Robots may soon replace the FedEx delivery guy sooner than you think. That is, if US online retail giant Amazon manages to get through technical and regulatory hurdles that would prevent it from using mini drones as delivery vehicles in the future.
Amazon is currently working on a drone delivery project that would deliver packages as quickly as possible to their recipients using small and unmanned aircraft. The purpose of the Amazon Prime Air service is to bring the packages to the customers’ doorsteps in as little as 30 minutes. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also hinted that part of the motivation behind the use of mini droids is to make sure Amazon remains at the cutting edge in the retail industry.
During his appearance in the TV program 60 Minutes, Bezos played a demo video to show how the delivery droid, the octocopter works. The device will whiz through the air to deliver the package to the customer after the buy button is clicked at the Amazon.com website. Besides their ability to deliver packages in half an hour, the droids can also carry objects that weigh up to five pounds.
Bezos claimed that the mini drones are powered by environmentally friendly electric motors making the system green. The droids can also cover areas within a 10-mile radius of fulfillment centers covering a significant portion of the population in urban areas. The drones operate autonomously and use GPS coordinates to drop items off at their target locations. They are also relatively safe. The prototype has redundant motors that can keep them in the air and prevent them from crashing.
Head of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Michael Toscano believes that a booming market for civilian drones will lead to the creation of 100,000 jobs over the next decade. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates also told CNN that the idea of drones can be helpful for things such as charitable aid.
Commercialization of the droid delivery system, however, can be hampered by technical and regulatory obstacles. Until the Federal Aviation Administration, the US government agency that regulates the skies, writes safety rules for unmanned aircraft, flying unmanned delivery robots will remain illegal. The sensor technology to avoid collisions isn’t also available yet and this can present problems when the drones are flown in densely populated urban areas on their own. Bezos admits that the project still needs extra testing and federal approval but is optimistic that it would be up and running within four to five years.