The Federal Aviation Administration has introduced new rules detailing how businesses can use drones. And as with all other forms of regulation, the tech industry is expected to work itself into a tizzy over the cautious governance.
Perhaps the most controversial new guideline is the requirement that drone operators maintain line-of-sight with the contraptions and their dangerous mish-mash of whirring blades, plastic bodies, and assortment of extensions.
The rules also prevent drones from flying above people not “directly involved with the flight,” and would force operators to stop a flight when “continuing would pose a hazard to other aircraft, people or property,” among other things.
These restrictions wouldn’t allow for the drone-powered delivery systems with which companies like Amazon, Google, and Alibaba have been experimenting. (This could change if the proposed rules are revised before they are finalized.)
Instead of providing the traditional “no comment” about the issue, Amazon is on the offensive. As the New York Times says in a report on the new rules:
Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy, said the proposed rules could take one or two years for final adoption and would not permit Prime Air to operate in the United States. ‘The F.A.A. needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers,’ he said.
Misener must live in a strange world where making sure people aren’t injured by flying robots — and that’s what the autonomous vehicles envisioned by Amazon would be — falling out of the skies isn’t good for “our customers.”
Drones might be good for some of Amazon’s customers some of the time. But some caution about how drones are flown, or how these flying robots are used, is probably more beneficial to the common person than a fancy delivery drone.
That isn’t to say these proposed rules are perfect. They aren’t. But taking safety into consideration instead of giving businesses whatever they want isn’t nearly as bad as some tech companies (not naming names) pretend.
Amazon might be upset that the current rules don’t allow for its flying robots. But I suspect the people who won’t receive a drone to the head while the kinks are worked out of their autonomous flight software will be awfully grateful.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]