Drones are always a subject quick to gather cheap and easy media attention. Anytime there is a drone crash or some wacky new use for drones, they are nearly always guaranteed to land some sort of media attention. So it’s no surprise that Amazon Prime Air, or the #AmazonDrone on the Interwebz, is what’s keeping water coolers and Facebook news feeds abuzz these days. Now I can buy literally anything (sold on Amazon and weighing under 5 pounds) and have it delivered in 30 minutes?
Should we greet this news with excitement? Fear? Or simply chalk it up to an epic Cyber Monday PR stunt?
“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” Amazon’s new Prime Air page states. That’s an accurate assumption, Amazon. Drones have already proven more efficient, environmentally friendly and cost effective for a myriad of enterprise operations.
“We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015,” the text states. “We will be ready at that time.”
Hold up, slow down. This is what seems to be causing much hullabaloo. The fear of drones buzzing through the skies is certainly worth having, but it’s not completely rational given the limitations of the technology.
Amazon drones could be flying through the sky delivering your purchases in fewer than 30 minutes. And Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says they will — in the next few years.
“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company said. Drones are not quite ‘normal’ yet, but they aren’t completely out of the realm of possibilities. Drones are already being used to gather aerial images of farmland to help farmers increase efficiency, to spot poachers in Africa or to deliver medicine to hard-to-reach places in the world, things companies like Airware and Matternet already do.
“I know this looks like science fiction, it’s not,” said Bezos.
The drone delivery is contingent upon FAA regulation of UAVs, which is still yet to be determined, but is expected to happen in 2015.
“This is early, this is still years away,” Bezos said.
Amazon currently has 96 massive warehouses, or “fulfillment centers”
86% of Amazon’s packages are less than 5 pounds
More than 300 packages are ordered a second on Amazon during Cyber Monday
Tons of media outlets are out there reporting on Amazon’s huge announcement — delivering packages via drone. Here’s a roundup of some stories out there:
Drone Girl likes to periodically profile awesome drone users. Meet Davis Hunt! He’s a pilot, but he also flies drones! He’s also the owner of ViewPoint Aviation in Boston, Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: This post is not necessarily an endorsement for the business profiled below.
Drone Girl: What’s your background, and how did you get into drones?
Davis Hunt: I’ve been an aviation enthusiast since I was a kid. I got my Private Pilot certificate when I was 17, Instrument rating at 19, Commercial rating at 20, and put myself through undergrad working as a CFI. I love flying and the aviation community. My professional background is in commercial aviation. Given the cost structure of flying, with fuel prices north of $5 a gallon, I wanted to explore platforms that would allow for more competitive, affordable structure and really get creative with it. . I had seen several videos posted using UAV’s, specifically a professional-grade octo-copter. I was captivated by the idea, but wasn’t crazy about investing $15,000 – $20,000. Finally, I heard about the DJI Phantom. I was so impressed by the build quality and technology, I bought two. Currently, they don’t have names yet, but I think everything that flies should be named. Have to work on that….
DG: You’re a pilot; does that change the way you approach flying drones? Or is flying a drone different than piloting a plane?
DH: My drone flying practices are definitely heavily influenced by flying aircraft. Aviation is filled with many sayings and wisdom; one of those being “flying isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s just unforgiving”. While flying a drone doesn’t have the same immediate safety risks, it does have other risks. It’s imperative to establish safe operating principles and procedures. Extreme caution must be exercised, especially when operating near crowds. At the end of the day, safe habits and safe operation will better allow for the incorporation of drones into useful roles, while not filling the headlines with stories of accidents or incidents that make the public fearful.
DG: What is the most interesting thing you’ve photographed with a drone?
DH: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do some flying at the Quabbin Reservoir, about an hour west of Boston. In 1938, due to the water supply demands of Boston, a decision was made to form the reservoir. Four towns, which are under the lake were “disincorporated”, all the residents forced to move, and the towns were flooded and since have been underwater since.
DG: You fly a DJI Phantom. How did you choose that copter? Why do you like it, and/or is there something you would change about it?
DH: By far and away, most features and technology for the money. In terms of improving, make the firmware for Mac users! I would imagine a large percentage of DJI’s customers are Mac users. It’s annoying to have to use a parallel to update the firmware. As far as the Phantom itself, payload and battery life are the valuable commodities. Both are completely usable as is, but hey, if it’s a wish list….
DG: What are your thoughts on integrating UAVs into the national airspace system?
DH: It’s not often technology puts government in a position where there is truly a policy vacuum. Without getting too deeply into the merits of the FAA’s Roadmap, I’ll make a few points.
The FAA currently defines “small UAV’s” as 55 lbs or less and recognizes that 95% of all UAV’s will fit into this category. For this system to not place an unfair burden on operators of smaller UAV’s, like the Phantom, this category MUST be sub-divided to reflect risk, range, type of operation, and capabilities of the UAV.
There needs to be a separate category for operators who don’t exceed 500ft and don’t operate outside of line-of-sight and furthermore, over-the-horizon. Realizing this would affect some FPV operators, maybe specify a range if outside of LOS.
While I’m not opposed to the idea of the test sites, the wrong thing is being tested. As with anything in life, a device is only as safe as the person operating it. There should be a practical demonstration test for operators, baseline operating specifications, and practical test standards, similar to with airmen certification process. The practice of flying ANYTHING over people’s heads is a serious business. While I don’t want to see operators have an unobtainable or cost prohibitive barrier to entry, I think there must be some serious-minded commitment to safety. Flying a drone can be incredibly enjoyable. I want to see people be able to enjoy flying drones on both a private and commercial level, I just want to see both done responsibly. Translating that into a policies will be a challenge.
DG: What’s in your future?
DH: I plan to continue to operate the Phantom’s, and eventually, larger platforms for both personal and transitioning to commercial basis as regulations become further defined. This is a very exciting time to be involved with drones and UAV’s. . From a commercial basis, UAV’s have shown tremendous demand from the residential and commercial real estate markets, from golf courses and resorts, sporting events and special events, agriculture, and I’m sure other things we haven’t even thought of yet.
What are some essential (and non-essential) tools you need to bring before going out flying? Drone Girl reached out to her top Twitter fans for their feedback, and the answers returned range from the obvious, the practical, to the truly exceptional. Think I missed something? Leave a comment below, or tweet @thedronegirl!
Ditch the Energizer Bunny; drones traditionally run on LiPo batteries. LiPo batteries must be handled with extreme care, and one way to care for them is to make sure you don’t overcharge batteries or run down batteries. Also they are like $10, so just buy one.
There are tons of great Dronies out there, and you should get to know them! Here are 7 Dronies you should follow on Twitter.
Missy Cummings: Nobody understands drone technology like Missy Cummings. As one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy and now a professor at MIT, she’s an expert on drone use. She always has constructive viewpoints on drones in the military as well as mediums such as farming. She’s thought out safety and surveillance implications. Also she’s an awesome female role model. Am I a fangirl? Of course! @Missy_Cummings
@Elevated Element: This is the account to follow if you want to see art made by drones (granted they are all pictures of Baltimore). The tweets behind it are a husband and wife duo who photograph their city. Beyond that, they also have smart commentary on law, ethics, STEM education and more. @ElevatedElement
Drone Conference: This seems to be the mega-super drone conference to date. It just happens, and boy am I bummed I missed it. Luckily, their thorough Twitter account made me feel like I’m there! This account includes a range of dialogue from policy to engineering to activism. @DroneConference
Matt Waite: He’s a professor at the University of Nebraska and the founder of the Drone Journalism Lab. He’s probably among the first to even consider drone use in journalism. Never mind that he’s a University of Nebraska professor and therefore a Cornhusker (I’m a proud Mizzou Tiger from a rival, and obivously better j-school, kidding, but really). He’s brilliant and paving the way for drone journalism, and I’d sure like to take a journalism class from this brilliant professor. @mattwaite
Drones4Good: Whenever I’m looking for a new, creative use for a drone, I look here! Drones have definitely been used for bad things, but this account highlights the positive things drones do. Saving salmon? Check. Tracking poachers? Check. Mapping the Matterhorn? Now that’s just crazy awesome. Good thing we have this Twitter account to track it all. @Drones4Good
Oh, and if you don’t follow me, you should definitely consider it. Or don’t even stop to consider it. Just do it! Right here: @thedronegirl.