Living In A State Of De-Nile: Are Commercial Drones Viable?

by Gray Reed & McGraw
Contact

Soon, the days of having to wait for your online purchase to arrive may be a thing of the past.  Nile, giant online retailer of everything from books to breakfast cereal, announced that it intended to deploy a fleet of commercial drones to deliver packages mere minutes after your order is placed.  Are there legal hurdles that might ground Nile’s ambitious plan?

             FAA:  Drones Pose Air Traffic Nightmare.  Although the FAA allows for governmental use of drones within U.S. airspace (e.g. surveillance along the borders), those drones are operated by ground-based pilots who are in regular contact with air traffic controllers.  Currently, the FAA bans commercial drones, such as those proposed by Nile.  Smaller drones, operated by individuals, utilize the rules for radio-controlled model planes and avoid the ban by flying within the operator’s sight, by staying below an altitude of 400 feet and away from airports.  Congress directed the FAA to propose safety regulations permitting commercial drones in domestic airspace by September 2015. The FAA has promised draft regulations for small commercial drones (weighing less than 55 pounds) by next year.  Even the most optimistic estimates are that commercial drone regulations for operators like Nile are years from enactment.

             Privacy:  Another obstacle to Nile’s drone deployment will be the myriad of privacy concerns.  Privacy concerns have been the focus for most of the forty-three states that have considered around 100 drone-related bills.  Warning that “companies could use drones for information gathering whether that is taking a photograph of your patio furniture or recording the make and model of your car,” Texas Republican Representative Ted Poe introduced legislation to protect people’s privacy from drones. 

            Possible Implications and Responses. How would you feel about a Nile drone flying over your house and then emailing you with suggested products or services?  Rep. Poe’s Preserving American Privacy Act seeks to prohibit individuals and companies from using drones for photography and surveillance and to prohibit surveillance by government drones without a warrant.  Poe stated, “Congress has to make sure that the use of drones in the future does not infringe on the right of individual citizens to privacy… Just because big brother or private companies can look through a person’s windows doesn’t mean they should be able to.”  Just imagine the detailed, current information Nile must gather to safely deliver a package to your doorstep.  We marvel at the functionality of Google Maps, but it is usually out-of-date and only accurate within several meters.  While this is plenty accurate to navigate to a friend’s party, Nile’s drones, on the other hand, would require constant updates about potential obstacles such as trees, new construction, etc., would have to be able to land on a precise GPS coordinate and would know the physical characteristics of your home better than you.  To effectively deliver a package, they might even track when you are home or when you are away.

             Liability:  Even more important than assigning liability for stolen or damages packages will be the inevitable issue of personal liability.  To deliver a 5-pound package, a Nile drone would be equipped with a substantial motor, a dangerous propeller(s), and would have many obstacles to avoid.  Who would be liable when a drone malfunctions (mechanical, weather, a neighbor’s 13-year-old son shooting it down with a bb gun) and hits and injures a person, pet, vehicle or collides with a downtown skyscraper?  Would we ever feel safe with these autonomous, self-guided flying machines filling our skies?  Even Google’s self-driving cars, which prove safer than cars driven by humans, are not yet a reality because of a morass of potential legal issues arising from our inherent distrust of the technology. 

The idea of packages delivered to your doorstep within minutes is incredibly intriguing. However, the significant legal hurdles suggest that Nile’s extraordinary plan may be more PR stunt than practical reality.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Gray Reed & McGraw | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Gray Reed & McGraw
Contact
more
less

Gray Reed & McGraw on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.