Amazon has unveiled its vision for the future of high-speed delivery, showing off an autonomous drone-powered air courier service.
Called Amazon Prime Air, the e-commerce giant promises 30-minute deliveries on round trips of less than 10 miles. The vehicles, eight rotorblade "octocopters" will be autonomous, according to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who revealed the project to US TV show 60 Minutes. He said that while the service wouldn't be suitable for every item – "we won't be able to deliver kayaks or table saws" – it would be suitable for items weighing less than 5lbs (2.3kg).
He added that the service would not be able to run before 2015 due to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules in the US, which are still under development to allow unmanned drones.
Ensuring the drones do not "land on someone's head while they're walking around their neighbourhood" is also a big concern, according to Bezos, who said the biggest challenge of such a system were the failsafes that needed to be put in place in order to prevent crashes and failed deliveries.
A Prime Air Q&A page on Amazon's website states that the firm is fully intending on making the 30-minute drone deliveries a reality. "It looks like science fiction, but it's real," it said. "From a technology point of view, we'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place.
"Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards."
Bezos concluded: "It will work, and it will happen, and it's going to be a lot of fun."
Whether such services would be available in the UK is as yet unclear: Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) rules on unmanned, remotely controlled vehicles are clear and require permission, but autonomous vehicles are not mentioned. V3 has contacted the CAA for clarification as to what steps Amazon would have to take in order to operate Prime Air in the UK.
Amazon's unrelenting push for delivery nirvana has attracted heavy criticism, with a BBC report claiming sub-par working conditions in Amazon's UK fulfilment centres could lead to "mental illness".
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