Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed an experimental drone-based delivery service on Sunday, in an ambitious move by the online retailer to capitalize on a technology still being used sparsely by American businesses. Bezos said the service, dubbed Amazon Prime Air, could be ready for customer use in “four or five years.”
“I know this looks like science fiction, it’s not,” Bezos said on 60 Minutes, adding that “this is early, this is still years away.”
Bezos said the drone could carry objects of up to 5 lb. (2.27 kg) within a 10-mile (16 km) radius of an Amazon distribution center. Given that Amazon has been steadily building distribution centers in an increasing number of urban areas, the service would theoretically cover a significant number of customers.
The craft are autonomous, Bezos said — an Amazon employee would enter a delivery recipient’s location and away the aircraft would fly.
“The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy,” Bezos said. “All the reliability to say this can’t land on somebody’s head.”
Amazon’s drone delivery service will also have to comply with the Federal Aviation Administration’s new airspace rules for unmanned aircraft, which the agency is planning to have in place by 2015.
After the 60 Minutes segment aired, Amazon shared this footage showing the system in use:
In preview segments, Bezos promised “something he wanted to unveil for the first time,” leading people on Twitter to speculate that it could be an Amazon television. Others joked that perhaps Bezos would buy CBS (he stunned the media world when it was announced in August that he had bought the Washington Post for $250 million). At least one guesser hit the nail exactly on the head:
Based on CBS teasers, the Amazon surprise has something to do with a new delivery method. Drones?
— Steve Kovach (@stevekovach) December 1, 2013
The segment’s timing capitalized on buzz surrounding Cyber Monday and the holiday shopping season.