Tags: Senate | hearing | drones | Amazon

Senate Panel Plans Hearing on Commercial Use of Drones

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Monday, 02 Dec 2013 10:50 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A Senate committee will conduct a hearing next year on the commercial use of drones, and will look at warehouse behemoth Amazon's plan to use mini-drone "octocopters" for package delivery.

"Amazon's plans for using drones to deliver packages is just one example of the potential this technology offers consumers, and a reflection of the ingenuity of American business," Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller said Monday, The Hill reported.

"As we move forward toward integrating drones into civilian life and capitalizing on the economic opportunities they offer, we must make certain that these aircraft meet rigorous safety and privacy standards," said Rockefeller, D-W. Va.

"I plan to hold a hearing early next year to explore the potential economic benefits of unmanned vehicles in our airspace, as well as the potential risks they may create," he said.

A committee aide said the hearing was already in the works before Amazon's announcement Sunday about its so-called "octocopters," Fox News reported.

Both House and Senate judiciary committees have already conducted hearings on the use of drones in domestic airspace, focusing on the use of drones by police and other government agencies for surveillance, The Hill noted.

Federal rules currently prohibit the commercial use of drones. The Federal Aviation Administration is working on rules to allow private groups to fly drones in U.S. airspace as early as 2015, The Hill reported.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced his company's plan to use drones for package delivery on CBS' "60 Minutes" newsmagazine.

"I know this looks like science fiction. It's not," he said.

Bezos said the concept is still "years away." But he envisions half-hour deliveries of objects up to 5 pounds, "which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver."

"These generations of vehicles, it could be a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center," Bezos said.

"So, in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population. And so, it won't work for everything; you know, we're not gonna deliver kayaks or table saws this way. These are electric motors, so this is all electric; it's very green, it's better than driving trucks around."

He acknowledged that the drones needed more safety testing.

"This thing can't land on somebody's head while they're walking around their neighborhood," he said.

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