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FAA announces drone testing projects at three universities, one airport, and the state of Nevada

DHL Drone

The new drones are coming, and thanks to an FAA announcement this morning, we now know exactly where they'll be. After a 10-month study of possible sites, the FAA has announced six sites where researchers will have license to test the next generation of possible drones. It's part of the FAA's ongoing roadmap for unmanned aerial vehicles, which aims to provide a full legal and regulatory framework by 2015. Still, test-site operations will continue for years beyond that, with current law allowing for operation until February of 2017.

The University of Alaska will test drones in extreme climatic conditions

Each site was chosen to address a particular aspect of the FAA's regulatory challenge. Projects at Virginia Tech and Texas A&M will develop failure modes and safety requirements, while Griffiss Airport in New York works with sense-and-avoid capabilities. The University of Alaska will test drones in extreme climatic conditions like extreme cold or, in offsite locations in Hawaii and Oregon, unconventional moisture systems. Most broadly, the State of Nevada is looking at how air traffic control procedures can help the crafts move through into civilian airspace without disruption. Each site will have to comply with existing privacy laws, post a public plan for data use and retention, and perform annual reviews of privacy practices, which will be open for public comment.

It's still unclear what air traffic and safety regulations will emerge from the testing but the results could have enormous implications in the business community. Earlier this month, Amazon announced plans for a drone delivery program once the FAA guidelines were in place, and delivery companies like FedEx and DHL are reportedly working on similar programs.

Update: The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International isĀ applauding the announcement, calling it "an important step toward recognizing the incredible economic and job creation potential this technology brings."

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