White House Incident Could Slow Down Amazon Efforts With Drones

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says the wayward quadcopter that crashed on the White House grounds — flown by an off-duty intelligence employee — shows that the U.S. must take steps to ensure commercial and consumer drones are used safely.

The crash set off a White House lockdown. The man stepped forward hours later and appeared to convince investigators that he meant no harm with the extraordinary breach of presidential security — and of existing rules for drone flights — and that he did not mean the drone to go where it did. His employer said the Secret Service investigation continues.

Obama, in a CNN interview from India, likened the 2-foot-long quadcopter that crashed on the White House lawn to one that could be bought at Radio Shack, which lists them from $50 to $700.

The White House incident happened just 14 months after Amazon CEO showed CBS News’ “60 Minutes” his plan to use drones to deliver small packages faster than ever before. Last summer, he asked the FAA for permission to begin test flying drones in commercial airspace near the company’s Seattle headquarters.  That request has not been granted.

But during his interview with CNN this week, the president is now considering slowing down any drone approvals until it can be completely investigated. 

The errant flight pointed to vulnerabilities in defending against small, low-flying threats as well as the risks, already becoming common, of hobbyist drones going astray in populated places or near airports.

Here is the text of the President’s comments on drones:

“Well, this is a broader problem.  I will leave the Secret Service to answer questions about this particular event.  But, I’ve actually asked the FAA and other agencies to examine how we are managing this new technology.  Because the drone that landed at the White House you can buy at Radio Shack.  We know that there are companies like Amazon that are talking about using small drones to deliver packages. There are incredibly useful functions that these drones can play in terms of farmers who are managing crops and conservationists who want to take stock of wildlife.  So there are a whole range of things we can do with it.  But we don’t really have any kind of a regulatory agency structure at all for it.  So I have assigned some agencies to start talking to stakeholders to figure out how we are going to put an architecture in place to make sure that these things aren’t dangerous and that they are not violating people’s privacy.  In some ways this is similar to what happened in cyberspace.  These technologies that we are developing have the capacity to empower individuals in ways that we couldn’t even imagine 10 or 15 years ago.”

The Federal Aviation Administration, pressed by Congress, had wanted to release proposed rules for small drones by the end of 2014. To the dismay of the drone industry, that process is now dragging into 2015. Even after rules are proposed, it is likely to be two or three years before regulations become final.

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