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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have the potential to transform our daily lives but not until regulators can be sure they won't fall from the sky or crash into other aircraft.

The big picture: UAVs have almost unlimited uses — from combatting disease to delivering pizza — and their numbers are expected to soar across multiple industries in the next few years. The Federal Aviation Administration wants to relax some of its rules to allow that growth but in doing so it has to determine how safe is safe enough.

What's happening: A series of pilot projects are under way or starting soon in the U.S. that aim to demonstrate how drones could be operated safely.

  • The projects range from delivering packages in Nevada and medical supplies in North Carolina to inspecting pipelines in Alaska and jets in Tennessee.
  • The FAA is seeking public comments on proposed rule changes that would allow drones to fly over people and at night — two circumstances that are currently prohibited without a waiver.
  • The goal is to find a way to safely integrate small unmanned aircraft into the national airspace and avoid incidents like the one that shut down London's Gatwick Airport in December.
  • Demand is exploding. The emerging global market for drone-based services is valued at over $127 billion, per consulting firm PwC.

Last week, top FAA officials traveled to Rwanda to see how the country has managed to embrace drones on a national scale with the help of an American company.

  • Zipline, based in San Francisco, makes thousands of deliveries per day of blood and other medical supplies by drone in Rwanda.
  • Rwanda recently expanded the company's contract from 25 hospitals to 450, serving 15 million people.
"Rwanda has set a powerful precedent for how a large national-scale UAV implementation could work"
— Keller Rinaudo, CEO and co-founder, Zipline

The safety measures Zipline already uses in Rwanda are similar to what the FAA is proposing for the U.S.

  • If a drone runs into trouble, an emergency parachute is triggered that can bring it safely to the ground.
  • The two-winged drones, which look like small planes, are built from materials that crumple upon impact to absorb energy so no one gets hurt on the ground.
  • About 1 in 1,000 flights ends in an emergency landing, Rinaudo says, and the drones are easily repaired and back in the air within an hour.

What's next: This summer, Zipline will bring its fleet of delivery drones to North Carolina, where they will be used to deliver medical supplies to rural hospitals as part of the FAA's UAS Integration Pilot Program.

Yes, but: The U.S. national airspace system is more complicated than Rwanda's, says Jenny Rosenberg, executive director of the Alliance for Drone Innovation, which represents drone manufacturers.

  • The U.S. has tens of thousands of commercial flights a day, plus military and general aviation flights.
  • There's also a multitude of restricted zones, not to mention security and privacy concerns.

The bottom line: The FAA's challenge is to balance the risks and opportunities created by all those drones without stifling innovation.

Go deeper: A sky full of driverless flying cars in just a decade

Go deeper

Scoop: Former OMB director to set up Pro-Trump think tanks

OMB Director Russ Vought parfticipates in a photo-op for the printing of President Donald Trumps budget for Fiscal Year 2020 at the Government Publishing Office in Washington on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Russ Vought, who led Donald Trump's Office of Management and Budget, plans to announce two pro-Trump organizations Tuesday, aiming to provide the ideological ammunition to sustain Trump's political movement after his departure from the White House.

Why it matters: The Center for American Restoration and an advocacy arm, America Restoration Action, will try to keep cultural issues that animated Trump’s presidency on the public agenda, according to people familiar with the matter.

Janet Yellen confirmed as Treasury secretary

Janet Yellen. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Senate voted 84-15 to confirm Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary on Monday.

Why it matters: Yellen is the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary, a Cabinet position that will be crucial in helping steer the country out of the pandemic-induced economic crisis.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Scoop: Red Sox strike out on deal to go public

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The parent company of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool F.C. has ended talks to sell a minority ownership stake to RedBall Acquisition, a SPAC formed by longtime baseball executive Billy Beane and investor Gerry Cardinale, Axios has learned from multiple sources. An alternative investment, structured more like private equity, remains possible.

Why it matters: Red Sox fans won't be able to buy stock in the team any time soon.