Flying machines is most likely to soon deliver products to U.S. and Chinese citizens. However even though key developments have happened in the past few weeks, such service is unlikely to be nationwide with regulation still remaining restrictive.
New rules on unmanned vehicles were issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) towards the end of June. The new rules state that the unmanned vehicles must weigh less than 55 pounds and need to remain in the visual line-of-sight of the operator. Also such vehicles can have a maximum altitude of 400 feet above ground level.
Amazon’s drone delivery system – known as Prime Air appear to have been shot dead by the rules.
Decriminalizing drones and potentially paving the way for a loosening of regulation in the future were made possible by the FAA’s ruling.
Drone rules are fairly nascent and different across the 28-member states in the European Union (EU). The European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA) has been tasked with coming up with rules for the bloc by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.
Organizing drones first into different categories – from low to high risk depending on their functionality and size was proposed by the EASA, in a document published last year, and then assigning each category different rules.
An image in the document shows a UAV with a parcel attached under the “specific” category even though the proposals do not specifically refer to delivery drones.
The EASA said that under this category, these drones to be used out of the visual line-of-sight of the operator even though the pilot would require a license by a national aviation authority.
It now remains to be seen whether the EASA’s suggestions are utilized to create harmonized rules across the EU by drafting them into legislation.
Experts say that the geographical difference between the U.S. and EU can explain the divergence in regulation.
“If you look at (the) distribution network in (the) U.S. where people are distributed over larger spaces and there is less urbanization in certain areas, you can see a more compelling case for drones for delivery. Naturally regulations will follow that. I think in Europe it’s a more dense population so there is need for tighter regulation because it’s a more congested airspace,” Glynn Bellamy, head of aersopace at KPMG said in a media interview.
Anything from packages ordered online to medicine and food in disaster zones are visualized to be delivered by drones by industry watchers.
The technology companies are however trailing drones technology to achieve that. While Google is trailing the technology in Australia, Amazon is testing drones in the U.K., Canada and the Netherlands.
The technology has already been tested in the real world of business. The fully autonomous first FAA-approved drone delivery was carried out by a start-up called Flirtey earlier this year. A package of bottled water, first aid kit and food was dropped off by it to an area of Hawthorne, Nevada.
JD.com, one of China’s biggest online retailers, is currently doing some deliveries by drones.
However security is one of e major issues behind the reluctance of the authorities to go ahead with delivery drones. While in April, a drone hit a British Airways flight as it was landing at London’s Heathrow Airport, a drone crashed on the White House lawn last year. Privacy concerns have also been raised as many consumer drones also come with cameras on them. Moreover drone which are hacked could lead to potentially very dangerous outcomes.
“There are a lot of technical concerns as well as regulatory concerns around aviation. My projection is all these things are solvable,” John Schmidt, head of aerospace and defense at Accenture says.
(Adapted from CNBC)