Amazon has taken to the skies, releasing details this weekend about the ongoing development of its Prime Air service offering, a shipment option that uses drones to deliver small packages to consumers within 30 minutes.
According to Amazon’s website, officials expect to have the shipping option in place by 2015, pending rules and regulations regarding the use of commercial drones being considered by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“It looks like science fiction, but it's real. From a technology point of view, we'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place,” the company wrote on its website. “The Federal Aviation Administration is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.”
Amazon has also released a video
of a recent test flight.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive officer, unveiled the program Sunday on CBS’ 60 Minutes
. In the interview, he explained that the device could possibly carry items weighing up to five pounds. He estimated that would cover 86 percent of what Amazon currently sells, but admitted the service would have a limited range.
“These generations of vehicles, it could be a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center. So, in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population,” he said, according to a CBS transcript. “And so, it won’t work for everything; you know, we’re not gonna deliver kayaks or table saws this way.
“I don’t want anybody to think this is just around the corner,” he continued. “This is years of additional work from this point.”
This year, the FAA has been making progress on its policy for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, and in July, the agency issued restricted category certificated to two drones for commercial surveillance work in Alaska.
“Issuing the type certificates is an important step toward the FAA’s goal of integrating UAS into the nation’s airspace,” the agency said at the time. “These flights will also meet requirements in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that define Arctic operational areas and include a mandate to increase Arctic UAS commercial operations.”
Amazon Prime Air is just the company's latest significant shipping announcement. In November, the company announced that it would be using the U.S. Postal Service to deliver some Amazon orders on Sunday for Amazon Prime customers. The service is now limited to New York and Los Angeles, but the company expects to roll it out to Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, New Orleans and other key cities in 2014.
Aside from helping Amazon deliver its goods to customers faster, analysts have said this development will also provide a boost to the USPS, which has been very public with its recent financial issues. In its 2013 fiscal year, the Postal Service turned in its seventh consecutive yearly loss — a net loss of $5 billion. During the fiscal year, mail volume dropped, year over year, by 1.4 billion pieces.