Amazon’s plan to deploy fleets of aerial drones has been met with skepticism even inside the technology industry, but CEO Jeff Bezos is making it clear that the company is pressing ahead.
In Bezos’ annual letter to shareholders this morning, he references the company’s “Prime Air” delivery drone plan, which he unveiled dramatically on an episode of “60 Minutes” in December. Bezos writes in the letter today, “The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8.”
That’s pretty remarkable, given the fact that the drones are still years away from commercial deployment. The development approach actually has more in common with Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace company than with the typical consumer electronics product. The bar for a “minimum viable product” is much higher when you’re talking about robots zipping through the air.
This is part of a broader effort by Amazon to speed up delivery, as Bezos writes in the letter.
In partnership with the United States Postal Service, we’ve begun for the first time to offer Sunday delivery to select cities. Sunday delivery is a win for Amazon customers, and we plan to roll it out to a large portion of the U.S. population throughout 2014. We’ve created our own fast, last-mile delivery networks in the UK where commercial carriers couldn’t support our peak volumes. In India and China, where delivery infrastructure isn’t yet mature, you can see Amazon bike couriers delivering packages throughout the major cities. And there is more invention to come. The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8.
The FAA is currently studying the use of commercial drones in the United States, and appealing a judge’s ruling on the government’s current ban on the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the country.
Amazon’s Prime Air FAQ says that the company will be ready as early as 2015, zipping packages to customers in 30 minutes or less. Bezos said during the 60 Minutes piece, however, that it could be four or five years before the Prime Air drones are in use.