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Amazon wants a chunk of airspace given over to delivery drones

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Gualtiero Boffi / Shutterstock
Many may uttered a cynical “yeah, right” when Jeff Bezos unveiled his plan for a delivery drone in 2013, but subsequent test flights of the Prime Air machine, heavy investment in drone-focused R&D centers, partnerships with NASA and others to build an air traffic control system for drones, and even appearances by Amazon executives in front of congressional committees show that the company isn’t just serious about flying books and other small items to customers, but utterly determined to see the plan through.

More on that NASA partnership. This week a bunch of companies and other establishments, Amazon and Google among them, are meeting in San Francisco to thrash out some ideas on the planned monitoring system for managing the multitude of commercial drones that could one day be buzzing about in the skies above our cities, performing a range of tasks for a myriad of businesses.

Speaking at the NASA-hosted event on Tuesday, Amazon unveiled proposals for how it’d like to essentially divide up the sky for different types of flying machine, with a space between 200 and 400 feet from the ground reserved for autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) such as its Prime Air quadcopter.

With an eye on super-fast deliveries, the company said the flying machines should also be allowed to reach speeds of up to 70 mph.

In a bid to ease safety concerns, Amazon suggests the designation of a no-fly zone between 400 and 500 feet to clearly separate UAVs from regular aircraft, the Guardian reported.

Drones flying in the designated 200-foot band of air would incorporate cutting-edge detection and avoidance technology, and operate under the guidance of an advanced air traffic control system, the Seattle-based company told the event’s attendees.

Envisioning a day when city skies are dotted with a huge number of commercial drones, and mindful of the safety challenges such a scenario will bring, Gur Kimchi, VP and co-founder of Amazon’s Prime Air initiative, said at the conference, “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.”

Kimchi knows that safe drone flight, through on-board technology and a sophisticated traffic monitoring system, is essential if it wants to have a chance of convincing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to relax regulations on the operation of commercial drone flights. The FAA is currently designing a new set of guidelines for later this year, though until the advanced systems Amazon speaks of have been fully developed, the FAA’s rules are likely to remain fairly restrictive.

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