Amazon wants drones to be the future of rapid product delivery, but there are many regulatory hurdles ahead before it could become a reality. At NASA’s Unmanned Traffic Management (UTM) Convention on Tuesday, Amazon outlined a plan for better regulation of drones, according to The Verge.
The plan is to establish a tiered highway system that would enable aircraft-to-aircraft communication for drones flying between 200 to 400 feet.
Under this plan, web-connected drones will enjoy high-speed transport between 200 to 400 feet, with non-connected drones limited to a “slow-zone” 200 feet and below. Airspace above 400 feet and airports would be classified as no fly zones.
Right now, airspace is a bit of a wild west with drones mostly unregulated. Recent stories about firefighting in forests being hampered by the presence of drones — which flew to take areal footage — confirm the danger of this light regulation.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control currently regulates all manned air travel using humans. Amazon’s plan would use a centralized system similar to the FAA, but it would be much more automated in an effort to better control the potentially huge number of drones which could share our skies. Drones allowed to fly in the 200-to-400-foot zone would communicate with a central command and other drones nearby.
Amazon says this system would allow any properly equipped drone to operate safely, commercial or private.
Of course, Amazon isn’t getting into this space to create a safer world, but instead to forge a path for its Prime Air delivery drones. The goal of Amazon’s drones is to deliver packages to customers within a half hour of ordering online.
The FAA won’t let Amazon test its drones in the U.S., leading Amazon to create a testing site just a half mile from the U.S. border. The FAA has strict regulations in place with regards to commercial drones that Amazon has lobbied to lighten.
As The Verge reports, the FAA is putting much of the responsibility for developing regulations for drones on NASA. NASA and Verizon recently partnered to begin monitoring drone usage in the U.S., with Amazon pledging $1.8 million to test its drones as part of the program.
The NASA and Verizon project is also exploring usage of Verizon’s cellular network to connect all drones to the cloud, enabling the ability to “geofence” drones out of no fly zones.
With Amazon now working more closely with government organizations on regulating drone usage, the arrival of Prime Air seems more eminent.