'We'll send it via drone delivery'
Sept. 7, 2015
by Mark Ollig

A popular online ordering warehouse is currently testing a new method of delivering packages to its customers.

At an undisclosed base of operations in rural British Columbia, Canada, Amazon Prime Air is experimenting with air-delivery of packages – via drones.

Yes, drones: those much talked about, remotely-piloted aircraft which look like a futuristic helicopter.

How serious is Amazon about using drones to air-deliver packages directly to your house or business?

The vice president of Amazon Prime Air, at a recent NASA convention in California, floated the idea of assigning a specific band of airspace for commercial delivery drones.

Reserved airspace would be between 200 and 400 feet off the ground, and would include a 100 foot no-fly buffer-zone above this level, for safety.

The operation of an unpiloted drone falls under the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classification: “sUAS” (small Unmanned Aerial System).

Sources say one aerial delivery drone Amazon is testing, can transport a package weighing a little over 5 pounds, and flies at just under 50 mph.

The weight of 5 pounds represents 86 percent of Amazon packages being delivered.

From what I am able to understand, the reason Amazon is performing its drone testing in Canada, is because the company had to wait too long for FAA approval here in the US.

They also found the current US regulations regarding drone flights too restricting.

The Canadian government, on the other hand, has given Amazon permission to test various types of drones.

Amazon plans on introducing a “30-minute Prime Air” parcel delivery service via aerial drones to customers in the US; pending significant changes to US drone regulations.

The US government’s FAA website has a page titled: “Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations & Policies.”

This FAA web page is very lengthy, and details UAS outlines regarding usage of small unmanned aircraft systems; including flying drones.

This web page contains a “framework of regulations” which covers various codes and rules.

One FAA rule proposal recommends limiting non-recreational (commercial) drone flights during daylight hours.

There are also height restrictions, operator certification, and verbiage about a “visual observer.”

Aircraft registration, markings, operational limits, and visual-line-of-sight operations are also mentioned.

Last week, the FAA announced a new, unmanned aircraft operator smartphone software application (app) called: B4UFLY (before you fly).

This app is currently being beta-tested by 1,000 UAS users; including folks in the public, government, and industrial sectors.

Features of this app include showing the status of an in-flight aircraft’s location, interactive maps, special flight rule notifications, displaying any active temporary flight restrictions, such as over wildfires; and links to FAA UAS resources.

Pending results from the beta testing, the FAA plans on releasing the B4UFLY app (iOS and Android version) to the public by the end of this year.

A five-page Q&A about the FAA B4UFLY app can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/B4UFLYapp.

I asked an office co-worker how he would feel about having an item ordered from Amazon attached to a drone, flown through the air, and delivered to his home.

“As long as it gets there safely and intact,” he said.

He paused, and then added; “How are they gonna get it up to the door?”

Bob makes a good point, and gave this writer pause to consider a couple of entertaining delivery scenarios.

How about having the delivery drone land on the roof of the customer’s home?

Envision a small, robotic “delivery-drone assistant” (who flew along), jumping off the drone, and taking the package down the chimney.

This roundly shaped, and programmed-to-be-jolly assistant (dressed in a red and white suit, featuring an artificial white beard on its face), then places the package on the living room floor and chants: “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Amazon Delivery!”

Or, the delivery drone could instead land on our driveway, and then alert us of its arrival by sending a text message to our smartphone.

Naturally, we will not be home; so, we would need to activate the app on our smartphone which remotely unlocks the front door to the house, and alerts anyone within of a visitor.

Inside the house, one of the floor-cleaning, artificially-intelligent robotic Roomba’s would amble on out to the driveway, receive the package from the drone, and electronically sign for it.

It would then say; “Thank you” to the delivery drone.

I imagine the drone would reply with the standard; “Have a nice day.”

Our Roomba would then quickly bring the package into the house.

Upon our arrival home, we will discover the questionable package contents were covertly ordered by the Roomba, who will, of course, deny everything.

We end up punishing the naughty Roomba by ordering it into the broom closet.

Seriously folks, I am intrigued by the idea of having small packages, or even our next pizza, sent special air-delivery to our front door, via drone.

However; we will need to wait, as it’s still early in the drone testing, and completion of the FAA commercial regulations.

For all we know, in 10years, “drone deliveries” might end up becoming a common method of transporting items.

The FAA webpage: Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Regulations & Policies is located at: https://www.faa.gov/uas/regulations_policies.

A website dedicated to sUAS, is chuck-full of drone-related news and information; you can check it out here: http://www.suasnews.com.

To watch a video of the Amazon Prime Air drone in action, see Amazon’s YouTube video at: http://tinyurl.com/bytes-d1.

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