How long before Amazon launches its fleet of drones?
When Jeff Bezos told “60 Minutes” in 2013 of Amazon.com’s intent to use drones — known as octocopters — to deliver packages under five pounds to the homes of customers, there was no shortage of opinions on the brilliance or lunacy of the plan.
In the years since the CBS broadcast, Amazon and others such as 7-Eleven and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, have run tests to determine the practicality of drone-based deliveries. Doubts have remained, however, about using drones for home deliveries, even among believers in the technology’s utility.
Perhaps, it has been reasoned, drones make sense for the delivery of medicine in rural areas, for example, but may present a multitude of logistical, environmental and safety challenges if deployed in large numbers over areas with greater population density. So far, the questions have been primarily academic as no widespread test of the technology in the U.S. has been performed.
Alphabet appears to be the furthest ahead at this point. CNBC reported in April that the company’s Wing program was the first to receive certification from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), allowing deliveries from local businesses to American households.
Earlier this week, Amazon reminded the press and investors that it has not given up on Mr. Bezos’ drone ambitions announced five-and-a-half years ago. At the company’s Re:MARS conference in Las Vegas, Jeff Wilke, CEO consumer worldwide for Amazon, announced a new Prime Air delivery hybrid drone that functions as part helicopter and part plane.
The new drone uses depth and thermal cameras as well as sonar to safely navigate around a wide variety of potential hazards such as power lines, pets in yards, etc. The drones, Amazon claims, will be able to fly up to 15 miles and make deliveries to customers in under 30 minutes. The five-pound limit, first discussed by Mr. Bezos way back when, is still in place. Amazon says that the weight limit accommodates between 75 and 90 percent of the orders it ships.
Mr. Wilke did not discuss the timing for the launch, except to say that it would be ready to go in a matter of months. Amazon, according to a report by The Verge, seems confident that its use of currently FAA approved materials in building the drone will help it receive speedy approval from the agency.
- Amazon Prime Air’s New Delivery Drone – Amazon/YouTube
- Here’s Amazon’s new transforming Prime Air delivery drone – The Verge
- Amazon Unveils New Drone to Start Delivery Tests – TicToc by Bloomberg/YouTube
- Alphabet’s Wing becomes first drone delivery firm to win FAA approval in the US – CNBC
- Amazon Preps For Retail Drone Wars – RetailWire
- Will test show Amazon’s drone program is ready to take off? – RetailWire
- 7-Eleven makes history with consumer drone delivery – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think Alphabet, Amazon and others will be operating robust drone delivery programs in the next several years? Does early mover status have any significance when it comes to the likelihood of success for drone delivery services?