Skip to main content

Amazon drone delivery plan given hope as NASA progresses with air traffic control system

Commercial drones FAA regulations
When the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in February rolled out its proposed list of regulations for the commercial use of drones, many companies, Amazon among them, were left feeling disappointed.

The reason? The flying machines have to stay in view of the operator at all times, the FAA said. Of course, that’s no good for the Web giant, which is working on an ambitious project that would enable it to deliver small packages by drone to customers living close to its fulfillment centers. Industries hoping to use the machines to conduct inspections of equipment in remote areas are also affected by the proposed rules, which the FAA says are essential to ensure the safety of those on the ground.

The good news, however, is that a solution is in the works in the form of an air traffic control system for low-flying aircraft being developed by NASA.

The system, news of which was first reported last September, would help organize drone traffic and also monitor satellite data for adverse weather that could knock the machines out of the sky.

According to a Reuters report this week, progress with the management system is moving forward at a steady pace after NASA began working with U.S. aerospace company Exelis, as well as with a number of universities and other government agencies.

Exelis is of particular use to the project as it has exclusive access to a data feed from 650 aircraft-monitoring ground stations that’s already being used by the FAA to keep tabs on manned flying machines. The aerospace company plans to enhance the technology to include low-altitude aircraft such as drones. Tests are set to begin this summer, with Exelis VP Edward Sayadian hailing the system as a possible solution for unmanned aircraft flights by commercial operators who need to fly them out of sight.

It’s perfectly possible the final system may not involve an operator at all, with NASA reported to be developing a computer-based system with carefully designed algorithms controlling flights.

News of the project’s progress suggests Amazon’s Prime Air project may yet take to the skies, though of course the drone-based delivery plan will still have plenty of regulatory hoops to jump through before then.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Amazon has an idea to stop its delivery drones from being hijacked
amazon drone patent save battery power prime air delivery 2 1200x0

Part of Amazon's work on its proposed drone delivery service includes pumping out patents that explore an array of ideas for the technology.

While it's hard to know if any of them will ever form part of the service, the filings at least give us some insight into how Amazon wants to build out the platform as it explores the various issues it believes it needs to overcome to make such a service viable.

Read more
Amazon delivery drone may use lights and music when it shows up at your home
amazon drone patent save battery power prime air delivery 2 1200x0

If you didn't already know it, Amazon really wants to deliver stuff to your door using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos unveiled a prototype of the Prime Air delivery drone in 2013, and several redesigns later, the company is surely coming close to a platform that it hopes will transform its delivery operation. Of course, it first has to convince the Federal Aviation Administration that such an aerial-based delivery system is safe, so a full-fledged, autonomous delivery service could still be a ways off.

Read more
Amazon drone deliveries may involve lots of shouting and frantic arm-waving
amazon drone patent save battery power prime air delivery 2 1200x0

It seems like hardly a week passes without Amazon posting another patent for its Prime Air delivery drone.

Some are wackier than others, and it's not clear how many of the ideas will ever make it into its final design, but several elements of the features shown in the latest filing actually already exist in some drones already on the market.

Read more