from the still-needs-work dept
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.