Amazon may eventually have drones deliver everything from shoes to consumer electronics. The FAA has been working to integrate civilian drones into US airspace, but that could take awhile.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Sunday said his firm is working on ways to deliver small packages via drones. That’s right: Amazon “Prime Air” may eventually have thousands of robot flying machines buzzing through neighborhoods across America, dropping off everything from shoes to consumer electronics.
At least, that’s the vision Mr. Bezos outlined on “60 Minutes.”
“It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” he told correspondent Charlie Rose.
Well, we would not wager against Amazon, given its relentless march toward US retail dominance. And it’s easy to see how the concept would work, in a technical sort of way: Small "octocopter" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying five pounds or so already exist.
The “fun,” however, may be in the eye of the beholder. In urban areas, swooping octocopters might seem a hazard, pigeons with gas-powered propellers. In rural areas, they might be targets for people bored of hunting deer.
“Amazon fine print: ‘Drone delivery unavailable outside urban areas during hunting season,’ ” RedState's Erick Erickson tweeted on Monday.
And the real problem here might be the Feds. The Federal Aviation Administration is working to integrate civilian drones into US airspace. That’s unlikely to be a speedy process. Amazon’s realistic drone-delivery start date might be 2025 or beyond.
That’s if Amazon can satisfy the FAA’s safety concerns at all. The Amazon concept brings drones into closer contact with people than other civilian UAV uses currently under FAA study. Will it be possible to avoid packages dropped from a hundred feet up, buzzing drones snagged on power lines, out-of-control drones plummeting into bedroom windows? Plus, what about privacy and national security concerns?
“The safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the [national airspace] is a significant challenge,” the FAA notes in the conclusion of its road map for approval of civilian drone use.
Of course, civilians already fly drones in America. They’re used for everything from land-use planning to photography. Drone development is a big industry. Some 50 companies are working on 150 systems right now. Civilian UAV sales may hit $6 billion by 2016.