Back to the future: Amazon unveils delivery by drone

Hate waiting for couriers and having to make sure you’re at home or in the office at a specified time? Well in the near future, Amazon could be delivering your shiny new order or that awesome new office toy to you using a drone.

Special delivery: With the use of the drones, customers would have their order dropped onto their front lawn by the machine which would fly through the air from a nearby warehouse with it clasped in a metal grabber. Pic/AFP/Amazon

In what looks like a service from the Back to the Future universe, Amazon has unveiled its newest innovation: home delivery by unmanned drones known as ‘octocopters’.

A video released by the company shows a small package being put together on an assembly line before being carried to a overgrown remote control helicopter, which picks it up and flies off to its final destination.

And before you think the video is a simple publicity stunt that won’t become reality for decade --  Amazon has said the service, known as Prime Air, could fill the skies by 2015.

“I know this looks like science fiction, but it’s not,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said. “One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company added on its website.

“From a technology point of view, we'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.”

Explaining the system, he added that drones could deliver packages that weigh up to five pounds (2.3kg). The mini-drones are powered by electric motors and could cover areas within a 10-mile radius of distribution centres, thus covering a significant portion of the population in urban areas.

They operate autonomously and drop the items at the target locations thanks to GPS coordinates transmitted to them. “It’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around,” said Bezos.

Safety first
He also claims they are safe; the prototype has redundant motors that will keep it in the air and prevent it from crashing. “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 neighbourhood,” Bezos said. Bezos hinted that part of the motivation behind the mini-droneswas to make sure Amazon remains on the cutting edge of the retail industry. “Companies have short life spans... And Amazon will be disrupted one day,” he said. “I would love for it to be after I’m dead.”

Did you know?
In South Africa, a drone was used to drop off beers at a music festival. Earlier this year, Domino’s released footage of it testing out a pizza delivery drone

Drone use
In the US, the FAA has approved the use of drones by police and government agencies and has already issued around 1,400 permits. By 2015 US airspace is expected to be opened up to all kinds of commercial drones, with Europe quickly following suit in 2016, when everything from books to pizza could be delivered by the aerial robots.

The cost of a single octocopter prototype, similar to the ones that will be used by Amazon

$61 billion
Current value of Amazon 

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