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11.5.2015

Google X, Wal-Mart and Amazon will help the government keep tabs on your drone

by Brian Fung for Washington Post

Google X, Amazon.com, and even Wal-Mart and Best Buy, are going to have a key role in shaping the government's upcoming registry program for hobbyists who fly drones for fun.

Officials from the companies, along with representatives from various industry groups and federal agencies, are going to work quickly to make the skies safer for everyone, the Transportation Department said Thursday.

Regulators are moving swiftly to combat the rise of near-misses involving privately owned unmanned aircraft and larger airplanes. Hobbyist drones have also interfered with firefighting efforts in California and have even prompted a public service ad campaign from the U.S. Forest Service, decrying the amateur use of drones.

If you own or are thinking about getting a drone to play with, you've probably heard about the registry program. The goal is to keep tabs on hobbyist drones to make sure they don't get in the way of manned aircraft or put other people in danger. It'll also strive to hold private pilots accountable, possibly by requiring their drones to carry the equivalent of airplane tail numbers for identification.

Exactly how this process should work is a question that falls to the government task force on drone registry. Between now and Nov. 20, the task force is expected to come up with ways to make registering your drone as painless as possible. Should registration happen as soon as someone buys a drone, or should pilots be free to wait until they fly for the first time? Should registration be available over the Web?

Heading up the group is Dave Vos, who leads Google X's drone deliveryprogram and is a task force co-chair.

Amazon is sending two representatives — one from Prime Air, the company's drone delivery arm, and another from Amazon's retail division. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos own The Washington Post.)

Other participants on the task force include the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, as well as drone makers like DJI and remote sensing companies like PrecisionHawk.

These companies are notable for their involvement because they've also been closely tied to the Federal Aviation Administration's work in trying to develop rules for commercial drones. The firms have pressed for relatively soft limits on the emerging drone industry in order to accelerate their deployment across businesses nationwide.