Google’s Wing launches free app to help drone pilots obey US regulations

Wing, the drone delivery arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has launched a free app in the US to help pilots fly their drones legally. OpenSky has been available in Australia since 2019 but is now available for both commercial and recreational pilots in the US to use for anything from conducting commercial surveys to filming and photography. It’s available now on both iOS and Android.

OpenSky is based on Google Maps, Wing tells DroneLife, and it’s color-coded to show areas where pilots can and can’t fly. Green areas are a-okay, but pilots need to exercise caution in yellow areas, and shouldn’t fly at all in red areas. Perhaps its most useful feature is that it lets pilots submit requests to fly in controlled airspace and receive “near real-time authorizations.” The approval process works in airspace that supports Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC), which includes “hundreds of air traffic facilities and airports” according to an FAQ on Wing’s website.

As well as checking where it’s legal to fly and request authorization, OpenSky also lets pilots log and plan their flights. The app needs an internet connection to operate, Wing notes, so you’re advised to take a screenshot of a flight approval if you’re going to need it in an area with poor reception.

The launch of OpenSky comes as drones are receiving increased amounts of regulation in the US and around the world, as lawmakers catch up with the relatively new technology. Pilots in the US currently have to register to fly any drones weighing over 0.55 pounds, and from 2023 drones will have to broadcast their location during flight.

Wing’s argument is that an app like OpenSky makes it easier for pilots to obey the rules and fly the nearly 2 million drones that have been registered in the US. “Compliance will ultimately expand the uses and benefits of drones—among them emergency response, commercial inspections and contactless delivery—to more people,” Wing said in a blog post.

It’s that last point, “contactless delivery,” that’s perhaps most important for Wing, which is best known as a drone delivery business. As well as Finland and Australia, Wing has been making deliveries in Christiansburg, Virginia. Speaking to DroneLife, Wing’s Lia Reich said the company has plans to expand its drone delivery service in the US “later this year.”

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