Amazon Tests Delivery Drones

Amazon Prime Air drone Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos said in an interview with Charlie Rose aired Sunday night that he believes the company will be able to make deliveries within 30 minutes using unmanned drones that will fly from Amazon’s fulfillment centers to drop off a package on a customer’s front porch. The service is called Amazon Prime Air.

Bezos said he believes the technology could be put to use by 2015 but also acknowledged that the date is an optimistic estimate. Amazon said in an announcement about Prime Air that the company is ready to move forward whenever the Federal Aviation Administration finalizes regulations about commercial drone use. the e-commerce giant also posted some footage of a recent test flight.

Even if Amazon has created a reliable drone craft, the company will need to convince both regulators and the public that the drones are safe. Unmanned drones navigate using GPS, which is not always reliable, and they could drop out of the sky if motors failed; the craft could also interfere with airplane traffic if a technical malfunction caused them to fly too high.

Drone expert Ryan Calo told the Washington Post that current unmanned drones can only carry a few pounds and stay in the air for about 15 minutes, which means that with its current number of fulfillment centers, Amazon would only be able to offer 30-minute drone deliveries to select customers who happen to live near enough to a facility.

Let’s say Amazon had a way to prove that none of the worst-case scenarios would happen. The company still would have to wait for federal regulations on commercial drones to be reworked. According to the Post, for now, there are a ton of restrictions on the use of commercial drones that will have to be figured out before Amazon’s “octocopters” will be allowed to fly.

The success of online retailers at the moment seems to center around the question of who can deliver the most stuff to the most people the fastest. Amazon has been spending like crazy on building more fulfillment centers to give more people across the country access to fast shipping. At the moment, Amazon can only reach 15 percent of the U.S. population with same-day shipping, but that number is increasing as the company builds more warehouses.

Amazon announced last month that it will begin working with the U.S. Postal Service to start making Sunday deliveries so that customers can take advantage of Amazon’s shipping seven days a week. The move also gives Amazon an edge over competing retailers that don’t ship on Sundays.

While the whole drone thing likely won’t happen for at least several years, Quartz reports that the big public splash guarantees Amazon will be front and center in the discussions on commercial drone regulation, and so will be ready to start making deliveries to its customers within minutes instead of days as soon as the regulations are sorted out.

Follow Jacqueline on Twitter @Jacqui_WSCS

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