Amazon testing unmanned drones to deliver packages

Amazon is testing the use of drones to delivery packages, the firm's chief executive has revealed. Picture: PA
Amazon is testing the use of drones to delivery packages, the firm's chief executive has revealed. Picture: PA
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IT’s like a scene out of 1960s cartoon The Jetsons.

An “octocopter” the size of a PC monitor picks a parcel out of a production line and sets off to deliver it, within just half an hour, to a customer’s doorstep.

Amazon, the world’s biggest retailer, has unveiled plans to deliver parcels direct to a customer’s door using unmanned drones.

The firm said it had technology in place to launch the first of a fleet of commercial drones by spring 2015, although it may take lomger than that to secure legal permission to do so.

The service, PrimeAir, is able to lift parcels weighing less than 5lb and carry it a maximum of ten miles to the customer’s address.

“I know this looks like science fiction, but it’s not,” Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said. “We can do half-hour delivery and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 per cent of the items that we deliver.”

However, the US Federal Aviation Administration is yet to approve the use of unmanned drones for civilian purposes. The project is also unlikely to get off the ground in the UK in the near future.

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority said: “There are rules in place to make sure unmanned aircraft are operated safely and don’t pose any risk of harm to the public. A key element is, the operator must have the aircraft within visual sight at all times during the flight. So, there are clearly safety issues Amazon would need to address before this type of operation could go ahead.

“However, industry is looking closely at how new technology could pave the way for increased use of unmanned aircraft.”

Dr Darren Ansell, an expert on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the University of Central Lancashire, said: “The UAVs do not currently have the awareness of their environment to be able to avoid flying into people. To deliver goods to people’s homes the UAVs must overfly densely populated towns and cities, something that today’s regulations prevent.

“Other things to consider are security of the goods during the transit. With no-one to guard them, the aircraft and package could be captured and stolen.”

A spokesman for Amazon said: “From a technology point of view, we’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place.

“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”

Amazon also posted a video on its website showing a drone picking up a package from one of its warehouses and delivering it to the doorstep of a customer’s house.


The Scotsman cartoon: Amazon delivery drones