Drone delivery is coming. Maybe not very soon, but it’s on the way, says Amazon.
The online retail giant told Congress Wednesday it is working on the technology to deliver packages via unmanned aerial vehicles in 30 minutes or less.
Paul E. Misener, vice president of global public policy for Amazon, says this technology could revolutionize the way people shop.
"If a consumer wants a small item quickly, instead of driving to go shopping or causing delivery automobiles to come to her home or office, a small, electrically-powered (drone) vehicle will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly," Misener told the House Oversight Committee.
Amazon calls it Prime Air. Drones will be used as delivery vehicles and will carry items under five pounds, a weight limit that covers about 86 percent of the products Amazon delivers.
In its patent submitted to the US Patent and Trademark Office in September 2014, Amazon mentioned the drones will be able to track delivery locations by pulling GPS data from customers’ smartphones.
Still, customers should not expect Prime Air in the very near future.
In December 2013 drone delivery expert Andreas Raptopoulos told The Atlantic this type of delivery “is not going to happen before three to five years.” Mr. Raptopoulos, who founded Matternet, a company devoted to creating a network of drones that could deliver lightweight packages, added that he assumes this method will first happen in countries other than the US, “in countries that are developing and don’t have alternatives.”
Amazon is still developing this technology. The company has several Prime Air development centers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Israel and is testing drone delivery methods in multiple international locations.
Besides, Amazon faces many regulatory hurdles. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposed rules in February that require operators to remain within eyesight of commercial drones.
On wednesday FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said they are working to develop “a regulatory framework” that will allow for innovation while ensuring the safety. He added the rules should be finalized within a year.
It is not yet clear how much a customer could pay for drone delivery, but ARK Investment Management estimates Amazon will be able to charge customers $1 per package.
Amazon’s current same-day delivery currently costs $8.99 per delivery, plus 99 cents for each item shipped. The company's total shipping costs in 2014 were $8.709 billion. They received shipping revenue of $4.476 billion and incurred overall losses of $4.223 billion related to shipping costs.
Drone delivery might be still just an idea, but Amazon believes “one day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”