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?