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Drones at Your Door

The technology behind Amazon's plans to deliver packages by drone.

Glenn Sanderson has been flying drones for just under a year - taking photos of homes and buildings for commercial real estate.
   
        "Architectural buildings, homes, landscaping, anything from the air," he says.
  
The new technology gives him a unique advantage, something he says his clients can't get enough of.
   
        "What's really wonderful about it is that it gives a whole different perspective if you're photographing a building or a home," says Sanderson. "You get up 30, 40, 50 feet, and you see the lines of the home and how the architect drew it."

So Sanderson was concerned when he heard a group of State Representatives might be trying to take that privelage away.

        "I use it for a specific purpose and I wouldn't want to see them try to legislate that away."

The legislation he's referring to is backed by Representative Tyler August, who along with 3 others, introduced his Drone Privacy Bill last year. The bill would make it illegal to capture audio or video of someone on private property without their knowledge - But August is quick to point out that his bill is only directed at those using drones for the wrong reasons.

        "If you want to go to a public park and fly a drone or a model airplane with an audio/visual recorder, that's fine under the bill," says August. "Under the bill we just say people can't be recorded or viewed with this technology when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that's an important part of the bill."

The legislation could pose problems for Amazon's drone delivery method, as the vehicles would likely be equipped with cameras. But Representative August says consent language in the bill would likely cover that.

        "At that point if I've ordered something from Amazon and said 'let's let this be delivered by drone and I'll meet it outside at my house', well then I've given my consent," says August.

The bill would also apply to law enforcement - which could only use drones after obtaining a search warrant, or for extreme events like amber alerts or runaway prisoners. The use of a weaponized drone by anyone - would also be illegal.

        "That's not an appropriate use of the technology so under the bill that would be a felony with a weaponized drone."

August says with limited regulations set forth by the federal government, the state needs to get on top of this technology before people abuse it.

        "We're looking to protect the individual in their private space," says August. "As well as still allow some folks who enjoy using this technology for recreational or business purposes to still do so in a responsible manner."

And that's good news for people like Sanderson.

        "I could never get a good angle on a building from the ground," he says.

An issue he no longer has to deal with.

Imagine you're waiting for a package, but instead of waiting for a delivery truck, you're waiting for a drone drop.


It's the way of the future, according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who unveiled the idea back in early December. The plan calls for 30-minute home delivery, by way of an unmanned quadcopter.


Drone enthusiast Ken Simonson has been flying these machines for years...He says the idea is innovative, but not currently realistic.


        "They have problems they've never even thought of," he says.


Among the issues - inclement weather and obstacles.


        "You don't want to fly them on misty, rainy days because there's electronics in it. Windy days they bounce around."


And on cold days - battery life can be less than 5 minutes. Simonson says additional technology is necessary before home delivery could be done safely. At the top of the list - more accurate proximity censors.


        "It's gotta know if there's a car sitting there or if a person's going to move it," he says. "Or Is a tree near you? Or did they put a new building up? Otherwise it's gonna land right on top of that. It doesn't know where it's at, it just goes by GPS."


Long gone are the days of relying on a remote control to fly un-manned aerial vehicles. These days, it's as simple as plugging in a GPS coordinate, and watching the drone take flight."


        "Straight line of sight," says Simonson. "It goes from one point to another."


And that presents additional issues for the FAA.


        "It's very complex. It looks like a lot of fun, very easy just by looking on the surface, but as you go into it it's a rather complex issue and one that has to be worked through before it becomes a reality."


Knapinski says the FAA will not make an initial ruling on drones until at least 2015 - And even then, it's unclear how the administration will respond.


        "This is something that the FAA hasn't dealt with yet," he says.


He says the next hurdle will be basic consumer acceptance, and how to prevent people from stealing packages out of the air - or even from taking the drone itself.


        "There are levels of safety and efficiency that have to be built in before this becomes reality," says Knapinski.


But despite the issues - both parties say there's nothing involved that technology can't overcome.


        "It's doubled or tripled in technology in two or three years," says Simonson. "Three years ago this was just starting."


Knapinski agrees, says the industry and engineering is already there.

        "It's a great piece of innovative thinking that may spark more innovative thinking much as we've seen in aviation for much of a century. But it's something that - don't expect it to happen by next Christmas season."

 

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