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Amazon wants a special air zone for its fancy delivery drones

Jul 28, 2015

Online retailer Amazon (amzn) wants to someday deliver your order via drone — a high-speed one, at that — and it wants a special piece of the sky to shuttle those drones, according to a proposal the company unveiled on Tuesday at a NASA convention in California.

As part of its plan, Amazon suggests a 200-foot space of air — between 200 and 400 feet from the ground — be reserved for state-of-the-art drones flying at speeds of 60 knots or more. To keep things safe, it also proposes that a 100-foot cushion just above that airspace be made a no-fly zone to act as a buffer between drones and other aircraft, such as planes, according to The Guardian.

“The way we guarantee the greatest safety is by requiring that as the level of complexity of the airspace increases, so does the level of sophistication of the vehicle,” said Gur Kimchi, VP and co-founder of Amazon’s delivery-by-drone project, Prime Air, at the NASA event, according to The Guardian. “Under our proposal everybody has to be collaborative – vehicles must be able to talk to each other and avoid each other as the airspace gets denser at low altitudes.”

In Amazon's world, the drones it and others use will be highly sophisticated, safe, and autonomous. The company has outlined five capabilities drones in the special zones must have. They include: sophisticated GPS that tracks the location of other drones in real-time; a reliable Internet connection; online flight planning to communicate the drone's path; communications equipment; and sensor-based sense-and-avoid equipment to fly around other drones and obstacles.

Amazon's proposal would also set some limits on drone hobbyists. Their aircraft would be confined to small pockets outside of these new flight areas unless they meet the criteria to fly among Amazon's drones. Currently, they are permitted to fly up to the 400-foot mark.

But even if Amazon's proposal becomes reality, it will likely be a while from now before drones flying in a special zone to drop off packages are an everyday thing. Only recently did a company complete the first successful drone delivery — and it wasn't Amazon. The company is unfortunately still butting heads with the Federal Aviation Administration over how strict its regulations should be.

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