FAA names 6 sites for drone testing; could begin surveying construction sites by 2015

Updated Jan 13, 2014
Gatewing’s X100 is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle designed for surveying.Gatewing’s X100 is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle designed for surveying.

Itching to begin using drones on your construction jobsite? It could happen as soon as 2015 thanks to a major milestone in the Federal Aviation Administration’s review process of commercial use of the unmanned aircraft.

The FAA recently named six sites across the country where teams will test and develop drones for safe commercial flight, according to a report from USA Today. Twenty five teams applied for the honor and the the agency hopes to get the first site going by this Summer.

The sites include:

  • The University of Alaska which plans to work on monitoring, navigation and safety standards for drones.
  • The state of Nevada which will study certification requirements, operator standards and how air-traffic control standards will be adapted for drones.
  • The Griffiss International Airport near Utica, New York will study how drones and passenger planes will avoid each other, particularly in congested airspace. (This one seems particularly important.)
  • The North Dakota Department of Commerce will develop airworthiness data in order to validate the reliability of remote control between drones and their pilots.
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University will test failure modes and technical risks for unammed aircraft in order to develop safe landing processes in the event the connection between pilot and drone is lost.
  • Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus will develop safety systems for unmanned aircraft.

Though the FAA is not funding the testing and development of safe drone flight, their backing of the test sites is seen as an important step to eventual approval for commercial flight. Amazon’s Prime Air delivery service recently made headlines, perfectly illustrating the promise of the technology by stating plans to offer 30-minute delivery via drones that place packages on your doorstep and flutter away.

In the construction industry, the most obvious function for drones to this point is surveying. For example, the Gatewing X100, a UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (this is the preferred term among those in the drone industry since “drone” has negative connotations) is designed specifically for surveying.

After uploading a map of the site to the X100 and launching it, surveying is fully-automated. As the UAV flies, it photographs the site and plots it to the map you’ve uploaded. Once it has landed, you simply connect the X100 to a computer where Gatewing software processes the data and images into a 3D map.

Even more ambitious minds predict that drones will one day build modular skyscrapers by stacking pre-assembled units atop each other like a glorified set of blocks.

Before any of that happens, the FAA must come up with regulations on the commercial use of drones. These regulations would only pertain to those who offer the service of piloting drones for money. It’s perfectly legal now for you to purchase an X100 from Gatewing and survey your own site with it. What currently isn’t allowed by the FAA is hiring a third party to come in and do so for you.