No Fly Zone: Amazon wants drone corridor in the skies

29 Jul 2015

Amazon has proposed a pretty revolutionary idea to help further its drone delivery concept: a dedicated commercial drone corridor in the sky for high-tech, fast-moving devices.

In two separate papers, Amazon suggests that, in America, the air between 200ft and 400ft above our heads should become a delivery route, with the 100ft above that clear of any drones, leaving the skies free for use of airplanes, helicopters and other conventional air travel.

The company also lists criteria that drones will need to satisfy in order to use this corridor, should it come to pass. The ‘best’ class of drones must have:

  • High-class GPS systems
  • Communications systems allowing the devices to talk to each other
  • Sensors to help drones avoid contact with other drones
  • Reliable internet connection
  • Online flight planning and management

The proposal is grandiose, but it comes on the back of predictions by Amazon that hundreds of thousands of drones will soon be above our head, as companies and hobbyists fully embrace the decade’s favourite toy.

Drones: safety first

“The way we guarantee the greatest safety is by requiring that, as the level of complexity of the airspace increases, so does the level of sophistication of the vehicle,” said Gur Kimchi, vice-president of Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery arm.

“Under our proposal, everybody has to be collaborative – vehicles must be able to talk to each other and avoid each other as the airspace gets denser at low altitudes.”

This would mean drones up in the sky, in this ‘best’ class corridor, would be amost entirely unmanned.

“We aim to have high levels of safe automation so that the only time intervention is needed is in emergency situations, national security crises and the like,” Kimchi told The Guardian.

A word of caution

Not everyone is convinced, though. Brendan Schulman, an executive at DJI, has concerns for the vast array of amateurs getting involved nowadays, warning that choosing an exclusive corridor could be an obstacle for enthusiasts.

Similarly, Antoine Level, CEO of Squadrone System, has words of warning in relation to the proposal, saying that any move should ensure that regular hobbyists are not excluded or priced out of the market.

“The uptake of drones means that regulation will need to change to adapt; however, given the utility of personal-use application of drones, regulation must be careful not to regulate commercial use in such a way that drones become too costly to deploy and inaccessible to consumers, as this will in turn create a bar to their usage and adoption,” he said to The Verge.

The suggestion by Amazon will be taken seriously, however, given the corporate push to commercialise drone delivery. Amazon may be the leader in this regard, but other companies – like Facebook – are getting involved too.

So maybe the skies, full up with tiny deliverymen, will soon need a dedicated plan. And not just a plan for transport, but for privacy too.

Main image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic