Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Amazon Wants to Drone Up. What's Wrong With That?

To many people the concept of a drone has become a weapon from the War of Terror. But that is not in essence what a drone is. A drone is an unmanned flying robot

Amazon Prime Air. Wow. Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon.com, announced last night that his company is working on plans to deliver its merchandise by unmanned chopper. From your screen to your door in 30 minutes, by means of awesome new technology.

Amazon Prime Air: What Are You Waiting For? 

By Alexander R. Cohen

Imagine: Drones that deliver life-enriching goods. A perfect image of the difference between the power of business and the power of government. And you might see Amazon’s octocopters in the skies over your city within five years—if Bezos’s team can pull it off.

If the team can pull it off—and, says Amazon’s website, if the FAA can make the “necessary regulations.”

Suddenly the story becomes less exciting. Instead of just waiting for its inventors to get the technology ready and then launching its octocopters when they’re built, Amazon is also waiting for permission—and saying it’s “necessary.”


It doesn’t take the FAA’s permission to make things fly safely. That’s done by inventors and the laws of physics, not by regulations. Regulations prohibit things, or sometimes remove prohibitions imposed by other law.

Now, maybe the regulations are “necessary” because without them, civilian drones would be illegal. If that’s the case, though, the impediment to Amazon Prime Air isn’t that the regulations don’t exist, but that laws banning the drones do exist.

Amazon doesn’t say. It just says the regulations are “necessary,” as if it’s the natural order of things that before creating something awesome you have to wait for permission.

But it’s not. If the Amazon team builds suitably reliable, safe, cost-effective drones, and the company can’t deploy them for lack of a regulation, that’s because something in the legal system is getting in the way.

Perhaps it's a sound principle to which Amazon wants an exception; I'm guessing it's an unwarranted restriction Amazon needs lifted. Amazon should say what, so that if the technology is ready before the regulation, people can understand why they're not getting Amazon Prime Air.

Crossposted from The Atlas Society's Business Rights Center