FAA approves first commercial use of drones — for BP

The giant oil company used a drone to survey an oil field in Alaska

Topics: Drones, FAA, BP, technology, Oil, Alaska, Autonomous vehicles, , ,

FAA approves first commercial use of drones -- for BP (Credit: AP/Robert Ferguson)

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the first commercial flying of an unmanned drone over U.S. soil. And the first permit went to the oil giant BP, reports NPR. BP requested the permit to survey its oil field in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, which is the largest in the United States.

According to NPR, the drone used was an AeroVironment Puma AE, which is waterproof, quiet, good for surveillance and reconnaissance (creepy) and suitable for civilian or military use (creepier). The flight has already taken place, according to the FFA. In a release, the agency said:

“The FAA issued a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization to survey BP pipelines, roads and equipment at Prudhoe Bay, AK, the largest oilfield in the United States. AeroVironment performed the first flight for BP on June 8.

“The Puma AE is a small, hand-launched UAS that is about 4 1/2 feet long and has a wingspan of 9 feet. Using the information generated by the Puma’s sensors, BP hopes to target maintenance activities on specific roads and infrastructure, which will save time and support safety and operational reliability goals, while helping to protect the sensitive North Slope environment.”

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While some civilian use of drones is allowed (as long as it isn’t in Yosemite), before June 8, when BP took flight, all commercial drones were grounded, much to tech giant Amazon’s dismay. The company hopes to one day use drones to automatically deliver goods ordered from the Web retailer.

There are serious policy questions from privacy to safety. While folks may be taken by the convenience and technological prowess of drones, commercial unmanned vessels with the capability of such surveillance also causes some unease.

h/t NPR

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email sgray@salon.com.

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