Amazon's CEO said Sunday night that the company plans to use drones to make deliveries, offering the possibility of a massive domestic surge in a technology now best known for gunning down Islamic militants in Pakistan and Yemen.
The company suggested delivery drones could reduce shipping time to a mere 30 minutes after an online order. But the buzzy announcement will require, first of all, a massive reworking of regulations around unmanned aviation.
The online retailer's CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, introduced the in-development delivery mechanism, Prime Air, on 60 Minutes. Immediately after the segment, Amazon put up a video showing a delivery via the drone, and a portion of its website describing Prime Air.
"They are effectively drones, but there's no reason they can't be used as delivery vehicles," Bezos said. "I think this looks like science fiction, but it's not. … We can do half-hour delivery and carry objects we think up to five pounds, which covers 86% of the items we deliver."
Bezos said he believes Amazon could be using the drones for deliveries in as little as four years, but acknowledged there's no way the drones could be making shipments before 2015 because of required approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration. While he didn't elaborate further on the regulatory process, airlifting packages to customers will undoubtedly be met by a mountain of approval processes, making Bezos's timeline particularly optimistic.
The drones could make deliveries from 10 miles away from one of Amazon's 96 fulfillment centers, he said. All Amazon would have to do is enter in the GPS coordinates of the delivery address, and, fueled by its electric motor, the drone would go off, deliver the product, and zip back to the warehouse, he said.
"lt will certainly just be a matter of years," he said.
Small businesses from dry cleaners to sushi chains have been releasing viral, gimmicky YouTube videos featuring drones as delivery vehicles this year, making the unusual move of using machines associated with war for marketing purposes, as BuzzFeed noted in July. Amazon is now taking that one step further.