If you see a small, buzzing robot zipping past your window in the middle of the night, don’t get freaked out: it’s probably just a drone from a major corporation, dropping off toilet paper for your neighbor.
Late Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration approved new rules that will allow small drones that make use of a new identification system to fly at night and over people, under certain conditions. The new Remote Identification system will broadcast ID, location, and control station information that can be picked up by police and other authorities so that they are not mistaken for dangerous threats or weapons.
The rule goes into effect in 60 days and drone manufacturers have 18 months to adjust, at which point they’ll be required to produce drones with the technology built in. The new FAA rules also allow for an external Remote ID system to be placed on a drone. To fly at night, drones will also require to have anti-collision lights, according to Reuters.
There are currently 1.7 million drones registered with the FAA and over 200,000 pilots. That number figures to skyrocket in the coming months and years, as major retailers and delivery companies begin to experiment with and earnestly develop drone delivery. The COVID-19 pandemic turned delivery into a major business for both retailers and app-based middlemen, even if the latter are rarely profitable at this point.
Amazon has already received approval to operate a fleet of drones for delivery, though it has not fully taken off yet.
In 2020, tens of millions of Americans turned to delivery apps for regular shopping needs and hundreds of thousands more began working for companies like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Instacart. DoorDash alone now has over 200,000 drivers signed up for food delivery, while Instacart, a service that provides personal grocery shoppers, hired over 300,000 more drivers in March alone.
The pay for these gig workers varies but is generally low, a result of loopholes in laws for gig workers that do not require them to be paid as regular employees and the tipped economy that has taken a hit this year. Uber, Lyft and Instacart spent over $200 million to convince California voters to approve Proposition 22 in November, which provided them an exemption from a state law that makes gig workers full-time employees.