A new announcement of a multirotor/drone based delivery service: Amazon Prime Air

We have recently reported about new possibly upcoming drone/multirotor based delivery services for books and pizza.

How about extending multirotor deliveries to the full amazon catalogue (limited to small sized items)? Direct delivery from Amazon to your doorstep in under 30 minutes from the moment you place the order online with the new Amazon Prime Air service.

Here’s the Amazon YouTube video that totalized slightly less than 12 million visits since december 1 2013. In just 5 days this is an amazing page views score. This shows a huge interest from the public that will possibly support the development of the project.

Amazon is realistic and acknowledges that actual implementation of the project could well take a few years. This is a statement on the Amazon page:

“Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.”

However right below, in the same page FAQ section, we read:

“Q: When will I be able to choose Prime Air as a delivery option?
A: We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time.”

Amazon Prime Air octocopter
Amazon Prime Air octocopter – Click for high res version
Amazon Prime Air
Amazon Prime Air – Click for high res version

Indeed, the development of such a multirotor based service will have to deal closely with FAA and it’s regulations. Current rules allow flying any RC model, with a number of restrains, but commercial services require an explicit permit from FAA to be carried out. This is the base for the well know story of Raphael Pirker and the FAA commercial flying ban, where Raphael Pirker aka “Trappy”, funder of Team Black Sheep, was issued a 10.000$ fine by FAA for taking some aerial footage, for money, of the University of Virginia. We covered the story here.

Would FAA allow Amazon to launch such a service, as described in the promotional video above, tomorrow? Likely not for a number of very good reasons in my opinion.

Jeff Bezos presents the new Amazon Prime Air multirotor based delivery service
JAmazon CEO Jeff Bezos presents the new Amazon Prime Air multirotor based delivery service

A number of safety concerns are involved in such a project. The machine itself must be full proof with redundant control and power systems. Research required in this field as the technology is still relatively new. What kind of avoidance systems will be in place? Camera/video based? Sonar based? Both? Research required. How do you deal with the dogs welcome committee at landing? (see here). How do you ensure reliable and secure delivery, after all a packet is just left on a front yard, a number of things could happen before the customer actually get it in his hands.

Here’s a video that discusses a number of potential issues:

Despite all these problems to be solved, some kind of minor issues, other more serious, It looks to me that it’s just a matter of time before we get to see drones delivering items to our doorstep. The questions is not really if we are going to see this, but when.


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