San Diego is chosen to be test bed for autonomous drone deliveries

A remote aerial vehicle that online retailer hopes to develop to deliver goods to customers takes flight.
A remote aerial vehicle that online retailer hopes to develop to deliver goods to customers takes flight.
(Amazon / Getty Images)

The futuristic possibilities associated with autonomous, commercial drone activity — think food and package delivery, medical supply transport or enhanced border security — will get a test run in San Diego.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that the city was selected to participate in its experimental commercial drone program, called the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program.

The city, in partnership with the city of Chula Vista and San Diego’s Regional Economic Development Corp., applied this year for the program to push the limits of commercial drone testing in real-world environments. The program is also meant help the Federal Aviation Administration develop ground rules around commercial drone use across the country.

San Diego was one of 10 winning agencies — and the only California city — selected from a field of 149 city and state applicants. Other winners include Kansas, Virginia and North Dakota and the cities of Reno and Memphis, Tenn.


Though the specifics of the program remain unclear, the designation means that San Diego can obtain expedited approvals and waivers for its more than 20 regional partners to kick-start commercial drone testing.

The city’s winning proposal included real-world applications, as put forth by its government, research and business partners — including UCSD, Qualcomm and Uber — already developing drone-related systems for commercial purposes.

“San Diego is a hotbed of autonomous vehicle activity already,” said Erik Caldwell, the director of economic development for San Diego. “What we really heard from our partner companies is that they’re ready to go, fast … the activity they’re doing indoors and in confined spaces is ready to move outdoors.”

That means San Diegans will be some of the first in the nation to experience drone-powered conveniences such as food delivery from Uber in minutes.

Van Grove writes for the San Diego Union Tribune.