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