Shortly after Amazon announced on "60 Minutes" Sunday night that it is testing a commercial drone delivery service called Amazon Prime Air, observers breathlessly described it as a groundbreaking development for the retail world.
Amazon Prime Air was heralded as not only an innovative advancement for the ubiquitous mail-order company but also a major step toward a drone revolution that could fill the skies with unmanned aircraft steered by governments, law enforcement agencies and companies.
But Amazon, which announced the new initiative two days after Black Friday, on the eve of retail's massive Cyber Monday online shopping day, is not the first company to flirt with the idea of delivering products via remote-controlled flying helicopters, as an upscale Shanghai bakery called InCake launched one of the world's first commercial drone deliveries in July, according to the U.K.'s Telegraph newspaper.
InCake is far less prominent than Amazon, but major Shenzhen, China-based retailer SF Express has also reportedly dipped its toe in the drone delivery waters, announcing in September that it was testing low-altitude drone systems for delivering parcels to remote areas, according to Chinese news reports. Click play below to watch a video of the so-called InCake UFO drone-based delivery service in action:
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Chinese companies and citizens may see drone delivery across the nation much more quickly than their counterparts in the United States. Chinese law enforcement sources say that companies are free to operate drones once they attain the proper permissions from regulators and local air-traffic control outfits, while America's Federal Aviation Administration is not expected to issue new drone regulations and rules until 2015, according to Quartz.
"Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations," Amazon wrote in an online statement about Amazon Prime Air, adding in an accompanying Q&A, "We hope the FAA's rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time."
InCake's drone delivery program used three Chinese drones to drop off $300 cakes at Shanghai residents' homes by utilizing sophisticated camera technologies and remote-control operators, the Telegraph reported, though the drones were grounded in July by local authorities until the company obtains necessary permits.
SF Express, on the other hand, has not yet fully implemented its extensive plans for delivering packages to the hardest-to-reach areas of China, though a resident of the southern Chinese town of Dongguan reported seeing one of the company's "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," or drones, make a delivery there and snapped several photos, which he uploaded to the Sina Weibo social media site, according to China's Southern Metropolitan Daily.
The company is still testing its drone delivery program, but given the fact that commercial UAV regulations are already in place in China, it appears that the Asian nation's consumers will likely be getting their products delivered via this futuristic new version of airmail sooner than their fellow shoppers in America.
Click play below to check out a short promotional video of "a recent test flight" Amazon released to coincide with the announcement of its Amazon Prime Air initiative: