Amazon Drones? For Real?
You might've heard the news. Yes, Amazon is testing drones to deliver goods to customers. The largest e-commerce company in the world today wants to improve efficiency and speed so that customers get what they ordered as quickly and easily as possible.
It's all about "octocopters"
The news really broke when Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, talked about the plan on the show 60 Minutes with interviewer Charlie Rose, in 2013. He showed Rose the flying machines that would also serve as vehicles for delivery. These drones, or "octocopters," can carry up to 5 pounds within a 10 mile radius of the nearest Amazon fulfillment center. Bezos thought drones should be available within five years if the Federal Aviation Administration approved the plan.
Not new technology
Although Amazon has just jumped on the bandwagon (as of 2013) of drones' technology, it's not new. Currently, for example, Australian company Zookal delivers textbooks this way. Express delivery of this sort is also being experimented with in China.
A wrinkle in the mix
However, although Amazon drones are indeed "real" in that they do indeed exist and that the company intends to use them for delivery, there's a hitch. Specifically, drones must be regulated for safety reasons – and regulation hasn't kept up with technology. The Federal Aviation Administration has put the kibosh on the drones thus far because they want licensed pilots to be the operators, even though skills for manned versus unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, a.k.a. drones) are very much different from each other.
As of December 2014, Amazon is trying to get the FAA to grant them permission to conduct outdoor testing on drones; these drones should be able to deliver light packages – no more than five pounds – in 30 minutes for its "Prime Air" service. Currently, it is testing drones outside of the US because regulations there are more relaxed.
As stated previously, drone technology isn't new, nor is the desire for easy delivery services with them. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration has been trying to put together drone laws for about 10 years. Congress required the FAA to have drone laws written by September 2015, but the agency may very well miss this deadline.
Is magical thinking a problem?
Critics of Amazon's gung ho attitude think so. For one, even if the FAA agrees to Amazon's requests so that drones "get off the ground," so to speak, there's still the matter of the drones themselves being effective enough to pilot themselves with little to no human pilot intervention or interaction. Drones cannot be effective at delivering packages until this happens, according to Phil Finnegan of the aviation consultancy Teal Group. Drone technology just isn't there yet – and again is one of the reasons Amazon is conducting tests.
Finnegan noted, "The Amazon.com services are not going to happen in six months, a year, or several years. It's going to take a long time."
That said, it's worth noting that yes, drones are real, yes, Amazon wants to use them to deliver packages, and yes, this is probably likely to happen once all of the details get ironed out. Stay tuned.