You could be getting parcels delivered by to your house by a drone sooner than you think, if Amazon is to be believed. The ecommerce giant’s plans for autonomous drone deliveries had been widely dismissed as a marketing stunt but it has continued to plough cash into its Prime Air programme.
In an interview with Yahoo!, Paul Misener, the company’s vice president for global public policy (whatever that entails) said the prospect of drone deliveries is ‘very real’, and that Amazon has been investing heavily in staff - including roboticists, aeronautical engineers and even an astronaut (presumably to deliver parcels to Elon Musk’s forthcoming colony on Mars).
‘These folks are completely focused on making this a reality — and demonstrating that it is safe before we begin operations,’ Misener said. ‘I’ve seen it. It’s gonna happen. It’s coming.’
The drones will be able to carry packages of 5 pounds or less (2.2 kilos) over a range of 10 miles, and the plan is they will be able to reach customers within a lightning-fast 30 minutes.
Misener conceded there are plenty of challenges ahead though. Much of the actual drone technology itself is getting there – you can even buy quadcopters as children’s toys now and building an automatic navigation system is no massive challenge for a technology giant.
But some wonder how long it will take regulators to catch up. Finding a way to permit the largescale use of drones without them getting in the way of manned aeroplanes or crashing into aerials (or indeed people on the ground) could be quite a complex task. Misener batted away such concerns though; ‘once we demonstrate the safety of the system, we believe that the regulations will quickly follow,’ he said.
A big obstacle is the challenge of actually getting packages from drones to peoples’ doormats. While well-heeled suburbanites will be happy to let Amazon’s bots drop their goods into their back gardens, impatient flat dwellers in towering apartment blocks will find it harder to receive their order. Misener’s response to that problem? ‘We’re working on it.’
Drone deliveries might not be too far away – Amazon’s fellow tech giants Facebook and Google, and the logistics firm DhL, have all been working on similar projects. But in the short-term it looks likely that they will mostly be of use to those living in remote areas: concrete jungles are very tricky to navigate.