The drone controversy drones on

Written by on February 20, 2015 in Features with 0 Comments

Fast delivery post package for adv or others purpose useThe futuristic vision of getting packages delivered to your door by drones has mostly been up in the air, but over Valentine’s weekend and the long President’s Day holiday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) quietly put out a press release that finally clarifies its stance on what it calls unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

What the FAA has put forth doesn’t actually ground all such aircraft, but it does strictly define what can and can’t fly over U.S. skies and under what circumstances. The ‘safety rules’ for UAS under 55 pounds include limiting flights to daylight hours and visual line-of-sight, meaning drones being controlled remotely from a great distance would not be allowed. In addition, drone wouldn’t be able to fly higher than 500 feet, go no faster than 100 miles per hour and can’t fly over people except those directly involved in the drone’s flight.

Perhaps most damning for the likes of Amazon and Google, which last year bought drone manufacturer Titan Aerospace, the FAA has said that UAS devices can’t drop items. This throws cold water on the idea of using drones for package delivery – as touted by Amazon Prime Air – but it does keep the door open for other uses.

For example, Google might use drones to help with its map features or even as a way to bring connectivity to far-flung areas, along the lines of its Project Loon. Other companies might use drones for such diverse applications as land surveying, keeping watch over cattle or other livestock, search and rescue operations and weather-related uses such as monitoring forest fires.

The FAA rules, and subsequent memo from the White House, appear to show a government that wants it all: civilian drones creating a positive economic impact on U.S. industries while ensuring safety, privacy, civil rights and civil liberties. This may be a difficult balance, and it certainly won’t make it easy for tech firms that want to use drones as a key differentiator in their business.

But there could be an option for the Amazons of the world. In the same release, the FAA also mentions the possibility of ‘micro’ UAS, that is drones less than 4.4 pounds. As part of the 6-day public comment period covering the entire list of proposed drone rules, the FAA is asking if micro UAS devices should be included in its final ruling.

A drone that weighs less than 5 pounds will probably be useless for delivering heavy packages but could be helpful in other ways. The line-of-sight restriction will likely put a stop to many interesting uses for drones, but there’s always the chance the FAA will rescind that requirement or modify it.

The term drones is a very loaded one these days, but the civilian use cases could bring a lot of benefit to a lot of people. We may not be opening our doors to find an Amazon drone depositing a package on our front steps anytime soon, but once the FAA rules are ironed out and who knows what we’ll see when we look up.

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Anita Karvé

About the Author

About the Author: Anita is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering just about everything in the technology space with a focus on computer networking and telecommunications. She was managing editor of Billing & OSS World magazine and technology editor at Network magazine and most recently was in charge of newsletter coverage at TM Forum. .

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