Amazon founder Jeff Bezos started a maelstrom after a surprise announcement on television Sunday evening that Amazon would “soon” begin to use drones to deliver packages.
On one side, so loud was the outcry that you would have thought Bezos had asked to arm the drones with Hellfire missiles. On the other, there were some cheers, but they were mostly a lot of “Yes, we already told you that.” What is the reality here?
First of all, Bezos was clear that none of this would happen until the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) could decide, write, and implement a full set of safety rules for the use of the small vehicles that could deliver a five-pound package inside a 10-mile radius within 30 minutes of ordering it. It is not happening tomorrow. Clearly, there are numerous rules that are needed to ensure safety and appropriate sharing of the low-altitude airspace in and around populated areas.
Adding to concern is that Bezos wants to use GPS-directed autonomous platforms rather than remotely piloted aircraft, which the military presently uses. Amazon would simply input the coordinates for the delivery and send the little drone off with its payload of books or electronics from one of Amazon’s supply centers. It would land in front of your house, disconnect the box, and fly home.
Beyond the safety issues, the frenzy of “drone opponents” is a little laughable. Yes, it is a new technology, and yes, it will take a little time to sort out the effective rule sets to govern them, but it is not the end of civilization as we know it.
In a detailed report on the use of drones domestically, Heritage explains the legal issues involved. The bottom line is this: The laws and rules for privacy and lawful searches are well established. They all still apply, even to new technologies. Law enforcement officers will live by those rules (they really want convictions that stick, not just arrests), and if there are gray areas that crop up, the system of judicial review will make the rulings that fill those gaps.
Calls for “hunting licenses” for drones, impassioned wailing and gnashing of teeth, and fears of the “rise of the machines” are all unnecessary, ridiculous, and a true waste of energy. Let the FAA do its job on safety, then let the courts do theirs on the inevitable gray areas, and the Republic will survive. Technology has always moved forward and will continue to do so. Bezos was reluctant to give a time frame for his drone delivery system, but be assured, it is coming.
Today all this is science fiction, but it is clearly not fantasy. Fantasy simply cannot happen. Science fiction is something we cannot do today but may be able to do in the future—and much sooner in the future than we probably think possible today.
Progress is coming. Rather than try to fight it, let’s work together to get it right.