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We’re not getting packages delivered by drone — yet — but that future may not be far off.

Today, commercial drones are used to monitor land and gather news. Soon they could become a regular sight in the sky, delivering not just Amazon packages, but medical necessities like human organs.

Before that happens, the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems wants to make sure it’s safe.

Chris Walach is the senior director of NIAS and the Nevada Drone Test Site. The institute is one of seven around the country that has been designated by the FAA to test drones and help establish safety and legal rules.

NIAS is focused on stopping drone incursions into the airspace of commercial airlines. Walach said the FAA records 100 or more sightings of drones in places they're not supposed to be every month.

He said helicopter and fixed-wing pilots are reporting near misses all the time.

Another important part of what they are working on are rules for protecting outdoor events and venues from drones. 

“It’s a concern because a drone can cause great damage to a human,” Walach said.

Walach said the FAA is working on technology that would stop drones from flying over events, but it hasn't been perfected yet.

NAIS isn't just working on rules for drones. It is also working on partnerships for the future of drones. Walach was in Poland last week to sign a letter of intent with leaders there to work together on a number of projects. 

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Walach said Poland and Nevada both have strong drone industries and strong mining industries. He said that is an area the European country and our state can work together.

“Autonomous vehicles can significantly enhance the safety, not only underground and open pit mines but it was a natural synergy,” he said. 

They also want to use drones for space mining, when that eventually happens. The intent letter included the creation of a joint space mining center.

“We have to understand that whatever they deploy in the mines, on the ground with autonomous systems, one day can be used in space to do space mining.”

For now, the NIAS will be working on developing new jobs in the autonomous system industry and establishing the all-important safety regulations.

Walach said so far Nevada is already leading the way.

“The Nevada Test Site has set national FAA records and global records in package delivery,” he said.

And as far as your next online purchase being delivered by drone, Walach says to expect that in about three years.


Chris Walach, senior director, Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems

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