Amazon Prime Air could revolutionize the way we have our packages delivered and while the ecommerce giant's drone plans still have a lot of problems to overcome, the company is moving forward rapidly with plans to roll out the service to users as soon as possible.
Speaking to Yahoo Tech, Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy, gave some more details about the company's plans, how it will tackle regulation and red tape, and detailed just how the drones would work. Misener revealed that Amazon plans to deliver packages of up to 5 pounds in weight using the drones and that this would account for the vast majority of items purchased on Amazon.
Amazon is developing a range of different drones suitable for the different environments its customers live in — taking into account weather, distance and potential obstacles — but all would be able to cover a distance of 10 miles and deliver packages within 30 minutes. Misener said pricing for the service has not been worked out fully yet though given the name, Amazon Prime customers might expect it to be included in the annual subscription fee.
Amazon is building these drones and they are very different from those on sale from companies like DJI and Yuneec, and they feature sense-and-avoid technology allowing them to automatically detect obstacles in their way, a feature Misener said makes them more like horses than cars.
"If you have a small tree in your front yard, and you want to bang your car into it for some reason, you can do that. Your spouse might not be happy with you, but you can do it. But try riding a horse into the tree. It won’t do it. The horse will see the tree and go around it."
In November, Amazon published a video set in the "not-too-distant-future," showing one of its drones delivering a pair of soccer boots for a little girl whose own pair had been eaten by the family bulldog. The video shows the drone landing on a beacon that is laid out on the lawn.
Speaking about deliveries, Misener said that should a customer not be at home, the drone could leave the package at the back door or at a pre-assigned location "just as it would be if it were delivered by the UPS truck.”
Amazon is "hopeful" the plans it has outlined to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and NASA will "spur discussions about exactly how to get this right."
The company is proposing that airspace above 500 feet be reserved for manned aircraft while between 400 feet and 500 feet would be a buffer or safety zone. The airspace between 200 feet and 400 feet should, according to Amazon's proposals, be reserved for commercial drones travelling horizontally at relatively fast speeds. Below 200 feet would be limited to certain operations, including takeoff and landing, and potentially aerial photography.
One of the problems that Amazon faces in getting its plans off the ground in the U.S. is down to the fact that the FAA only has oversight over commercial drones and not amateur ones.
"We believe that [the FAA] must begin, in earnest, planning for the rules that are more sophisticated, that go to the kinds of operations that Amazon Prime Air will encompass. And other countries already are doing this," Misener said.