Amazon Prime Air is real, but their drone army isn’t ready

Chris Scott Barr - Jan 18, 2016
Amazon Prime Air is real, but their drone army isn’t ready

Amazon is a company that thrives on selling products. But they’ve never been content with just shipping things to your door, and letting them arrive whenever. No, they want them to get there as fast as possible, through whatever means necessary. They’ve talked about using a drone army to deliver packages in the past, but today they’ve actually given some solid details about the proposed program.

Before the company can launch their Amazon Prime Air service, they need to have a drone that can actually do the job. Paul Misner, Amazon’s VP for global public policy stated that they have three main goals that they’re trying to hit. First, they’re wanting their drones to make deliveries within 30 minutes. Second, they want to ensure that the drones can operate with a range of beyond 10 miles. Finally, they want to ensure that the drones can carry at least 5 lbs.

These seem like pretty reasonable goals for a drone, but Amazon actually has more to think about than just designing a single type of drone that is capable of quick flight over 10+ miles. Because no two places are alike, Misner stated that they have to think about customers that live in hot, dry areas, as well as places that can be cold and/or rainy. Plus, they have to factor in that many customers live in apartments, where no simple doorstep will suffice for drop-off. These are all factors that they have to take into account.

Despite the technological hurdles in place, those might not be the hardest ones to overcome. Amazon may be able to create the perfect delivery drone, but unless they can get the FAA to approve of their operations, not a single one will be able to get off the ground here in the US.

Amazon has proposed a plan for the use of airspace here in the US. Here’s what Misner outlined in that regard:

We were thinking: Manned aircraft above 500 feet. Between 400 and 500 feet there’d be a no-fly zone — a safety buffer. Between 200 and 400 feet would be a transit zone, where drones could fly fairly quickly, horizontally. And then below 200 feet, that would be limited to certain operations. For us, it would be takeoff and landing. For others, it might be aerial photography.

This seems like a pretty reasonable idea, personally. Apparently they presented the same outline at a NASA conference, and many of the people there agreed that we need something similar, in terms of designating airspace for different types of travel.

It’s hard to say how long it will be before Amazon has their drone army ready to take off. When asked what the company would do if they had the technology ready before the FAA gave them the green light, Misner stated that they could deploy them in other parts of the world first, and add the service to the US when the red tape gets sorted out.

Must Read Bits & Bytes