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Boeing rolls out first ‘Loyal Wingman’ AI drone

A Boeing-led team has presented the Royal Australian Air Force with its first “Loyal Wingman” aircraft, an AI-equipped drone that’s designed to fly in coordination with crewed military airplanes.

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CVS and UPS team up for drone deliveries

UPS drone
A UPS drone made by Matternet carries a package with a CVS pharmacy in the background. (UPS Photo)

UPS’ drone subsidiary and the CVS pharmacy chain say they’ll start delivering prescription medicines to the nation’s largest retirement community next month, using Matternet’s M2 drone delivery system.

The service, approved by the Federal Aviation Administration under Part 107 rules, will be available for The Villages, a community in central Florida that’s home to more than 135,000 residents. UPS Flight Forward and CVS will be authorized to operate through the coronavirus pandemic and explore continuing needs as they arise once the pandemic fades.

Physical distancing and restrictions on retail business, enacted in response to the pandemic, are bringing more attention to the potential for drone deliveries.

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Boeing and Navy turn Growler jets into drones

Growler jets
The Boeing-built EA-18G Growler is a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet that is specialized for tactical jamming and electronic protection. (Boeing Photo)

The era of remote-controlled combat jets has come a little closer in the wake of a demonstration staged by Boeing and the Navy to fly two autonomously controlled EA-18G Growlers as uncrewed air systems.

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FAA’s Remote ID would tighten leash on drones

Remote ID for drones
The Federal Aviation Administration’s draft regulations call for drones to broadcast an electronic ID code if they operate beyond the line of sight of an operator. (FAA Graphic)

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued proposed regulations that would require virtually all drones to transmit electronic identification codes while in flight.

“Remote ID technologies will enhance safety and security by allowing the FAA, law enforcement, and federal security agencies to identify drones flying in their jurisdiction,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said today in a news release about the plan.

The FAA established a registration system for recreational drones back in 2015, and since then, nearly 1.5 million drones and 160,000 remote pilots have been registered. Earlier this year, the agency set up an automated system to authorize recreational flights in controlled airspace.

The newly proposed Remote ID system would build upon those earlier steps. It calls upon drone manufacturers to make their products capable of sending out identification codes as well as their location. The rules would apply to all drones heavier than 0.55 pounds (8.8 ounces), and manufacturers would have to comply two years after the regulations go into effect. Drone operators would have three years to phase out non-complying devices.

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Patent combines self-driving vehicles and drones

Self-driving drones and vehicles
A diagram accompanying Amazon’s patent application shows how a self-driving ground vehicle and a self-flying drone would work together to make a package delivery. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

For a long time, Amazon has been looking into applications for self-driving vehicles — and testing fleets of self-flying drones for making package deliveries. So it only makes sense that the Seattle-based online retailing giant would meld those vehicles for a warehouse-to-doorstep delivery system virtually untouched by human hands.

In a patent published today, Amazon inventors Hilliard Bruce Siegel and Ethan Evans describe a system that has autonomous ground vehicles transport packages to a customer’s neighborhood — perhaps even the street in front of the customer’s door — and coordinate the doorstep delivery with a drone.

Both types of robo-carriers would be in contact wirelessly with a central computer network that would manage the operation. The ground vehicle could be directed to head over to a fulfillment center, pick up shipments and plot a course for deliveries. Drones could flit back and forth to drop off packages and charge up at the vehicle.

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Lift Aircraft reports 13,000 sign-ups for drone rides

Jeff Bezos and Matt Chasen
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sits in the Hexa rotorcraft and chats with Lift Aircraft CEO Matt Chasen, standing alongside the craft, during Amazon’s MARS conference in March. (Lift Aircraft Photo)

A year after its unveiling, Lift Aircraft says more than 13,000 people have signed up so far for rides on the Hexa passenger drone that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos checked out at a conference months ago.

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Boeing helps Disney deploy Star Wars drones

Boeing’s heavy-duty drones, dressed up as X-Wing fighters, flew in for a cameo at last week’s dedication of Disney’s new “Rise of the Resistance” thrill ride in a Star Wars theme park.

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Echodyne helps DARPA with drone tracking test

Aerial Dragnet
DARPA’s Aerial Dragnet program tests techniques for tracking drone flights over urban terrain. (DARPA Illustration)

When the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tested an “Aerial Dragnet” system for tracking drones over urban terrain last month, Echodyne lent a helping hand.

Echodyne — a Kirkland, Wash.-based startup backed by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates — provided the compact radar systems for DARPA’s tests during the week of Oct. 23 in the San Diego area, in conjunction with the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory.

The Aerial Dragnet exercise involved putting Echodyne’s EchoGuard and EchoFlight flat-panel radar systems on two large tethered aerostat balloons that flew as high as 400 feet, as well as on rooftops and towers around San Diego and National City.

DARPA then sent up several types of drones for the systems to detect and track. A key challenge involved being able to distinguish the drones from other objects in the background, including ground vehicles and birds.

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UPS wins FAA’s approval for drone delivery airline

UPS drone
UPS Flight Forward has the FAA’s go-ahead to operate as a drone airline. (UPS Photo)

UPS says its drone delivery subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward, has received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate as the nation’s first full-fledged drone airline.

“This is history in the making, and we aren’t done yet,” UPS CEO David Abney said today in a news release.

The FAA’s Part 135 Standard certification means that UPS Flight Forward can fly an unlimited number of drones with an unlimited number of remote operators in command. It can expand its delivery services to new locations, with FAA approval. It can exceed the FAA’s usual limit of 55 pounds for drone and cargo weight, and it can now fly drones at night.

UPS said Flight Forward flew its first drone under the new conditions immediately after getting the word from the FAA on Friday. That drone, a Matternet M2 quadcopter, was launched from WakeMed’s hospital campus in Raleigh, N.C., under a government exemption allowing for flights beyond the operator’s line of sight.

For now, UPS is focusing on drone deliveries of medical products and specimens, based on hospital campuses with a special focus on North Carolina. The experimental phase of the effort was one of 10 pilot projects approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year.

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Boeing’s robotic refueling drone aces test flight

Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone successfully completed its first test flight today, marking a big step toward providing the Navy with robotic refuelers for carrier-based warplanes.

The test aircraft, known as T1, went through a two-hour autonomous flight that was conducted under the direction of Boeing test pilots at a ground control station at MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, Ill., Boeing and the Navy reported in a news release.

Boeing said T1 completed an autonomous taxi and takeoff, and then flew a predetermined route to validate the aircraft’s basic flight functions and operations with the ground station.

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