Jeff Bezos Debuts Amazon Prime Air Drones

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos and his giant online store are getting into the drone game. No, they do not intend to use drones for military or surveillance purposes; Bezos intends to use them to revolutionize package delivery.

Bezos, the CEO and founder of the world’s largest online retailer, disclosed his vision for a sky filled with Amazon delivery drones on the CBS news program 60 Minutes on Sunday. Speaking to interviewer Charlie Rose, Bezos introduced the idea of using programmed octocopters to drop-off packages weighing as much as 5 pounds.

An octocopter is a multirotor aircraft with fixed-pitch blades. Essentially an 8-rotor helicopter, the system is built off the design of simpler operational units such as the quadcopter.

Jeff Bezos took Charlie Rose inside the project development center, dubbed Prime Air, to show him the proposed delivery system.

“I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.” Bezos told the amazed Rose.

A video played for Rose demonstrates an octocopter drone branded with the familiar Amazon logo descending from the sky, delivering a box to a suburban home, then lifting off again.

Bezos indicated that his generation of drones could deliver packages within 30 minutes to targets within a 10-mile radius of a fulfillment center. The drones would be autonomous, meaning they are not radio-controlled by a human operator. The units would be programmed to proceed to a specific GPS coordinate set for delivery.

The Amazon CEO indicated that it would be at least 2015 before they could get FAA and local laws aligned to allow the drone deliveries to proceed, and that there are till technical hurdles to overcome before active deliveries could begin.

“The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say ‘look, this thing can’t land on somebody’s head,” said Bezos. According to the CEO, the 5-pound limit will not be a problem, as 86% of current deliverables fall within that weight range.

There are also questions about how the drone units would handle precipitation, high winds and other adverse weather conditions. Current units can fly in light rain, but not heavy, and do not deal well with sleet or snow.

Amazon already is heavily invested in delivery and distribution models, spending a large portion of its expense budget on these activities. Investors seem to approve of the forward-thinking online behemoth, as stock prices for Amazon continue to climb.

The Amazon Prime Air drone program is still in the research and design phase, but Jeff Bezos is confident that his could be the future for deliveries. His optimistic estimate is that the Prime Air system would be ready within four to five years.

“This is still early, still years away,” said Bezos.

Jeff Bezos is not alone in believing that this type of drone technology could become the de facto standard in the not too distant future. Domino’s showed video of multi-rotor drones delivering pizzas in the UK earlier this year, and Yelp engineers have demonstrated similar tech with their Burrito Bomber. Zookal, a textbook company, is already using drones for deliveries in Australia.

By Mark Clarke

CBS 60 Minutes

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