Google’s announcement this week that they’ve been testing delivery drones caught the tech world by surprise. What wasn’t surprising to experts familiar with the industry is that Google conducted all of their aerial tests outside the United States. That’s because the FAA has utterly failed to create procedures for companies like Google to test their innovative new technology. Any responsible company should make the same realization as Google —waiting for the FAA to get their act together is a losing proposition. If you want to innovate, take your technology and your jobs abroad, at least until the FAA promulgates some rules or Congress forces them to act.
Under the FAA’s current rules, commercial operators are prohibited from flying unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — unless they first get permission from the FAA. That means a company like Amazon or Google, armed with billions of dollars to invest in technological innovation, simply cannot experiment without one of their tech geniuses first submitting their experimental aircraft to an FAA bureaucrat for approval. The FAA will argue that Google and Amazon can take their secret, proprietary technology to a government run test site, but that argument is absurd on its face, it’s like telling Google that they can only test their algorithms on government computers at public libraries.
The FAA also claims their rules are for safety, but that too is a bogus argument. These companies have the resources to buy enough land to test their drones far from any people or other aircraft. In fact, that’s pretty close to what Google decided to do, they took their drones to a rural part of Australia and tested deliveries. That’s also what Amazon asked the FAA for permission to do; the company requested a waiver to test their drones solely over private property with extensive safety procedures. Amazon waited patiently for months, while the FAA dithered. In their request for an exemption, Amazon made it clear that they have other options for testing their drones. They wrote:
“We have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries. Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States by conducting private research and development operations outdoors near Seattle.”
Google’s announcement should settle it for Amazon, take your operations abroad, at least until the FAA gets their act together. In a globalized economy, no responsible company should wait for a bureaucrat to approve their right to innovate while their competitors are innovating abroad. It is a sad state of affairs that America may lose these drone related jobs, but it’s clear that companies can’t build innovative flying machines in a nation where flights are prohibited.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com