Amazon’s Drone Delivery Promise Seems No Closer Five Years Later

Items in 'Amazon Prime' branded packaging are seen at the Amazon Fulfillment Centre on November 14, 2018 in Hemel Hempstead, England. The online retailer Amazon will again take part in the now-traditional 'Black Friday' sales this year, with reductions available from 16-25 November.
Leon Neal / Getty Images

Five years ago, on December 1, 2013, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on an episode of 60 Minutes to discuss Amazon’s plans to deliver packages by drone within the next four to five years. Now, the e-commerce giant has surpassed its five-year mark with still no signs of development on its promise.

In the 2013 interview with the former 60 Minutes host Charlie Rose, Bezos revealed a sort-of prototype of Amazon’s delivery drone. The Amazon founder referred to the vehicle as an “octocopter,” or drone, and said that “there is no reason [this] can’t be used as a delivery vehicle.”

An item to hypothetically be delivered to a customer was placed inside the drone, and then dropped a few minutes later for the customer to pick up. Bezos boldly promised that this delivery process could have orders to customers within 30 minutes, Gizmodo reported.

An advertisement for the upcoming “Amazon Prime Air” delivery service also gave a glimpse of the would-be delivery process. A small ordered item was placed into a sealed container and loaded onto a conveyor belt, which led to a drone waiting to take off. The drone locked itself onto the container and flew away, and soon landed softly in the customer’s backyard. It released the package and immediately started its trek back to the Amazon warehouse.

The ad made Amazon Prime Air seem like it was fairly close to being unveiled, with just a few kinks left to work out in the delivery process. However, it is still unclear if the service will ever arrive.

The delay is likely due to a number of safety issues that drones pose as well as privacy concerns and logistical issues, such as drones’ short battery life, according to AP.

“I don’t think you will see delivery of burritos or diapers in the suburbs,” drone analyst Colin Snow told AP.

Some industries have been able to develop drone usage, but retail has not yet been one of them. Approximately 110,000 commercial drones are operating in the U.S., mostly in rural areas for things like mining and agriculture, surveying, and inspecting power lines.

Despite obstacles, Amazon assured that it will continue to develop Amazon Air for quick deliveries, but there are no fixed timelines. The company reportedly has drone development centers in the U.S., Austria, France, Israel, and the U.K.

“We are committed to making our goal of delivering packages by drones in 30 minutes or less a reality,” said Kristen Kish, a spokeswoman for Amazon.

In 2016, Amazon began testing delivery drones at their U.K. site, according to Business Insider. The company also filed a patent in July 2017 to develop a way for drones to capture data by scanning peoples’ homes.

“It will work, and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Bezos said.