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Amazon Redefining ‘Air Delivery’

4 Dec, 2013 By: Doug McPherson

SEATTLE – Shippers have been delivering by air for decades, but Amazon gave “air delivery” new meaning when it announced this week on 60 Minutes it will offer 30-minute purchase-to-doorstep delivery by drones starting as early as 2015.

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s latest shipping innovation: Prime Air, a service powered by “octocopter” drones that will deliver packages under five pounds and deliver them up to 10 miles from its distribution centers to a GPS coordinate.

Bezos said the company is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on rules to ensure public safety, and admitted it might take up to four or five years before the service is readily available. “It will work, it will happen, and it’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said. 

“Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards,” the company notes on its Prime Air site.

Devindra Hardawar, a high-tech writer for VentureBeat, an online news site, said the move “makes sense” for Amazon. “The company has historically led the way in terms of delivery mechanisms,” Hardawar says. “It survived the ’90s dot-com bust by building a lean business, not by losing tons of money on shipping costs.”

Hardawar adds that having its own drone service could eventually help Amazon to better cover areas where traditional shipping services are weak, and it could potentially be cheaper to run than paying shipping fees to the likes of UPS and FedEx.

So far, there’s no comment from UPS or FedEx, who are likely looking into drones a little more closely this week.

Media and industry analysts are abuzz however. Here’s a sampling of comments:

  • David Streitfeld in the New York Times: “Package delivery by drone is a loopy idea, far-fetched and the subject of instant mockery on Twitter — but it is hard to deny its audacity.”
  • Simon Dumenco in AdAge: “I don't know about you, but when I run out of toilet paper, I just use my 3D printer to make some more.”
  • Attorney Raymond Mariani of Murray Morin and Herman P.A., quoted in the Wall Street Journal: "There are several major concerns: the operator of the vehicles, the vehicle itself, environmental factors and how people on the ground respond to these flying vehicles."
  • The Associated Press’ Scott Mayerowitz: “Delivery drones raise a host of concerns, from air traffic safety to homeland security and privacy. There are technological and legal obstacles, too.”

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