Once just an e-commerce group, Amazon is starting to rival Google as the most obese man at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Their latest move was outlined in a letter received on July 11, 2014, by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To aid in their development of a kind of neo-air force, Amazon are requesting government cooperation as they work on the practical development of unmanned commercial drones with a view toward delivering packages to businesses and homes and consumers and is petitioning US regulators to give it greater freedom to test its prototypes. They are requesting exemptions from rules that hinder commercial enterprises disallowing the testing of unmanned vehicles outside protected environments like hangars.
At the same time, the FAA are already holding town hall meetings and soliciting feedback from anyone with concerns about the commercialization of drones. Modernizing the current set of rules is of the essence because so many ecology-minded folks out there worry that the skies will soon be full of more flying objects that can cause all sorts of navigational difficulties for military and commercial flights, helicopters and small airplanes.
Not that Amazon is the very first company to petition for exemptions from regulations on commercial use of unmanned aircraft. Farmers, film producers and electric power corporations have already tried in vain, according to Forbes. Amazon Prime Air, as it will be called, is a system which plans to deliver as promptly as 30 minutes or less. Amazon’s plan is to use a research site near Seattle while they test the development of a drone that goes as fast as 50mph while carrying packages of 5Ib or less.
Silicon Valley in general is very interested in drones. Indeed, both Facebook and Google are fighting to acquire drone research companies. In February 2014 Google bought Calico, a drone engine company; Nest, a company which produces wireless smoke alarms and heating systems for ‘smart’ homes; and Boston Dynamics, the military’s top supplier of robots and their parts. Yet Amazon are still recovering from the hit they took close to a year ago when the FAA released a document on the utilization of drones which stated absolutely and unequivocally that the delivery of packages to people for a fee was not part of their planning for safe skies as homeland security took precedence.
Yet Amazon’s CEO, the bombastic Jeff Bezos told NBC’s Today Show after showing the clip below, that “One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail truck on the road today.”
The biggest questions being asked by the FAA may be about the structure of Amazon’s Prime service, which offers free shipping for a flat annual fee. Common sense clearly tells even the most corrupt government civil servant that there’s a disaster always on the cusp of happening once city skies are filled with thousands of fast-moving, unmanned vehicles. It seems like a wonderful idea, but there’s no doubt that should one of the drones break down in mid-air or collide with some other object, it could fall and cause minor explosions that lead to fatalities and fires.
“We’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place,” Bezos said defensively. Having donated millions to both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, there’s no doubt he’s been spending a lot of time on the phone to Valerie Jarrett in the Oval Office, but pulling this one off might be a bridge too far even for him. “It looks like science fiction, but it’s real.”