The tech drama that is hitting the media currently is that of the drone invasion. According to FAA statistics in this year there have been over 700 incidents where pilots have reported seeing drones flying near airports – that is triple the number from last year. Yet even though the media’s focus is on the threat of drones to air travel, it is also showing concern about whether government regulations will ever be able to catch up to the super fast pace of evolving technology.
Until around June of 2011 drones were confined mostly to war zones, but even the critics recognized the value of using unmanned aircraft in the commercial and civilian zones. The FAA started considering new rules and training staffers to adjust to unmanned aircraft in the US airspace. It was thought at that time (just 4 years ago) that drones would be mostly used for jobs too dull, dirty or dangerous for humans or as super efficient emergency response vehicles. But governmental regulations and lawsuits ruled over civilians that tried to force the change from war zone to home zone. The reality we know today is that the real driving force behind the legalization of drones for civilian use came when Amazon wanted delivery privileges and approached several governments around the world to accommodate their commercial foresight. However USA FAA regulators came down hard on Amazon’s Prime Air Delivery Service so in December of 2014, Amazon said they would move operations elsewhere to get the regulatory support they needed to move forward with their business model. Amazon stated that it was increasingly concerned that unless substantial progress was quickly made in opening up the skies in the United States, the nation would be at risk of losing its position at the center of innovation for the USA technological revolution, and with it the key jobs and economic benefits that come with it. Paul Misener, Amazon’s Vice President for global policy said, “Without approval testing in the United States, Amazon will be forced to continue expanding the Prime Air R&D footprint abroad”.
Even with the big threats made to the FAA by Amazon, in July of 2015 Flirtey, an Australian startup, became the first company in the USA (not Amazon) to legally use a drone for delivery of medical supplies to a rural health clinic in Virginia. The Federal Aviation Administration approved Flirtey to make the delivery as part of a joint venture called “Let’s Fly Wisely” between NASA, Virginia Tech University, several healthcare organizations in Virginia, and Flirtey, among others.
It wasn’t until September of 2015 (yes, just one month ago) that Amazon was given the “go-ahead” and announced that their Prime Air Drone Delivery project will be operational in three to five years. When fully operational, Prime Air will enable an order to be placed online and delivered safely to the customer’s doorstep in 30 minutes by radio controlled flying drones. In the world of Internet ordering, Prime Air Drone Delivery will surpass any shipping and delivery option ever known.
The arrival of next day air delivery was monumental – having an item delivered in 30 minutes is mind-blowing.
Amazon has made huge progress with this drone delivery project and recently asked the government for special permission to be exempt from the laws that restrict commercial drone use in order to further their development. The timing is ironic as news starts to “fly” about the attack of the illegal drones that end up on the President’s front lawn and in the paths of Airliners. One wonders if the FAA is pushing the media so that they can back-step on promises made to commercial users of drones like Amazon.
Whatever your thoughts (or lack of them) on the use of drones for commercial or civilian use, now is a pivotal point in IoT technological history and one can only hope that “perfect choices” will be made by the FAA. (Perfection being a laughable word used in connection with any legal decision coming down from our government.)
We can still hope that progress will continue moving forward, and that those novel and voyeuristic “James Bond” fliers of drones will be intelligent in their use…
…and not ruin it for the rest of us.