The Week In Drones.

Last summer I wrote a post on the domestic use of UAVs or drones. A lively debate ensued. Given the news coming out last night that Amazon is seeking to begin delivering small packages via drones I thought it might be a good idea to have that debate again.

Earlier this year I attended a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). I am an alternate on the Communications and Technology Taskforce of ALEC (if you want to debate ALEC, which I’m sure some of Georgia’s left-wing twitterati will want to do, please save that for another day, we’re talking about drones here). At this meeting we had a panel discussion on how States should deal with the growing use of drones. The panelists from CATO (a libertarian think-tank) and the ACLU (the left-wing civil rights group) agreed: restrict the use of drones by government, but leave the private use of drones alone.

The CATO panelist pointed out that as air travel became popular, experts predicted the public would be terribly upset at planes violating the airspace above their property. It turns out almost nobody was worried about a plane flying 30,000 feet above their house, they just didn’t want an airport too close to their home because planes are noisy. In other words, we don’t know how the public will react to private individuals using drones, and we’re not even sure how private individuals will use drones so don’t rush out and pass a bunch of new laws trying to solve problems that don’t yet exist. This seems to me to be good public policy. In fact, last year I was a co-sponsor of a bill to require law enforcement to first obtain a search warrant before using UAVs for surveillance. The private use of UAVs is not touched in that bill.

Current law may very well deal with any abuses private individuals may perpetrate with drones. For example, last week there was a rather humerous story about four individuals using a drone to drop tobacco into a prison yard in Calhoun County. The four face up to twenty years for smuggling contraband into a prison. I imagine we’ll see these sorts of things from time to time and current law will probably deal with them just fine.

The big news in the world of drones came last night on 60 Minutes. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced his plans to use the “Amazon Prime Air” army of drones to deliver small packages to preferred customers within a certain radius of one of their distribution centers. The plan must have FAA approval and thus won’t be ready to go for a couple of years.

Bezos told 60 Minutes that the service could be up and running in as few as four years — although he noted that he is an optimist when it comes to such things.

“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company said.

This is the latest futuristic effort by Bezos, who was an e-commerce pioneer in the 1990s and more recently popularized the e-reader — while pursuing personal projects such as private spaceflight and a 10,000-year clock built inside a mountain.

They even have a short demonstration video of what their talking about.

So what about all this? Does Bezos’ plans excite you or scare you? Should we restrict private use of UAVs or just government’s use?



  1. Jon Lester says:

    You know some people will shoot an Amazon drone for no more reason than they’d shoot a road sign. I wonder if the company has a cost-effective policy worked out to cover this.

  2. Three Jack says:

    I saw the story last night, Bezos is a geek’s geek.

    Beyond Amazon, the mini drones could really have multiple uses. It will be interesting to watch as the technology advances and entrepreneurs build businesses with drones as part of their delivery system. Look out UPS.

  3. saltycracker says:

    Saw Bezo’s cool future idea that got Amazon some serious coverage at Christmas ! Brilliant marketing move.

    Drones over GA look like doves and ducks……happy, happy, happy hunting……

    So when Buzz takes a leak in the back yard or skinny dips and it makes You Tube, who will sort out the indecency, invasion of privacy or comedy ?

    • saltycracker says:

      The ladies in my hood have one on a drone – fortunately, they were very complimentary of “THE Buzz nude dude”

      Long ago they filmed our tennis team taking City and all the shots were of our “flat-bellied” competition and their commentary was “get a shot of his (the bad guys) buns” …..we protest drones……

  4. George Chidi says:

    A few thoughts.

    There’s a lot of drone development activity in Atlanta. If Bezos and Amazon look like they’re going to try to get in between UPS and a revenue stream, expect UPS to team up with startups in Marietta and out of Tech to create a competing model. Every aeronautic engineering graduate within 100 miles of here should have started working on a Kickstarter funding plan at about 10 p.m. last night.

    People think the drones are going to be shot down for sport. Nonsense.

    They’ll be shot down for profit.

    What’s a drone worth, once you’ve stolen and reprogrammed it, compared to the value of the typical payload? $200? $500? A DJI S800 Evo Spreading Wings Professional Hexacopter retails at $3,000. Those drones are going to get jacked and hacked, my babies. Drone-jacking. It’s going to be a thing.

    The only way around that is really sophisticated tracking stuff — GPS on crack — and, perhaps, employment for video game jockeys willing to handle deliveries remotely using a telemetry uplink and video, so that they can avoid obstacles like trees and people with big butterfly nets. We’re entering the day of the Shadowrun-style cyberpunk “rigger,” or remote drone operators.

    I love the future.

    I’m an Occupy protester and a liberal Democrat. I should reflexively hate drones. I don’t. I should be calling for all kinds of regulation to keep these things from being intrusive and annoying. I’m not. It’s the math.

    UPS + Georgia Tech School of Aerospace Engineering + Lockheed Martin = win.

    • George Chidi says:

      And, seriously, if UPS’ CIO Dave Barnes, Bill Borgia — director of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory — and Don Giddens, the AE dean emeritus at Tech don’t have a serious dinner conversation over this sometime in the next six weeks, I’m going to track each one of them down and kick them in the dink-dink.

    • saltycracker says:

      Channel 11: Atlanta #2 behind New York for on line sales this season and in other news, Amazon is on top.
      Guess more folks are dodging the circus tents.

      • Will Durant says:

        Barnum was a marketing genius. You have to admire a guy who basically tells you he is full of it and you still buy a ticket.

  5. Harry says:

    The first drone that gets sucked in a jet engine will be a game changer. There’s already been one near miss. They can’t be seen on radar.

    • atl_man says:

      Wow. That is horrifying. You would hope that drones wouldn’t have a need to fly so high, and would avoid airports.

      • Harry says:

        In the hands of a terrorist a drone wouldn’t need be armed or even limited to acquire a specific target. It can keep hovering for a victim so long as nobody notices it.

        • atl_man says:


          It is easier to enumerate the things that aren’t lethal in the hands of a terrorist than the things that are. And the most effective weapons that terrorists use aren’t fantastic, new technologies that are easy to trace, expensive to acquire and require specialized skills/training to deploy like drones but rather common everyday items that are difficult to trace, relatively inexpensive and don’t provoke suspicion like fertilizer, diesel fuel and pressure cookers.

          Bottom line: worry about the terrorists, not the drones. Drones don’t kill people, terrorists kill people.

    • Three Jack says:

      It is and will continue to be far more likely that a bird will be sucked into a jet engine. Your contention is an embarrassment to red herrings.

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