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NASA and Zipline Team Up to Create a Future in Which Delivery Drones and Air Taxis Thrive

Zipline has come a long way since it kicked off its first commercial operations over five years ago. Its delivery drones have flown more than 24 million miles all over the world, including Japan, Rwanda, Ghana, and the United States. The San Francisco-based company wants to continue expanding its fleet operations in the American airspace and a recently signed agreement with NASA will help it do that.
NASA researchers visit the Zipline test facility in California to learn more about the company's highly autonomous operations 7 photos
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Zipline and NASA have recently signed a Space Act Agreement to “pursue a future vision of U.S. aviation”, one that includes aircraft such as delivery drones and those highly-awaited air taxis everyone’s talking about for years now.

What the U. S. space agency wants to achieve through this agreement is to learn more about Zipline’s autonomous operations and to develop tools and techniques that enable the so-called m:N operations used by the drone logistics company. The “m” represents a small number of humans capable of effectively managing many autonomous vehicles, represented by the “N”.

NASA’s researchers will examine various use cases for UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and will address all the potential hindrances, from technical barriers to regulatory, safety, and community acceptance. NASA plans to make use of Zipline’s experience in the field, while the drone logistics company will also benefit from this partnership by leveraging NASA’s research to learn what it takes to expand its fleet operations in the U.S. Zipline’s goal is to speed up the growth of the drone delivery sector not just in the United States but also abroad.

Last month, Zipline announced that it received FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Part 135 air carrier certification, authorizing it to make the longest range, on-demand drone deliveries in the U.S. Zipline says that the FAA approval allows it to cover the largest area and greatest distance on any uncrewed commercial aircraft delivery system in the country.

Zipline’s delivery drones have a robust design and offer ranges of up to 50 miles (80 km) per charge. They are equipped with an advanced detection and avoidance system that uses onboard acoustic-based technology that allows the drone to fly safely even in the most uncontrolled airspaces. The system consists of a series of small mics and processors that offer 360-degree awareness and help the drone accurately and autonomously monitor its surroundings within a range of up to 6,560 ft (2,000 m).

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