Amazon is known for being secretive, and on 60 Minutes Sunday night CEO and founder Jeff Bezos wouldn't even discuss speculation that the company is developing a set top box for streaming video. However, Bezos did tell Charlie Rose all about a far more shocking project: unmanned drones that can deliver packages to Amazon customers just 30 minutes after they place an order. The announcement last month that Amazon will deliver on Sundays via boring old USPS is suddenly far less exciting, but even if the government actually approves the new delivery method, we still have a few years before the whirring of "Prime Air" drones becomes a hallmark of the holiday season.
Bezos unveiled Amazon's "octocopters" in a segment that felt a bit like a fifteen-minute Amazon commercial. "I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not," said Bezos, showing Rose a video demonstration that the company posted online shortly after the news segment aired. The drones, which are still being developed, can currently deliver packages up to five pounds to locations within ten miles of an Amazon fulfillment center.
The first question that comes to mind is how they'll prevent Prime Air–related maimings. It appears they're still working on it. "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'" said Bezos.
The New York Times reported last week that the FAA is still years away from approving the use of drones for journalism, and Bezos told Rose that the earliest the agency could approve the project is 2015. "My guess is that’s probably a little optimistic," he said. "But could it be, you know, four, five years? I think so. It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun." And if our robot maids aren't picking up packages dropped off at our doorsteps by drones in 2018, that's okay. The project still means a ton of free publicity for Amazon, just in time for Cyber Monday 2013.
Here's the 60 Minutes segment (the drone talk starts eleven minutes in):
And Amazon's Prime Air video: