Online retailer’s Prime Air is aimed to launch as early as 2015
During the Sunday, Dec 1 edition of 60 Minutes, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos revealed the company’s dream of same day delivery through an innovative new system. Bezos says Amazon will be able to use drone aircraft in a system called Prime Air to deliver customers five-pound packages in less than half an hour. Ideally, Bezos would like to see this plan take off in four to five years, but in all likelihood, it will take longer.
Drones came into the mainstream when the U.S. government began relying on them in combat. Over the years, the technology has advanced and a demand for drones in commercial use was reached. Oil companies now use drones to keep a watchful eye on pipelines, Japanese farmers use them to spray pesticides across crops, and even Domino’s has discussed using drones as a delivery vehicle. However, drones are only allowed to fly in the U.S. with permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), due to not having adequate means to “detect, sense, and avoid” collisions with other aircraft. However, as interest in drones has increased, the FAA began working on decreasing restrictions. Late in November, the agency published plans which may allow small drones to fly in the U.S. by 2015.
In connection with the 60 Minutes segment, Amazon posted a YouTube video Sunday evening displaying how its drones would work. In the clip, a small item glides down a conveyor belt, is dropped into a plastic tub, and is picked up by the drone. The drone zooms away, flying over a field and then delivering the package at the customer’s door. While the idea will provide same-day delivery and drastically reduce the workload of Amazon’s warehouse workforce, the idea is still a few years away from becoming reality.
Currently, Amazon’s prototype drones do not use cameras for navigation, relying solely on GPS coordinates. The installation of cameras will almost certainly be necessary as to avoid collisions and other unforeseen circumstances. Remotely controlled aircrafts with high-powered cameras flying over populate areas raise privacy and safety concerns. A crash from a cargo-carrying drone immediately following the program’s inception would almost certainly ground the endeavor. Also, many Americans may feel violated by the cameras on the aircraft, which could be viewed as spying tool. That concern was so strong in Deer Trail, CO where citizens have proposed an ordinance to shoot down drones flying over the town. If approved, the proposal would allow citizens of the town to purchase a drone-hunting license for $25. Pieces of successful drone kills can be returned for up to a $100 bounty. The FAA warns that doing this is the equivalent of firing at a manned plane and will result in criminal or civil liability.
This past summer, the FAA awarded two certificates to fly drones for commercial purposes. The first was given to ConocoPhillips to fly a drone in the North Slope region of the Arctic. The second is being used to monitor ice flows and the migration of whales off the coast of Alaska. Amazon is the first big-name company to present a compelling case for the use of drone technology in distribution centers and delivery. While Bezos is hopeful his company can put drones to use as soon as the FAA rules will allow it, the obstacles the drone technology face may push
Thanks and By Sam Lewis, associate editor isf retailers.com