Amazon has been talking about delivering your packages with robots for a while, and nobody’s been quite sure how to take it. Is it an idle fantasy? A prank? A serious idea? It turns out to be the last of those, and Amazon Prime Air is further along than we think.
Amazon’s plan is both more and less ambitious than people think. According to Amazon’s VP of global public policy Paul Misener, they’re not trying to replace UPS with a swarm of drones. In fact, the drones they’re working on will have a range of about ten miles and be able to carry five pounds. The drones are designed to cater to last-minute needs; if you’re out of toilet paper, Amazon is hoping you’ll buy from them and have it delivered by drone instead of running out to the store. Misener claims that, individually, a majority of what Amazon sells is under five pounds.
And yes, it would deliver to your doorstep, at least if you have a house. Misener notes that one of their technical challenges will be catering to different types of homes in different types of environment. They’re working on multiple prototypes of drone, as well, which might help.
The bigger issue is regulatory. Amazon has gone as far as to speak at a NASA conference to propose an airspace framework, keeping commercial drones between 200 and 400 feet unless they’re taking off or landing. As for amateur drones, Amazon wants them held to the same standards as commercial drones, which the FAA has full authority over, something likely to anger drone hobbyists.
As for when we’d see it, there’s still no timeline, as you might guess from the regulatory problems alone. But make no mistake: Amazon is completely serious about getting their drones in the air.