29 Jul 15

Amazon sees “drone zones” as future for airborne delivery

Amazon wants to reserve narrow, low-altitude bands of airspace for package deliveries by its long-range drones. These “drone zones” will have to be policed by a 'traffic cop in the skies', the online retailer says. Its vision of the future was presented at a conference sponsored by NASA's Ames Research Center, also located in Silicon Valley.
Current regulations in the U.S. allow only very limited unmanned flights. But Amazon is only one of over 100 tech companies working with NASA to develop the blueprint for a future air-traffic system buzzing with delivery and service drones. This Unmanned Aerial System Traffic Management (UASTM) will require the equivalent of flight plans for drones, and communications between drones and a computer system accessible to all operators. Drones should also be able to talk to each other, to avoid mid-air collisions. This technology could be adapted from already existing devices used for cars.
Safety is also contingent on keeping drones away from planes and helicopters, with Amazon proposing they remain within 400 feet (122 m) of the ground. Normal air traffic starts at 500 feet (152 m). High-speed drones would keep to the zone between 200 (61 m) and 400 feet, with slower drones and local traffic operating below 200 feet. Like Google, Amazon believes there doesn’t need to be a single air-traffic operator for drones. So long as the data showing where drones are flying is sent to the central computer system, any company should be allowed to participate.

Authored by: Steven Schoefs