Age of Drones
By Don Ireland
Hoping that a drone will deliver flowers or a silky negligee to your special sweetheart somewhere in Gilpin County? Sorry, it’s going to take much longer than expected.
A series of internal issues have created problems for Amazon’s proposed drone delivery system – called Amazon Prime Air – at its main research facility in the United Kingdom. Originally, Amazon wanted to refine and perfect its home drone delivery system in England before rolling out the service in other countries, including the United States.
According to Wired Magazine, “Insiders claim the future of the UK operation, which launched in 2016 to help pioneer Amazon’s global drone delivery efforts, is now uncertain,” the report states. Anonymous sources within the British Prime Air office told Wired the operation there was “collapsing inwards,” “dysfunctional” and represented “organized chaos” with managers in the division described as “detached from reality.”
While Amazon states the UK office is still functioning, it refused to release the number of current employees on the drone-delivery project. Insiders told Wired that Amazon Prime Air’s UK office has navigated choppy skies over the past few years:
“Cracks first began to show in the Prime Air project in late 2019 [with] managers being appointed who knew so little about the project they couldn’t answer basic work questions, an employee drinking beer at their desk in the morning, and some staff being forced to train their replacements in Costa Rica.”
In recent years, Amazon was considered the potential heavyweight in the drone delivery market. However, other high-profile players, including Google’s Wing division, Walmart, and UPS also have been working on their own types of delivering goods to homes via unmanned aerial systems (drones).
Although Amazon’s internal issues are resulting in an apparent setback to any home-delivery program, other companies continue experimental drone deliveries in selected areas of the U.S. In Ohio, Kroger (parent company to local grocers King Soopers and City Markets) launched a grocery-delivery program to homes near one of its stores in May. In the medical field, experimental flights continue to transport human organs and tissues via drones between hospitals – reducing travel time from standard ground-based transport vehicles.
Don’t shoot at a drone
Wendell Goney, 50, of Orlando, decided to shoot down a drone that he apparently thought was spying on him. As it turned out, the drone belonged to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. The unusual incident occurred last month when the sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of a potential burglary. After clearing out the main building, the deputies deployed a drone to search across the property and nearby lots. A short while later, the deputies heard two shots. The police drone fell from the sky, hit the ground and caught fire, according to a report from Fox 35 News.
According to police, Goney said he heard the drone buzzing outside and thought it was trying to harass him. He told them he used his .22 caliber rifle to shoot down the drone. The story became further complicated because Goney, who had a previous criminal record, was charged with shooting down a law enforcement drone. He also was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted criminal, improper exhibition of dangerous weapons, and shooting or throwing deadly missiles.
Because many drones are powered by lithium-based batteries, they can catch fire, especially if they crash to the ground or are shot.
The incident resurfaced a common question
Can you shoot down a drone flying over your private property?
During recent decades, Colorado courts ruled that navigable airspace is not owned by the property owner. The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates airspace, is of the opinion that drones are classified as aircraft. As a result, drone operators are permitted to fly at or below 400 feet in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace, regardless of who owns the property below. Federal law also prohibits shooting down any aircraft, regardless if it is manned or unmanned.
If you think a drone is repeatedly trespassing or invading your privacy, don’t shoot it down. It is recommended that you call local law enforcement. Note: The batteries on most drones last for 30 minutes or less, which means a drone flying near your property is likely being operated by someone nearby. Local authorities have the jurisdiction to speak with the drone operator and determine if a potential violation may have occurred. The federal government requires that drone operators – whether they are flying commercially or for recreational purposes – have their drone registered with the FAA. Operators also a required to present their FAA-authorized paperwork, if asked, to local law enforcement authorities. Drone operators, who passed a test to receive FAA certification, were taught drone safety and other behaviors, including that they cannot operate a drone if under the influence of drugs or alcohol, nor should they use their drone to spy on people or act in a harassing or dangerous manner to others.
It is also prohibited for a drone operator to interfere with any activity being conducted by authorities, such as flying near a wildfire or ongoing crime scene. Experts say any citizen flying a drone near a fire scene forces first responders – for safety reasons – to halt any aerial fire-fighting activities, including use of helicopters, manned planes or official fire-surveillance drones. Colorado authorities reported several instances when unauthorized drones interfered with fire-fighting operations last summer, when the three largest wildfires in Colorado history occurred.
“Age of Drones” is an occasional feature, explaining how this evolving technology is having impacts on businesses, government, and humanity.
Lake County Sheriff’s drone that was shot down in Florida. Many drones used by police and fire departments cost between $10,000-$40,000. (Photo: Fox 35 News.)