Can drones be used to transport goods across the border? Ontario and Michigan want to know

The feasibility study surrounding the commercial expansion of drone technology is expected to be completed before the end of this year

Ontario and Michigan will work together to determine if small drones can fly beyond a pilot’s line of sight and be used for cross-border cargo transport, medical transport and other small-scale deployments of unmanned aerial systems.

A feasibility study should be completed by late summer or early fall of this year, said Bryan Budds, deputy administrator of the Michigan Department of Transportation’s office of aeronautics.

“It also spans the spectrum of delivering small packages to potentially larger transports,” Budds said this week.

Budds says that to facilitate a commercial expansion of drone technology — the feasibility of a commercial airway for drones will also be explored as part of the study — one needs to look at the kind of infrastructure needed to support this technology.

Michigan-based Airspace Link will perform an analysis of the existing airspace, air traffic infrastructure, and ground infrastructure needed to ensure the operational safety of a commercial drone airway.

Budds is also excited to explore possibilities for door-to-door package delivery using drones. He says business cases are being developed where delivery companies offer deployment of drones from a central area of ​​a particular neighborhood.

“Especially these days there’s a lot of interest in talking about the emergency medical type – so for people who maybe have limited mobility who can’t get around as easily, there are good opportunities for things like potentially delivering prescriptions,” The Buddies said.

“A hot topic today is COVID testing and things like that. Does this technology also have the ability to support this type of movement of goods and services? »

Budds thinks the feasibility study could also open discussions about mitigating supply chain issues seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Is there an opportunity to compromise there if we move some of these things skyward in the future concept?” he said. “What kind of mismatches do you see on the rail system, on the port system, around the road network – and that’s one of the big things that we’re going to be looking at through this work as well, is what are these mismatches might look like between the different modes of transport.

The Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN) will participate in the feasibility study on behalf of the Government of Ontario.

OVIN Director Raed Kadri says OVIN’s role is to help Ontario companies bring new solutions to market and bring them to the global market, and to ensure that these technologies are trial and tested in Ontario.

Kadri says drone technology presents a “very big opportunity” for the province. In 2020, two-way merchandise trade between Michigan and Ontario was valued at C$60.1 billion.

“Our two jurisdictions are great trading partners, our proximity is very close. It makes sense that we look at where there are strategic opportunities for us to work together,” Kadri said.

“When we talk about looking to the future and how we might transport goods in the future, drones are one of the things that everyone is concerned about, trying to better understand how drones can be used” , explained Kadri.

“Our role for OVIN is to coordinate the Canadian side as we do this feasibility study and feed the information from the Canadian side and basically take the lead on our side as this study begins to unfold in the state. of Michigan.”

Kadri says drone technology could potentially provide Ontario and Michigan with new ways to facilitate trade and the movement of goods across borders.

“This is a very first step in looking at the matter, so that we can better understand if the opportunity is there and what the opportunities may be,” he said.

Ryan Rizzo, CEO of TerreSky – a national drone company headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie and Toronto – says the upcoming feasibility study on aerial drone connections is good news.

Terresky is currently using drones to facilitate all mapping and surveying of the Toronto Waterfront Port Lands Flood Protection Project, and will be using drones to perform stack inspections with Algoma Steel Inc. starting next month.

“Shipping stuff across the border, I think that would be great. I think it’s great,” Rizzo said. “It’s really good for healthcare products – blood, in particular, is important.

“But surveillance, I think, is key to where you are.”

The idea of ​​drones delivering goods is not a new development – Terresky was part of a 2016 feasibility study of Amazon’s plan to establish a warehouse on Toronto’s waterfront and use drones to deliver its goods to locations along Lake Ontario.

“They were looking at buying a big piece of land and building a warehouse, and then they were going to use the warehouse for delivery, for packaging – and then he would get into a drone, then he could cross over to Rochester, he could go down to Whitby, he could go to Oshawa, he could go to Oakville, he could go to Niagara Falls, all under a 20-minute flight,” Rizzo said. “The infrastructure around something like that is super interesting, because it will be automated.”

Budds says that while similar work has taken place in other states, this joint project between Michigan and Ontario is unique because of the different regulatory frameworks regarding aviation and border crossings that will be addressed in discussions with international partners.

“I think there’s a huge opportunity there to look at some of the unique transportation challenges that exist near our border, so we’re excited about that,” he said.

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