Amazon has already been generating enough disruption among brick and mortar retailers with its innovative approaches to product delivery and distribution—and now with its focus on Amazon Prime Air service—designed to put goods into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less by using drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The mega-e-commerce retailer concedes that it will “take a number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations”—but to set the record straight, it appears to be more regulatory red tape than technology that is holding back the commercialization of UAVs in the U.S.
We have only to look to our northern neighbor to see drones that are already being placed into commercial use. In Canada, commercial drones that are outfitted with high-definition cameras or infrared sensors are being used in agriculture to monitor crops. Film crews use UAVs to capture sweeping panoramic shots, and oil and gas companies are using them for the aerial mapping of remote sites.
In one instance, Calgary-based oil sands producer Cenovus Energy is using a $30,000 commercial drone to map three oil and gas sites in northern Alberta. The company has plans to expand its fleet of drones and to deploy them on other tasks, such as monitoring vegetation. “The sky’s the limit with these things… the business units are the ones that keep coming up with ideas of how to use them,” said Wade Ewen, a geospatial specialist for Cenovus.
Meanwhile in the U.S., only hobbyists can use UAVs, and strictly for personal use. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has an implementation date of September, 2015 set for the authorization of commercial UAV use, but it has already made it clear to businesses and entrepreneurs that UAV commercial use is currently forbidden.
U.S. commercial businesses like Amazon are wasting no time in making their case for a technology that they believe can transform how they do business and interact with their customers. In 2013 alone, Amazon spent around $3.5 million on lobbying with seven outside firms to convince government officials to aggressively authorize permits for the commercial use of UAVs.
Amazon hopes to encourage those inside government to hasten the removal of barriers to the operation of UAVs in the United States, such as a present lack of regulatory guidance from the country’s aviation authorities, and the absence of a formal set of rules for commercial drones, which is expected to be in place by November, 2014.
Not to be detained either, realtors are already considering the use of UAVs for fly-over photographing of real estate that they can use with their clients--and those that supply aerial shots of residential properties are finding “work around” ways to do it without being labeled as a “commercial” UAV application. “Technically, I can’t charge for any of the flying,” said Luke Pierzina of Aerial Raiders, which employs lightweight radio-controlled helicopters to shoot photos and videos that show homes in contect to neighbors, golf courses, etc. “I charge for editing.”