Many people in the tech industry can remember exactly where and when
they were when they first heard about Amazon’s plans to use unmanned
flying drones to deliver products to their customers in as little as 30
minutes from when they were ordered online.
When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos first unveiled the plan to Charlie Rose on
“60 Minutes” in December, 2013, it had the same impact for many as
watching the first moon landing, the Challenger explosion, or 9/11. We
all knew instantly that everything had changed forever.
So far, the 21st Century has been lived up to expectations as far as
futuristic developments. Unrestricted mobile access to the Internet has
connected us all. Driverless cars are only a few more years away. And
big data analysis has allowed governments to spy not only on their
enemies, but on all of their own citizens simultaneously.
So perhaps we shouldn’t have been so surprised by Bezos announcement
that the world’s largest online retailer (and world’s largest store, for
that matter) was developing tiny unmanned helicopters that could
transport the books, small appliances and other products we purchased
online directly to our doorstep in literally minutes after we clicked
the “Buy Now” button.
After the initial “gee whiz” shock of the announcement wore off, next
came the naysayers: “The FAA will never let them do it.” “There are too
many power lines, phone wires and other detritus for drones to actually
work.” “Aren’t those the same type of drones we use to drop bombs on the
heads of our enemies?”
It’s Finally Happening
The push back from the Amazon announcement had all but erased the idea
from most people’s minds. Until now, that is. Now, it look as if it’s
Earlier this month, the FAA granted Amazon a special exemption that
allowed the retailer to begin real-time testing of its Prime Air drone
fleet of unmanned helicopters.
Despite objections from airlines and agricultural pilots, the FAA gave
Amazon Prime Air the green light, stating that the drones posed less
safety risk than larger drones used for defense and aerospace purposes.
Some observers said that suggests the FAA would be okay with Amazon’s
unmanned drone delivery plans, as long as it was limited for the time
being in location, site access, two-way communication capabilities, and
Pilot Program to Start Right Away
The FAA’s exemption allows Amazon to roll out a pilot program using
drones that weigh less than 55 pounds including the payload – and that
travel below speeds of 100 miles per hour. The drones can only be
operated at altitudes lower than 400 feet and, for the time being at
least, must be within the unaided sight of human controllers at all
Although opponents asked that Amazon be limited to using controllers who
hold commercial airline pilot license, or at least private pilot
licenses, the FAA agreed to allow the online retailer to use controllers
who had only recreational or sport pilot certificate, which requires far
less training and certification. Controllers also will need to have a
valid driver’s license.
The ultimate goal of Amazon is to dispatch squadrons of drones from
regional distribution centers located all over the US. Consumers would
be able to receive delivery of their orders in 30 minutes or less.
If the program is successful, it could change the face of package
delivery permanently. Other retailers would almost certainly follow
suit. And soon the low-altitude airways could be filled with unmanned
drones flying back and forth overhead like something out of a science
fiction movie….cant wait, can you!?!?