Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Drone delivery warfare: Amazon to test autonomous drones for 30 minute deliveries

Amazon.com is planning for the future: Speaking on "60 Minutes" on Sunday night, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said that his company will be able to get deliveries to customers -- not just on the same day -- but in 30 minutes or less. How will Amazon.com do this? By using “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or drones.

These are not the drones currently being used by the military, but based on a YouTube video (embedded) more the octo- or quadricopter products you can buy at Amazon.com, itself.

According to Bezos, these are autonomous drones, so they are programmed with GPS coordinates and then they fly there, carrying a package, drop the package off, and return to the Mother Ship. They can carry up to five pounds, which Bezos claimed was about 86 percent of the company's deliveries. Current generation drones can work within a 10-mile radius, Bezos added.

Notably, as with the versions sold on his own site, Bezos said that these are all electrically (battery) powered, and thus green(er) than driving UPS, Fedex, or any other delivery truck around.

This program is some four to five years away, he added. Aside from the fact that the FAA would have to approve this program -- and Bezos noted this -- we can see a number of issues standing in the way (the earliest the FAA could approve this would be 2015, but even Bezos said this was too optimistic).

There is, naturally, all the infrastructure and redundancy to work out. Anyone whose fallen prey to an issue with a GPS mapping system will note that not everything is perfect. Additionally, we can foresee some people wanting to take potshots at the drones, "for fun," and accidents, too.

2015 is probably too optimistic in terms of regulation, as well. According to a Nov. 7 Wall Street Journal article, judging by the FAA's early guidelines on drone testing, full certification of drones “isn’t slated to start until 2020.”

Considering that 2020 date, why is Bezos trying to get test sites announced by the end of this month? As Quartz said, "By making such a public splash, the company is practically guaranteed a place at the table in any future U.S. discussions of commercial drone regulation." That, of course, could put Amazon.com in the lead of any such regulations.

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