Same day shipping? How about same hour shipping? Amazon.com asked the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to let it test delivery drones outside its Seattle headquarters through an exemption from current rules that restrict use of commercial drones in U.S. airspace.
As shipping costs rise and existing delivery networks show signs of strain, Amazon’s larger goal is to control the so-called last mile of delivery to customer’s homes. The e-commerce giant announced in May that it’s testing its own on-the-ground same-day delivery network in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.
The drones, which won’t be ready for another few years, will get packages into customer’s hands in 30 minutes or less. “One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company stated in its petition.
Now in their 8th and 9th generations of testing, the drones are actually called octocopters. They can pick up packages weighing up to five pounds from Amazon fulfillment centers and carry them 10 miles at speeds up to 50 miles an hour. About 86 percent of Amazon’s packages are less than 5 pounds, the company says.
“We like to pioneer, we like to explore. We like to go down dark alleys and find out what’s on the other side,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos told 60 Minutes during a preview of the new technology in December he said.
But first, Amazon says it needs to start testing the drones outdoors. The company has assembled a team of roboticists, scientists, aeronautical engineers, remote sensing experts and even a former NASA astronaut at its headquarters in Washington State and wants to do the testing there, rather than at one of the six test sites approved by the FAA last year.
The agency is scheduled to publish new rules to allow lightweight commercial drones in U.S. airspace space next month, but the balance between safety and commercial interests has proven difficult. Last month, two different airline pilots reported rogue drone sightings at altitudes as high as 6,500 feet as they were trying to land at busy airports, reports the Washington Post.
Amazon says it will follow the same height guidelines as hobbyists and manufacturers of model aircraft flying no higher than 400 feet above the ground. The company offered to add other safety measures as well, such as keeping the drones within sight of the operators and away from airports, densely populated areas, and military installations.
Amazon will also use electronic geo‐fencing to keep the drones within its private property, and operators will have a physical kill button to ground the drone if they lose two‐way communications.
“We will effectively operate our own private model airplane field, but with additional safeguards that go far beyond those that the FAA has long held to provide a sufficient level of safety,” the company states.
Amazon says the exemption will advance Congress’s goal of getting commercial drones “flying in the United States safely and soon,” by enabling the company to be ready to launch them for delivery as soon as the FAA permits.
However, the company also indicates that it won’t wait around for long. “Because Amazon is a commercial enterprise we have been limited to conducting R&D flights indoors or in other countries,” the petition states. “Of course, Amazon would prefer to keep the focus, jobs, and investment of this important research and development initiative in the United States.”