While the path has potentially been cleared for more commercial drone use, don’t expect a late night drone delivery from Amazon or Google just yet. This week, the Federal Aviation Association laid out its latest proposal for the use of commercials drones.
The new proposal, which is now open to a 60-day comment period, would require commercial drones (which could be up to 55 pounds) be flown no higher than 500 feet, within the view of the operator and only during the day. While operators would not be required to have a pilot’s license, they would have to pass a written exam, register their aircraft and pay the requisite fees.
On the heels of the FAA’s announcement, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum about drone use on the part of government agencies, outlining rules to “ensure that privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties are protected.”
Once the long-gestating rules are enacted, the FAA predicts that more than 7,000 companies will be taking advantage. But Ben Marcus, the founder and CEO of NoFlyZone thinks that's a vast understatement. "I think it’ll be at least tenfold, maybe more.”
With the president, the FAA and state legislatures weighing in on commercial drone use, Marcus wants to open up the conversation and give individuals the power to put the unmanned vehicles on a path that doesn’t include their private property.
NoFlyZone, is exactly what it sounds like: users can go to the site and register their address for free with Marcus’ database to create a literal “no fly zone” for drones around their property. Bootstrapping his new venture, Marcus has a team of 10 and the company is based out of El Segundo, Calif., near the Los Angeles International Airport.
The NoFlyZone.org site launched just last week and Marcus has been building relationships with the drone manufacturers for over a year. Marcus says soon, users who register with the site will be able to better customize their “airspace access preferences” -- for example giving the go ahead for package delivery, but not for commercial photography drones, or putting a no fly zone in place for certain days of the week.
The company is working with two manufacturers (Horizon Hobby and EHANG) and three suppliers (HEXO+, PixiePath and RCFlyMaps) and is aiming to partner with more as more going forward. The idea is that the drone makers will take into account the company's user database and use it to chart the appropriate flight plans.
Marcus has long had a passion for aviation. He has been a licensed private and commercial pilot since he was 17 and 18, and has worked as flight instructor, airplane salesman and engineer. He also co-founded a light jet sales startup called jetAVIVA. Seeing the emergence of the small drone industry, he saw an opportunity to make an impact.
“The devices are going to have tremendous applications for all kinds of everyday people. I think in 10 years we’re going to be taking small drones for granted like the way we take cell phones for granted. They are going to be doing incredible things for us….[like] public safety. You’re seeing package delivery from Amazon and Alibaba, even Dominos Pizza experimenting with delivery now. I really want to be a part of making this industry a success.”
A hobbyist drone user himself, Marcus says that the company’s mission is about giving individuals a way to communicate directly with the drone industry about their concerns around privacy and safety, while helping the industry to accelerate and be held accountable. NoFlyZone is available for users all over the world, despite differing takes on regulations -- though the majority of signups have been in the United States.
Of the FAA’s latest proposal, Marcus says that that he thinks it is a good start that will promote safe and responsible drone use and help create a solid general infrastructure – and package delivery is only matter of time.
“I imagine there will be tweaks made before the final rules come out. And the rules will be revised and amended to allow for additional applications as technology matures. While I’m disappointed that package delivery services like the ones proposed by Amazon won’t initially be permitted, I think that those types of services will be permitted in the near future. I think the FAA just wanted to get this rule out to facilitate as many businesses as possible.”
And while the federal government is hammering out details, state and local governments are weighing in as well. Right now, there is also a piece of legislation being proposed in the California state senate that would make it illegal for drones to fly over private property without the owner’s permission. “It’s not about restricting drones, it’s about developing rules that make drones a viable piece of infrastructure for everyday people.” While there is no one cure-all answer, it is an exciting moment for a growing industry, as innovation and regulation find a way to work together.