Amazon is experimenting with drones that will provide half-hour, same-day delivery, though a formal introduction of the service, dubbed PrimeAir, is years away.
Amazon chief Jeff Bezos showed off an early version of Amazon PrimeAir during Sunday night's 60 Minutes. "I know this looks like science fiction but it's not," Bezos told Charlie Rose.
In a video demo (above), an Amazon user is shown ordering an item online. That item is placed in a plastic container and locked into an awaiting drone, which buzzes away and drops the package at the customer's doorstep.
Bezos said PrimeAir containers can carry objects that are up to 2.27kg in weight, which covers up to 86 percent of the objects Amazon delivers. "We're not going to deliver kayaks or table saws" with PrimeAir, he quipped.
The devices use electric motors, so they will be more environmentally friendly, Bezos continued, as fewer trucks would be on the road. PrimeAir would have an approximately 10-mile radius, so in urban areas, its coverage range could be "very significant." No word on how deliveries to apartment or office buildings might be handled, but Bezos said they would be autonomous and follow GPS coordinates.
The "hard part," he admitted, would be reliability. A PrimeAir drone "can't land on somebody's head," he said.
One major impediment to Amazon - or any other company - using drones is the Federal Aviation Administration, which currently bans the use of drones - or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) - for commercial use. Last year, however, President Obama signed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act, which includes a mandate to loosen up the restrictions and integrate commercial drones into the National Airspace System. Last month, the Transportation Department revealed its long-term plan for making that a reality, but it won't happen until at least 2015.
Bezos told Rose that he is an "optimist" and hopes that PrimeAir could get off the ground in four to five years. "I don't want anyone to think this is just around the corner," he said.
Amazon is not the only organisation experimenting with drones. In June, Dominos teased the "DomiCopter" for pizza delivery, though it was really more of a marketing gimmick. In October, meanwhile, PETA kicked off a project to use hobby-class drone planes to monitor hunters and capture any "illegal or cruel hunting practices," PETA said Tuesday.