Maybe Amazon’s drone-delivery project is mostly a publicity stunt. Maybe it’s genuine. It is without a doubt, however, a stark reminder that we need to be prepared in this country for the swarming of the drones.
In March, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it was setting up drone test sites and said it was expecting up to 10,000 drones flying in American skies by 2020. The drones are expected to be used for law enforcement, news gathering and countless other tasks.
One of those other tasks was suggested recently when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that his company is working on a program in which drones could deliver retail items directly to shoppers’ doorsteps half an hour after they click "buy" online.
Some observers were quick to list all the reasons they thought the program wouldn’t work. Others noted that, under current rules, the program would be illegal. In fact, when Amazon shot a promo video for the program, it had to take the shoot out of the country because it would have violated FAA rules, according to news reports.
"The fact that Amazon had to leave the country to make the video underscores how slowly U.S. officials have embraced the policy challenge," wrote the Washington Post. "It also offers a concrete example of what the country stands to lose, as the market for civil drone use picks up globally."
The FAA doesn’t expect small drones to be fully integrated into American skies until 2015 and commercial drones of the sort Amazon is researching will have a longer regulatory path to travel. It behooves the country to get the infrastructure and legal framework for drones off the ground as quickly as possible. Doing so will better ensure safety, privacy and economic benefit in a future society abuzz with drones.