Google, Amazon and Wal-Mart join FAA drone task force

The group faces a Nov. 20 deadline and is accepting public comments

Google, Amazon and Wal-Mart have joined the government's task force charged with figuring out a registration and identification system for drones.

The companies, all three of which are working on drone delivery systems, are among 25 members that have been asked to formulate recommendations by Nov. 20 on how such a registration system would work and what types of drones should be exempt. Their work will begin with a three-day meeting next week.

Unlike aircraft, drones are not subject to any registration process, but a rapid increase in the number of drones involved in dangerous incidents has prompted the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to act. With registration and identification, it's hoped airspace violators will be easier to identify and prosecute.

Dave Vos, who heads up drone activities at Google X, will co-chair the committee with Earl Lawrence, who leads the FAA’s UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) Integration Office.

At a NASA-run conference in Silicon Valley in July, Vos proposed that every drone, including those flown by hobbyists for pleasure, constantly transmit its identification and location so airspace access and collision avoidance can be managed by computer.

Dave Vos Martyn Williams

Dave Vos, head of Google's Project Wing, speaks at a drone conference at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, on July 29, 2015.

He envisioned drone users entering a flight plan and getting approval before any flight took place. It's a self-serving proposal, because Google wants a high degree of computer control so it can efficiently and quickly deliver packages via drone.

Vos proposed that drones use ADS-B, an existing identification and location broadcast system used on conventional aircraft. Google and other companies are working on low-cost ADS-B units for drones, but whether that will be a popular idea among other committee members and government representatives remains to be seen.

Other members include drone makers such as DJI, GoPro, PrecisionHawk and 3D Robotics, retailer Best Buy, several industry associations, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which represents the model aircraft community.

The panel will accept public comments and submissions through the government's website.

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Martyn Williams

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