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“I know this looks like science fiction,” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos told Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes. “It’s not.”
A few decades from now, we may fondly look back and recall a simpler time before flying robots delivered our wants and needs.
At least that might be the case if Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’s latest delivery experiment turns out the way he plans. On 60 Minutes Sunday night, Bezos unveiled his intention to create Amazon Prime Air—a network of flying delivery drones that could be dropping off packages at customers’ doors as soon as 2017.
Amazon Prime Air, as currently envisioned, would allow the worlds largest online retailer to start delivering packages up to 5 lbs. within a 10-mile radius of Amazon distribution centers via a fleet of autonomous flying machines.
“I know this looks like science fiction,” Bezos told Charlie Rose. “It’s not.”
Successful air deliveries are four or five years away, by Bezos’s own estimate. Even during the 60 Minutes piece, the Amazon founder noted that prototypes still had a problem with dropping packages. Numerous safety protocols still need to be worked out, such as being able to keep the drones from landing on bystanders. The company will also need to comply with yet-to-be-written unmanned aircraft regulations form the Federal Aviation Administration due out in 2015.
But despite how far out this concept might sound, there are foreseeable benefits for Amazon. Drones flying directly from distribution centers could shorten delivery times to as little as 30 minutes—shorter than a lot of take-out restaurant deliveries. And although Amazon Prime Air’s capabilities seem limited as far as what can be delivered where, Bezos points out that 86 percent of Amazon orders are under 5 lbs. And the company has made a concerted effort as of late to build distribution centers in urban areas.
It’s an ambitious plan from a man known for audacious undertakings. In addition to recent maneuvers like offering Sunday delivery and same-day grocery service, Bezos shocked the media industry when he purchased the Washington Post for $250 million in August. When pressed by Rose about whether or not Amazon Prime Air could really be up in running in a few years, Bezos’s confidence was unwavering.
“I’m an optimist, Charlie,” Bezos said. “I know it can’t be before 2015, because that’s the earliest we could get the rules from the FAA. My guess is that’s, 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.”
The Internet was abuzz Sunday night following the announcement. Users on Twitter reacted with a mix of awe, bemusement, and dry skepticism.
— Cara Richardson (@caramrich) December 2, 2013
The Amazon drone delivery system sounds like how all the trouble started in Terminator.
— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) December 2, 2013
Following the announcement, Amazon released this video demonstration.
Tim Sampson is a reporter who focused on the technology, business, and politics beats. He's also an established comedy writer, with work on Comedy Central and in The Onion and ClickHole.