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Meet the future: Amazon.com developing delivery drones
Retailing » Internet giant targets urban areas, ferrying cargo weighing less than five pounds.


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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.

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. But the savings of such a delivery system only come in large, urban areas.

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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."

The U.S. Postal Service wouldn’t speculate about using drones for mail delivery. Spokeswoman Sue Brennan referred any questions to Amazon.

Amazon, one of the Postal Service’s major customers, recently partnered with the agency to begin delivering packages on Sunday in major metropolitan areas. Sunday service will be available to Amazon Prime members in the New York and Los Angeles areas first, followed by other large cities next year.


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Amazon’s stock dipped 25 cents, or less than one percent, to $393.37 in Monday afternoon’s trading.

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With reports from Barbara Ortutay in New York, David Koenig in Dallas and Sam Hananel in Washington D.C.

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Scott Mayerowitz can be reached at http://twitter.com/GlobeTrotScott.



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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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