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FAA continues ban on business delivery drones

Delivery drones have barely taken off and they're already being grounded.

In a memo released by the Federal Aviation Administration this week, the agency said that delivery drones used for business purposes will continue to be banned until further notice.

Sorry, Amazon, that includes you.

Last year on CBS's 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder, floated the notion of using drones to deliver packages. He showed Charlie Rose, the show's host, a tiny helicopter dropping Amazon packages on people's doorsteps. The company planned to name its new delivery service "Prime Air."

But the FAA clearly wants people delivering packages the old fashioned way: by truck.

In the FAA memo, "Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft," the agency said that since 2007, the commercial use of drones has been illegal in the United States and would remain so until further notice.

Until now, flying drones for fun is still considered legal, as long as they are kept below 400 feet and in no way used for commercial services.

But what about Amazon's "free" delivery? Couldn't the company just say these drones aren't being used for business? Not so fast, the FAA said.

"Any operation not conducted strictly for hobby or recreation purposes could not be operated under the special rule for model aircraft. Clearly, commercial operations would not be hobby or recreation flights," the agency said in the memo. "Likewise, flights that are in furtherance of a business, or incidental to a person's business, would not be a hobby or recreation flight."

Ryan Calo, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Law who specializes in robotics and drones, said the worry about drones colliding in the air, or people being hit by them, will start to ease as drones become smarter.

"The next generation of drones, which are truly autonomous and can navigate using sensors and code, rather than people controlling them, will be much safer than the drones we're seeing today," he said.

As Calo and others have pointed out, it is unlikely that drones will be permanently banned for commercial services in the United States. It's only a matter of time before these vehicles are safe enough and powerful enough to deliver packages.

The FAA plans to revisit commercial use of drones and could put new rules in place by 2015.

FAA continues ban on business delivery drones 06/25/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2014 6:19pm]
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