Backyard drone deliveries come to the Bay Area

Another week, another COVID-19 inspired drone delivery service seems to launch. A startup called Dive Delivery has just announced a backyard drone delivery program for two Bay Area counties: San Mateo to the south of San Francisco, and Contra Costa to the east.

This one is about as baby-step as possible. It all takes place within the visual line of sight for the drone operator. Once a customer signs up and places an order, the drone pilot drives out to their neighborhood and sets up nearby, possibly even in their driveway. Then they fly the drone a short distance to the backyard to drop off the one package they are offering: a padded envelope containing two KN95 masks and a small bottle of hand sanitizer.

This is technically a contactless delivery method, an important consideration in the COVID-19 era. Although a Dive Delivery employee could simply drop the envelop on the customer’s front doorstep and be done with it—no drone or pilot necessary. Either way, the price is pretty reasonable, at just $12 for such in-demand personal protection products.

Navigating FAA restrictions

The comical simplicity of Dive Delivery’s model does reflect the difficult regulatory restrictions on commercial drone operations in the US. The company is operating under FAA’s Part 107 regulations, the basic certification for commercial drone operators.

Part 107 has a number of restrictions that make drone deliveries especially difficult. One of the key ones is that drones have to fly within the visual line of sight of the operator. Hence flying simply from one end of a person’s property to the other. Part 107 also prohibits flying over people. Dive Delivery seems to handle this by flying over private property and alerting the customer before the flight that they should stay out of the yard.

Of course, the FAA does allow waivers to these and other Part 107 restrictions. But not that many companies have taken advantage of them. Since 2016, the FAA has granted just 53 waivers for operating beyond visual line of sight and 125 for operations flying over people. Still, if Dive Delivery wants to be more than just a short-lived stunt, it had better get applying.



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Sean Captain is a Bay Area technology, science, and policy journalist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanCaptain.