Dec 2 6:44 PM

Amazon drones by 2015: What will it take?

Amazon previews its proposed drone delivery system.
The Stream (Al Jazeera)

In an interview with 60 Minutes Sunday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos laid out his vision to incorporate drones into delivery service by 2015. Among the factors he listed as obstacles to his plan was the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is trying to meet a 2015 deadline for the full incorporation of unmanned aerial vehicles. On its web page about the drone project, Amazon explicitly ties its deadline to the FAA's, saying, "We hope the FAA's rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time."

Below is Amazon's video about its Amazon Prime Air delivery project.

Drones have cameras. This includes Amazon drones. What will they do w video/incidentally collected information? Need to answer before 2015.Amie Stepanovich
Order via @AmazonDrone and next day Amazon would suggest: "How about a new mailbox" or "Those shutters look a bit ratty" or "Perhaps paint"Patricia Zengerle

The human factor

The FAA drone road map is explicit in its assertion that no matter how reliable automation technologies become, the involvement of human operators will be required. It states plainly "autonomous operations are not permitted" and that the ratio of drones to operators should be 1 to 1.  Amazon's delivery drones would thus require significant numbers of trained staff and additional safeguards against human error, a necessary aspect of the program that its promotional video does not depict. The road map makes reference to a working group for developing pilot certifications and ensuring that technological and pilot safeguards work in tandem. 
The video below of human error in drone piloting received over a million views. In the video, a drone attempting to capture footage of a wedding is piloted into the groom's head.
Quadcopter hits groom in the head. // Epic Fail - SeriouslyWeddingMan123

Where will this go next?

Drones are already a widespread reality in U.S. airspace, even though their full integration by the FAA is several years away. In the absence of detailed regulations from the federal government, many of the safety and privacy concerns outlined in the FAA's road map are being fought out in the states. In Texas, a drone hobbyist captured images of a slaughterhouse polluting a creek with pig blood. The result was a state law outlawing drone photography by private citizens without express consent. 

While hobbyists and law enforcement have room to experiment with UAV technology before 2015, the FAA has made it clear that it will not allow legal gray areas on commercial use of drones to play out on a state level. The FAA recently filed a complaint against a drone hobbyist who sold footage from his drone, alleging that doing so violated restrictions on commercial use. It remains unclear how the FAA's close watch on commercial drones will impact Amazon's ability to test and implement its desired drone delivery system prior to the FAA's following through on its road map. 

Check out the full FAA roadmap for integrating UAVs into U.S. airspace and leave your thoughts in the comments blow. 


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