Amazon.com sees delivery drones as future (Update)

Dec 02, 2013 by Scott Mayerowitz
This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs. Amazon says it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations, but CEO Jeff Bezos said Sunday Dec. 1, 2013, there's no reason Drones can't help get goods to customers in 30 minutes or less. (AP Photo/Amazon)

Amazon.com is working on a way to get customers their goods in 30 minutes or less—by drone.

The world's largest e-commerce company said it's working on the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project in its research and development labs. But Amazon says it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations.

The project was first reported Sunday by CBS' "60 Minutes" TV newsmagazine.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a primetime interview that while the octocopters look like something out of science fiction, there's no reason they can't be used as delivery vehicles.

Bezos said the drones can carry packages that weigh up to five pounds (2.3 kilograms), which covers about 86 percent of the items Amazon delivers. The current generation of drones the company is testing has a range of about 10 miles (16 kilometers), which Bezos noted could cover a significant portion of the population in urban areas.

While it's tough to say exactly how long it could take the project to get off the ground, Bezos told "60 Minutes" that he thinks it could happen in four or five years.

One of the biggest promises for civilian drone use has been in agriculture.

The unmanned aircraft can fly over large fields and search out bugs, rodents and other animals that might harm crops. Then, thanks to GPS, another drone could come back and spread pesticide on that small quadrant of the field.

This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs. Amazon says it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations, but CEO Jeff Bezos said Sunday Dec. 1, 2013, there's no reason drones can't help get goods to customers in 30 minutes or less. (AP Photo/Amazon)

Agriculture is also seen as the most-promising use because of the industry's largely unpopulated, wide open spaces. Delivering Amazon packages in midtown Manhattan will be much trickier.

Besides regulatory approval, Amazon's biggest challenge will be to develop a collision avoidance system, said Darryl Jenkins, a consultant who has given up on the commercial airline industry and now focuses on drones.

Who is to blame, Jenkins asked, if the drone hits a bird, crashes into a building? Who is going to insure the deliveries?

There are also technical questions. Who will recharge the drone batteries? How many deliveries can the machines make before needing service?

"Jeff Bezos might be the single person in the universe who could make something like this happen," Jenkins said. "For what it worth, this is a guy who's totally changed retailing."

The biggest losers could be package delivery services like the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS.

FedEx spokesman Jess Bunn said in an email: "While we can't speculate about this particular technology, I can say that making every customer experience outstanding is our priority, and anything we do from a technology standpoint will be with that in mind."

Amazon's stock dipped $1.98, or less than one percent, to $391.64 in Monday morning's trading.

Explore further: Bezos' wife raps book about husband, in Amazon review

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antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2013
Hmm...Now where did I put my GPS spoofing kit...

At first glance this seems kinda cool. At second glance there's still a number of obstacles. Especially in urban areas I can see a problem with many people not having a place where this thing could land to make personal deliveries (urban areas are noted for apartment living)

..unless you could give everyone an individually coded sender (preferrably something directional like a laser pointer) that could guide the drone to a window.
QuixoteJ
Dec 02, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
jackjump
1 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2013
If I can order stuff from Amazon and get it delivered in half an hour, I'll build a fenced off drone port (to keep the dogs away and people out) for them. In cities that could be done on building roof tops. They need to increase the 5lb limit though.
Moebius
1 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2013
This doesn't sound too feasible to me. It means that they would need a stocked depot within 30 minutes drone flight of every address they intend to offer this service to and drones are not fast. Every address has to have a place for the drone to land. They have to worry about unauthorized recipients, a drone is just going to drop and run. They have to get FAA approval.
axemaster
not rated yet Dec 02, 2013
I'm all in favor of faster deliveries, but

"It's very green, it's better than driving trucks around," said Bezos.


is obviously not true. In fact, I'd expect a scheme like this to be at least an order of magnitude LESS efficient.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2013
They need to increase the 5lb limit though

If it's good for 86% then that's all right. Remember that you can order pretty big stuff from amazon...unlikely that a 10 pound limit would significantly increase the number of possible deliveries. At some point the increase in capability doesn't justify the expenditure (or just maybe have 1-2 'heavy delivery' drones. But in that case the ramifications if something does go wrong may be too much of a risk for insurance companies.
Milou
1 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2013
Why Amazon? I would think FedEx, DHL, or UPS would be the ones proposing this???

I love his comment "... "Companies have short life spans... And Amazon will be disrupted one day," he said. "I would love for it to be after I'm dead."" His death can be arranged very easily and quickly.
Hev
not rated yet Dec 02, 2013
Very dangerous having these flying objects whizzing around and dumping your parcel in vague proximity to your home. Prefer the friendly courier who drives on the road and can read the instructions for where to put parcels when we are out.
DistortedSignature
not rated yet Dec 02, 2013
Imagination and accepting the status quo as "good enough" seems to be a common theme amongst majority of the commenters here.

New technology is all about trial and error. Maybe this will succeed, maybe this won't.

Driverless cars could possibly be augmented into this. You can set the delivery time to what ever you want, with the automated vehicle being the home base for the drones.

This is all contigent on the related regulating bodies being flexible and/or even allowing such a thing to be legal to begin with.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Dec 02, 2013
"It's very green, it's better than driving trucks around," said Bezos.


is obviously not true. In fact, I'd expect a scheme like this to be at least an order of magnitude LESS efficient.


If it can get a sizeable percentage of delivery trucks off the road it might be worth it. Especially in urban areas. (And why stop at amazon. How about having your mailbox on a windowsill instead of by the front door?)

I can see plenty of problems with the concept (noise, abuse, theft) - but also some interesting possibilities.
gjbloom
not rated yet Dec 05, 2013
Once driverless delivery semis are on the road, I can see Amazon loading the trailer completely full of identical drones, each carrying a standardized delivery payload. The truck would stop at a parking lot, open the back doors and allow the drones out. The truck is packed so those with the greatest distance to fly come out first. Electronics in the truck talk to each drone continuously, so if one has a problem the truck doesn't have to keep waiting on its return.
QuixoteJ
not rated yet Dec 05, 2013
I can't even believe that some of you guys are even thinking that this is a good idea *theoretically* let alone *practically*. We will not be living in Star Trek for another 200 years. To even consider basing a home delivery system on quad copters that can cut your face off or at best drop on your head, or your car is ridiculous. To think that *mobiletechomg* could make this idea happen realiably to the satisfaction of 1 million customers daily is naive at best. All you have to do is think of the actual real world (instead of a childish fantasy version of it) for 15 seconds in order to realize that this idea is overflowing with stupidity.

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