You might expect that Amazon celebrated getting clearance to fly its first drones last week, but the joy was short lived at best. The retailer is now saying that the regulatory approval to test drones in the US was irrelevant by the time it was granted, due to the unfortunate fact that Amazon had already abandoned the drone in question.
Speaking at a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Amazon’s vice president for global public policy Paul Misener revealed that "the [drone] approved last week by the FAA has become obsolete. We don’t test it anymore," he said. He added, "We've moved on to more advanced designs that we already are testing abroad."
Amazon has been developing delivery drones since at least 2013. Thanks to the FAA's regulators moving about as fast as a tortoise mired in molasses, most of the work is being done overseas. Amazon's drones are being developed in countries like India, where Amazon doesn't have to contend with the restrictions the FAA has placed on drone testing.
It's not just that the FAA is slow, but also that the license granted to Amazon required that the drones must be operated by licensed pilots who must maintain line of sight contact with their craft, and only fly the drones during the day.
In contrast, Misener said in his written testimony that "Nowhere outside of the United States have we been required to wait more than one or two months to begin testing".
As you may know, Amazon wants to develop autonomous drones which can deliver a package within 30 minutes. The FAA's restriction cuts off that possibility, effectively killing any chance of real world development. Even if the approved drones weren't obsolete, Amazon wouldn't be able do any serious work with them - not in the US, anyway.
Once again, we have another classic example of tech moving far faster than the bureaucracy which is supposed to regulate it. While that comes as no surprise, it does make me wonder whether the FAA is being run by Vogons:
In all seriousness, folks, the FAA has granted only 48 of several hundred requests.
In comparison, Australia has granted operating certificates to 185 businesses while several European countries have granted licenses to more than 1,000 operators.
That is shockingly slow, and to make matters worse the FAA doesn't expect to have its regulations for commercial drone flight finalized until 2016 or 2017.
At this rate, we're liable to have practical teleportation before the FAA is ready to Amazon take to the skies.