Sunday, March 18, 2012

Amazon Files Drone Patent, Gets FAA Permission

Amazon GPS drone delivery

In December of 2013, Amazon announced that it was working on allowing drone deliveries to Prime customers within an half hour of order. It caused quite a stir on the internet and most customers were as excited as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was condemning. However, after much debate and posturing on both sides, apparently the FAA has decided that letting Amazon test drones in the US wasn’t really going to hurt anything.

FAA Exemption

The date on the exemption is actually listed as early April, so this is slightly old news. However, as the FAA has spent many public meetings stating that it wasn’t a huge fan of this idea, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. Amazon, however, can’t be 100% happy as the exemption did come with a few restrictions; at least one of which is extremely problematic. The FAA is allowing Amazon to test out its drones as long as:

  • Drones do not fly higher than 400 feet in the air
  • Drones do not exceed 100 mph
  • Drones remain within sight of the operator at all times

The first two aren’t really all that much of a problem, but the last one is where Amazon is going to have a bit of an issue. After all, the whole point of the Amazon PrimeAir program was that the drones could deliver goods all over a given city completely autonomously and that requires flying out of visual range.

Because of the FAA’s slow acceptance of Amazon testing its drones outside, the commercial giant has been conducting tests in Canada of its drone delivery system. I’m not sure what, if any, restrictions are placed on the company in Canada, but with this move I expect that a secondary testing center in the US will be set up as well.

Amazon Patent Granted

Unsurprisingly, Amazon has been issued a patent for its drone delivery system which gives us a bit more of an idea of exactly what the company hopes for PrimeAir. Keep in mind that patents don’t necessarily meant that the technology will ever actually be implemented, but it’s still kind of neat to look at.

According to the patent documents, the drones can be set up to deliver to users saved locations (ie home or work) or directly to users GPS location. This location data will be shared from smartphone GPS locations, and drones will be able to continuously track the GPS signal even if the person moves from when they initially ordered the product.

The drones will also be able to communicate with each other regarding weather and traffic conditions and will monitor its path for humans, animals or other obstructions for better safety. Amazon is also, apparently, planning on implementing several different types of drones suited to different kinds of products, which makes sense.

Personally, I still think there are a lot of things that need to be addressed before something like this could reasonably be implemented, but it certainly is exciting!

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