Amazon Drone Delivery: How Soon Will 'Prime Air' Service Take To The Skies? [VIDEO]

By Josh Lieberman on December 2, 2013 3:47 PM EST

amazon drone
Amazon's delivery drones may be ready to fly in just a few years, but FAA regulations may delay their implementation. (Photo: Amazon)

Amazon drones that will bring customers their purchases in under an hour may one day be "as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today," the company announced over the weekend. On Sunday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes that his company's "Prime Air" drones could be in the the sky in four to five years. The eight-bladed drone, or octocopter, is currently in prototype.

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As you can see in the fairly creepy promo video below (where's the music?), after a customer places an order, the Amazon drone picks up the packaged item from the fulfillment center and flies it to the customer's address. When the GPS-enabled drone arrives at the location, it gently drops the package off and returns to the fulfillment center. Delivery will take place in only 30 minutes.

Bezos said it will be a few years before Amazon drones take off, but not because of technological reasons. The Federal Aviation Administration only allows police forces and hobbyists to use drones, and not companies who offer goods or services via the unmanned crafts. The FAA is reviewing drone regulations and will set certain rules governing the use of commercial drones by 2015.

"The FAA would not let Amazon do this now," said robotics expert Ryan Calo of the University of Washington. "But this is precisely the type of application that Congress had in mind when it told the FAA in 2012 to come up with rules for commercial unmanned aircraft." Calo added that he sees "no reason why [Amazon's] application won't fly."

But it might be more than just a few years before FAA regulations actually permit Amazon's drones to fly. That's because air traffic rules regarding drones will still have to be drafted, and the FAA says that the integration of unmanned aircraft into U.S. airspace "presents significant challenges." So while in 2015 the FAA might say that commercial drones are safe to use, they won't actually be cleared to fly until the FAA figures out how the drones actually fit into airspace. That may not happen until 2022, and maybe even as late as 2026.

While 30-minute drone delivery may be a ways off, Amazon has been offering increasingly fast shipping options in recent years. The company offers a same-day service called Local Express Delivery in some cities, and they've introduced AmazonFresh, a grocery delivery service, in Los Angeles, Calif., and Seattle, Wa. Earlier this month, Amazon announced they'd teamed up with the U.S. Postal Service to deliver packages on Sundays. For the faster acquisition of material goods, there are still, for the time being, things called "stores."

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