By Maggie Hassel
Amazon, the major online retailer, recently announced that it is seeking approval from the Federal Aviation Association to deliver packages using small unmanned drones, in their new program Prime Air. These drones could deliver packages within 30 minutes of the order placement. Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, announced that Amazon would begin both researching and seeking legal permission to use delivery drones early in December, and has said that he hopes to gain legal approval by the end of 2015 and start flying drones soon after that.
The drones would fly from both existing and new distribution centers. They would not, however, be hindered by regular mail schedules. Also, they would be able to avoid taking the longer road routes by taking a more direct route, literally as the bird flies. They would avoid the many stops normal packages have to make when carried by postal services. Drones would allow Amazon to completely control the mailing process and therefore some of the arbitrary costs incurred in that process. Finally, they would simply have a faster traveling speed than cars or trucks.
Private and corporate use of unmanned aerial vehicles is not new. Some farmers have used drones to disperse pesticides and insecticides. Some high-end real estate companies use unmanned drones to survey their properties for security reasons and also to allow customers to view the properties from all angles on their websites.
Some states, such as Texas, already restrict private drone use, and other states restrict all drone use including use by law enforcement. Amazon is working to create vehicles safe enough to reassure lawmakers to the extent that they will allow the drones to fly regularly.
Amazon has shared photos of drone prototypes and has also assured the public that safety will be a top priority. Amazon aims to have drones which comply with the standard safety regulations of all commercial aerial vehicles.
According to Amazon’s website “One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”
Policymakers and citizens have raised concerns about the potential privacy and safety risks of having unmanned drones flying through American residential areas.
Some say that the potentially low flying drones could be easily obstructed by other citizens as a means of taking the contents of the drones. Some have also said that the Amazon drones could take pictures of peoples’ houses and cars, posing a privacy risk to citizens who order from Amazon without being aware of the delivery method.
Additionally, the topic of drones has the stigma of the controversial drone strikes against American citizens living abroad who were said to be immediate terrorist risks to the United States. Although the drones would carry out a very dissimilar task, many Americans have grown uncomfortable with the idea of flying objects without actual human controllers.
Others theorize that the Prime Air program is nothing more than a publicity stunt. Amazon, however, has assured the public that their Research and Development department has made serious progress on the idea.
If Amazon Prime Air is a successful program, America will see a radical change in the way packages are shipped, not just from Amazon, but potentially from other companies as well.