Amazon is desperate to fly diapers to your front door, but the U.S. government is harshing its vibe—that’s the gist of Amazon’s testimony before a Senate subcommittee earlier today.
The Federal Aviation Administration is reportedly taking so long to approve Amazon’s requests to test-fly unmanned drones that the models they’re developing are becoming obsolete before they’ve even taken to the skies. Their original application took a year and a half to be approved, according to The Verge. By that time, the company had already developed a completely different design.
It’s a classic case of technology evolving more quickly than Washington can keep up: The regulatory structure that guides whether or not Amazon can test-fly a delivery drone is a bit rustier than the culture of rapid-fire iteration that’s now thoroughly ingrained throughout the tech industry. In this case, the added red tape and slow-moving bureaucracy mean that Amazon can’t innovate as quickly as its resources and the available technology would otherwise allow.
Amazon says these headaches are unique to the United States: It doesn’t have to wait so long for approval in other countries, where the company is free to fly its latest drones within a matter of weeks.
Also at issue is the use of human pilots. Amazon would prefer to do without them, whereas the FAA recently proposed rules that would require drones to be controlled by a human within the device’s line of sight. The government says allowing more autonomous flight is too dangerous. Amazon says the technology has made it safer.
If the FAA proceeds with its current rules and timetable, Amazon believes it will fall far behind the rest of the world. [Amazon’s VP of Public Policy Paul] Misener applauded new policies from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which treat drones as a new category of aircraft, instead of lumping them in with manned aircraft. Academic experts who study the drone industry agree that unless something changes, American companies will move the research and development of commercial drones overseas to take advantage of the more permissive environment.
The FAA’s near-total ban of the use of drones for commercial purposes remains a sticking point for companies eager to use unmanned aircrafts. Amazon, with its plan to use drones for delivery, is among the more prominent companies currently lobbying to have the U.S. government rethink its drone policy. But they aren’t alone. Senator Cory Booker is reportedly planning to introduce legislation titled “The Commercial UAV Modernization Act,” which would loosen the rules surrounding the use of commercial drones in the United States.
[via The Verge]