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Drone delivery service founder touts benefits of UAVs

In light of concerns over drones flying across Seattle, a representative for a drone delivery service makes the case that there are plenty of positives to consider.

Paola Santana is the co-founder of Matternet, a company that began working on drone delivery technology long before Seattle's Amazon.com announced its intentions.

Matternet says its goal is to create a next-generation transportation system that's low-cost, has a low ecological footprint and can reach anyone, anywhere.

"Basically, we want to create networks of small UAVs, that is what we call them, or flying robots, that can carry very little weight, very low payloads in a very efficient and very cheap and fast way," Santana tells KIRO Radio's Jason Rantz Show.

Setting up a system in the United States, so far, has been difficult, Santana says, because they are waiting for the FAA to release its guidelines and regulations for drone activity.

"[The] FAA needs to give guidance because, so far, it's still like the whole industry is waiting for standards to come out," says Santana. "The FAA is certainly delayed. They're supposed to issue a rule-making call now in November, but they were supposed to select six test sites a year and a half ago. They just selected them last December and not all of them are fully operation. So we are behind."

In other countries, they have been able to test full drone networks. Many of the aviation authorities in these other regions, Santana mentions Haiti and the Dominican Republic, granted them access because of the drones' potential benefits in providing access to areas typically hard to reach.

"The risk of testing something new was very low compared to the reward of having something that would actually connect isolated communities because their governments don't have enough funds to build roads," Santana says.

Matternet says drones can do things like deliver medicine or necessary resources to areas in developing countries that are difficult to reach.

But Santana says they're not trying to force drones on areas that don't want them. "We think it's necessary that the cities and the towns that are going to have our vehicles flying above them are OK with that."

Not everyone in Seattle has been thrilled with the drones flying overhead. Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell says he's hearing lots of criticism, especially after a drone buzzed the Space Needle last month.

"People are saying that they have a lot of concern about seeing all these flying objects and flying packages in their skyline around their homes. They oppose it. They don't like it."

For those concerned about cameras on drones, Santana says they only use them for takeoff and landing. "In our case, we don't plan to carry cameras while we're flying."

As far as when you might be able to use drone delivery service in the U.S., she says with big companies like Amazon interested there's progress being made with policymakers. The conversation, which she says the FAA wasn't even entertaining a few years ago, is now very much on the table.

"We know it's going to happen," says Santana. "I would say that before 2020 we would have some places in the United States allowing drone delivery. Maybe in very restricted ways, maybe in some places that are not so populated, maybe not cities, but definitely I know we will have drone delivery in the U.S. by 2020."

Jamie Skorheim, MyNorthwest.com Editor
Whether it's floating on Green Lake, eating shrimp tacos at Agua Verde, or taking weekend drives out to the Cascades, she loves to enjoy the Pacific Northwest lifestyle as much as humanly possible.
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