Amazon: FAA Slowing Drone Development

Amazon might be a few steps closer to filling the skies overhead with delivery drones, but it couldn’t resist taking a few swipes at the FAA’s slowness in approving the machines for commercial use.

Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, told a Senate subcommittee this week that other countries’ regulatory agencies move much faster in approving drones for testing, placing the U.S. at risk of falling behind in this technology segment.

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The FAA took so much time to approve Amazon’s first-generation delivery drone for test flights, he added, that the hardware is already obsolete: “We don’t test it anymore. We’ve moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad.” Compare that to the U.K., where regulations are apparently looser and approvals more rapid.

Amazon has used an indoor R&D facility in Seattle to test drones, but needs to fly the machines outdoors in order to get an accurate sense of how they’ll perform in the real world. Misener’s testimony also suggested that the company’s drone division is hiring robotics experts, aeronautical engineers, specialists in remote sensing, and even former NASA astronauts.

There are a couple things that anyone interested in drones can pull from Misener’s testimony:

  • Anyone hoping to do drone work in the U.S. can depend on the FAA to move very slowly with regard to approvals and regulations that will allow said drones to actually engage in commercial work.
  • Drones are evolving very rapidly on the hardware and software front, which could make it difficult for under-financed startups to stay ahead of the Amazons of the world.
  • Amazon is actually serious about this whole “drones will deliver books and socks to your door” thing.

As some lawmakers pointed out at the Senate hearing, concerns about privacy and safety remain one of the chief blockers to widespread approval of drones for commercial use. Whether or not the FAA starts moving faster, it’s unlikely that those concerns will go away anytime soon.

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Image: Amazon