As Americans buy Christmas gifts on Cyber Monday, Amazon.com, one of the top online retailers, is promoting its latest project to improve package delivery time: Autonomous drones. On an episode of 60 Minutes that aired Sunday evening, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos announced his company is testing “octocopters,” drones with eight rotors that could soon deliver Amazon products weighing 5 pounds or less.
Amazon shoppers won't get drone delivery this Christmas. The drone squad, named Amazon Prime Air, is still in research phase and probably won't be ready for customers for another four or five years. The project is part of Amazon's relentless effort to sell the most products for the cheapest price and the fastest delivery time. Fulfilling those goals has meant Amazon often has little profit to show investors. Yet the company has remained innovative and popular. It boasts 96 gargantuan “fulfillment centers” that warehouse books, DVDs, toys, electronics, and other items sold from its website.
Once in service, the drones would launch from fulfillment centers and likely deliver within a radius of 10 miles, which could cover a large population in an urban area. Expected delivery time? Thirty minutes or less.
“It won’t work for everything,” Bezos said. “You know, we’re not going to deliver kayaks or table saws this way. These are electric motors, so this is all electric. It’s very green—it's better than driving trucks around.”
Currently, businesses like Amazon are still waiting for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to issue regulations, expected by 2015, that would allow them to fly drones for commercial purposes. The agency is in the process of choosing testing sites where drone manufacturers can show off the flight and safety capabilities of their machines to federal officials.
Bezos said Amazon needed to do more tests to ensure the drones were trustworthy: “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’”
The 60 Minutes episode noted that Amazon has 225 million customers around the world. On Cyber Monday, the company was expected to sell over 300 items per second. Around noon Eastern time, the top-selling item in Amazon's electronics category was the company's HD Kindle Fire 7-inch tablet. In the books category it was Humans of New York, featuring the portrait photography of Brandon Stanton. In the games category the bestseller was a controversial party game called Cards Against Humanity.