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US set to name winners of drone testing program

Top tech companies including Amazon, Apple and Qualcomm are reportedly hoping to take part in tests for the Trump administration's new program.

Zipline drone

Several top tech companies are reportedly vying for a spot in the US' new drone tests. 

Stephen Shankland/CNET

At least 200 major tech and aerospace companies have applied to take part in drone tests that the US will announce on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

The initiative, which aims to speed up drone integration into the national airspace system, was launched by President Donald Trump's administration last year. It provides an opportunity for companies to potentially have a say in how the industry is regulated. 

The program allows for a broader range of tests than what's usually allowed by federal aviation regulators, including flying drones at night, beyond an operator's line of sight and above people. 

US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao on Wednesday will announce 10 state, local or tribal governments that'll host the experiments. The governments have teamed up with companies that'll be involved in the tests. 

Some of the companies reportedly hoping to participate in the program include Amazon, Apple and Qualcomm. Intel, Ford and Airbus confirmed to CNET that they applied for the program, while Amazon declined to comment. Apple and Qualcomm didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Other companies including Boeing have reportedly expressed interest in the program, but it's unclear if they've applied. Boeing didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

No immediate changes to US policy are expected following the tests, Reuters reports. More complex tasks such as package delivery might not happen until later in the program.  

Speaking to a Senate panel Tuesday, Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA's Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, said after "the 10 selections for the pilot program are announced, the FAA will be reaching out to other applicants, as well as interested state and local authorities, to provide additional information on how to operationalize their proposed projects."

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First published May 8, 3:22 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:49 p.m.: Adds confirmation from Ford.
Update, May 9 at 7:21 a.m.: Adds confirmation from Airbus.