The GeekOSphere has gone crazy ruminating about Amazon's plans to deliver products with drones. Cities need to ruminate about future drone legislation.
The crazy ruminating began after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was interviewed about his company on CBS' 60 Minutes. Bezos said Amazon is developing a system for delivering items via drones, called Prime Air. Drones would arrive within 30 minutes of the items being ordered and could transport under five pounds for 10 miles.
Everyone knows about the Predator strike drones and drones for police surveillance, as I wrote in February. However, businesses use them for numerous applications, such as mapping crops and livestock, house-for-sale videos, and filming movie and television scenes. UPS also is testing drones for deliveries.
The business of drones (or "unmanned aerial vehicles" it you want to be precise) is expected to be in the billions of dollars, especially after the Federal Aviation Administration issues regulations for their use.
Today there's a drone "underground economy" in the United States, as USA Today reports. A few jurisdictions are taking action. Illinois has passed a law restricting drones, and Evanston, Ill. has banned them. Some Congressmen are considering the privacy implications.
Deer Trail, Colo. will vote on a bill allowing residents to shoot down drones on private property and receive bounties.
Whether shooting them down or not, cities need to get serious about the potential consequences of drones.
There are a surprisingly large number of issues for cities to consider. As examples:
- Privacy: Many drones include cameras that can be used for everything from peering into windows to snooping on undressed sunbathers in their own yards. Should there be restrictions on the type and resolution of cameras allowable on drones?
- Security: Cameras may not only be used to infringe on privacy, but also breach security. Drones can fly over huge swaths of businesses and residential properties or examine specific locations in preparation for terrorist attacks, robberies, kidnappings, and other criminal activities. Should drones be prohibited from flying over or close to specific areas?
- Safety: Consumer and business drones typically have two or more rotors (propellers), but they commonly are equipped with four (quadcopters) or eight (octocopters). Amazon's is an octocopter. Spinning blades can do bad things to human fingers or anything else they hit. Humans, pets, and other animals can get hurt by the rotors. Should cities demand specific safety standards for drone construction?
Also, drones might crash into people or animals or fall from the sky. More safety issues to consider.
- Animal rights: Some bird species are extremely territorial and will attack other birds in the vicinity. They also will attack drones. Should cities consider protecting some or all birds?
- Geographic areas: If cities consider protecting birds, certainly they should consider protecting humans. Should cities restrict drones from flying over or landing at schools, daycare centers, hospitals, senior citizens' facilities, and wildlife preserves or require special permission when drones are necessary there?
Also, should drones be permitted in densely populated areas or be restricted to the suburbs and rural areas?
- Certification: Drone pilots in the military and in business are trained in schools to learn how to fly the aerial vehicles. Should cities require anyone using a drone for business purposes to attend flight school? What about consumers?
- Insurance: Drones can cause injuries to humans and animals, and drones that aren't able to complete their deliveries could cause business harm. Should cities require or recommend new insurance policies for businesses or consumers who flies drones?
Unless the FAA or other US agency mandates draconian policies restricting drone use, they are coming in large numbers -- regardless of whether Amazon's Prime Air service ever takes flight. Cities should consider the discussions surrounding Prime Air as a starting point for developing policies and regulations before the skies are alive with the buzzing of thousands of drones.
— Alan Reiter, President, Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing