While Better Than Expected, New FAA Drone Rules Would Still Kill Some Promising Business Models

from the still-needs-work dept

We've talked for years about the myriad business opportunities drones potentially create, from rumored Amazon delivery services, to Facebook and Google's exploration of drones to help shore up global broadband connectivity gaps. Spend a few minutes with any of the growing maker communities scattered around the country and you come to quickly realize the rise of the drone isn't just about potential business applications, but a creative societal shift in the way we think and interact with technology and one another (good, and bad).

Unfortunately, for just as long we've explored the potential of the technology, we've noted how the FAA is incapable of seeing very far past the obvious hazards to air traffic. As such, during the long rule-making process the FAA has made it abundantly clear it planned to draft rules that crippled a lot of the more interesting potential of drones. The FAA this week formally released its proposed drone rules, and while a bit better than many had expected, the consensus seems to be they will still manage to outlaw a lot of practical business applications:
"The proposed rules "are more progressive than we expected," said Michael Drobac, executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, a trade group that represents drone makers, including Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc. "But once you spend some time looking at them, some of the things proposed would be devastating to the future of the industry."
According to the FAA fact sheet and the actual rules (pdf), the rules require direct line of sight (read: a human on the ground) and forbid nighttime use:
"Specifically, the FAA is proposing to add a new part 107 to Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) to allow for routine civil operation of small UAS in the NAS and to provide safety rules for those operations. Consistent with the statutory definition, the proposed rule defines small UAS as those UAS weighing less than 55 pounds. To mitigate risk, the proposed rule would limit small UAS to daylight-only operations, confined areas of operation, and visual-line-of-sight operations."
The rules also note that drone users can't fly their drones faster than 100 mph, or higher than 500 feet. Drones also can't be flown over major population masses, which outlaws pretty much all operation in most urban environments. While a lot of hobbyist uses remain unimpaired, once you start to add up the restrictions it becomes clear that the proposed rules pretty much ban any of the drone delivery ambitions held by companies like Amazon or Google. Commenting to The Guardian, Amazon was quick to threaten that they'll just take their Amazon drone delivery ambitions to countries with more progressive drone rules in play:
"The FAA needs to begin and expeditiously complete the formal process to address the needs of our business, and ultimately our customers," Paul Misener, Amazon vice-president of gobal public policy, said in a statement to the Guardian. “We are committed to realising our vision for Prime Air and are prepared to deploy where we have the regulatory support we need."
I personally always thought Amazon's drone delivery ambitions had more than a small component of hot air, designed predominately to help give the PR impression of intense innovation. I'm a tough sell on the practicality of urban drone delivery anyway; in my head I've always imagined a very dystopian Terry Gilliam-esque affair, where bands of hooligans construct increasingly elaborate steampunk slingshots to shoot down drones, street urchins then scurrying in rapt alleyway pursuit of Prime deliveries and pepperoni pizzas. Then again maybe I'm just being too cynical, and this cat and mouse criminality opens up an entire world of drone delivery security countermeasure-driven business models I've not even thought of.

Of course with the FAA banning night and urban use, we're talking about a lot more than just Google and Amazon's ambitions getting curtailed. Surveillance and the government's use of drones is also obviously a concern. Alongside the new rule proposals the White House issued Presidential memorandum requiring government agencies to detail the time and location of drone operations (though what loopholes are carved out for intelligence and law enforcement remains unclear). Drone operators that take taxpayer money will also need to clearly document what's being done with collected data.

It's worth reiterating that these are just draft rules and we've still got a public comment period that could extend the already-delayed drone rule making process another two years. By the time the public and companies get done hammering away at them over the next few years, we may actually wind up with rules far better than most people ever imagined.

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  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 2:31pm

    That's too bad. I was going to get back into model rocketry and wait for the next drone to violate my airspace.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dan G Difino, 17 Feb 2015 @ 3:03pm

      Re:

      I think your business model still works.. are you looking for partners to form a global delivery network system of rockets right up their.. noses? I was also thinking glue balls, sort of like paintballs! We could become billionaires just like those fucknuts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Roger Strong (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 3:26pm

        Re: Re:

        A business model? I'd have each anti-drone launcher armed and ready to down the nearest drone... the instant the Amazon drone delivers it.

        Rockets though might earn you a stern gaze from the local police.

        Better to go with a cross between the AIBO robotic dog and the Sand Flea jumping robot (YouTube), which can jump 30 feet in the air onto roof-tops.

        "Honest, officer, my dog mistook the drone for a Frisbee. Image recognition is hard!"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 2:50pm

    What about inspecting Radio / TV transmitter towers?

    Those are over 500 feet. Commercial drones are used to inspect those. The drones need to go over 500 feet, but they don't need to go outside of a fairly small radius from the tower's base.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 2:53pm

    Typo in the article

    The article says:
    It's worth reiterating that these are just draft rules and we've still got a public comment period that could extend the already-delayed drone rule making process another two years.
    I believe that might have been a typo, and was intended to read:
    It's worth reiterating that these are just daft rules and we've still got a public comment period that could extend the already-delayed drone rule making process another two years.
    But I cannot be sure of the actual intent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Feb 2015 @ 7:28am

      Re: Typo in the article

      "By the time the public and companies get done hammering away at them over the next few years, we may actually wind up with rules far better than most people ever imagined."

      i'll just add this in respect to the above comment: please inform me of *when* that has EVER worked out FOR the benefit of the 99%, and NOT the opposite, where it was mutated to the advantage of the gummint/1% ? ? ?

      (realizing there *may* be -*MAY* be- one or two exceptions which prove the rule...)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Feb 2015 @ 3:24pm

    Criminals have all the fun

    I am sure some impetus for the rules is for the ever present concern for "safety". But I imagine that a much larger driver is the fear of criminals and terrorists using them. But of course criminals and terrorists don't care about the laws, thus making them criminals and terrorists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Roger Strong (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 3:37pm

      Re: Criminals have all the fun

      Just so.

      Drones became all the rage for America - many innocent bystanders killed, and "double-taps", the practice of a follow-up drone strike to take out emergency responders - and yet the only major protest about this from within America is that in a couple of those attacks, Americans were targeted.

      We live in a world where a decade ago a legally blind guy with almost no budget built a drone and flown it across the Atlantic ocean. You can imagine what small governments can do. Especially today with multiple GPS standards, and Google Earth data for terrain following and building recognition in 3D from above.

      Meanwhile the American government has established a very low standard on what is acceptable behavior when using them.

      Someone is going to decide that drones are the modern-day "great equalizer" similar to guns in the past. They may not do much real damage, but they'll be a highly effective terror weapon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Lollypop (profile), 17 Feb 2015 @ 3:46pm

      Re: Criminals have all the fun

      It's apparently not for "safety" as hobbyists are excluded from the rules. I'm at a complete loss why they are creating stricter rules for commercial use.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anon...., 17 Feb 2015 @ 4:33pm

    If they do allow Amazon, et. al., to deliver goods, we will just see a rise in skeet shooting with prizes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 7:12am

    "But once you spend some time looking at them, some of the things proposed would be devastating to the future of the industry."

    So... continuing to not be able to do something that you are currently unable to do, but are doing just fine without, is going to destroy you in the future, even though your competitors will also not be able to do this thing?

    Anyone else think this guy's spreading it on a little thick?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Feb 2015 @ 6:11am

      Re:

      I think the industry he refers to is the drone industry, not the internet shopping industry:
      "executive director of the Small UAV Coalition, a trade group that represents drone makers"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gerald Robinson (profile), 18 Feb 2015 @ 9:39am

    FAA stupidity

    These rules pretty much prohibit drone use by fire departments in Urban Interface and forest fires. Not only that but they prohibit use in urban fires as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    helen holmes, 8 May 2015 @ 10:46am

    Drones - seem to be able to fly anywhere.

    I live right next to protected wetlands and am appalled that the government would even consider allowing drones to fly up to 100 mph over these areas that have been set aside for wildlife.

    It has taken years for birds such as the Egret and Osprey and others to come back to a survival level and they won't stay in the areas set aside for them if the drones are allowed anywhere near them.

    Just seems to be a free for all game and no one has thought out the ramifications to a new and not really needed technology.

    Love Bezos who is just trying again to eliminate jobs for human beings by eliminating human delivery drivers threatening to leave the US if they won't let him have his bizarre way. Hope he goes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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