Amazon envisions a future where shopping at brick and mortar stores are a thing of the past, and where Amazon’s deliveries are made within 30 minutes using drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles.
Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos calls this new futuristic delivery system Prime Air, and it will take years to apply the technology since the Federal Aviation Administration must create the necessary rules and regulations.
One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today, said Bezos, who added that the future drones can carry packages that weigh up to five pounds, which covers about 86 percent of the items Amazon delivers.
The drones the company is testing have a range of about 10 miles, which Bezos noted could cover a significant portion of the population in urban areas.
Bezos told “60 Minutes” the project could become a working service in four or five years, and played a demo video showing how the aircraft will pick up packages in small yellow buckets at Amazon’s fulfillment centers, and fly through the air to deliver items to customers after they hit the buy button online at Amazon.com.
Unlike the drones used by the military, Amazon’s unmanned aerial vehicles won’t need humans to control them remotely because Amazon’s drones would receive a set of GPS coordinates and have the ability to avoid buildings, power lines and other obstacles.
Amazon’s current Prime membership program offers free, two-day delivery, and the company has been experimenting with same-day delivery.
The FAA plans to have drone regulations governing commercial use in place by 2015. “The FAA would not let Amazon do this now,” said Ryan Calo, an expert on robotics, privacy and the law at the University of Washington.
“But this is precisely the type of application that Congress had in mind when it told the FAA in 2012 to come up with rules for commercial unmanned aircraft.”
Amazon will be able to petition the FAA to show them how its drone delivery technology works and the company can also apply to test its drones to make sure they are air worthy, he added.
“Amazon will not be able to darken the skies of Seattle with drones. They will need a plan for safety,” Calo said. “But I see no reason why this application won’t fly.”
Delivery Drones Raise Concerns
But as ABC News notes, delivery drones raise a host of concerns, from air traffic safety to homeland security and privacy. There are technological and legal obstacles, too — similar to Google’s experimental driverless car.
“How do you design a machine that safely navigates the roads or skies without hitting anything? And, if an accident occurs, who’s legally liable?”
It’s fascinating as an idea and probably very hard to execute, says Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies who sees Bezos as an unconventional thinker. “If he could really deliver something you order within 30 minutes, he would rewrite the rules of online retail.”