Amazon unveils delivery by drone: Prime Air. No, seriously

Amazon unveils delivery by drone: Prime Air. No, seriously

Summary: The retail giant is taking delivery to the next level by using unmanned drones. But don't hold your breath for the service to launch any time soon.

TOPICS: Amazon
(Image: CBS "60 Minutes")

Not content with next-day delivery service through its Prime program, Amazon wants orders to land on people's front porches in as little as half an hour.

Just when you thought the technology industry couldn't get any stranger, the latest idea from the retail giant is to offer an audacious delivery-by-drone service.

In a Sunday evening "60 Minutes" program aired on CBS (ZDNet's parent company) Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos unveiled the new service, dubbed Prime Air, to CBS anchor Charlie Rose.

The company has been working on the "octocopter" project in a secret research and development lab at its Seattle, Wash.-based headquarters for months in efforts to ramp up its competition against its rivals. According to the program, the octocopter drones will pick up packages in small buckets at Amazon's fulfillment centers and fly directly to customers' nearby in as little as 30 minutes after they hit the "buy" button.

But the service won't launch overnight. In fact, it may take as long as four to five years for Prime Air drones to take to the skies, as the program is still subject to safety and regulatory rules by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.

Bezos also admitted that it wouldn't work for everything, but would be ideal for smaller items.

The CBS show offered an unprecedented inside look at Amazon's warehouses where deliveries are processed and delivered. It also explored Bezos' ideas, thoughts, and where the company he founded in 1994 is forging ahead.

Topic: Amazon

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Quadcopters!!

    Really wild. Lots of legal and practical issues, but this could revolutionize delivery systems.
    Its amazing how far quadcopter/multirotor technology has come. You can get a very capable $40 quadcopter now, or a $1,200 with streaming HD video and GPS capabilities. Check out the best quadcopter models here:
  • That is pretty amazing

    It's also pretty amazing that Amazon is the one pushing this. They are far and away my favorite retailer and fast becoming my favorite tech company as well. There's just something about a company that puts customer service ahead of profits that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy.
  • Just one more way

    to put the public's safety at risk and eliminate jobs at the same time...
    simply brilliant?
    • Hardly a logical replacement to the delivery services

      Too many logistical nightmares with this ideal. From people hacking into the drones, to dealing with weather, and how to deliver to places such as apartments, businesses and other buildings requiring inside access. Seems like a lame ideal and can never replace a human who can deliver to a certain place or place package in a protective safe area. Or get a signature for that matter.
      • Agreed, plus the vandals

        who would get a kick from taking them out.
        new urban sport, drone downing
      • ...

        Another cynical, anti progress comment from JohnnyES!
      • Apartments aren't a problem

        For apartments, businesses and the like, the drones could just keep bouncing off the doors and windows like overgrown June bugs until someone lets them in. Getting out without being swatted with a rolled-up newspaper could be more difficult.

        I think a much better plan would be to have a fully connected global matrix of pneumatic tubes.
    • I agree...

      We should get rid of planes and cars, as they cause thousands of deaths a year. We should also go back to manned gas pumps and elevator attendants, since it eliminates jobs. We should also stop researching fusion and stop nuclear power, too much potential for catastrophe. There was also the guy that died hiking, we should forbid people from visiting national parks, just not worth it.
  • Interesting but

    As a practical matter, I think that these will be limited to rural and suburban use. In cities, you have too many obstructions and you can't just drop something on a customer's front stoop in most cities and expect it to be there when the recipient gets home from work.
    • Yes my point too

      What about apartment dwellers, or businesses, or and non single dwelling home? Gee a thief could find a way to hack into these drones to control them or simply follow them to a residence.
      What about products that require a signature? A lot of practical limitations to this ideal. Plus, I really doubt the FAA will approve so many of these drones to randomly fly around populated areas.
      • You know....

        There are two types of people in the world. Those that say "that can't happen and here is why...." and those that say "I wonder if that could happen and here is how...". You seem to fall in the former. We progress by companies pushing the envelope. Your questions are pretty easy to answer and are extremely similar to questions that have been asked about most all technological advancements.

        Regarding thieves, they could do that now by following UPS trucks. Even so, parameters around Prime Air could easily be that you must be home to accept the delivery or a designated spot on a person's property (you can do that right now via UPS My Choice or FedEx). Pretty simple. Your signature comment is no different. UPS/FedEx signature required = sign or no package. Practical limitations have practical solutions.

        FAA must provide for the "safe integration" of commercial drones into domestic airspace by 2015. That is a law that was put in place in 2012. It is law the FAA has these in place. When laws like this happen, the government agency works closely with businesses to gain insight into implementation and rules.
    • Yeah, SunFire, and that's where they are most needed and useful

      Rural dwellers have a hard time with internet connections, cellphones, mail deliveries. If they can get some drone from Amazon, that will matter a bunch. Hundreds of ranches, government installations, isolated folks, farms -- really great idea for them. It's gonna have to cost something, but you know: it costs to go to the store, to mail a package, too.
      • 10 miles & 5 pounds

        According to 60 minutes
  • Lot's of limitations though

    I see a lot of limitations though. Such as weather, interference from other wireless transmitters causing issues, and the fact these devices can only carry so much. But I see Amazon's theory as they try and eliminate the package delivery costs. Which keep rising and will continue to do so. But when you consider the number of these drones that would be needed. I suspect Amazon will have a tough time getting approval.
    • You keep posting about the negatives....

      Weather is no different than they operate in now. Drones have been in use for over 50 years and the study of aeronautics has been in use for hundreds of years. As I told you before in your other post, FAA has to have rules in place by 2015 regarding business use of drones. Good for Amazon in pushing technological advancement and inventing new services to meet the demand of consumers.
  • I like the

    idea of using the USPS for Sunday deliveries.
    I actually prefer them for package deliveries in the city. If you have to go in to pick up a package, it's much closer than driving to USPS or Fedex. I'd like to see Netflix use them to deliver DVDs on Sunday as well.
  • I am disagreeing with most

    and believe it WILL work and work well if used where the fit is right.
  • Prime target more like.

    It might work in Europe. But even though we dont carry projectile weapons - legally anyway, and if you dont count potato cannons or just a well aimed stick - there is still a large contingent of our population who'd delight in popping those things for sport.

    Great idea in principle Amazon, but really impractical around people, pets, wild birds, telephone wires... Oh the list is endless. We really need them to be prevalent first, personal drones might teach us the value of them and debug the laws and procedures we'll need to do it right. And thats decades beyond the actual technology.
    • Yes...

      Shame on Amazon for continuing to push the envelope, they should just be content with current operations. People have had personal drones since the 70s. How do you "debug the laws and procedures" when there hasn't even been commercial FAA parameters set regarding drones yet? Man, you people on this site are so negative and anti-technological advancement. Why not let them try it, work with the FAA and hobbyists, make mistakes, try again, and who knows, maybe it will work? Oh, it's probably because you'd rather support companies like Walmart so you can get a deal on a 40 inch stripped down TV for $148 on Black Friday.
      • Why dont you try reading before knee jerking

        I'm in the UK, WTF is Walmart and Black Friday anyway?

        Yes there are no procedures or laws governing these things. We'll need them, and they will have to be worked out like all the others over time - look at DRM for a classic example. Personal video recording devices, another thing that rocks the boat. Perhaps if we each had a drone that followed us around at a discrete distance, tied to our communications devices we might learn to accept them, even ignore them. At the moment they are toys for kids, novelty at best and will not be accepted en masse so readily.

        The best way forward in my opinion is for drones used in large distributed sites within a single company or corporation, where they could be developed without risk from the public, archaic laws and wildlife that already has to contend with noise and light pollution, disturbed habitat and everything else we do.

        I'm a technologist, a robotics engineer among other things. Please dont lecture me on something you know f* all about, if you think you can make a drone hover using the lead acid battery technology we had in the 70s then go right ahead. Even with the very best Lithium Ions we still cant get flight times much above 10-15 minutes out of todays composite materials.

        And finally, its a great idea but impractical currently for all the reasons I mentioned in my post. So you think its a great too, but know so little about the technology you just come on here and show your stupidity. Do some research on the subject, maybe read some of my older posts before you start as well. Take a hike Bigoty...