Amazon to call on US Congress for fewer drone restrictions

The company wants to make money delivering items by drone in 30 minutes or less

Amazon's proposed drones will deliver packages in 30 minutes or less

Amazon's proposed drones will deliver packages in 30 minutes or less

Amazon on Wednesday will call on the U.S. Congress to embrace automated drone flights and come up with a set of simple, nationwide regulations that will allow its proposed Prime Air service to get off the ground.

The company is one of several that is lobbying U.S. lawmakers hard to accept looser regulations for drone flights than those proposed recently by the Federal Aviation Administration.

As they stand now, the FAA's proposed rules won't allow Prime Air to fly, and that could stop a potentially lucrative business for Amazon, which wants to use drones to deliver goods to customers in 30 minutes or less.

The latest step in Amazon's campaign will come Wednesday morning, when the head of its public policy team will speak in front of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Paul Misener will tell lawmakers that Amazon disagrees with the FAA's assessment that putting so-called "sense and avoid" technologies on small drones presents "unique safety concerns," according to a copy of his prepared remarks released Tuesday by the committee.

Sense and avoid is vital for automated flight. It's the technology that allows drones to fly independently of human operators, automatically sensing potential obstacles and adjusting their flight to avoid them.

The development of such systems is a key part of Amazon's research efforts into drones, and the company feels that any decision by the FAA now needs to take into account the fast pace at which technology is improving.

"Overly prescriptive restrictions are likely to have the unintended side-effect of stifling innovation and, over time, will fail to offer any corresponding safety benefit as small unmanned aerial system (SUAS) technology improves," he says in his prepared remarks.

The argument about stifling innovation has been successful for Amazon in the past. The company had been threatening to move its drone research to Canada because it didn't have permission to test drones in the U.S., but after similar complaints, the FAA provided that permission earlier this year.

Misener will also call for an immediate start to planning for rules that would allow flight beyond visual line of sight, which is another of the restrictions in the FAA's proposal. He will also say that categorical prohibitions, such as the one proposed for all night flight, should be avoided.

Misener will also ask lawmakers to prevent a patchwork of local rules and restrictions from forming.

"States and localities must not be allowed to regulate SUAS that the FAA has authorized," the remarks say.

Amazon is hoping that Prime Air will open up a whole new area of business for the company, replacing the short trips people make to the shops to pick up a single item or two.

"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 SUAS will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly," the testimony says.

In fact, Misener will say, far from drones making the world less safe, their introduction will mean a reduction in cars and delivery vans that will make ground transportation a safer experience.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 9am Eastern U.S. Time.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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