drone
An Amazon “Prime Air” delivery drone prototype is shown in action in this photo from Amazon.

Here is the big surprise unveiled by Amazon on 60 Minutes tonight: The company is working on an R&D project to create autonomous flying delivery drones — miniature octocopters, to be precise — that could zip packages through the air directly to customers’ doorsteps in as little as half an hour.

The company calls the project “Amazon Prime Air.” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says in the segment that it will take years to implement the project, at least four or five optimistically, and one of the biggest hurdles will be convincing the FAA that it’s safe. But he says the project is realistic.

“I know this looks like science fiction — it’s not,” Bezos tells 60 Minutes’ Charlie Rose.

[Follow-up: Amazon’s aerial delivery drones: How Jeff Bezos’ big idea could actually fly]

Coinciding with the piece, the company released a webpage and FAQ about the project — saying, among other things, that it could be ready to deliver packages in this way as early as 2015, if the FAA’s new rules for unmanned aerial vehicles are set by that point.

The company also released this video demonstration of the project …

Here’s the full “Prime Air” FAQ, as published by the company.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is this science fiction or is this real?

A: It looks like science fiction, but it’s real. From a technology point of view, we’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.

Q: One day we’ll see a fleet of Prime Air vehicles in the sky?

A: Yes. One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.

Q: When will I be able to choose Prime Air as a delivery option?

A: We hope the FAA’s rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015. We will be ready at that time.

Q: How are you going to ensure public safety?

A: The FAA is actively working on rules and an approach for unmanned aerial vehicles that will prioritize public safety. Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards.

This is part of an ongoing push to by Amazon to get closer to customers to increase delivery speed and efficiency. It’s also part of a broader effort to implement robotics as part of its distribution system, exemplified by its acquisition of the Kiva Systems warehouse robotics company last year.

Given the use of Prime in the name, this would presumably be offered as a benefit (or perhaps at a discount) to people who belong to Amazon’s $79/year subscription program. We asked for more info on that part of the plan, but Amazon says those types of details are still awhile away from being released.

The 60 Minutes segment has already aired on the East Coast, and the program starts at 7 p.m. Pacific. In a 60 Minutes Overtime piece, the news magazine’s staff recalls the way Amazon teased them before unveiling the plan. Bezos told them, “If you can guess what it is, then you’re very lucky, and I will give you half my fortune and send you to Vegas with it.”

Here’s another picture from Amazon showing a close-up view of the Amazon Air prototype.

amazonprimeair

UPDATE: Here’s the full segment on Amazon from 60 Minutes.

[Follow-up: Amazon’s aerial delivery drones: How Jeff Bezos’ big idea could actually fly]

Comments

  • Guest

    Congrats on the announce! This is truly a great innovation. Those things I can’t get digitally I’d love to get aerially.

    • Howit Tiz

      Ever thought of owning your own bridge? i can make you a pretty good deal on one in Brooklyn NY.

  • Muskieman

    There is no way in hell i want drones flying my packages around. It will never be safe for humans or animals no matter what the so called experts say!! They will lie lie lie about its safety. I like the way my packages are delivered now with a human being i can interacted with. If i ever see one of those drones on my door step or flying within reach of my shot gun down with the drone!!!

  • Urban Shopper

    This could be another segway.

    I live in a 12th floor condo and work in a 23rd floor office. Where am I supposed to meet this thing? Does it drop the package off on the sidewalk? On the roof? Does it hover outside my unopenable window?

    • Common sense

      Using common sense, I would say that prime air would only be available for house holds.

    • Paul Furio

      Maybe a package dropoff point is the new amenity for shared-space buildings, just as workout rooms and parking spaces are now.

  • Drones Etc.

    We’ve been saying it for some time now here at dronesetc.com. The tidal wave is coming! This announcement by Amazon is additional proof to the fact that drones will, in short order, become as ubiquitous in your daily life as the automobile. Hopefully, the FAA won’t drop the ball and will be able to facilitate a safe and smooth transition to commercial drone use. In the meantime, we’ll keep selling our amazingly fun drones for the rest of us!

  • domino

    I can see it now, people trying to steal the packages from Drones. I’m not a fan of Drones. I can see where in theory it would be cool, but the long term effects of it could be disastrous. Look at how many people will lose jobs. Technology is great but even with the best intentions, sometimes the good old fashioned way is the best.

    • theguy126

      Why do people always use the “losing jobs” excuse? If people use it, it means it makes life more convenient and actually makes everyone more wealthy overall. That’s how free market and capitalism works. If you want to worry about losing jobs what about all the car-manufacturing robots and software computer programs? Maybe we should go back to the stone ages so we can hire more people to take water from the wells.

      • andycleary

        I’m still trying to bringback abacus makers.

      • howit Tiz

        One not need be a Luddite to realize how bad an idea Bezos has.
        Some people seem to think every new way of doing things is better, with little thought about the unintended consequences.
        Not every new idea is a good idea simply by virtue of it being new. Consider the drugs that we test exhaustively put on the market and show unexpected results (Thalidomide if you desire specifics).
        If your idea of an ideal future is looking up into the sky to see hundreds of low flying advertising for Amazon bots taking more consumer krap to people, then I feel very sorry for you.

        • theguy126

          Just like not every new idea is a good idea, not every new idea is a bad idea either. Every technological/medical advancement we have made was a “new idea”. If the new idea is bad, then people will hate it enough that it will have to be scrapped. If it’s good, then people will like it and use it, and it will stay. That’s how capitalism and free market works. If everyone distrusted new technology as much as you do just because of a few bad apples, we’d still be in the stone age right now.

          Also, why do you seem to place yourself above “consumer krap”? Do you not purchase necessities such as toothpaste, toilet paper, and detergent? Consumer goods on amazon range from frivolous to thrifty and you are making an error in judgement when grouping amazon products completely in the former category.

          You also seem to have an irrational phobia of flying robots just because they are flying robots, not really based on any real reason. Maybe you let the Hollywood movies get to you too much

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com/ FrankCatalano

    Well, Bezos isn’t the first to announce (though Amazon is certainly the biggest). In October, a startup in Australia said it would start delivering textbook rentals by drone next year. Yes. Textbooks: http://www.theverge.com/2013/10/15/4840706/zookal-will-deliver-textbooks-with-drones-in-australia

  • Guest

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

    Well, I’ll bet that the laws of physics says otherwise. But hey, if they can figure out how to deliver a 30lb box via drone, cool. I’m pretty sure the U.S. military would love to have some of that tech too.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Bezos says they will work with packages that are 5 pounds or less, which represents the vast majority of deliveries. In other words this wouldn’t completely replace traditional forms of delivery.

      • http://blog.findwell.com Kevin Lisota

        Doesn’t a 6-pack of beer weigh ~5 lbs? The college-aged version (and current version) of me is envisioning an armada of octocopters, like an alien invasion fleet out of a sci-fi flick, flying to the rescue of my party that runs out of beer. Sadly, I don’t think Amazon sells beer yet.

        • Guest

          Ok, you sold me. Having a 6 pack of 2 Beers Brewing flown to my house might make me appreciate this idea more.

  • John Rigley

    Suckers ! This is nothing more than a Cyber Monday / Christmas season promotion. Imagine the costs Bezos has in all the seasonal labor – he’s got to cover that with blow out sales. He has taken a page from PT Barnum. What a great way to get all over the news with this free advertising. Props for his marketing genius. 4 to 5 years? Like never.

  • noway

    if I see this in my neighborhood, I will shoot it down.

    • Luuk

      Ha, you yanks are just great! If you shot it down you will be subject federal aviation law, and be off to jail !

    • andycleary

      “Ug said to Bam about his unproven ‘wheel’ technology…”

  • Guest

    There are a lot of factors.. environmental factors involved that would make this a difficult project to launch. I see this useful landing small packages like in the video to remote areas. Cheers

  • Jeremy Sligh

    Pizza Hut announced drone delivery last July in UK It was seen as a PR stunt. Same here – no innovation just a marketing ploy

  • Ashley Bean

    Sad to think about the many people who will lose their jobs with an “innovation” like this. Once step away from robots running everything and a lot less employed people than we ready have! Not to mention a lack of personal interaction and accountability. It will be “where’s my package” and “it must be in the air” says someone from India!

  • QB

    EVOLVE OR DIE PEOPLE! THIS IS AMAZING!!!

  • BOB M

    IT WILL PUT THE PIZZA DELIVERY GUY OUT OF WORK.

  • H_Burns

    Smart marketing; great publicity. However, it’s not a real possibility anytime soon. Even if you could make the economics pencil out, the props on that thing will cut off your finger (or sever your child’s hand). A large multi-copter falling out of the sky could easily kill someone or cause a serious accident. The risk of injury is too obvious. Until Amazon can mitigate those risks, this will remain a vision for the future.

  • Franalan.com

    What about apartments? I love amazon’s delivery service but this will take awhile to perfect. Do you have to pay extra for the box it’s delivered in or return it? Will this shipping option cost a premium?

  • Paul Furio

    For people who say they will shoot drones down, please hire a good attorney now. I’m pretty sure shooting at random flying things is a criminal offense.

  • Affiliate Networks24

    This is just expected envelopment of distribution same as taxis with out drivers. welcome skynet fans.

  • Paul_Owen

    Kudos to the PR team at AMZN. A segment on 60 minutes is worth $3 million in ad buy, but easily triple that in credibility and buzz. The octo copters are just smoke and mirrors for holiday sales and sw devs recruiting. If you’re a sw dev please raise your hand if you’d like to work on the octo copter program from inside the new biospheres. Genius.

  • Aviatress

    wow . . . sounds likes Amazon has figured out how Unmanned Aircraft Systems can “see and avoid” other aircraft (or obstacles) AND be built to commercial aviation standards (do they mean air carrier certification standards??) RIGHT!!!! They ought to let the rest of the world know, since full time professionals have not even figured this out yet. Flying a single model holding a package is easy . . . we can do that in our sleep, but what they are proposing is much farther off than they think, and much more complicated.

  • A_Drone_to_Pick

    Like a leather clad Winkler…

    In a series ending stinkler…

    The mighty Bezos just jumped the shark!

  • Wildlife safaris India

    http://www.ibexexpeditions.com/culture_and_special_interest.htm
    I really want to see such more posts in future. Excellent post!

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