The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Monday that six states will develop drone test sites. These states -- Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia -- will serve as research sites to see how the unmanned aerial vehicles operate in varying, diverse environments. While drones have chiefly been used by the military, other niches are now expressing an interest in utilizing the flying bots. Specifically, Amazon has recently advertised its plans to execute a new delivery system using drones. Will Amazon Prime Air hit the skies by 2015? The outlook is looking up.
For those late to the party, Prime Air is Amazon's goal to deliver packages using unmanned aerial vehicles. The Amazon drones would distribute lightweight packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. Amazon states that it will be ready to use the Prime Air delivery system by 2015. The setback is a result of pending FAA regulations on commercial usage of drones that ensure public safety. The concept seemed a bit futuristic upon its introduction, though it's evident the FAA is taking measures towards making it a reality. But when?
It's possible Amazon drones may take flight by the anticipated 2015 launch date. According to the Associated Press, the FAA "is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected." This means that you may see little flying delivery bots zooming around in the sky as soon as next year. It could also take five years. The FAA projects that about 7,500 commercial drones could be airborne within five years of attaining extensive access to American airspace. Whether it's one year or five, the drones are coming.
With drone power comes drone responsibility, though. Talks of unmanned aerial vehicles has sparked privacy concerns as well as safety issues. Drone safety concerns are tied to the risks that metal-bladed propellers and batteries are prone to combustion, as well as the chance of a collision between a drone and a commercial aircraft. Members of congress and journalists have also expressed drone privacy concerns in terms of surveillance.
"Before drones start delivering packages, we need the FAA to deliver privacy protections for the American public," Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement proposing a drone privacy bill.
The FAA will almost undoubtedly address both safety and privacy concerns in developing its rules for the commercial use of drones. While a 2015 launch date for Amazon Prime Air is highly optimistic, it's not impossible.
"These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.