When Amazon's Jeff Bezos unveiled Amazon Prime Air in late 2013 via 60 Minutes, a lot of people took it as a joke -- an easy way for Amazon to hog the limelight for a little bit. It took only a few months more to realize that the company was very serious about the venture, and while it might still seem a little bit outlandish to use drones to deliver packages, it can and has been done.
Of course, deploying drones for commercial use is easier said than done. The amount of regulatory work that needs to be done is massive, and we're still not at the point where we're much closer, something proven with new draft rules that the FAA released over the weekend.
While it doesn't seem like a problem in theory to use drones to deliver products, there are a couple of major caveats that ruin the chances of Prime Air from working. At the forefront, the drone operator must maintain visual contact with the drone -- something impossible if it's to be automated. Further, the drone can't fly over the heads of people not involved with it -- again, another major issue.
In response to the FAA draft, Amazon's Paul Misener, VP for Global Policy, says, "The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers".
Credit: USA Today
Since it's not difficult to equip a drone with a camera, it seems like it the requirement of needing to keep visual contact with the drone could be worked around, but, that wouldn't prove much help if the drone happens to die in mid-air (or is shot down) and the operator is nowhere near.
Clearly, the FAA's proposed rules would make it impossible for businesses like Amazon to use drones for unmanned services. Amazon's appealing the ruling, but it sure has an uphill climb ahead of it.