TIME Gadgets

Why Amazon’s Echo Personal Assistant Is Worth Buying

It's out to be the next Siri

Amazon’s Echo, a connected device that combines the abilities of Siri and a bluetooth speaker in a 9.25-inch tall cylinder, is now available for anyone to buy if they have $179.99. And I’m here to tell you that if you have a music collection on Amazon’s cloud then you should fork over the cash and get one. For everyone else, keep reading to see if this product, which ships July 14, makes sense for you.

I’ve owned the Amazon Echo since December, and was in the first wave of people who were invited to purchase the product at a special $99 rate for Amazon Prime members. When it first arrived I was wowed by how well the Echo worked, compared to other voice recognition devices I’ve tried in the home. However, you couldn’t do much with it, because Amazon only linked it to its services and the Bing search engine. But since February, Amazon has opened up to developers and the device shows promise as a voice-activated home automation control, a way to order products online. and a convenient link to some cloud services such as Google and If This Then That.

What is it?

The Amazon Echo is essentially a voice-activated personal assistant for your home. People in the house can ask it questions, ask it to read books from Audible, ask for sports scores, set timers and even get it to tell terrible jokes. Some people set it up as an alarm clock, and have it read the day’s news from NPR when it wakes them up. It also is linked to Amazon Prime Music, which means it acts as a credible speaker that will play any music that’s available in your personal Amazon music library or the free music available for Prime members.

The sound quality is akin to what you get on a Jambox or other bluetooth speaker. It’s good, but it won’t replace a high-end stereo. Amazon launched with access to streaming music from TuneIn and iHeartRadio, but it now growing to other services including Pandora. I’m waiting for it to link to Spotify, so I can ask it to play me any song on that particular service. My daughter loves this aspect of the Echo, and requesting the Echo play a song is probably the most used command we give it. Which is why if your music is on Amazon Prime, I think this device is a no-brainer. It gives you a way to verbally access your entire music collection, plus some other fun voice-activated features.

The Echo also can act as a Bluetooth speaker for your phone, so I could play Spotify on the Echo’s speaker using my phone, although that defeats the purpose for me. The speaker fills up a normal-sized room, but isn’t enough to cover my entire downstairs. You can adjust the volume by turning a ring at the top of the Echo, asking it to turn it down, or using a remote control that you can buy for $29.99.

Living with Alexa

That’s what the Echo is, so what’s it like to live with it? The device arrives in a single box and takes about five minutes to set up. I put mine on a counter in the kitchen because we can talk to it from anywhere downstairs and it can hear us. I wish I had one upstairs in my bedroom as well, but I’m not entirely sure I need two of them.

You plug it in, download the Amazon Echo app, and then use the app connect it to your Wi-Fi network. The app also offers a way to see what the Echo hears, so you can check weird results. My Echo came with a remote control, but the current Echo requires a separate remote control purchase. The remote lets you issue spoken commands from farther away or in a noisy environment, and also allows you to skip songs or adjust volume. You can affix the remote to something using double-sided tape or a built-in magnet. It connects to the Echo via Bluetooth so it’s not super effective over long distances.

Once the Echo is plugged in, you have the option of setting up a few things. The first is the “wake word” that will trigger the device to listen. While the Echo has seven microphones (so it can hear you wherever you are in a room), the device only “listens” and opens a connection to the Amazon cloud service when it hears either “Alexa” or “Amazon” (the user chooses one of those words, and Amazon has promised other wake words eventually). We chose Alexa, which means that anytime someone says “Alexa” the Echo wakes up.

You’ll know it is listening because the ring of LEDs at the top of the cylinder will glow blue, with the lightest blue light facing the direction that the Echo last heard you. It’s a subtle user interface that makes it feel like the device is attuned to you without being creepy. Once the lights are on (or even a bit before) you can ask your question or issue your command. There is also a setting that will turn the microphones off, so you don’t have to worry that Jeff Bezos is spying on you. However, turning the mics off defeats the purpose of using voice as a hands-free interface.

In daily use, the Echo is an amazing listener. About 90 percent of the time, it understands exactly what I or others ask it to do. When it fails, it’s usually because I spoke a little too quickly or the words sounded similar. Over the holidays, many of my requests to “Play Christmas music,” ended up with the Echo playing Christian music. It doesn’t seem to have a hard time with my eight-year-old daughter’s voice, unlike some voice recognition applications that freeze up when kids talk.

It handled a friend’s English accent well, but it does have a hard time if a lot of people are talking at once. General background noise doesn’t faze the Echo, but a murmur of voices seems to cause the voice recognition effectiveness to go down.

It makes an excellent timer, although it’s notification chime is a bit soft. You can also add items to a To Do list or a shopping list and see the items you added in the Amazon Echo app. And integration with the IF This Then That web service also means you could send those items to an Evernote account, although that service might be a bit geeky for normal users. You can also link the Echo to yourGoogle calendar and ask it what you have planned for the day. It doesn’t distinguish between different calendars, so those with multiple Google calendars will have to pick one.

When it comes to home automation, the Echo has some skills as well. I linked the Echo to my Philips Hue connected lights and a lamp that is plugged into a Belkin WeMo switch, so all I have to do is say, “Alexa, turn off living room lights,” and they go off. It’s usually the last thing I say before going upstairs for the night and is easily the second most popular request of the device in our house.

Setting that integration up required me to spend five minutes asking the Echo to discover home control devices on my Wi-Fi network and then grouping the living room bulbs into a cluster called Living Room using the Echo app. I’m eagerly awaiting support for more devices and have heard from a variety of sources in the smart home sector that they are working on Amazon Echo integrations.

All in all, the Echo is easy to use, provides a way to listen to music on command and the array of interrogations have a lot of promise and utility. However, many of the integrations could use more thought, especially for homes with multiple users. But Amazon is clearly working to improve these and has already made huge strides in the seven months I’ve owned the device.

How the Echo fits with Amazon’s business

In my opinion the Amazon Echo makes a good-enough personal assistant that it’s worth the money, especially since I see it getting better over time and adding more features. A personal desire is a recipe-reading function so I no longer have to touch my iPad or phone while cooking. But outside of how a user might experience the Echo, what can we learn about Amazon’s business ambitions from the Echo? Amazon hasn’t suddenly decided that it wants to become a consumer electronics powerhouse. Like the Kindle, Amazon’s goals here are tied to its underlying e-commerce business.

The Kindle was about upsetting the publishing market, and the Echo has equally ambitious goals. Amazon currently lets you purchase songs via voice using the Echo if you set that feature up in your account. So I can buy Taylor Swift’s latest album just by telling Alexa to purchase it. (I have my Echo set to demand a security code, but you don’t have to enable this.) I can also re-order products that I’ve previously purchased on Amazon via a voice command.

This is one way it can help further Amazon’s retail business, but it also is in a prime position to become the Siri or Google Now of the home. And by stationing itself in the home and linking to other products, it can gather a trove of user data that it can use to make recommendations and understand consumer behavior. Because it is taking requests based on voices, it’s not crazy to think it might be able to create individualized profiles about the people living in a home, helping separate the individual people behind a single Prime account.

So it might know my daughter has a love affair with Tommy Tutone and Taylor Swift while my husband is in charge of ordering replacement doggie waste bags. It knows exactly how many Hue lights are in the house, and when they turn on and off. Since I usually read on a Kindle or the Kindle app before bed, Amazon can effectively track me from eight in the evening through 11 at night because I’m watching movies on its Prime Video service while adding items to my To-Do list and checking on my next day’s appointments on the Echo.

When it’s time to turn in, I tell it to turn off my lights and then my Kindle connects to Amazon’s cloud while I read a book that Amazon knows I’m reading. That’s a powerful amount of time spent interacting with Amazon’s services and sharing information. I haven’t seen my recommendations change drastically or experienced any offers yet via the Echo, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually happen in some subtle fashion.

Still, the convenience and quality of the device are worth it. Of the more than 40 connected devices I own, the Echo is one that makes me really feel like I live in the future. And it’s a future that I enjoy.

Update: The story was updated to reflect that the remote control costs $29.99 and is a separate purchase.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Television

Amazon Orders Third Season of Transparent

Transparent Jill Soloway Jeffrey Tambor
Jerod Harris—Getty Images Show creator/director Jill Soloway, left and actor Jeffrey Tambor attend the "Transparent" Cast and Crew Golden Globes Viewing Party at The London West Hollywood on January 11, 2015 in West Hollywood, Calif.

Amazon Studios also signs an exclusive deal with the showrunner Jill Soloway

Amazon Studios is deepening its relationship with Transparent showrunner Jill Soloway.

The entertainment arm of Amazon.com has inked an overall deal with Soloway to develop television projects exclusively for its Prime Instant Video streaming service. Amazon has also simultaneously ordered a third season of Transparent just as it begins production on the second season.

Under her new deal, a first of its kind for Amazon, Soloway will continue as showrunner on Transparent, and Andrea Sperling has been elevated to executive producer on the Golden Globe-winning series.

In a further show of support for the Six Feet Under veteran, Amazon has signed an exclusive deal with Soloway’s newly created production company. As part of that arrangement, Amazon will produce projects from Soloway, as well as other writers. The company will be run by Soloway and Sperling.

“Jill is truly a creative force and I’m thrilled that we will be collaborating with her additional projects in the future and on a third season of Transparent,” said Amazon Studios VP Roy Price, adding that “customers will be delighted to continue the journey with Maura and the Pfefferman family.”

Added Soloway: “I am blown away by the creative freedom Amazon gives me, and I can’t wait to reveal where this journey is going to take us.”

Transparent stars Jeffrey Tambor as the patriarch of the Pfefferman family who comes out as transgender and begins to live life as Maura. Judith Light stars as his ex-wife Shelly, and their children are played by Gaby Hoffmann, Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass. They will all return for the third season.

Soloway, who also wrote and directed Afternoon Delight, based Transparent on her own experience with a transgender parent. The half-hour show, which premiered to Amazon Prime subscribers in 2014, earned the streamer its first two Golden Globes in January.

The second season, which begins production next week in Los Angeles, will return to Amazon this fall.

This article originally appeared on The Hollywood Reporter

More from The Hollywood Reporter:

MONEY deals

Amazon’s New ‘Treasure Truck’ Will Sell One Discounted Item Daily

Darren Hendrix Amazon Treasure Truck

The goods will run the gamut of merchandise sold by Amazon.

If residents of the greater Seattle area spot a giant brown Amazon package on wheels in the coming days, it’s not a hallucination. (Well, it’s probably not a hallucination.)

The world’s biggest e-retailer is introducing something called the Treasure Truck. It’s a basically a standard delivery truck tricked out to look like a typical Amazon package—oversized Amazon logo and icons, brown cardboard box appearance, thick black line encircling the whole thing.

Starting this weekend, the truck will set up shop somewhere in Seattle—that’s the only location, for now at least—and offer a single item for sale. The goods will run the gamut of merchandise sold by Amazon.

“Each day the truck drives around Seattle parking in neighborhoods filled with but one highly desirable item exclusively for you,” the ad posted by Amazon on YouTube explains. Among the first items for sale at deeply discounted prices are paddleboards, professional knife sets, and porterhouse steaks.

Amazon doesn’t seem to expect all that many customers to walk up to the truck and impulsively buy inflatable paddleboards or steaks like they might pick up a fish taco or a Sno-Cone. Instead, the idea is that people will use Amazon’s mobile shopping app to scope out where the truck is and what’s for sale that day, and then purchase and pick it up later.

Why this process is any easier than using one’s Amazon Prime membership and having the item delivered to your home is something of a mystery. Presumably, you’d be able to get the goods sooner—you know, in case the immediate emergency need of a paddleboard arises.

From the consumer point of view, the main draw is that the prices are supposedly phenomenal. The item on sale on Saturday, the Solstice Bali inflatable paddleboard set, is priced at $99 on the Treasure Truck, nearly 80% lower than the retail price of $477. Another item coming soon, the Firmstrong Beach Cruiser bicycle, will be priced at $99 too. Amazon says the list price of this item is $299, but it looks like the bike is sold fairly regularly for around $200. Even if Amazon is exaggerating how big the discounts are, it sure looks like the deals are pretty terrific.

On the other hand, the selection and availability leaves something to be desired—just one item for sale daily, in just one city.


TIME Crocs

Crocs Are In Again, By (Prince) George!

The Duke Of Cambridge And Prince Harry Play In Gigaset Charity Polo Match
Max Mumby/Indigo—Getty Images Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge attend the Gigaset Charity Polo Match at the Beaufort Polo Club in Tetbury, England.

The royal toddler is having a huge effect on sales of the shoes

The royal son of Prince William and Kate Middleton has become a style icon for all toddler-kind, and he’s now sending sales of Crocs skyrocketing.

Thanks to pictures of Prince George sporting navy blue Crocband clogs at a charity polo match on June 14, Amazon.co.uk has reported a “1,500%” rise in sales of the roughly-$50 shoe. “Once again, Prince George proves there’s no age limit on being a fashion icon,” Daniel Silverfield, Amazon’s head of vendor management, shoes, told Women’s Wear Daily.

Call it the “Prince George effect”: every item of clothing the son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge touches has, so far, turned into brand gold. Last December, U.K. home retailer Cath Kidston had to restock their tank-tops after Prince George wore them for his official Christmas photographs. Those sold-out tops appeared on eBay soon after at twice the price. The website for New York based-aden and anais crashed twice after a newborn Prince George was photographed in their swaddle cloths, and the company saw a 600% increase in sales on that item.

Then again, the royal baby has singlehandedly contributed around $392 million to the British economy, as estimated by the Centre for Retail Research in a Fortune story last year. The little prince looks to be following in the footsteps of her mother, who sprinkles her own magic dust on fashion labels she loves and adopts.

He could even revive the buzz around the sandals everyone loves to hate. In the meantime, you can head over to Amazon for a look at the Crocs Prince George has made famous.

TIME Amazon

You Can Now Buy Amazon’s Siri-For-Your-Home

The Amazon Echo is now available to all shoppers

Amazon’s Amazon Echo voice-activated, connected home command center is now available for anybody to purchase. The Siri-like device will start shipping July 14.

The cylindrical Echo, which responds to voice commands and allows a user to learn the weather, set alarms, and listen to music, had a limited launch in fall 2014. Since then, Amazon has added many new features to the Echo, including compatibility with the music streaming service Pandora, the audiobook service Audible, and more.

“We are grateful to our early customers for their incredible engagement and for providing us with invaluable feedback to help shape Echo as it evolves—with their help, we’ve been able to add features like Audible, Pandora, home automation, sports scores, calendar, and more,” said Amazon Echo vice president Greg Hart in a statement. “We’re excited to get Echo into the hands of even more customers and continue to invent new features and experiences.”

At the end of last year, current Fortune senior editor Stacey Higginbotham wrote that her family liked Echo’s linguistic prowess, but disliked its limited compatibility with many of the services and smart home devices her family uses, such as Google Calendars, “If This Then That,” and Philips Hue bulbs. As Hart’s comment indicates, Amazon has been listening. All those capabilities are newly added features to the Amazon Echo.

Amazon Echo works by triggering when summoned by the name “Alexa.” That’s the name of the Amazon Web Services-powered “brains behind Echo,” a natural language processing tool similar to Apple’s Siri. Since the gadget is always listening for that so-called wake word (which can also be changed to “Amazon”), some watchdogs have pointed out potential privacy concerns.

The device costs $179.99 and can be ordered on Amazon’s website. Customers can expect more functionality and skills to roll out later this year, the company says.

MONEY online shopping

The Confederate Flag Is Getting Some Interesting Reviews on Amazon

tattered confederate flag
age fotostock—Alamy

"Is the other side of this flag a Nazi Swastika?"

On Monday, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from statehouse grounds. “For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” Haley said. Yet at the same time, she said, in light of the way the flag has been used by some as a symbol of hate—most obviously, by the suspect in last week’s deadly shooting in a historic black church in Charleston—”the flag is a deeply offensive symbol” that must be removed from the capitol grounds in Columbia.

Soon after Haley’s announcement, Walmart, Sears, and Kmart stated that they would stop selling flags and other merchandise featuring the Confederacy’s “Stars and Bars.” As of Tuesday morning, however, there was no sign of e-retailers Amazon and eBay following suit with bans of their own. Tens of thousands of items featuring the Confederate flag design remain available for purchase at the sites.

[UPDATE: Well, that didn’t take long. By Tuesday afternoon, Amazon and eBay both announced they were removing Confederate flag merchandise from their sites.]

Considering that there’s a tradition for sarcastic and faux Amazon reviews to be used as bullhorns for political opinions—see the reviews of Wendy Davis’s Mizuno sneakers or Paula Deen’s books—it shouldn’t come as a surprise that people are weighing in on the Confederate flag controversy with new reviews. In many cases, they’re not only bashing the merchandise and the sellers, but also Amazon itself for facilitating the sales of what many deem to be a symbol of hate, racism, and intolerance.

Dozens of reviews have been added at Amazon.com over the last few days for one Confederate Rebel Flag in particular. Sold by a company called Rhode Island Novelty, the three-foot-by-five-foot polyester flag—made in Taiwan, priced at $5.74 (down from the “list price” of $45)—has drawn loads of one-star reviews and comments such as the following:

BAN IT…I just feel it symbolizes hatred toward minorities

Boycott the American version of a swastika. Whatever individual meanings it could have, there is no denying its ugly message.

If your [sic] a racist then this is the flag for you.

Worked great not only as toilet paper but really gets a fire going as well.

It’s offensive that this flag is on Amazon, I will not order another thing from Amazon until these things are taken off.

As Quartz pointed out, reviewers have been adding their two cents to the Q&A section for the item as well, with users entering sarcastic queries like, “Is the other side of this flag a Nazi Swastika? I only have one flag pole to show my pride in defunct nations based on racism.”

While the majority of new reviewers take aim at the Confederate flag merchandise and the sellers of such goods, some are defending the “Stars and Bars,” or at least the right of people to buy and sell the items. “This flag does NOT stand for racism and it’s NOT a rag,” one commenter stated. Another commented, “My husband and I both shop at Amazon all the time and if they STOP selling the Flag I’ll no longer shop here.”

Read next: 7 Things You Probably Had No Idea Amazon Sold

TIME Confederate Flag

Amazon, eBay Show No Signs of Banning Confederate Flag Merchandise

A search on Amazon yields almost 30,000 items

In the aftermath of the shootings at a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., last week that left nine dead, public anger over the massacre has evolved into calls to completely retire the Confederate flag that the shooter apparently revered.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Monday she supports removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds. And Walmart, K-Mart, and Sears, three of the country’s largest retailers, have moved to ban Confederate flag merchandise from their stores.

But not everyone is jumping on board: the e-commerce platforms Amazon and e-Bay have yet to announce they will do the same.

A search on Amazon for “confederate flag” yields almost 30,000 items, including flags in the “Patio, Lawn & Garden” category, blankets, shower curtains, and even knives. Similarly, a search on eBay yields thousands of results, such as confederate-themed dog collars, and iPhone cases.

A widely circulated photo of the shooting suspect Dylann Roof holding a gun and a Confederate flag has stirred up outrage.

“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” Gov. Haley said at a press conference Monday. “At the same time, for many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol of a brutally oppressive past.”

Fortune has reached out to Amazon and eBay for comment and will update this post with any responses.

MONEY deals

This Week’s Best Deals: Cheapest iPad mini Price Ever

iPad Mini

Two-for-one LEGOLAND tickets and a free Amazon gift card offer too.

Here are the best bargains we’ve found this week:

Half-Price LEGOLAND Tickets
If you live near a LEGOLAND (either in Florida or California) or a LEGOLAND Discovery Center, you can treat your kids to some fun out of the house this summer, while saving some cash. Through September 30, buy one ticket and get a second ticket for free via the coupon code “159915.” The savings can amount to as much as $108. This is the first time we’ve seen a freebie from LEGOLAND admission that didn’t require some sort of prior purchase.

Free Money for Amazon Moms
It’s no secret that babies are expensive, so it’s important to take advantage of discounts and promotions wherever they spring up. Currently, Amazon Mom subscribers can snag a free $15 Amazon Gift Card with select Pampers purchases. Plus, several of the packs include a “clippable coupon” for $1.50 off, which drops even the price itself to about $2 lower than what most stores charge. Combined, you’ll be coming out about $17 ahead, which we suggest putting towards a spa day, or something else that’s indulgent.

Lowest iPad mini Price Ever
Reports have shown that about half of U.S. households now already contain at least one tablet, and many people are now looking to add a secondary slate to the mix. If you’re hoping to inexpensively boost your family’s device count, a good option is the first-generation Apple iPad mini. It’s now at its lowest price ever of $179.99, and, since it’s slightly older, you probably won’t mind as much if the kids grub it up with their sticky fingers. Keep in mind, too, that tablet promos in general have been scarce this year, so it’s a deal that’s extra special.

A Freebie That Anyone Can Enjoy
There’s always someone in your life — a parent, best friend, grandparent, etc. — who wishes they had more pictures of you and your family. That means that nearly anyone can find a use for this Shutterfly promo, which offers a customized wall calendar for free via coupon code “SUMMERPLANS.” You’ll still have to fork up $6.99 for shipping, but that’s $25 off and the lowest total price we’ve seen this year. Hurry though! This deal ends on Tuesday, June 23.

Amazing bargains pop up at any given moment, so consider signing up for a daily email digest from DealNews to have the best offers sent directly to your inbox.

TIME Amazon

Amazon’s New Experiment Could Change How Authors Are Paid

It's a bold experiment

Last year, Thomas Piketty’s 700-page tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century made it to the top of the Amazon best-seller list, becoming so popular that the site temporary ran out of books. Piketty was rewarded for each sale. But if he had waited an extra year to publish, he might be out of luck: Amazon is rolling out a new sort of author compensation model, where authors are compensated for each page read. It seems like few readers got past page 26 of the dense read.

The change, effective July 1, will only affect self-published authors whose books are available on Amazon’s lending services. By paying authors by how much their books are read rather than bought, the site aims to address author complaints that authors of short books were compensated as well as those who wrote doorstoppers. But the payment model is likely to come with its own haul of complaints, since authors are already concerned that the pay-per-page system will reward cliff-hangers over more complex reads. Images also count toward the page-count, so Amazon books might get a lot more colorful as authors think of new ways to hold eyeballs for as many pages as possible.

That means, for Amazon, an author’s work is only as good as its ability to keep the readers’ attention.

TIME technology

Amazon Says Its Drones Can Deliver Packages in 30 Minutes

Amazone Drone Delivery
Amazon/AP Amazon's 'Prime Air' unmanned aircraft project prototype.

FAA says more research is required before allowing widespread drone use

(WASHINGTON) — Borrowing a pizza delivery motto, online retail giant Amazon told Congress Wednesday it is developing the technology to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, a broad expansion of unmanned flight that is raising concerns about safety, security and privacy.

Using commercial drones to quickly deliver packages is probably years away. But when government regulations catch up with emerging technologies, it could revolutionize the way people shop for items they need quickly, said Paul E. Misener, vice president of global public policy for Amazon.com.

“If a consumer wants a small item quickly, instead of driving to go shopping or causing delivery automobiles to come to her home or office, a small, electrically-powered (drone) vehicle will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly,” Misener told the House Oversight Committee.

The Federal Aviation Administration proposed rules in February that would severely restrict the use of commercial drones. The House panel held a hearing Wednesday on their economic potential as well as concerns about safety and privacy.

FAA’s proposed rules would require operators to keep commercial drones within eyesight at all times, which significantly limits the distance they can fly. The restriction probably would prevent drone delivery as proposed by Amazon.

FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said more research is needed before the government allows their widespread use.

“We are working diligently to develop a regulatory framework that will allow for innovation while ensuring the safety of other users of the airspace and people and property on the ground,” Whitaker told the committee.

The rules should be finalized within a year, Whitaker said.

Misener urged Congress and the FAA to speed up the rules and to reconsider some of the restrictions for commercial drones. He said the technology exists to safely operate commercial drones well beyond the eyesight of the operator.

Misener said Amazon does not yet have the logistical capability to receive and process orders, and then deliver packages by drone within a half hour. But, he added, “We will have it by the time the regulations are ready.”

Lawmakers marveled at the possible uses for commercial drones while at the same time voicing concerns about having hundreds or thousands of unmanned aircraft buzzing the skies over crowded cities and private homes.

The FAA receives about 25 reports a month from pilots and others of drones flying in the vicinity of planes and airports, raising concerns about the potential for collisions. A drone flown by an off-duty intelligence employee crashed on the grounds of the White House in January, highlighting how easy it is for a small, unmanned aircraft to navigate some of the most restricted airspace in the world.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., said it’s only a matter of time before one collides with a passenger airliner.

“There will be an incident. There will be a crash. There will be probably fatalities because you have so many of these things flying,” Mica said. “I hope it doesn’t take down a big commercial aircraft. I hope it doesn’t have a lot of fatalities but I think it’s inevitable.”

The FAA currently bans commercial drone flights except for a few dozen companies that have been granted waivers. That ban will stay in place until regulations become final, but FAA officials plan to continue granting waivers case by case.

The vast majority of drones being flown today are operated by recreational users, Whitaker said. FAA regulations permit recreational users to fly small drones as long as they stay at least 5 miles away from an airport, limit flights to less than 400 feet in altitude, keep the aircraft in line of sight and fly only during the daytime.

“Drones are an exciting new technology with a lot of potential uses in the not-so-distant future,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee. “As with any new, groundbreaking technology, our regulatory regime has not yet fully caught up with drones, and existing rules do not fully address the concerns Americans have.”

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