In the not-too-distant future, the United States' lower airspace will be abuzz with all manner of pilotless delivery UAVs, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, commonly called drones. Amazon was the first to announce it, then Walmart, Domino's, and now it's no longer a news story, so we don't hear about the others rushing to join or beat them.
Congress has asked the FAA to write regulations to embrace them. Issues of type, size, weight carrying capability, landing zones, safety, personal privacy and liability all need to be thought out and agreed and enacted. How about the rights of public entities, including law enforcement and government agencies?
The FAA has chosen six test-site operators to study the various complications of having these huge mechanical gnats buzzing all around us. Their reports are due in 2015/16, but delays will be required and no detectable presence is expected before 2020. So although many are available, factory-assembled or in hobby kits, there are not yet enough of them to be noticeable or annoying to the eye or the ear.
But according to Martin Shapiro's new novel, 2039... "Chapter 1" Jon and Ida Kadish have converted their backyard tennis court to a drone landing pad... The year is 2039.
Ida is getting ready for the drive to the Canadian border in New Hampshire and she's thinking and telling us about the home she loves but is leaving... the house.
It was like the tennis court in the backyard. The novelty of it in the beginning made us go out and use it. The kids invited their friends and used it more. But after they were off to college, we removed the net and the posts and it became a drone delivery pad. Jon had multiple sensor pads imbedded throughout the court to sound an alarm to a security service if three or more were engaged together. When a large drone landed the sensors in the court communicated with the monitoring service, who called the police and Rollie, our handyman. Big items for some neighbors were occasionally delivered here. Ten years ago when we needed a refrigerator, the Postal Service delivered it by drone from Keith's, right to our backyard. That's right, the USPS, the United States Postal Service!
The Postal Service was given exclusive right to the lower drone airspace, under 400 feet AGL, (above ground level), after competing commercial drones kept crashing and falling from the sky throughout the country. Police and Emergency Responders had to vertically ascend to above 400 feet before traveling horizontally. Under 400 feet it was Domino's vs. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell vs. Chipolte, Amazon vs. Walmart.
The collision avoidance radar and control systems worked well enough when only two drones were involved, but when three of four wanted to occupy the same airspace, someone on the ground was usually injured or killed, as the food got cold or the ice cream melted. It didn't take long for the governments to call back and cancel that system.
Giving it to the Postal Service had been the key to its survival. Amazon and others had to use them if they wanted to deliver groceries and other products by drone. Small delivery drones came frequently without notice. Rollie or Jon brought the packages in. Old style mail was delivered to the door only two days a week...
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