Amazon's delivery drones: An idea that may not fly

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm •  Published: December 2, 2013
Advertisement
;

The FAA plans to propose rules next year that could allow limited use of drones weighing up to 55 pounds. But those rules are expected to include major restrictions on where drones can fly, posing significant limits on what Amazon could do. Many of the commercial advances in drone use have come out of Europe, Australia, and Japan. In Australia, for instance, an electric company is using drones to check on remote power lines.

"The delay has really been to the disadvantage of companies here," Schulman says. "Generally, the government wants to promote the advancement of science and technology. In this case, the government has done exactly the opposite and thwarted the ability of small, startup companies to develop commercial applications for this revolutionary technology."

Amazon isn't the only company awaiting guidelines. A Domino's franchise in the United Kingdom released a test flight video in June of the "DomiCopter," a drone used to deliver hot pizza.

"We think it's cool that places like Amazon are exploring the concept," says Domino's spokesman Chris Brandon. "We'd be surprised if the FAA ever let this fly in the States — but we will surely stay tuned to see where this all goes."

Matt Waite, a journalism professor at the University of Nebraska and head of the university's Drone Journalism Lab, says a bigger problem for Amazon is that the rules are not expected to allow autonomous drones, so a remote pilot would have to be in command of the aircraft at all times.

Indeed, the FAA said Monday that it is moving forward with "regulations and standards for the safe integration of remote piloted (drones) to meet increased demand." The agency reiterated that "autonomous (drone) operation is not currently allowed in the United States."

Given the slow pace at which the FAA typically approves regulations, Waite calls Bezos' prediction of four or five years for approval unrealistic.

Safety concerns could be the real obstacle in delaying drones for widespread commercial use.

"You're putting a device with eight rapidly spinning blades into areas where people are assumed to be," Waite says. "The threat to people on the ground is significant."

It's not hard to imagine that the world's biggest online retailer has some significant lobbying muscle and might be able to persuade the FAA to alter the rules.

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako says the company has been in contact with the FAA "as they are actively working on necessary regulation."

One of the biggest promises for civilian drone use is in agriculture because of the industry's largely unpopulated, wide open spaces. Delivering Amazon packages in midtown Manhattan will be much trickier. But the savings of such a delivery system only come in large, urban areas.

Besides regulatory approval, Amazon's biggest challenge will be to develop a collision avoidance system, says Darryl Jenkins, a consultant who gave up on the commercial airline industry and now focuses on drones.

Who is to blame, Jenkins asked, if the drone hits a bird, crashes into a building? Who is going to insure the deliveries?

There are also technical questions. Who will recharge the drone batteries? How many deliveries can the machines make before needing service?

"Jeff Bezos might be the single person in the universe who could make something like this happen," Jenkins says. "For what it worth, this is a guy who's totally changed retailing."

If Amazon gets its way, others might follow.

United Parcel Service Co. executives heard a presentation from a drone vendor earlier this year, says Alan Gershenhorn, UPS' chief sales, marketing and strategy officer.

"Commercial use of drones is an interesting technology, and we're certainly going to continue to evaluate it," Gershenhorn says.

The U.S. Postal Service and FedEx wouldn't speculate about using drones for delivery.

__

With reports from Barbara Ortutay in New York, David Koenig in Dallas and Sam Hananel in Washington D.C.

__

Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.

| |

Advertisement


Trending Now



AROUND THE WEB

  1. 1
    FDA announces rules restricting e-cigarettes and cigars
  2. 2
    'Time' unveils its 100 most influential people list
  3. 3
    Michael Phelps on comeback: 'I'm doing this for me'
  4. 4
    Did One Direction Plagiarise Their Latest Music Video?
  5. 5
    Here's How To Stop Videos From Automatically Playing On Your Facebook Feed
+ show more