The US state of Michigan and Canada’s Ontario province have announced a new collaboration to study commercial drone corridors, which includes a cross-border connection.
The project will examine how drones can be used in operations like just-in-time delivery, medical transport, and other small-scale deployments, with an initial feasibility study currently underway.
Speaking to capitaltribunenews.com, Trevor Pawl, Chief Mobility Officer, State of Michigan, said: “This project in particular came about because both the province [Ontario] and the state [Michigan] realised that the future of aerial mobility is something that’s going to be a big part of this decade.”
“We believe there’s a unique opportunity to set national standards on both sides [of the border] and around the world, for how international borders can treat aerial mobility.”
The State of Michigan, Michigan’s Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Michigan Aeronautics Commission (MAC) will lead the project, with support from the Michigan Office of Future Mobility and Electrification (OFME), the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Government of Ontario, through the Ontario Vehicle Innovation Network (OVIN).
They will be assisted by Detroit-based drone tech company Airspace Link, and its partners Thales USA, the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, Aviation Innovations LLC, CityFi, and Grand Sky Development Co.
In 2020, trade between Michigan and Ontario was valued at US$44.8 billion (C$60.1 billion), and more than 25 percent of the US$700 billion in annual trade between the US and Canada crosses between Windsor and Detroit – the most active border crossing in North America.
In 2017, Michigan and Ontario collaborated on North America’s first cross-border automated vehicle test drive, and Pawl hopes the latest project will serve as another example of how the state and province can work together to further the future of mobility.
“We’re excited – we know it’s a long road, but we think by writing the recipe, this can elicit investment, not only to make our borders potentially safer and easier to cross, but also as an economic driver,” he added.
“I think that within the next couple of years, hopefully by 2025, this will be a service that’s unique in the world, and can really help.”
The feasibility study is set to be completed in the coming months, and will outline the infrastructure needed to enable a range of commercial and public advanced air mobility uses, including beyond visual line of sight missions.
While several states, including North Dakota and North Carolina, have made advancements in recent years, challenges related to urban air mobility – from safety to legislation – still exist across the US.
“I think the biggest challenge will be finding the appropriate scalability once the feasibility study is done – I don’t just want to run onesie-twosie pilots, although I know we’ll have to do that,” Pawl added.
“I want to establish services that are sustainable business models that can be relied on, that can grow, and I think that market isn’t necessarily there yet.
“But we hope that by creating this study there’s more certainty, and investments that companies will make going forward.”
Security concerns are another area which may pose a problem, though Pawl maintained the project would be integrated into existing border operations at the federal level in the US and the national level in Canada.
“Part of this study is very much understanding what the national sides of each conversation and each party wants to do, and are comfortable doing,” he said.
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