers also studied the possibility of drones detecting radioactive materials. They tested the drone’s capacity to identify hazardous substances that can compromise driver and passenger safety.
VT students also worked in Malawi, a country in Africa with complex transportation and communication issues. They performed test flights on economic drones that carried medical samples from remote areas to the cities. They later found that the plane landed autonomously at the airport.
MAAP is continually working with the FAA to expand the capabilities of flying drones. Once researchers gather more data and FAA regulations are in place, drones could carry heavy loads and even people. Apart from this, it could also pave the way for various industrial and commercial applications.
It’s incredible what drones can do when applied to challenging circumstances. The drone revolution in Virginia Tech is just the beginning. Researchers from across the world are developing the technology.
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