Borrowing a pizza delivery motto, online retail giant Amazon told Congress Wednesday it is developing the technology to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, a broad expansion of unmanned flight that is raising concerns about safety, security and privacy.
Using commercial drones to quickly deliver packages is probably years away. But when government regulations catch up with emerging technologies, it could revolutionize the way people shop for items they need quickly, said Paul E. Misener, vice president of global public policy for Amazon.com.
"If a consumer wants a small item quickly, instead of driving to go shopping or causing delivery automobiles to come to her home or office, a small, electrically-powered (drone) vehicle will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly," Misener told the House Oversight Committee.
The Federal Aviation Administration proposed rules in February that would severely restrict the use of commercial drones. The House panel held a hearing Wednesday on their economic potential as well as concerns about safety and privacy.
FAA's proposed rules would require operators to keep commercial drones within eyesight at all times, which significantly limits the distance they can fly. The restriction probably would prevent drone delivery as proposed by Amazon.
FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said more research is needed before the government allows their widespread use.
"We are working diligently to develop a regulatory framework that will allow for innovation while ensuring the safety of other users of the airspace and people and property on the ground," Whitaker told the committee.
The rules should be finalized within a year, Whitaker said.
Misener urged Congress and the FAA to speed up the rules and to reconsider some of the restrictions for commercial drones. He said the technology exists to safely operate commercial drones well beyond the eyesight of the operator.
Misener said Amazon does not yet have the logistical capability to receive and process orders, and then deliver packages by drone within a half hour. But, he added, "We will have it by the time the regulations are ready."