Amazon, the online retailing Goliath, shipped an estimated 608 million packages in 2013 [source: Bensinger and Stevens]. Most arrive by U.S. mail or a private package delivery service from Amazon's global network of fulfillment centers, shipping everything from books to diapers to 4K ultra-HD TVs. And if you're an Amazon Prime member, your packages will arrive in two days or less, at no extra cost.
But two days isn't good enough for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who envisions a new way of getting Amazon products into the hands of online shoppers – via drones, of course!
Amazon Prime Air, if ever approved by the FAA, would use autonomous drones to deliver packages weighing less than 5 pounds (2 kilograms) to your doorstep in a zippy 30 minutes or less. Eighty-six percent of goods sold on Amazon weigh less than 5 pounds, so that could be a lot of drones in space [source: Misener].
Frustrated by the FAA's slow approval process, Bezos has moved the Amazon Prime Air R&D to Canada, where testing continues on its 10th generation drone prototypes [source: Crovitz]. Meanwhile, Google X is quietly pursuing its own drone delivery program called Project Wing. And a Silicon Valley startup called Matternet is beta-testing a drone system that runs on fixed routes between base stations in places lacking roads [sources: Madrigal, Nicas].
Author's Note: 10 UAV Jobs of the Future
I'll admit it, drones freak me out. There's just something about an insect-like robot hovering 2 feet over my head that screams "futuristic surveillance state!" I'm not super-psyched about a world in which Amazon delivery drones darken the skies like a swarm of UPS locusts. Or a future reality in which urban street corners are policed by the glowing red eyes of airborne security cameras. Commercial drones absolutely have their place – search and rescue seems like a no-brainer – but I'm actually with the FAA on this one. Let's make sure these drones are safe and that privacy is well-protected before setting them loose in America's skies.
More Great Links
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- Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. "Economic Report" (April 10, 2015) http://www.auvsi.org/econreport
- BBC News. "Google buys high-altitude drone firm Titan Aerospace." April 15, 2014 (April 10, 2015) http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27035385
- Bensinger, Greg; Stevens, Laura. "Amazon, in Threat to UPS, Tries Its Own Deliveries." The Wall Street Journal. April 24, 2014 (April 10, 2015) http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304788404579521522792859890
- BP. "BP Alaska: Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Testing." Dec. 7, 2012 (April 10, 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UO0rgiS3wgw
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- Zuckerberg, Mark. Internet.org. "Connecting the World from the Sky" (April 10, 2015) https://fbcdn-dragon-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/t39.2365-6/851574_611544752265540_1262758947_n.pdf
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