K-State's drone efforts could inspire Amazon - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

K-State's drone efforts could inspire Amazon

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SALINA, KS (KCTV) -

As Amazon reveals that they are looking to deliver packages via drones, company officials can look to K-State's Salina campus for inspiration.

The drones, or octocopters, can carry up to five pounds over 10 miles and drop a package at your front door. Amazon will have to work with the Federal Aviation Authority, which K-State Salina is already doing.

"K-State Salina is probably the leading edge institution at looking at the application for this," said Mark Blanks, the university's unmanned aircraft systems program manager. "We work with the FAA to determine airworthiness."

Kansas' rolling plains in rural areas provides great testing sites.

While Amazon hopes to start delivering packages in 2015, Blanks doubts it can be done that quickly.

"From a regulator standpoint, that's at least five years away," Blanks said. "It's a whole different look at what does airworthiness mean. Because now the aircraft is not the most important thing. It used to be you have to protect against aircraft coming down out of the sky because there was a person's life at risk. In this case that's not the case. The people at risk are other people flying around in manned airplanes or people on the ground."

K-State Salina has done plenty of testing with agricultural applications, including fertilizing crops, but not much with cargo because there hasn't been much demand until now.

"The work that's happening here in Kansas, not only at K-State, but at KU, Wichita State, work that's happening here has a direct impact on where these systems go in the future, as much as any other state in the country. That leading edge research is happening in your backyard and it's moving forward quickly," Blanks said.

Getting FAA approval is only half the battle of getting unmanned delivery vehicles off the ground.

"It has to be safe, it has to be publicly accepted too," Blanks said. "The public is going to have to agree they're going to let these things fly over their heads in an urban environment. That's a matter of trust. If you'd have told me 15 years ago that I'd walk around with a location device on my hip all the time, I would never have believed you. We're all willing to tolerate a little bit of intrusion privacy for convenience, so we'll see where this goes with unmanned systems. Once people see the good they can be used for, we'll see more and more acceptance, but most of the technology is already there."

He said steps must be taken to ensure the devices are operating safely in the area and those on the ground are protected.

"There's tremendous good that can come from unmanned systems. They're a tool much like a gun. It can be used for good or for bad, but the good certainly outweighs the bad for unmanned systems," Blanks said. "In the past five years, the unmanned system industry has changed drastically. Five years from now, we could see Amazon systems flying over our heads every day, but there's a lot of steps to get there."

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