Amazon.com hopes to deliver small packages to your home in just 30 minutes by unmanned drones within five years, chief executive Jeff Bezos said Sunday.
In an interview on CBS's "60 Minutes," Bezos was actually less optimistic than what his company said in its online announcement, which declared that tiny robot aircraft could be landing on front porches as soon as 2015.
Bezos said Amazon already had the technology in place and had even flown a working prototype, which he showed off in a video the company published Sunday:
He promised "half-hour delivery, and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver."
The rest of the work, Bezos said, is in quality control and getting the plan OK'd by the Federal Aviation Administration — something technology experts said was unlikely on Bezos' time frame.
"The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, 'Look, this thing can't land on somebody's head while they're walking around their neighborhood,'" he said.
In the statement accompanying its video, Amazon acknowledged that "putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations."
It said it hoped the FAA would have rules in place "as early as sometime in 2015," promising: "We will be ready at that time."
That appears highly unlikely, according to the FAA's own status report (.pdf) last month on efforts to accommodate so-called unmanned aircraft systems — that is, drones — in the nation's skies.
"The safe integration of unmanned aircraft into the NAS [National Airspace System] is a significant challenge," the FAA reported, noting that drones "have significantly increased in number, technical complexity, and sophistication during recent years without having the same history of compliance and oversight as manned aviation."
Just one critical component of any new FAA rules — publication of certification rules for pilots in drone-flying classes — could take until 2017, the agency said. Others might not be completed until 2026, the FAA projected.
Then there are the national security implications, which include "security vetting for certification and training of UAS-related personnel, addressing cyber and communications vulnerabilities, and maintaining/enhancing air defense and air domain awareness capabilities in an increasingly complex and crowded airspace," the FAA said.
Technology commentators were quick to pick up on the preliminary status of federal oversight of commercial drone technology, many of them suggesting that Bezos' proclamations were public relations "vaporware."
Peter Rojas, co-founder of the tech blogs Gizmodo and Engadget, tweeted:
Matt Boggie, director of technology strategy for New York Times Labs, tweeted:
And from Philip Bump, a writer for The Atlantic Wire and a former senior designer at Adobe Systems:
But Bezos was adamant, telling "60 Minutes":
"Could it be, you know, four, five years? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it's going to be a lot of fun."
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First published December 1 2013, 8:22 PM