Amazon.com is testing delivering packages using drones, CEO Jeff Bezos said on the CBS TV news show 60 Minutes Sunday.
The idea would be to deliver packages as quickly as possible using the small, unmanned aircraft, through a service the company is calling Prime Air, the CEO said.
Bezos played a demo video on 60 Minutes that showed how the aircraft, also known as octocopters, will pick up packages in small yellow buckets at Amazon’s fulfillment centers and fly through the air to deliver items to customers after they hit the buy button online at Amazon.com.
The goal of the new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less, the world’s largest Internet retailer said. Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take “some number of years” as Amazon develops the technology further and waits for the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with rules and regulations, the company added.
Bezos told 60 Minutes that the service could be up and running in as few as four years – although he noted that he is an optimist when it comes to such things.
“One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today,” the company said.
This is the latest futuristic effort by Bezos, who was an e-commerce pioneer in the 1990s and more recently popularized the e-reader – while pursuing personal projects such as private spaceflight and a 10,000-year clock built inside a mountain.
Drones have mostly been used by the U.S. military to shoot missiles at enemy combatants in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, the cost of these unmanned aircraft has dropped precipitously in recent years, making them more accessible to commercial users, such as companies, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
However, the FAA currently limits the use of drones in the U.S. to public entities such as police forces and hobbyists, meaning the devices cannot be used in return for payment. The regulator said recently that it plans to have regulations governing commercial use in place by 2015.
“The FAA would not let Amazon do this now,” said Ryan Calo, an expert on robotics, privacy and the law at 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.”
Amazon will be able to petition the FAA to show them how its drone delivery technology works and the company can also apply to test its drones to make sure they are air worthy,he added.
“Amazon will not be able to darken the skies of Seattle with drones. They will need a plan for safety,” Calo said. “But I see no reason why this application won’t fly.”
If drone delivery takes off, it could be a threat to FedEx and UPS, which Amazon uses for a lot of its deliveries now. Indeed, FedEx founder Fred Smith told Wired magazine in 2009 that the company wanted to switch their fleet to drones as soon as possible but that it had to wait for the FAA to regulate such activity.
“We’ll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place,” Amazon said Sunday. “Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards.”
President Barack Obama agreed to loosen crippling economic sanctions on Iran’s theocracy and to release up to $7 billion in Iranian funds, in exchange for a promise from Iran’s theocratic leaders to not expand its nuclear bomb program.
In a late night speech, Obama suggested that the deal – signed in Geneva, Switzerland – would be ended or expanded after six months, depending on Iran’s decisions.
But critics, including Israel’s prime minister, say any loosening of the sanctions will likely spur a flood of international dealmaking with Iran, and increase lobbing pressure in numerous countries for an end to the sanctions long before Iran’s nuclear bomb program is dismantled.
The deal effectively creates a U.S. and European diplomatic shield around Iran’s nuclear sites, which are likely targets for an Israeli attack.
Israel’s government is responsible for defending its small nation and population of seven million from Iran’s government, which has repeatedly promised to wipe the country off the map.
GOP senators criticized the deal for not dismantling Iran’s program to build nuclear weapons. “Amazing what WH will do to distract attention from O-care,” said a 10:15 pm tweet from Texas Sen. John Cornyn.
“The Geneva Agreement is a defeat for the United States and the West,” said a statement from the Emergency Committee for Israel. “It fails to uphold even the minimum demand of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions that Iran must stop enriching uranium… Iran will continue its march to nuclear weapons, with perhaps a brief pause in some parts of the program… Congress should make clear that it does not support this deal… [and] Congress should make clear the United States will support Israel if Israel decides she must act to prevent a regime dedicated to her destruction from acquiring the means to do so.”
Iran’s government lauded the deal as international recognition for its expensive program to build a nuclear energy sector to complement its massive oil resources.
“It is important that we all of us see the opportunity to end an unnecessary crisis and open new horizons based on respect, based on the rights of the Iranian people and removing any doubts about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“This is a process of attempting to restore confidence,” said Zarif, whose superiors repeatedly promised to wipe Israel off the map, have funded numerous killings of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, funded Hezbollah attacks on Israel and are providing Syria’s government with cash, weapons and soldiers for its civil war.
During the talks, Obama endorsed Iran’s nuclear industry, which the theocrats say is needed to produce electricity for a nation that also could also generate electricity fro its huge oil and natural gas resources.
Obama also acknowledged that Iran’s government has lied and cheated on previous deals.
“We approach these negotiations with a basic understanding: Iran, like any nation, should be able to access peaceful nuclear energy,” he said. “But because of its record of violating its obligations, Iran must accept strict limitations on its nuclear program that make it impossible to develop a nuclear weapon.”
Iran is also a threat to its neighbors, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government has repeatedly hinted that it will build a nuclear force if Iran creates a nuclear weapon.
In a late night speech, Obama declared the international deal would open up a path for peace.
“We have pursued intensive diplomacy – bilaterally with the Iranians, and together with our P5+1 partners: the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union,” he said.
“Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure – a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon,” he said.
The terms of the deal “cut off Iran’s most likely paths to a bomb,” he insisted. “Meanwhile, this first step will create time and space over the next six months for more negotiations to fully address our comprehensive concerns about the Iranian program.”
The deal blocks Iran from building many new centrifuges that are used to separate especially less radioactive isotopes of uranium from the more radioactive atoms that are used to fuel first-generation nuclear bombs, dubbed A-bombs.
If Iran actually complies with the deal, it would also prevent the Iranians from starting up a highly radioactive plutonium reactor at Arak. That plutonium reactor can make the highly radioactive fuel for second-generation nuclear bombs, dubbed H-bombs.
But the deal would not stop Iran from nearly completing the plutonium reactor during the next six month stage of negotiations.
Once the Arak reactor is turned on, any missile strike would release large amount of poisonous radioactivity into the atmosphere. The worldwide opposition to any radiation release would likely deter Israel or the United States from striking the reactor once the Iranians start it up.
“While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal,” Obama said his his late-night speech.
“We have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back,” he said. “Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment, and neutralizing part of its stockpile. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges – which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited.”
“Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor… New inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments,” he added.