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Amazon drone’s future is up in the air

Image: Amazon drone delivery
Amazon shows off a prototype drone that’s just made a test delivery of a shoebox in someone’s backyard. (Credit: Amazon via YouTube)

The hybrid drone design that Amazon unveiled over the weekend may be only one of several under consideration for delivering packages in 30 minutes or less, but it’s a doozy: The beefed-up Prime Air flier pushes the envelope on technical as well as regulatory grounds.

On the technical side, the prototype shown in Amazon’s video uses an array of rotors (eight, according to The Guardian) to take off vertically, then switches on an additional rotor to buzz through the air horizontally at up to 60 mph. The Guardian says it may be the first vertical-horizontal hybrid air vehicle to weigh in at less than 55 pounds, which is the upper limit for commercial delivery drones.

An autonomous sense-and-avoid navigation system keeps the drone from running into other objects on the way to its destination, at an altitude of up to 400 feet. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed off a sense-and-avoid system last month, but that one was designed to handle obstacles at a mere 30 mph – half the speed that’s built into Amazon’s specs.

The drone is also apparently designed to home in on a landing pad, perhaps equipped with an RFID tag or transmitter. The idea is that customers would lay out the pad in their backyard or some other open space in preparation for package delivery. (Can you buy a pad like that on Amazon yet? What if it’s raining, or if you’re an apartment dweller?)

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FAA shares drone registration recommendations

A task force says recreational drones larger than 9 ounces should be registered. (Credit: FAA)
A task force says recreational drones larger than 9 ounces should be registered. (Credit: FAA)

The Federal Aviation Administration has released a task force’s recommendations for setting up a registration system for recreational drones – and the full report includes fresh details about how the system would work.

The main recommendations filtered out two weeks ago, soon after the task force wrapped up its meeting in Washington, D.C.: The registration procedure should apply to unmanned airborne systems that weigh 9 ounces or more, it should be free and easy to register online, and one registration number could be used on multiple drones operated by the same person.

Here are more of the details from the report:

Drone operators would be required to enter their name and street address into a Web-based or app-based registry, but other contact details – such as email and phone number – would be optional. The system would be powered by an API that multiple websites can feed into. That means manufacturers could set up their own registration sites.

New drone owners wouldn’t be required to register at the point of sale. That’s because it wouldn’t be illegal to own an unregistered drone. It’d only be illegal tooperate a registered drone outdoors. (Indoor drone flying would be unregulated.)

In return for signing up, operators would get a certificate of registration that they’d have to carry with them (in printed or electronic form) whenever they’re flying their drone.

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Get set to register drones for the holidays

Drone
Recreational drones are expected to face new registration requirements. (Photo via Chase Jarvis)

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration says the interim rules for registering recreational drones are likely to be issued next month, just in time for the holiday season.

FAA Administrator Michael Huerta’s update on the registration process, provided in a blog post, comes just as a task force is wrapping up its recommendations for setting up the registration system. Huerta says the task force will deliver its report to the FAA on Saturday.

The main recommendations have already come to light, thanks to leaks from the task force.

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Will FAA let drones fly out of sight? Stay tuned

PrecisionHawk Lancaster drone
PrecisionHawk is using its Lancaster drone to investigate the options for letting unmanned air vehicles fly beyond the view of their operators. (Credit: PrecisionHawk)

Should commercial operators be able to fly their drones beyond their line of sight? The question is a big deal for Amazon as well as Walmart, Google and other companies that want to use robotic air vehicles to deliver goods to consumers – but the Federal Aviation Administration needs convincing.

Now the FAA is trying to nail down an answer, thanks to a series of field tests known as Project Pathfinder.

Project Pathfinder is actually a quartet of test programs, aimed at determining the safety of extended drone operations in four scenarios.

Find out about the programs on GeekWire.

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Drone signup will be simple, and wide-ranging

Image: Drone
The Blade 200 QX drone weighs in at about 200 grams, which would be just light enough to be flown without registration, based on reported recommendations. (Credit: Andreas Schneiter via YouTube)

Recreational drones as small as 9 ounces will have to be registered, but users should be able to go through the process online, with no fees, and the same registration number can be used for multiple drones: Those are among the reported recommendations emerging from last week’s meeting of a task force charged with proposing a registration system by Nov. 20.

The task force, which includes representatives from Amazon, Walmart, Alphabet(Google’s parent company) and other industry types as well as hobbyists, met in Washington under the auspices of the Federal Aviation Administration. It hasn’t yet issued any formal findings, but reports from The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal provide a consistent account of what was decided.

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FAA chief wants drone experts to ‘think big’

Image: Quadcopter
Quadcopters are among the types of drones that are expected to be registered. (NASA photo)

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration told the members of a policy task force to “think big, and think outside the box” as they met today for the first time to discuss a system for registering recreational drones.

This week’s three-day meeting in Washington comes against the backdrop of heightened capability, heightened expectations and heightened concerns about remote-controlled and robotic aerial vehicles.

Task force co-chair David Vos – who handles Project Wing for Google’s holding company, Alphabet – told attendees at an air traffic control convention on Monday that his venture could start using drones for commercial deliveries in 2017. Amazon and Walmart are working on similar systems.

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Amazon gets two spots on drone task force

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Amazon Prime Air is developing drones that could be used for deliveries. (Amazon photo)

The Federal Aviation Administration says the task force charged with drawing up recommendations for registering recreational drones includes two Amazon representatives: Sean Cassidy, a former Alaska Airlines pilot who’s working on the Amazon Prime Air drone venture; and Ben Gielow, who’s a senior manager for public policy at Amazon.

In today’s announcement detailing the task force’s membership, the FAA said the group’s co-chairs are Dave Vos of GoogleX and Earl Lawrence, director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office.

Other task force members include Walmart’s Thomas Head, Best Buy’s Parker Brugge and GoPro’s Tony Bates, as well as representatives of drone manufacturers and operators, aviation associations, surveyors and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Amazon and Walmart are both working on drone delivery systems. GoogleX, which has served as Google’s think tank, is looking into commercial drones as well. Such operations, however, would be covered by a different set of regulations that’s working its way through the FAA system.

The task force is charged with suggesting a system for registering recreational drones by Nov. 20. The group is due to convene formally for the first time next Tuesday, the FAA said.  Public comments are being taken through Nov. 6.

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Drone for the holidays? You’ll have to register it

Image: Phantom drone
The Phantom 2 Vision Plus is likely to be among drones that will require registration. (Credit: DJI)

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s fast-track plan to register recreational drones may not directly affect Amazon’s ambitions of using robo-fliers to deliver purchases, but it could have a big impact on how you buy a drone from Amazon for the holidays.

Flanked by a phalanx of officials and industry leaders, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx today announced the creation of a task force that’s due to make recommendations for a registration system by Nov. 20 – with the aim of having the rules in place by mid-December.

Those who already own recreational drones would be required to register retroactively, Foxx said. It’s not yet clear exactly how the system would work – for example, whether operators would have to register in order to purchase the drone or sign up afterward – but Foxx promised the system would be “as user-friendly a portal as possible.”

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