Amazon Prime Air
On December 1, 2013, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on 60 Minutes to reveal "Amazon Prime Air," a futuristic delivery system for his company's products. In the interview he revealed that his company has been developing multirotor Miniature Unmanned Air Vehicle (Miniature UAV) technology intended to utilize GPS to autonomously fly individual packages to customers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of ordering. To qualify for 30 minute delivery, the order must be less than five pounds (2.26 kg), which, according to Bezos, includes 86% of the packages Amazon currently sells. The order must also be small enough to fit in the cargo box that the craft will carry, and the delivery location must be within a ten-mile radius of a participating Amazon order fulfillment center.
Presently, the biggest hurdle facing Amazon Prime Air is that commercial use of UAV technology is not yet legal in the United States. In the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Congress issued the Federal Aviation Administration a deadline of September 30, 2015 to accomplish a "safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system."
In March 2015 US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted Amazon permission to begin US testing of a prototype. The company responded by claiming that the vehicle cleared for use was obsolete. In April 2015, the agency allowed the company to begin testing its current models. In the interim, the company had begun testing at a secret Canadian site 2,000 ft (610 m) from the US border.
The agency allowed Amazon's drones to fly no higher than 400 ft (122 m), no faster than 100 mph (161 km/h) and remain within the pilot's line of sight. These rules are consistent with a proposed set of FAA guidelines. Ultimately, Amazon hopes to operate in a slice of airspace above 200 ft (61 m) and beneath 500 ft (152 m), where general aviation begins. It plans to fly drones weighing a maximum of 55 lb (25 kg) within a 10 mi (16 km) radius of its warehouses, at speeds of up to 50 mph (80.5 km/h) with packages weighing up to 5 lb (2.26 kg) in tow.
Public concerns regarding this technology include public safety, privacy, and package security issues. The webpage for Amazon Prime Air states, "Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards."
Now, the question remains how Amazon will make that happen knowing that the "FAA’s recently proposed rules for small UAS operations and certifications only provides provisions on its technical and functional aspects".
Even though safety is among the top challenges that faces Amazon's project, the proposition of the "Drone's navigational airspace below 500 feet made by Amazon Prime Air vice President, Gur Kimchi, is a big step toward safety management. Such proposal that provides some specification on the UAS operational aspect, where "In this space, drones would be connected to online networks and would directly communicate with each other, allowing for the automated control of flights in real time. But as for the Amazon drone technology, nothing is clear, except "To operate the drone will always gather and store information about the world around it, where visual information is not the only type of data that will be gathered". In fact, with the drones technology such as "Automated object detection, GPS surveillance, gigapixel cameras, and enhanced image resolution", Amazon operating center will be in possession of tones of information collected whether unintentionally or not throughout the delivery process, which creates fear among some observers in term of its potential threats for privacy violation. This is in fact the other side of the notion safety, which can be resumed to data management; the one that neither Amazon, nor FAA has been able to provide any kind of information. Hence, when it comes to drone transportation, data management is where the question of safety really matter because to make their deliveries, the Amazon’s drones or any other competitors must be landed. In this sense, the potential privacy threats associate to drone transportation will mostly incline to the data collected on their immediate environment. That way, the drone transportation will in some degree require whether implicitly or not the remission of certain privacy right so the drones can be landed. Thus, since safety is listed as the top priority for the Amazon project, in this sense, Amazon or any other drone competitors will always assure the proper operation of their drones. But in term of data management, it is difficult to predict the purpose of the data that will be gathered via the delivery process.
In this regard, the Legislative Attorney, Richard M. Thompson II "Summed-up the potential causes of the pervasive aspect of the data management under the notions of: aggregation, use, and retention of that data, which he considered as the second class of privacy risks posed by drone surveillance after surveillance has been occurred". Since "These data will be stored, the Privacy Act 1974 mandates each United States Government agency to put in place administrative and physical security system to prevent unauthorized release of personal records.< That means, in order for the government to assure the proper use of the customers’ data under the Privacy Act 1974, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) as well as under the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development also known as Fair Information Practices, the government has to be aware of the network infrastructure in use by the private operators as well as the drones’ specifications. Those aspects appear very critical because Todd Humphreys showed members of a House homeland security subcommittee how his research team found "Drones, including ones used by police agencies, are vulnerable to hacking and spoofing" due to their use of unencrypted GPS information for navigation".
In fact, if we look closely, the matter of drone privacy issue will require a mutual effort by both the private UAS operators and all US entities involving in privacy protection. Although the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Rep Michael McCaul, R-Texas expressed his concern toward the unwillingness of DHS (Department of Homeland Security) to accept a role in regulating drones, the "Memorandum issued by the Obama Administration on February 2015 on drones’ regulation had in some degree covered this gap". Such memorandum that was based on the available data on drones’ usage by the US government agencies and any other related entities. Because "After the Afghanistan War, the U.S. military has a force inventory of more than 8,000 UAV in the air and more than 12,000 on the ground. The DoD on its side had spent more than $3 billion on UAV research during the 1990s by hopping to create drones capable of efficient surveillance, imaging, and aerial attacks". This is why, through this memorandum, "President Obama charging all federal agencies that use drones in their operations to evaluate the privacy impact of such use and develop policies to mitigate any privacy concerns".
Though the "FAA’s recently proposed rule for small UAS operations and certifications did not include any privacy provisions, with the memorandum, drones’ regulation become mandatory, except it does not prevent local government to provide its own regulation knowing that it was an hortatory memorandum. Accordingly, "Thirteen states with the support of a group of privacy advocates have already enacted laws regulating the use of drones by law enforcement". So far, "45 states have considered 154 bills related to drones".
In term of drones whose purpose are other than delivering or transporting such as surveillance, zoning, media coverage etc., "The privacy concerns related to those aspects are very complex since there is no baseline consumer protection law that details permissible uses of drones in domestic airspace by both law enforcement agencies and private parties". Despite there is an amalgam on the drone privacy issues, where people tend to assimilate all the privacy concerns of the drone industry to the Amazon’s drone project, the FAA rules will not specific to Amazon drones but for all the private UAS operators . That is, the final FAA’s rules will have to deal with the privacy issues related to data management collected by the Amazon’s drone types and those that will be linking to data collected by both the government operators and other private operators not involving in transportation. That means, once FAA will promulgate the rules on commercial UAS uses, data management will become the biggest privacy threats of any drones transportation.
In fact, with the insertion of UAS in the NAS, the case of extending property owner's rights in their airspace as supported by McNeal appears in some degree very compelling. Because by "Extending the property owner's rights in their airspace up to 350 feet above ground level, it will allow landowner to exclude intrusions into their airspace by government and private parties. Such approach will allow courts to readily adjudicate claims that an aerial observation violated the Fourth Amendment". Indeed, despite the McNeal proposal is not relevant for the Amazon Air Prime project or any other similar due to the must land situation attached to drones deliveries, the widespread adoption of commercial drones also risks opening up a wide other range of dilemmas, including ethics and even energy use.
All have been said, if data management is the biggest privacy threats that might be facing Amazon Air Prime project or any other competitors, "Package security issues" remain the one that has to validate the effectiveness of the commercial use of UAS in term of drone transportation. Since the provision on that matter is still unknown, people tend to be skeptical about the 30 minutes delivery as promoted by Amazon. Such worries that can be summed-up in this following without the intent being exhaustive: • What does the 30mn delivery really stand for: is that a 30mn of the customers’ convenient of time or a 30mn that will be effective shortly after placing the order • Who will responsible for lost packages • Does the delivery will require signature confirmation • How Amazon plans to make door-to-door delivery for customers who live in apartment or community complex, where tenants share an inside entrance hallway with doors that go to many apartments. • In case of multiples deliveries from either Amazon or any other competitors, how customers will be able to identify their packages.
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