Amazon drone delivers sunscreen: Will this be the future?
The online retailer's delivery drone made its public debut in the United States on Monday.
—In its first public demonstration in the United States this week, Amazon successfully delivered a package via drone, the company’s delivery system Amazon Prime Air announced on Thursday.
Although the online retailer had already completed its first commercial delivery in Britain in December, until now it hasn’t made any public US flights due to federal regulations. The debut at Amazon's invitation-only MARS conference (Machine-Learning (Home) Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration) held in Palm Springs, Calif., on Monday signifies another step in realizing its drone delivery dream – an envisioned “future” that's already a reality in China.
“It looks like science fiction, but it's real,” Prime Air said on its website. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.”
In a video, the e-commerce giant’s quadcopter could be seen gliding through the sky carrying a box containing several bottles of sunscreen, and landing on a small pad in a field. The fully autonomous flight, completed in the controlled airspace of the Palm Springs International Airport, received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, Gur Kimchi, vice president of Amazon’s Prime Air, told Recode in a statement.
The demonstration came three months after the company put its autonomous aircraft into practice in Britain. Amazon delivered a Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn to select customers near Cambridge, England on Dec. 14, marking a milestone for its drone delivery plan announced by its Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos in 2013.
“We’re starting with two customers now and in the coming months we’ll offer participation to dozens of customers living within several miles of our U.K. facility, and then growing to hundreds more,” the company said at the time. “After that, well it’d be easy to say the sky’s the limit, but that’s not exactly true anymore, is it?”
And the skies might not be so empty soon – with plenty of companies, including UPS, Google, and Walmart testing and developing drone technology, hoping to make transport and delivery cheaper and faster to customers. UPS launched its drone testings earlier this month, successfully delivering a package to a residence.
For US drones to deliver packages on a regular basis, technical and airspace regulations still remain hurdles. The FAA regulations prohibit commercial drones to be within sight of aircraft pilots and to be flying over people that are not involved in the transaction. Licensed drone operators are also required to take a test every two years.
But across the Pacific Ocean, drone delivery has become a reality in parts of China. China’s second largest online retailer, JD.com, has already put the technology daily practice, rolling out a program in November, that uses unmanned aircraft to to make deliveries in four provinces, particulate the rural areas.
"There have been thousands of trial flights, with a portion of those delivering packages to customers," Josh Gartner, spokesperson for JD told Fortune in November. "Everything went very smoothly with packages being delivered from four different bases across the country."