Regulators may warm up to the idea of drones being used for commercial purposes, according to Google and Amazon which are among the biggest companies in the U.S. seeking to use the technology for package deliveries.

 A drone belonging to Amazon seen delivering packages. Source: YouTube A drone belonging to Amazon seen delivering packages. Source: YouTubeOn May 6, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unveiled plans with CNN and BNSF Railway to study flights beyond the sight of human operators. The agency has stated the initiative will help uncover how to use drones in operations that may eventually include package delivery.

(Read “DOT and FAA Propose Rules for Small Unmanned Drone Aircraft.”)

The FAA had proposed rules earlier this year that would prohibit such flights. Yet proponents of “beyond-sight” flights—including drone industry companies—say they are necessary to make several applications feasible, enabling everything from pipeline inspections to deliveries. The FAA has required that one human oversees each drone flight, which may make large-scale deployments difficult. At present, the FAA allows only a Boeing Co. subsidiary and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to fly drones beyond sight off the coast of Alaska and along U.S. borders, respectively.

Those flights are allowed by the FAA because air-traffic control manages separation between the drones and manned aircraft. Deliveries by Amazon and Google likely would take place in busier airspace, and would require sensors and software that would help drones avoid obstacles. Several companies say they are getting closer to developing such technology.

The head of Amazon’s delivery-drone project, Gur Kimchi, told the Wall Street Journal that the FAA had recently become more open to his company’s efforts to use automated drones to deliver packages within 10 miles of a warehouse.

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