Last week, the U.K.’s Civilian Aviation Authority (CAA) granted Amazon permission to test out its delivery drones for packages weighing in at five pounds or less, which will enable the e-commerce giant to explore its drone technology and further develop the system’s proper safety regulations.
The decision, however, has some experts shaking in their proverbial boots.
According to Colin Bull, a consultant at Software Quality Systems (via the Daily Mail), better, more stringent security measures must be put in place lest the drones, set to deploy by 2017, fall into the wrong hands.
“These devices are in fact a flying payload system with the ability to deliver anything including incendiary devices or grenades in to uncontrolled airspace in the way that only Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) have been able to do in the past,” he says.
Further, the drones could potentially be hacked by cybercriminals — not an unfounded fear, given the rise of cybersecurity breaches in aircraft guidance systems or consumer devices like connected cars.
In order to prevent these scenarios, some experts believe the government should standardize the radio frequencies on which Amazon’s aircraft can operate. System developers must also consider potential loopholes in the drones’ programming to defend against hacking.
Then again, the point of Amazon’s delivery experiment is exactly that — for the company to understand how drones can be used safely and put into practice the proper regulations for a system that will “improve customer experience, create new jobs in a rapidly growing industry, and pioneer new sustainable delivery methods to meet future demand” (according to Amazon's Vice President of Global Innovation Policy and Communications, Paul Misener).
Amazon says it won’t launch its system until it does, in fact, demonstrate safety. And while the CAA’s regulations aren’t as stringent as those upheld by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the U.S., there are rules in place regarding how and when the drones are handled. For one, aircraft can only be flown in the daylight (from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset). They will be limited to an altitude of 400 feet and must also be kept away from airport flightpaths.
Delivery drones: consumer dream or national security nightmare? Where do you stand?
Editor's note: This blog is part of the "Drone of the Week" series. If you have an idea for a story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org