Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
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)
Meet the future: Amazon.com developing delivery drones
Retailing » Internet giant targets urban areas, ferrying cargo weighing less than five pounds.
First Published Dec 02 2013 09:38 am • Last Updated Dec 02 2013 04:49 pm

Amazon.com is working on a way to get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less — via self-guided drone.

Consider it the modern version of a pizza delivery boy, minus the boy.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Amazon.com said it’s working on the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project in its research and development labs. But the company 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 by CBS’ "60 Minutes" Sunday night, hours before millions of shoppers turned to their computers for Cyber Monday sales.

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, 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.

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

"Technology has always been a double edged sword. Fire kept us warm and cooked our food but also was used to burn down our villages," said Ray Kurzweil, a technology entrepreneur and futurist. Kurzweil’s 2005 book "The Singularity is Near" argues that the age of smarter-than-human intelligence will arrive in the not-so-distant future.

"Drones will deliver packages and provide improved mapmaking and monitoring of traffic, but will introduce similar privacy concerns," he said. Kurzweil noted, however, that security cameras are already in most public spaces, not to mention the ubiquitous camera phone.

Unlike the drones used by the military, Bezos’ proposed flying machines wouldn’t need humans sitting in a distant trailer to control them. Amazon’s drones would receive a set of GPS coordinates and automatically fly to them, presumably avoiding buildings, power lines and other obstacles along the way.


story continues below
story continues below

Amazon spent almost $2.9 billion in shipping last year, accounting for 4.7 percent of its net sales.

Drone delivery faces several legal and technology obstacles 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 does occur, who is legally liable?

Then there are the security issues. Delivering packages by drone might be impossible in a city like Washington D.C. which has many no-fly zones.

"The technology has moved forward faster than the law has kept pace," said Brendan Schulman, special counsel at the law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

There is no prohibition on flying drones for recreational use, but since 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration has said they can’t be used for commercial uses. Schulman is currently challenging that regulation before a federal administrative law judge on behalf of a client who was using a radio-controlled aircraft to shoot video for an advertising agency. Autonomous flights like Amazon is proposing, without somebody at the controls, are also prohibited.

The FAA is slowly moving forward with guidelines to allow expanded use of drones but has had numerous delays. Many of the commercial advances in drone use have come out of Europe, Australia, and Japan.

"The delay has really been to the disadvantage of companies here," Schulman said. "Generally, the government wants to promote the advancement of science and technology. In this case, the government has done exactly the opposite and thwarted the ability of small, startup companies to develop commercial applications for this revolutionary technology."

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako said the company has been in contact with the FAA "as they are actively working on necessary regulation."

Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994 after quitting his job at a Wall Street hedge fund. With Bezos’ parents and a few friends as investors, Amazon began operating out of the Bezos Seattle garage as an online bookseller on July 16, 1995. In the nearly two decades since, Amazon has grown to become the world’s largest online retailer, selling everything from shoes to groceries to diapers and power tools.

Amazon’s business plan has been to spend heavily on growing its business, improving order fulfillment and expanding into new areas. Those investments have come at the expense of consistent profitability, but investors have been largely forgiving, focusing on the company’s long-term promise and double-digit revenue growth. Though it may be years before it’s reality, drone-powered delivery fits with the company’s plan to make delivery as convenient — and fast — as possible.

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

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Login to the Electronic Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.