Zipline, a leader in the “Drones for Good” sector, delivering medicines and health-care products primarily around Africa, has been given a major stamp of approval by NASA, reports a press release. The Space Administration Agency has chosen Zipline to explore “operations of autonomous fleets”, where the San Francisco-based drone delivery company has signed a Space Act Agreement “to pursue a future vision of U.S aviation that includes delivery drones and air taxis.”

What is a Space Act?

To help “realise this vision” NASA has created a new acronym: m:N.

m:N. Explanation of New NASA Acronym

The Partnership Team

The release states, “NASA researchers are developing tools and techniques to enable m:N operations, where a small number of humans (m) effectively manage many autonomous vehicles (N). This research includes close coordination with the aviation community to understand industry and public needs for these types of operations.”

Kelley Hashemi, the technical lead for autonomous systems at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California, commented, “Such collaborations are important, as it’s critical for NASA to gather the community’s input in order to achieve meaningful progress towards this future vision of U.S. aviation.”

Zipline currently uses m:N operations to transport medical supplies and consumer goods in Northwest Arkansas, Japan, Ghana, and Rwanda. Zipline aims to give back to the aviation community by sharing its many lessons learned.

The release continues, “Through this partnership, NASA will use Zipline’s experience to find solutions for broadly implementing m:N operations in the U.S. airspace. In return, Zipline can leverage NASA’s tools and research to determine what is needed to expand its fleet operations in the United States.”

Conor French

Conor French, General Counsel of Zipline, said, “Public-private cooperation is essential to expanding drone delivery and unlocking its benefits for more people. This partnership is an important step in that direction. We’re excited to work with NASA to accelerate growth in drone delivery, both in the U.S. and abroad.”

The collaboration will also consider a variety of use cases and addresses barriers such as technical, regulatory, safety assurance, and community acceptance. This partnership will advance the scalability of future U.S. airspace by laying the groundwork for a new operational paradigm.

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