Drones

New FAA Drone Rules Kick In, But Drone-based Deliveries Still Grounded

We'll have to keep dreaming about the day the Tacocopter will forever change the way humans fulfill their cravings for Mexican food.

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Abaca Press/Bernard Patrick/Sipa USA/Newscom

New federal regulations for commercial drones loosen some restrictions on how and where drones can be used, but you probably won't be getting lunch delivered via drone anytime soon.

Yes, we'll have to keep dreaming about the day the Tacocopter will forever change the way humans fulfill their cravings for Mexican food. Major retailers like Amazon will also have to keep their drone delivery plans grounded for now.

The new Federal Aviation Administration rules that took effect on Monday were the product of two years of bureaucratic wrangling and were finally approved in June. They leave much to be desired, but at least they do ease some previous regulations on drone use, like ending a mandatory federal approval process for small drones that was too expensive and time-consuming for many businesses. Now, drones weighing less than 55 pounds can be flown without getting a federal waiver.

Drones will be allowed to fly up to 400 feet in the air (as long as there isn't a restriction on airspace, like in the immediate vicinity of airports), which is twice as high as the old rules allowed. There is also a drone speed limit of 100 MPH, though its not clear how the FAA plans to enforce something like that. As a nod to privacy concerns over growing drone use, the federal rules prohibit flying drones above other people or their property.

The rule that really kills any chance of drone-based delivery systems is the one requiring drones to remain within sight of their operators at all times. That also means drones won't be able to fly after dark—although drones equipped with aircraft-style anti-collision lights will have some leeway to fly during early morning hours and just after dusk.

"While it's exciting that commercial drones are finally legal, the FAA missed an opportunity to remove many unnecessary restrictions on the use of this promising technology," Eli Dourado, director of the Technology Policy Program at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, told PC World.

The big winners are businesses in the real estate and construction fields, which the Los Angeles Times says will now be able to take advantage of drone-based photos and videos of property. Any business with more "ambitious or capital-intensive plans"—like the still-but-a-dream Tacocopter—will likely run afoul of the FAA's light of sight rule and would need a special waiver, the Times reports.

But if you want to get a pizza delivered by drone, you can. All you have to do is visit New Zealand.

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  1. Fuck the tacocopter! I need a margaritabomber, stat!

  2. There better be a wall stopping those Tacocopters at the border.

  3. I could see drone delivery vastly improving the lives of rural and island residents with UPS, FedEx, every large regional package delivery service, Amazon, et al competing to maximize customer satisfaction. So naturally the FAA has hamstrung the whole fucking thing.

  4. I fly my R/c planes at night without any visual issues, you just point your lights correctly, quite pretty really

  5. With the line-of-sight restrictions, they’ve also eliminated some of the potentially most valuable uses — power line /pipeline inspection, search & rescue, fire spotting. What I’m hoping is that drone companies will get busy with miniaturization, since drones under 250 grams are exempt from the rules. Right now, it’s quite easy to find drones under that limit, but as far as I know, none of them have high-quality gyro stabilized cameras

    1. With the line-of-sight restrictions, they’ve also eliminated some of the potentially most valuable uses — power line /pipeline inspection, search & rescue, fire spotting

      These tasks are already performed today with large UAVs that are build and certified to aviation standards and have fully redundant communications systems to prevent loss of contact with the vehicle.

      What is prohibited today is putting tens of thousands of 40lb UAVs in the airspace delivering 5-lb packages where the UAV operates fully autonomously.

      1. Yeah, and I’m sure that doesn’t raise the price at all or restrict their usage, does it? Or are certified, aviation-standard drones available and ready to go at a moment’s notice in all emergency situations of lost hikers (as would be the case with volunteers flying drones)? Is this kind of thing going to happen?

        http://goo.gl/BubSca

        Apparently not here in the U.S. under the FAA, but maybe at least it’ll happen in some developing nations with less intrusive bureaucracy can innovate in using large numbers of inexpensive drones.

        1. Yeah, and I’m sure that doesn’t raise the price at all or restrict their usage, does it?

          It is completely inevitable that a drone is going to kill someone just like Telsa eventually killed someone.

          It’s pretty straightforward . . number of vehicles in the air . . number of hours flown . . mean time between failure of structures, engines, avionics, etc . . some vehicle is going to kill one or more innocent people some day.

          The FAA is clearly petrified of the day this happens and subsequent the media coverage when it happens.

          1. I doubt it — the most common consumer drones weight 2 lbs, are not very dense, don’t fall quickly, and are quite reliable (and getting more so all the time). Much more likely that FAA restrictions will kill somebody (by not finding them in the wilderness), but that’s the unseen (just like all the unseen smokers who are going to be killed by the FDA’s new vaping regulations).

            1. http://www.faa.gov/uas/media/R…..Signed.pdf

              This rule finalizes the notice of proposed rulemaking entitled Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (the NPRM). The NPRM proposed operating and certification requirements to allow small unmanned aircraft systems (small UAS) to operate for non-hobby and non-recreational purposes.

              A small UAS consists of a small unmanned aircraft (which, as defined by statute, is an unmanned aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds and equipment necessary for the safe and efficient operation of that aircraft.

              Pay attention dude. These are the rules that went into effect today. UP TO 55 FUCKING POUNDS.

              1. Yes, I understand. But the same regulations also go *down* to a mere 250 grams (half a pound). The most popular drones (e.g. DJI Phantom) are in the 2lb range.

                1. You’re going to inspect pipelines with 50 lb UAVs that can stay aloft for a couple hours. You’re going to spy on your neighbors as they fuck with a 2 lb drone that can carry a go-pro.

                  Make up your mind which application you are pissed off about the FAA interfering with.

                  1. Why would you want to use a drone that stays aloft for hours if the effing FAA won’t let you fly it out of sight of the operator!? The rules make it illegal to tell a drone to follow a pipeline route on its own using GPS.

                    Also, consumer drones have flight times of over 20 minutes and can fly up to 50mph. They could cover quite a lot of ground in a volunteer search-and-rescue context if they were allowed to fly out-of-sight, GPS defined grid patterns. A bunch of volunteers with $1000 drones could do a hell of a lot, if they were allowed to.

          2. It is completely inevitable that a drone is going to kill someone just like Telsa eventually killed someone.

            Point of order…

            Tesla didn’t kill anyone… the retard behind the wheel killed himself because he didn’t read the manual. Tesla does not have a ‘self-driving’ car is it’s commonly understood. They have a driving-assisting type technology.

            You’re not supposed to be reading Harry Potter books behind the wheel while going down the freeway.

    2. “Drone” vs. “remotely piloted vehicle” is a pet peeve of mine. A drone is what Amazon wants to have flying around delivering packages all by itself. It’s not a thing with a person on the other end of a remote control. But “R/C aircraft” just doesn’t stir up the same panic when it’s used in headline, the way “drone” does. I firmly believe many people, even those who don’t wear tinfoil hats, believe that the fancy toys with expensive cameras are just one step away from SkyNet and the T2000. These are also the same people who believe a Ruger 10/22 is a “machine gun”.

    3. 250 grams? I think that you mean 8 oz 13 dr, unless you’re a communist. Also, that’s absurdly small. Half a pound? You’re not gonna deliver tacos with that.

      1. No, you’re not going to do deliveries. But you might be able to take excellent video if somebody figures out how to make a small enough stabilizing camera gimbal. These guys are trying:

        http://newatlas.com/micro-dron…..bal/38041/

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