Before Amazon starts drone-dropping Blu-ray's on your doorstep, the FAA and NASA have work to do.
Before that cardboardy excuse for a pizza pie can be gently dropped onto your front steps, NASA and the FAA have plenty of work to do. Like anything else mechanical taking to the skies, these drones need to be subject to some sort of government-run control scheme.
According to The New York Times, NASA is currently hard at work on an automatic, largely people-free air traffic control system for drones and other small, low-flying craft (low-flying meaning around 500 feet). Instead of relying on a typical air traffic control room, chock full of chain-smoking John Cusacks, the entire system would be automated, and rely on algorithms. The core ideas remain the same, however: Keep craft away from restricted airspace, as well as other craft. No one wants an Amazon drone chock full of your monthly razor and battery subscription slamming into a traffic helicopter.
Dr. Parimal H. Kopardekar is overseeing the project for NASA, and he says the first implementation of such a system would include drones used in agricultural scenarios (spraying pesticides and the like). No timetable has been made public just yet, suggesting that the road to public delivery drones is a long, bureaucratic one.
Once NASA gets its program to an operable level, the FAA would have to sign off -- no easy task, given the department's feelings on non-government drones. Such rules don't quite apply to the hobbyist crowd, but once eCommerce takes to the skies? Uncle Sam steps in.