The FAA Just Approved Amazon Delivery Drones

Pet dog responding to a low flying drone.

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

The FAA just approved Amazon to deliver packages by drone across the United States. But a small scale drone trial in Australia caused such a noise nuisance locals threatened to shoot the drones out of the sky.

Sounds like the black helicopters have come for us. Oh, just another swarm of FAA-approved Amazon delivery drones

Imagine everyone placing 30-minute orders for stuff all day. In fact, let’s turn to those who have lived under it

Tue 1 Sep 2020 // 00:02 UTC
Kieren McCarthy in San Francisco

Amazon has won approval to deliver packages by drone across the United States, meaning that customers could soon receive lightweight orders within 30 minutes but at a cost: drone delivery bots soaring overhead.

On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave the e-commerce giant the right to carry property on drones “beyond the visual line of sight” of the operator, meaning that it is able to deliver packages under five pounds in weight to anywhere it offers the service.

Amazon is actually the third organization to receive approval following UPS and Google’s Project Wing late last year, and there are another three applicants under review, according to the FAA, though Amazon is expected to be most aggressive when it comes to rolling out coverage given its sharp consumer focus.

In one notable trial run by Google in Bonython, Australia, a suburb of Canberra, hated the drones so much that residents organized together to run them out of town. While acknowledging it was very convenient to have super-fast deliveries to their homes, locals said the noise drove them, their dogs and local wildlife crazy.

Read more: https://www.theregister.com/2020/09/01/amazon_prime_drones/

Another register article lists the problems;

  • The drones are large and very noisy
  • They make a high-pitched whining sound and operate from early morning to evening
  • You can hear them from a long way off, both coming and leaving
  • When they do a delivery drop they hover over the site and it sounds like an extremely loud, squealing vacuum cleaner
  • They can be heard from inside closed houses, even those with double-glazing

The problem appears to be that while houses are good at blocking street noise, they are not designed to block noise from above, so drone noise goes straight through the roof into the living area.

The Register references a NASA study which hilights how annoying the noise can be.

From what I have seen there is no doubt drones drive pets nuts (see picture at the top of the page). I think it is the high pitched noise which sets them off. My dog chases and bites the lawn vac, which makes a similar noise to a drone.

I’m sure Amazon and other wannabe public drone operators are working hard to fix these problems, so it will be interesting to see how the coming rollout of next generation drones is received by members of the public.

65 thoughts on “The FAA Just Approved Amazon Delivery Drones

  1. Those drones will be worth something to the scrap metal thieves. Maybe a few pounds of high quality copper in the electric motors? What does the drone do with the package when it gets to the house? Do they just drop the package on the front lawn and fly away? At least when it is delivered to the porch, the thieve has to actually approach the door of the house. I don’t think this idea works either after half the packages goes missing, and the other half of the drones are shot out of the sky for scrap metal. Metal thieves go to all the work of stealing some telephone line, and then spend hours melting the plastic to get the pure copper. If they just got a job, they could probably make 10x as much as stealing copper.

      • Yep, I jest a little, but that makes them even more valuable to a ‘salvager’ who doesn’t like these flying overhead nonstop. Just can’t see this working for the majority of deliveries to the average customer who lives in a condo, apartment or a house with no yard to speak of. Or a business in a strip mall. They don’t even have delivery to the house figured out much, leaving the package on the doorstep and I don’t want delivery to my condo even when I am in town as they just leave it outside my door and it gets stolen. I want to order online and be able to pick up at my convenience, like at a dedicated warehouse delivery centre or where it where it is held for secure signed pick-up open 24/7 like a maybe a 7-11 that does postal business already.

        • I work “in the industry”. There is a group in our building who constantly build drones. I work on another aspect.

          I can tell you that the initial deliveries will be from the warehouse to a holding facility. Customers will either have to go to the secondary facility to take delivery of their order or wait for it to be delivered by vehicle to them after the drone delivers it to the secondary facility. The drones won’t even legally be able to fly to your residence or business, only on predefined right of way corridors.

          Maybe direct delivery can be worked out in 10 years from now. I’m not holding my breath though. What happens if a drone fails and falls on someone? Law suit and the whole drone delivery enterprise is set back years.

          • I too was working ‘in the industry’. What you are talking about is sometimes called middle mile deliveries from a distribution center to a local customer center rather than to customer homes. The aircraft would normally be a larger ‘Cargo Air Vehicle’ CAV about the size of a USPS van, operating under the ‘Advanced Air Mobility’ concepts of operations from NASA.

            The report here though is about FAA certifying small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) under 14 CFR part 135 to operate for hire and reward doing deliveries to the end recipient. All sUAS will have to operate below 400ft AGL. If they cross your land below 88ft (based on a 1940’s court ruling on low flying military aircraft) the sUAS are trespassing and may be shot down. 🙂 There have already been successfully defended cases of sUAS being shot down.

            There are some sections of 14 CFR part 135 that the sUAS must have had derogation from or the regulation may have been amended. For example the requirement to land with 30 minutes endurance. Similarly, the sUAS are operating in Class G mandatory Visual Flight Rules airspace but cannot fly VFR when they are Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). There will almost certainly be legal issues and cases brought that will clarify whether the FAA in its eagerness to be seen to say yes has moved to fast.

            However, the real issue will be noise. In Europe where the ‘ambient noise’ is used as a benchmark the sUAS will have great difficulty unless designed for quieter operation. It may be the same in some jurisdictions in the USA. Noise abatement is one of the major PR problems for airports. It is bound to become a similar constraint on sUAS delivery flights. Imagine living half a mile from an Amazon distribution center and having continual overflights that are so loud you have to stop talking until they have passed.

          • I do not give a rats, the whole idea is consumptionism gone utterly nuts. It is a ‘service. that delivers basically junk to the most upthemselves people on the planet. If it were confined to the delivery of urgent emdicines or similar stuff then maybe there would be a grown up case but the proposed operation is just to deliver junk quickly so some greedy dirtbag can make easy money.

    • I am surprised that no-one picked up on the surveillance aspect of these drones. Let’s have low altitude maneuverable device fly over areas that are problematic for satellites. I still remember Pokemon Go directing players into police stations and secured areas. Sidewalk version is more likely such as Amazon Scout aka adorabot.

    • I’m not a gun person but if I was I couldn’t shoot the deer that eat my wife”s plants — up to 14 have been on our acre at one time. Target shooting at a gun range with a pistol is boring: I tried it one time. But shooting at noisy drones sounds like fun. As an audiophile who listens to music every day, outside noise is very annoying. I wonder if a shotgun would be appropriate, or a rifle? If I missed, and it landed with the package, maybe I could throw a net over it and flatten it with a sledge hammer? Did I mention that I hate loud noise outside my home?

  2. We had morons ordering coffee here in Bonython – too lazy to make their own and there were a few complaints that the coffee was spilled or cold. Seriously!!!! It is many years since I owned a shanghai , not sure what they are called in the US, (Y shaped stick with a rubber band that fires stones very fast! ). I earned a good amount of pocket money back then when there was a bounty on sparrows. I could take sparrows out sitting in a tree but my cousin could take them out in mid-air. Might be time to get a bit of practice in.

    • Most people in the US grew up calling them “sling shots.” More modern, commercial versions are called “wrist rockets.” Used against people or pets, most localities classify them as “dangerous weapons” if used in an assault on a person or animal.

      But the true “sling shot” is a leather projectile holder, aka the “sling”, on the ends of two long pieces of strong string. A stone or weighty projectile placed in the sling and then swung in a large circle and one end of the string released with very carefully chosen precision to hit a target. Takes lots and lots of practice and skill to even use without hurting yourself.
      This “sling shot” is what David used to slay Goliath with a large, smooth stone he selected, as described in the Old Testament.

    • We used to make a “T” shaped crossbow , with thick rubber bands on either side and a leather holder.

      I had one 5ft long. could fire a 1″ marble some 400m or more. 🙂

    • keep it quiet
      theyre illegal to own in Aus and have been for some time
      theyve now decided to make the gel pellet guns a “weapon” needing registration in SA
      but would prefer them banned.
      cos some moron used one for an attempted holdup
      they do look a little too “real”
      bow n arrows arent banned YET but it wont be long
      buy or make and keep it quiet! no share no tell no brag and no use when others might see n dob.

  3. The range and weight limitations, and weather (winds, precip, low clouds) limitations makes this all just very gimmicky. 5lbs max weight, with probably 15-20 kilometers range, more likely well under 10 km for adequate RF link to the ground station. When you have as much money as Amazon does with its recent stock price run-up, experimenting with this stuff is fun and has lots of cool points for executives.

    Slow flying Hexa- and Octa- copter drones (60 kph max typical) in Western world, where urban settings are flown is very different from some of the stuff being done in remote parts of Africa where 100-160 kph cruising, fixed-wing petrol-powered drones can parachute deliver vaccines, medicines, and antibiotics to far flung clinics, by easily crossing rivers, jungles, and warlord’s thug armies with ease and can deliver to a pinpoint drop area within a 60-100 km radius from a secure site. This can be a game changer when infrastructure and security is lacking in the 3rd World. Not so much a factor in the USA or Europe. Even in the Outback of Australia, fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft are the fastest way to deliver critical medical supplies to far flung clinics and hospitals, and then air-evac patients if needed.

    • To clarify your misconception, Amazon’s share price run-up doesn’t directly provide to the Company. It does allow it to pay employees with shares more optimally, saving some cash. Also beneficial in acquisitions funded with shares. But share price increases go to the shareholders, like Bezos.

    • Yes, there is a place for these, and rural is the place to start that would make a lot of sense as you say in the remote Third World, or even up in the Arctic when the ice roads are done in spring or all winter. Especially for meds and lightweight supplies and mail that can go A to B real quick. That should be relatively straightforward. I could even see from a major warehouse in a city delivering to urban delivery centres, whereby I pick up at my local delivery centre on my schedule. Just don’t see it as the final delivery solution to the urban consumer at their residential home, condo or business. Well, maybe rooftop delivery of some kind for some suitable locations. It will still be niche though as how many packages are under 5 pounds? No groceries..

      • It’ll be critical infrastructure after the zombie apocalypse hits. Holed up for days, weeks or months to avoid getting infected, drone delivery of supplies will be critical… Oh, wait a minute…I’m thinking of Covid19. Never mind.

  4. This will end quickly. Drones crash eventually, it’s the nature of drones. After the first time one crashes and kills or injures someone, the lawsuit that will follow will quickly end this experiment.

  5. I think autonomous driving vehicles with robotic devices to deliver the package to the door would be a better idea than flooding the air with noisy drones… probably also more energy efficient too.

  6. As long as they don’t dent my flying TDI…

    Because in year 2K we were already supposed to all own flying cars…

    This is one of them popular mechanic kind of advertisement stunts. Weather exists, just to say, there’s not much difference between what winds do close to a high rise building and a mountain top, it’s just a question of scale.

    It might kind of work in sparsely populated suburbia or cross-country until someone gets hurt.

    Understandably, lawyers might perceive this as a new opportunity.

    • A complex issue.

      Once tail-numbered, these are sort of FAA pupils, alike anything with a tailnumber.

      I’m not sure, but downing one of them might actually be a federal offense.

      • FL
        You suggested, “… downing one of them might actually be a federal offense.” Right up there with taking a raptor or migratory bird without a license and stamp. I wonder if windmill operators would need special dispensation for accidentally ‘taking’ a drone?

        • CS,
          I don’t work those routes so you better check with current on the topic sources, but the situation could become even more absurd as, if my memory serves me right, the NTSB would be automatically involved each time a civilian tail-number goes down. Plus the FBI should this can be considered intentional or suspicious.

          Military forces being the sole with the right to shoot airborne tail-numbers.

          Quite a situation indeed…

          • Got any idea how many federal laws you break every single day? They don’t either, never mind, they will prosecute you anyway just because an anonymous claims you did.

  7. Eric, if I could just point out that the threats to shoot the drones were largely hyperbole. One has to remember that a former leftist government took firearms of just about everyone in Australia, except for the people who shouldn’t own them, of course.

    • I was in Tasmania the day of the mass shooting. 1998. I think the Howard government basically outlawed all of the semiautomatic rifles. The farmers as well as others were pissed because many used the weapons to control the wild pigs etc on their lands.

    • There have been cases in the USA. In one a ‘drone’ was hovering over a backyard where two teenage girls were sunbathing. The father didn’t like the ‘spying’ being done and took out the quite expensive ‘drone’ with a shotgun. The ‘drone’ was judged as trespassing and the owners were unable to get any recompense.

      The rules both flight rules, 14 CFR FAA regulations, and state laws, even city ordinances are going to be a minefield for these unmanned delivery aircraft.

      There will also be many lost to convective weather or to severe winter weather. The military accept a high level of attrition on the small unmanned aircraft, it may be more difficult in a commercial operation. The insurance for third party damages may be prohibitive too.

      • And never forget high end air rifles, low flying drones would be fairly easy. Then you got the criminal element who will be downing them to steal what they carry. Easier to do close to delivery point than in mid flight path.

  8. Interceptor drones. The newest game in town where game becomes reality! Post your best ‘kills’ on youtube. Score 10 points taking down another drone with an attack using ‘kite string’, 20 points using ‘cheese cloth’ and 50 points via ‘kamikaze’ attack. 100 points if you can create a ‘fiery crash’!

    • Jammers might be easier to use?
      wont be that many frequencies used?
      my dogs would love em
      they already pull down cockatoos n magpies that dont look before coming in to land;-) oops

  9. And then there’s Tony Stark aka Elon Musk flying his jet pack around LA last Sunday.

    ”A couple of pilots got quite a surprise while approaching Los Angeles International Airport over the weekend, when they spotted somebody apparently flying at about 3,000 feet with a jet pack.

    The pilot of American Airlines flight 1997 radioed the LAX tower Sunday evening to make the unusual report.

    “Tower, American 1997. We just passed a guy in a jet pack,” the pilot said on the radio transmission, which was first obtained by Fox11.

    An air-traffic controller — noticeably taken aback by the report — responded, “American 1997, OK, thank you for the update. Left side or right side?”

    “Off the left side,” the pilot responded, “at maybe, uh, 300 yards or so, at our altitude.”

    https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/2020/09/01/pilots-report-man-flying-jet-pack-near-lax/5684685002/

    • In a jet pack, as reported 300 yards or so from the wake turbulence of A321 “stretch bus” or alike…

      Respectable & downright stupid.

  10. A year ago flights were disrupted in UK by drones at airports.

    So what a wizard Wheeze to order amazon drone deliveries to each terminal building.

    You may get drone buzz but you could stop jet scream from aeroplanes!

  11. Very hard to make small diameter rotors that are quiet. Very easy to make a deployable cloud of 5 m nylon filaments using potato gun tech.

    this pestilence should have a half life of 6 months.

  12. I live in (fairly) rural Connecticut, fortunately far away from noise. I love the quietness and the year round natural soundscape, which is very rich. The only disruption to this is when someone comes out with a leaf blower (some of which you’ll hear for 1/2 a mile) but at least these are seasonal and you know they’ll be stopping in 20 minutes. This would be coming and going all day, all year and you just couldn’t stop it…
    I think it would be up to towns to campaign and ban them at the local level… oh and also cancel any Amazon prime subscription

  13. Insane idea! One would need A.I. to judge where to drop the box, too much to go wrong, fraught with problems.

  14. Future A: Houses are designed with secure drone delivery chimneys.

    Future B: Drone skeet becomes an Olympic sport.

      • That sounds like BIG FUN. I’ve been using a ‘walk around’ course for years as well as a ‘pine lane’ course. The walk around works like this: the shooter walks the mowed circle shooting lane and doesn’t get to ‘call the birds’ The launcher fires them as they see fit (stacked doubles, split, or smoking). A score is increased if the broken bird is shattered again. 25 rounds leaves the barrel way too hot to touch! Lots of laughs and great shooting experience.

        The ‘pine lane’ is similar. Shooting lane cut through thick pine and cedar. the ‘walk’ puts lots of trees in the way. Tree bark litters the ground! I much prefer the pump action in 20 ga. It’s a poor boys game but experience is the best teacher! A day on the range is years worth of walking to get a few shots at a grouse.

        I read this link and Higgins has one bit of advice. “See a flash and a blur and pull the trigger,” he says. “Stop to think about it and you’re screwed.” I agree!

        https://gardenandgun.com/articles/helice-skeet-on-steroids/

        • Tac course, do wind sprints before sets. Ground detonations and aerial bursts, just to keep people on their toes.

  15. If I accidentally drop a hair net on a passing drone,
    With my remotely controlled plane.
    Will I be coursing an offence?
    If it drops on my neibours property,
    can I still claim salvage?
    Jerr-ust ask-in!

  16. How long till the drone wars.
    Ya got drones supplying the rioters, then ya get the anti-riot drones.
    Then 13 year olds with skills become a priceless commodity.

  17. I am right their with the Aussies on this one. Someone starts flying drones over my house, they will start losing their drones.

    I have a right to both privacy and some peace and quiet, already being strained by a nearby train line that replaced the wonderful steam engine “Puffy” whose whistle conjured good-old-times with a blaring horn-from-hell diesel I hate.

    I will not tolerate drones flying near overhead my house. If they stick to streets – no issues.

  18. People nay sayed Amazon from the get go, now look at them. Good news for my home city where the drones will be made. Time for large residential buildings to put drone pads on the roof.

  19. Apologies to Judy Collins:

    Isn’t it rich?
    Ordered a pair.
    One bootie dropped; its mate
    Somewhere in mid-air,
    Where are the drones?

    Is Amazon taxed?
    Can’t really approve…
    The way they keep buzzing around,
    While I can’t even move,
    Where are the drones?
    There ought to be drones.

    Just when I’d stopped opening doors,
    Finally found the pair that I’d wanted – the ones I adore –
    I flung the door open again with my usual flair
    Sure of my lines
    No one is there

    Don’t you love Prada?
    My fault, I fear
    The loafers delivered last year had grown
    Surprisingly drear
    But where are the drones
    Send back the drones
    Don’t bother, they’re here

    Isn’t it rich?
    Isn’t it strange?
    Off by a full size, and now, how do you exchange?
    But where are the drones?
    There ought to be drones
    Well, maybe next year

    Actually, I’m all in favor. Send in the drones.

  20. How long before the biggest users of the service are the drug cartels? It could cut out a whole lot of those junkie street dealers especially if selling to the hoi poloi market living in apartment towers or country estates.

    Yay!! Lets party!!

    And if you take the right gear you actually get off on the high pitched squeals of the drones. Hey, there’s a whole marketing angle for your ‘product’.

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