The Amazon Drone Announcement
The Amazon drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed to carry, transport and drop lightweight packages to recipients’ homes. Following Amazon’s announcement for Amazon PrimeAir plans on Sunday (01/12/2013) a divided opinion has formed. Despite those disregarding the idea that UAVs will be delivering packages to their doorstep, Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos has plans to have UAVs in action within the next five years. Jonathan Downey, the chief executive of Airware, the company developing the autopilot brains for drones, said that ‘We definitely think things are going to be delivered by drones. Whether it’s books and whether it’s by Amazon I’m sceptical, certainly within the next three of four years’. It appears, even those who are pro UAVs are in disagreement over their use and potential introduction into public space.
At first seeing the prototype aptly named ‘octocopter’, some people believed they were witnessing a much delayed April fool’s hoax. This would be an understandable reaction as the use of commercial drones is illegal in the USA. Despite this, global package and express delivery competitors UPS have confirmed to ABC News that they are also considering the drone delivery model. Unlike Amazon, UPS has taken a more cautious approach to the topic by not displaying their progress on the eve before the USA’s busiest day of the year for online shipping. Instead UPS responded to the news of Amazon’s biggest reveal stating that ‘the commercial use of drones is an interesting technology and we’ll continue to evaluate it. UPS invests more in technology than any other company in the delivery business, and we’re always planning for the future.’ Unlike Amazon however, UPS are keen to use their drones to move packages within their own warehouses and locations, helping move cargo from one place to another.
The Drone Industry
The public got a taste for what these commercial drones are capable of back in June (2013) when Domino’s Pizza put on a promotional stunt to deliver the pizza to a customer using the ‘DomiCopter’. Although not officially a UAV, as you can see in the clip it is controlled by a remote-control, the exploit is a good demonstration of the idea’s Amazon and its competitors have for the drone industry.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the USA’s national aviation authority and, simply put, they maintain and regulate the aviation industry within America. Current law states, as mentioned, that the commercial use of drones is illegal but the FAA does have plans to make changes as they published a five year roadmap to put regulations in place. Many say that the FAA is behind the times and needs to now play catch up with the ever fast-paced technology industry.
It has come to light that Congress has given the FAA a deadline to allow the drones to safely fly with commercial airlines by September 2015 which FAA administrator Michael Huerta maintains will be met. As you can imagine, it’s not only regulations but other challenges that are slowing the process. The FAA has to take into consideration the training for ground-based pilots, the safety of the people and of the drones in built up areas, the contingency models for when drones loose contact with ground pilots and more. The FAA said in a statement on Monday (02/12/2013) said that ‘The FAA is committed to safe, efficient and timely integration of unmanned aircraft systems into our airspace. Over the next several years the FAA will establish regulations and standard for the safe integration of remote piloted (unmanned aircraft) to meet increased demand.’ The FAA has announced that they will be releasing a proposed rule for small drones in 2014, paving the way for technological developments in the commercial space.
Stephen Ganyard, ABC News’ aviation consultant and expert said that there are huge concerns yet to be addressed. Mr Ganyard said ‘There are huge legal questions here. Not only do we have tactical questions but we have these civil liberty questions about privacy. What Mr Ganyard is referring to, are the camera’s installed on the drones, the concerns of a drone harming the public and their access to private property. He went on to say ‘I don’t think here is any problem from the technology side, but on the policy side there are a lot of questions that remain to be answered.’
It will be a test of time to see whether this advancement in technology will be officially legalized and utilized; let’s just hope that it’s not a publicity stunt or a joke, as thought by Dean Wynton, director of Aerosight and Rory Paul, CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics.
Russell Scott is the MD of Sycura IT Support, he enjoys keeping up to date with new technologies and writing about all aspects of tech developments and information technology.