Any day now the drone community is expected to learn of the decision from the US government surrounding the legality of proposed drone-delivery program. While major retailers like Amazon would stand to benefit the most from the program being given the green light, the decision by Washington would also have an impact on smaller businesses who wish to deliver niche services and goods via drones.
Therefore, what Amazon wants to do is incredibly important for two reasons. For one, with Amazon being one of the largest retailers within the world the successful launch of its drone program would surely pave the way for others. Just as drones have changed the way we film, Amazon’s program could change the way we shop. Second, Amazon’s success in this area would surely bring about new debate surrounding what it means to fly drones, and what rights are involved for the user and broader community.
This debate has already been seen in a number of US states, and in a number of ways. Yet, so far this debate has largely been confined to individual drone operators or small companies using drones for filming. If Amazon is to launch this program - and pave the way for others - it could rapidly change the discussion surrounding how drone users can operate in the public space. Right now however, the sticking point remains the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
In order to have their program take to the skies, Amazon needs to convince the FAA beforehand that the drones shall be used in a safe and responsible way. While this is not too hard to do if you are an individual operator or small company, with the potential for thousands or drones taking flight with an Amazon logo, obviously the stakes are much higher.
This comes too as the US government has enlisted the services of the drone company PrecisionHawk to survey the skies and those who use it to try and figure out a way for drone users to have a fair and free run - without overnight seeing the air above us overrun with drones and without safeguards for their responsible use. Accordingly, PrecisionHawk have also been at the forefront of developing drone technology that would improve accuracy of flight and safety surrounding drone use. This has been done via a huge amount of testing, with PrecisionHawk essentially ‘flying the flag’ for future drone-delivers by seeking to show the government that drones are safe and dependable.
The use of what the company’s Low Altitude Traffic and Airspace Safety (LATAS) system is leading the charge in this area. LATAS has had tests involving both human operation of drones - and how quickly a human user can react to a sudden object entering the drone's flight path (such as a huge bird or even a human paragliding) - and involving drones automated responses (so the same tests but this time relying on the drones AI to respond to the object entering its space). These tests shall provide a great benchmark against which current drone tech can be measured -for if the industry can successfully show its drones can fly anywhere but do so without interfering with anything else in the airspace - then the sky is literally the limit for drone operators going forward. Furthermore, beyond the main aim of seeking to get the green light for drone delivery, these tests are also very exciting for what new knowledge and ‘know how’ they can deliver to the drone industry when it comes to advancing technology into the next generation.
What happens next is uncertain. For even if the FAA gives Amazon the go ahead it is also true drone technology is developing so fast to what extent the law can keep it up with it is unclear. While its reasonable to expect a fair - or at least workable - outcome shall always be sorted out, recent events in California especially (where there has been a ‘back and forth’ fight over drone regulation) suggests the rise of drone delivery services may still face many stumbling blocks in future even if Washington lets them take off in weeks ahead.