The company's calling the service Prime Air, and CEO Jeff Bezos says it could be a reality in four or five years. Bezos also suggested to 60 Minutes that the biggest obstacle to achieving drone delivery will be the government:
The hardest challenge in making this happen is going to be demonstrating, to the standards of the FAA, that this is a safe thing to do.
At present, it's illegal to use drones for commercial purposes in the United States. That's because, as I wrote in in The Magazine (free for 48 hours in honor of Prime Air), the government is not at all ready for a future filled with flying delivery robots.
I'm not sure current drone technology is ready for that future, either. Bezos sounds confident, but you'll notice Amazon's sample delivery drone doesn't fly through a bunch of urban canyons on the way to its happy customer—just over an empty field. You'll also notice that the happy customer stays inside while the drone lands.
This made me think of last year's International Aerial Robotics Competition, where I saw a number of wounds caused by drone blades. Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and current head of DIY Drones, described some potential delivery drones to me as "flying lawnmowers." Given all that, I think it's going to take considerably more than four or five years to convince regulators, customers, and even a lot of drone enthusiasts that this won't be a consequence of drone delivery:
- A contestant at the 2012 International Aerial Robotics Competition, showing me wounds caused by drone blades.