Amazon appears to be serious about its proposed drone-delivery program—so much so that it’s petitioning the federal government for permission to test what it’s calling its Prime Air service near its headquarters in Seattle.
Prime Air burst into the national consciousness last December thanks to an uncritical 60 Minutes report on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and his stated plan to launch a service that would use drones to deliver packages weighing less than five pounds to your door in less than 30 minutes. The report was long on promise but short on detail, and critics assailed the news program and reporter Charlie Rose for “fawning” over Bezos and playing into Amazon’s pre-holiday-season marketing offensive.
Among other things, there were plenty of reasons to think Prime Air was little more than vaporware. FAA regulations prohibit commercial use of drones, while the prospect of remotely controlled octocopters buzzing through busy urban centers raised serious safety concerns. Such a system would also have to be safeguarded against hacking and vandalism. Bezos himself told 60 Minutes that drone delivery was probably still “four to five” years away.
Amazon, however, shows every sign of working seriously on Prime Air. In a letter published to the Federal Aviation Administration’s site Thursday, Amazon formally requested an exemption from FAA rules so it can test its drones outdoors in the U.S. near its Washington State research facilities.
I missed an Amazon drone delivery. pic.twitter.com/neJxYANj6p
— Barry (@QuantumPirate) December 2, 2013
So far, the FAA has only approved six organizations to test drones in the U.S.: the University of Alaska, the state of Nevada, Griffiss International Airport in New York, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Texas A&M University’s Corpus Christi campus, and Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
Amazon’s drones can now travel up to 50 miles while carrying a five pound package, Paul Misener, Amazon’s vice president of global public policy, wrote in the letter. (Bezos told 60 Minutes that 86% of the packages sold on Amazon weigh less than five pounds.)
“Granting this request will do nothing more than allow Amazon to do what thousands of hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft do every day,” wrote Misener, “and we will abide by much stronger safety measures than currently required for these groups.”
Added Misener: “One day, seeing Amazon Prime Air will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”