5 Takeaways from Amazon’s Congressional Meeting on Drones

Amazon met with Congress to discuss regulatory and technological issues surrounding its Prime Air drone delivery service. Here are five key takeaways from the meeting.

Photo Caption: From left, Federal Aviation Administration Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Airspace Systems Program Director Dr. John Cavolowsky, Amazon Global Public Policy Vice President Paul Misener, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International President & CEO Brian Wynne, and Center for Democracy and Technology Advocacy Director and Senior Counsel Harley Geiger testify on Capitol Hill in Washington before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the economic impact of regulating drone technology for personal and commercial uses.

Amazon is developing the technology to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, and in a meeting Wednesday Amazon vice president of global public policy Paul Misener urged the House of Representatives to speed up rules that regulate the use of commercial drones.

Privacy and safety are two of the main concerns around drones, and Misener told the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that it was imperative the U.S. adopt regulations to make automated drone flight a reality.

You can watch the entire meeting in the video below (it’s 3 hours and 12 minutes long) or check out these five key takeaways:

1. Amazon Makes Case for Drone Use Beyond Line of Sight

The main issue here for Amazon is overturning the line-of-sight clause in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) proposed rules that states commercial drones must remain within the visual line-of-sight (VLOS) of the operator at all times. This, of course, would significantly limit the distance drones can fly and ultimately prevent drone delivery services such as Amazon Prime Air.

“We don’t disagree that it is a more difficult use case to fly drones beyond visual line of sight. It is. It requires a higher degree of automation in vehicles, and we are working on that,” said Misener. “That kind of technology is being developed. Our respectful disagreement with the FAA is that we believe that that kind of operation can be considered right now on the same risk-based approach.”

FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said more research is needed before the government allows widespread use.

“We are working diligently to develop a regulatory framework that will allow for innovation while ensuring the safety of other users of the airspace and people and property on the ground,” Whitaker told the committee.

2. Drone Regulations Will be Finalized within 1 Year

So when will U.S.  drone regulations arrive?

“The rule will be in place within a year,” Whitaker said in his testimony.

3. Amazon Prime Air Will be Ready Whenever Regulations are Approved

The FAA in April 2015 granted Amazon permission to test drone delivery in the United States. Amazon must fly the drones under 400 feet and at speeds that don’t exceed 100 miles per hour.

So when would Amazon Prime Air be ready for prime-time? “We’d like to begin delivering to our customers as soon as it’s approved,” said Misener. “We will have [the technology] in place by the time any regulations are ready. We are working very quickly.” 

Amazon hopes to eventually use drones to deliver packages to customers at a distance of 10 miles or more.

4. Congress Takes Issue with Collision Avoidance Technologies

Amazon disagrees with the FAA’s assessment that putting “sense and avoid” technologies on small drones presents “unique safety concerns,” according to a copy of Misener’s prepared remarks released Tuesday by the committee.

Collision avoidance technology allows drones to fly independently of human operators, automatically avoiding obstacles by adjusting their flight. This type of technology is vital to Amazon Prime Air’s success.

5. Amazon Wants Federal Regulation, Not State Regulation

Amazon told the oversight committee that states and cities “must not be allowed” to regulate drone flights. Amazon says there should be only one set of rules for everyone.

Different rules in different areas would further complicate Amazon’s plans to deliver goods by drone. Amazon is also working with NASA and others on an air traffic control system for drones to ensure safety in the skies and to reassure the FAA that it’s approaching the matter in a responsible manner.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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