Amazon drone delivery service could be active by 2017

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has outlined plans for a drone delivery service, powered by autonomous octocopters.

A general view of the storage hall at Amazon's new distribution center in Brieselang, near Berlin. In the future, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has predicted, Amazon will deliver many products by drone.

Five years down the line, Amazon will be delivering products to consumers via drone. 

That was the (admittedly ambitious) prediction laid out by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in an appearance Sunday night on 60 Minutes: A future where completely autonomous flying devices called "octocopters" drop your orders directly on your doorstop. 

In the interview, which was conducted by Charlie Rose, Mr. Bezos said the drones would have a radius of ten miles from the warehouse. "So in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population," Bezos explained. "And so it won’t work for everything. You know, we’re not gonna 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."

All of which – let's face it – sounds amazing and a little terrifying. What happens when one of the drones breaks down and rockets through the roof of a suburban living room? Will birds be angry? And hey, what's the deal with states such as Texas, which is in the midst of a crackdown on private drone use? 

Asked by Mr. Rose how soon the octocopters would be active, Bezos struck a hopeful tone. "I know it can’t be before 2015, because that’s the earliest we could get the rules from the [Federal Aviation Administration]. My guess is... that’s probably a little optimistic. But could it be, you know, four, five years? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun."

Of course, as Christopher Mims notes over at Quartz, Amazon may already be looking past its own proprietary drone delivery service, and toward a future where it licenses the octocopters to other companies. 

"[I]f Amazon can become the first company with significant resources to invest in consumer drones, it could corner the market on cheap unmanned aerial vehicles the way it’s cornering the market on cheap computing power," he notes. "And so far, investors have rewarded Bezos for putting long-term, wide-ranging ambition before short-term profits. Which means that however distant they are right now from Amazon’s core business, drones could become a much larger part of it." 

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