Two years after Amazon completed its first delivery by commercial drone, the idea of routinely using unmanned devices to drop off items at front doors remains a distant, if not far-fetched, dream. The recent shutdown of London’s Gatwick Airport, caused by sightings of drones near the runway, underscored the risks and complexities of the efforts.
But as e-commerce continues to grow, drones have the potential to reduce the time, cost and energy needed for many everyday deliveries — assuming they are managed well and used safely.
Before a commercial drone industry can thrive, particularly in the crowded urban areas of Europe, different kinds of drones must be able to fly along their delivery routes without crashing into one another — and under a standardized set of regulations, experts say — not unlike cars on the road.
The path to proving that drones can operate together and be tracked in crowded skies has brought a group of companies to a former military airfield outside Brussels, where they will test their unmanned aviation technology. The project, known as Safir, will help the European authorities devise a set of rules for the commercial use of drones.
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