Amazon plans to deliver packages using drones

CEO Jeff Bezos says the program could launch within five years; but some remain skeptical

Amazon has floated the idea of making deliveries via drone.

Online retailer Amazon plans to deliver packages using drones within four to five years, CEO Jeff Bezos said Sunday on the CBS television program "60 Minutes." If successful, Amazon could become the first retailer to employ the technology.

The drones, called octocopters, will pick up items from Amazon distribution centers and fly them to customer's homes, he said.

The aim of the first-generation drones, which would have a 10-mile travel radius, is to deliver packages within 30 minutes. The program has been dubbed Prime Air.

"In urban areas you could actually cover very significant portions of the population," Bezos said.

He added that the drones were electric and "very green — it's better than driving trucks around."

Bezos said the drones could deliver packages that weigh up to five pounds. That includes roughly 86 percent of packages that Amazon delivers, he said.

The drones are still being tested and will operate autonomously. No one will control them beyond entering GPS coordinates.

"The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, 'Look, this thing can't land on somebody's head while they're walking around their neighborhood,'" Bezos said.

But some were quick to point out that Amazon's drone delivery might be a pipedream.

The Federal Aviation Administration has yet to approve such a use of drones. It issued two documents in November that outlined its vision for licensing privately operated unmanned aircraft, but some critics, like technology and data columnist James Ball, believe any meaningful regulation is years off.

"What Jeff Bezos announced amounted, essentially, to an aspiration to change how his company delivers products, in about five years time, if technology advances and regulation falls his way," Ball writes.

According to Ball, given the slow pace of the U.S. legal system, everything going Amazon's way is not an inevitability.

Amazon announced another, lower-tech delivery system in November: The company said it would be the first retailer to partner with the U.S. Postal Service to offer Sunday delivery, beginning Nov. 17 in the New York and Los Angeles areas.

The online shopping giant plans to expand the service in 2014 to reach other locations, including Dallas, Houston and Phoenix.

Amazon has about 225 million customers worldwide.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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