Amazon.com sees delivery drones as future - Fox 2 News Headlines

Amazon.com sees delivery drones as future

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Leave it to Amazon to steal Cyber Monday's buzz by releasing an awe-inspiring video of its latest gadget, Amazon Prime Air, a drone.

The flying object can carry up to five pounds within a ten miles of an Amazon distribution center.

"Thanks to smart phones we now have GPS and cameras and sensors and processors in our pocket. It turns out those same components can also be the brain for aircraft and can turn a radio controlled helicopter or plane into a fully autonomous drone that can fly by itself," said Chris Anderson, CEO of 3d Robotics and Founder of DIY Drones.

Anderson sells the flying devices online starting at about $600.

"Chicago, like a lot of big cities with big clusters of drone enthusiasts, you're seeing anywhere from consumers that just want to just get a GoPro camera in the sky to people that are really interested in the technology and want to build on it," said Anderson.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was quoted as saying, "The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy... All the reliability to say this can't land on somebody's head."

"Amazon itself is putting up more distribution centers in urban areas so if the drones can fly up to a ten mile radius, I think we could see an increase in the amount of same day deliveries or close to real time deliveries pending an order," said technology expert Sarah Evans.

A FedEx spokesperson says, "While we can't speculate about this particular technology, I can say that making every customer experience outstanding is our priority, and anything we do from a technology standpoint will be with that in mind."

"The technology itself is going to be awfully expensive so until it becomes something mainstream this is just experimentation," said Evans.

The drones would also have to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration's airspace rules for unmanned aircraft.

There is no prohibition on flying drones for recreational use, but since 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration has said they can't be used for commercial uses. Schulman is currently challenging that regulation before a federal administrative law judge on behalf of a client who was using a radio-controlled aircraft to shoot video for an advertising agency. Autonomous flights like Amazon is proposing, without somebody at the controls, are also prohibited.

The FAA is slowly moving forward with guidelines to allow expanded use of drones but has had numerous delays. Many of the commercial advances in drone use have come out of Europe, Australia, and Japan.

"The delay has really been to the disadvantage of companies here," Schulman said. "Generally, the government wants to promote the advancement of science and technology. In this case, the government has done exactly the opposite and thwarted the ability of small, startup companies to develop commercial applications for this revolutionary technology."

Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako said the company has been in contact with the FAA "as they are actively working on necessary regulation."

Jeff Bezos founded Amazon.com in 1994 after quitting his job at a Wall Street hedge fund. With Bezos' parents and a few friends as investors, Amazon began operating out of the Bezos Seattle garage as an online bookseller on July 16, 1995. In the nearly two decades since, Amazon has grown to become the world's largest online retailer, selling everything from shoes to groceries to diapers and power tools.

Amazon's business plan has been to spend heavily on growing its business, improving order fulfillment and expanding into new areas. Those investments have come at the expense of consistent profitability, but investors have been largely forgiving, focusing on the company's long-term promise and double-digit revenue growth. Though it may be years before it's reality, drone-powered delivery fits with the company's plan to make delivery as convenient - and fast - as possible.

One of the biggest promises for civilian drone use has been in agriculture.

The unmanned aircraft can fly over large fields and search out bugs, rodents and other animals that might harm crops. Then, thanks to GPS, another drone could come back and spread pesticide on that small quadrant of the field.

Agriculture is also seen as the most-promising use because of the industry's largely unpopulated, wide open spaces. Delivering Amazon packages in midtown Manhattan will be much trickier. But the savings of such a delivery system only come in large, urban areas.

Besides regulatory approval, Amazon's biggest challenge will be to develop a collision avoidance system, said Darryl Jenkins, a consultant who has given up on the commercial airline industry and now focuses on drones.

Who is to blame, Jenkins asked, if the drone hits a bird, crashes into a building? Who is going to insure the deliveries?

There are also technical questions. Who will recharge the drone batteries? How many deliveries can the machines make before needing service?

"Jeff Bezos might be the single person in the universe who could make something like this happen," Jenkins said. "For what it worth, this is a guy who's totally changed retailing."

The biggest losers could be package delivery services like the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS.

FedEx spokesman Jess Bunn said in an email: "While we can't speculate about this particular technology, I can say that making every customer experience outstanding is our priority, and anything we do from a technology standpoint will be with that in mind."

The U.S. Postal Service wouldn't speculate about using drones for mail delivery. Spokeswoman Sue Brennan referred any questions to Amazon.

Amazon, one of the Postal Service's major customers, recently partnered with the agency to begin delivering packages on Sunday in major metropolitan areas. Sunday service will be available to Amazon Prime members in the New York and Los Angeles areas first, followed by other large cities next year.

Amazon's stock dipped 25 cents, or less than one percent, to $393.37 in Monday afternoon's trading.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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