Light Reading

Amazon Wants Delivery Drones

Dan Jones
12/2/2013
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By 2018, we still may not have a jet-pack or a flying car, but remote control drones could be winging packages from Amazon to our doors if the company's CEO has his way.

Jeff Bezos revealed an ambitious five-year plan on CBS News Sunday evening to have small "Octocopter" drones delivering packages to customers within 30 minutes of an order.

Here's the video that Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) put up about its "Prime Air" project:

Many have seen the project as a gimmick or joke designed to garner maximum publicity for Amazon on "Cyber Monday," traditionally the largest online shopping day of the year.

The FAA, however, is unlikely to be laughing. The US Federal Aviation Authority put out a plan recently that called for the phased introduction of unmanned aircraft in American airspace "not later than September 30, 2015." That's a timeline that puts Amazon's plan into better perspective. (See: Here Come the WiFi Drones.)

Many of the organizations that have asked the FAA for permission to trial drones are police departments, universities, and local authorities. Amazon is among the largest companies to so far state an interest in using drones for commercial operations.

This has thrown up many questions about using commercial drones in US airspace. Everything from what happens if they fly into power lines to guessing how many will be shot down by citizens.

For the record: The FAA plan is very clear that drones must have collision avoidance capabilities that are the equal of piloted aircraft.

The larger question is whether drones will be a benign or malign influence in US airspace. Basically, if by 2018 or so, drones will be our Jetson-esque buzzing robot helpers or creepy Philip K. Dick-inspired flying eyes, watching our every move.

The answer is probably a mixture of both. We should certainly be concerned that there's no federal regulations yet about how drones can be used for WiFi snooping and other surveillance.

Since I wrote my first story on WiFi drones, however, plenty of people have written to me about the helpful and creative uses of drones, from disaster recovery to whale watching!

So, ready or not, the drones are coming. The FAA is predicting that up to 30,000 drones could be in American skies by 2020, whether Amazon's Air Prime takes off or not.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/4/2013 | 1:44:03 PM
Re: Not a first
Still think its probably years away though. The air safety concerns should -- hopefully -- outweigh everything else.
Kruz
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Kruz,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/4/2013 | 1:29:52 PM
Re: Not a first
You are absolutely right. People would do it for the sake of knowing what's inside that box, at least!
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/4/2013 | 1:20:36 PM
Re: Not a first
It'll be like an awesome drone secret santa hunt. You'll never know quite what what you get if you down a drone: Will it be pizza, or shoes, or an Ayn Rand book on tape?

Fun times!
Kruz
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Kruz,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/4/2013 | 1:15:23 PM
Re: Not a first
It could be done by terrain matching from Google Earth satellite images sent over 3g/4g, a method used by cruise missiles for example. Amazon's data centers can analyze image sent in real-time to achieve guidance. This combined with GPS can do the job.

But it seems a big concern is actually having people not shoot at it and claim the cargo :)
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/4/2013 | 10:51:06 AM
Re: Not a first
I still don't quite understand how they could make the sensors granular enough to avoid obstacles like birds or power lines.

Also drones will use GPS for directions. So will they be affected by GPS jammers like other devices that use location satellites for sync?

I guess we will find out over time. I should do some more digging on the GPS issue.
Kruz
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Kruz,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/4/2013 | 10:28:49 AM
Re: Not a first
I would definitely be the first one using any kind of drone services that would get me my order in less than 30 minutes :)
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/4/2013 | 10:08:34 AM
Re: Not a first
Yes, lots of concept delivery systems out there, not sure how many are anything like close to commercial reality yet.
Kruz
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Kruz,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/4/2013 | 1:25:15 AM
Not a first
It seems Amazon's drone is not a first, check this out:

http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/318505/5-drone-based-delivery-services-before-amazon-primeair/5
PaulERainford
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PaulERainford,
User Rank: Light Sabre
12/3/2013 | 10:23:20 AM
hey kids...
Of course, Santa's training up his elves right now on drone manipulation, so he can have the night off. Tricky aiming at those chimney pots though...


(Here on LR we never lose our childlike sense of wonder.)
Dan@LightReadingMobile
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Dan@LightReadingMobile,
User Rank: Blogger
12/2/2013 | 4:58:15 PM
Or was it all to pump up Bezos' image
Interesting blog that suggests that this is more PR stunt than real project:

 

http://blog.hubspot.com/uattr/real-purpose-of-amazon-delivery-drones

 

As I noted, the timing of this coinciding with Cyber Monday was probably good for Amazon.
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