The idea of drones zipping through the sky to deliver you burritos in just minutes sounds so cyberpunky and cool. Because it is! That’s why companies like Google and Uber Eats are investing so heavily in the technology.
But as with so many things, to get something that’s cool, there is a lot of very unglamorous grunt work going on behind the scenes. For commercial drone deliveries, Airspace Link is looking to make one of those bits of drudgery a little bit easier: plotting out and receiving official approval for flight paths.
Airspace Link works with both the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and local governments to help commercial drone operators understand both air and ground risks and establish approved flight paths. Michael Healander, CEO and President of Airspace Link, told me by phone this week that his company is one of only five in the world that can authorize commercial drone flights near airports to ensure that they don’t interfere with things like air traffic. (Healander said that “near” is typically within five miles of an airport.)
But getting federal clearance for a flight path and understanding air-based risk is only one half of the equation. That’s why Airspace also works with local governments to get data around ground-based risks that the FAA wouldn’t know about. Those risks include things like schools, jails, or even emergency situations that a commercial drone operator would want to know about and avoid when establishing a flight plan for a delivery.
Airspace’s value prop, according to Healander, is that its software can automate that flight plan process quickly and automatically. To illustrate, Airspace Link posted a video on Linkedin this week, showing how the software works. The video is in no way “cool.” There is no dramatic footage of a drone soaring through a forest of skyscrapers. It’s a screen capture video of someone entering the basics of a drone flight: departure point, delivery point, time of flight etc. Once all that information is in, Airspace Link establishes a route that takes into consideration the ground-based risks like schools, establishes a route and altitude path and gets approval from the FAA in under a minute.
We are at the very beginning stages of drone delivery, with Google testing the concept in Virginia, and Uber Eats planning it for next summer in San Diego. If these services catch on with consumers, there will be a halo effect with startups like AirSpace Link popping up to do more of the grunt work so drones deliveries can actually take off and be cool.