Amazon.com, Inc, Drones: How Soon Could It Happen?

The many possible uses for drones involve everything from monitoring nature to search-and-rescue scenarios. Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN  ) really accelerated interest in the topic when CEO Jeff Bezos appeared on 60 Minutes recently to talk about his company's plans to use drones to deliver packages.

Michael Toscano, president of the nonprofit Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, or AUVSI, spoke with Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore about Amazon's plans, as well as how soon they might reach fruition. In this video segment, Toscano talks about some of the steps along the way to making these potential applications a reality.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Michael Toscano: The one question that came up is: What's the timeline? If I said to you, "Do you think 30 years from now we're going to have unmanned aircraft systems?" most people would say yes.

If you say you think we're going to have them in three to five years, there's going to be probably more people that are going to say no because there are so many things that we still have to do, like the regulatory side of the house, like the insurance side of the house; things of this nature -- even the public acceptance side of the house.

As far as the story goes, a couple of things. One is, Jeff [Bezos, of Amazon.com] was articulating literally an autonomous system that would just fly from point A to point B. I believe that, in the beginning, at the early stages as we go forward with this development, there is going to have to be a human in the loop, from a safety standpoint -- just as we have pilots in planes that could fly themselves, but you want to have that assurance from a safety factor.

In this particular case, if it's going to go non-line-of-sight ... this platform is going, he said, in 30 minutes 10 miles, because they're going to have all these distribution centers. If it's going to fly that distance, and it's not going to be line-of-sight, that's one aspect that we still have to deal with.

I believe the early fielding of this capability and technology will be daylight, non-line-of-sight. If you look at all the missions that you could do, just for that, there's a plethora of them -- whether it be precision agriculture, whether it be search-and-rescue, whether it be firefighting, whether it be monitoring of power lines, things of this nature, monitoring wildlife, involved with mother nature's disasters that might happen, whether it be a Katrina or a Fukushima.

There is the opportunity to utilize this technology where you still have that human in the loop, in a very safe manner. I think you're going to see those applications and, as we build up an assurance and a comfort factor that this technology brings tremendous capability, and have minimal, if not the least amount, of potential risk for things not to go as planned.

That's what I think is going to happen, and that will probably happen within the next, obviously, two to five years. A lot of this is also predicated on the FAA allowing it to fly in the national airspace.


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Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On April 08, 2014, at 9:37 AM, HewO wrote:

    From the standpoint of logistics, Amazon Drone is counter economical, and for the low cost retailing business they are in, it will never happen. First, the transportation by air is most expensive means. Physically fuel inefficient. Second, the hub and spoke transportation mode is inefficient. Amazon must have hundreds or even thousands of drones to deliver round trip from the warehouse to customer. Route delivery is much more efficient. Third, most commonly cited criticism is that the privacy of the people in the path. Forth, and if the drones are not completely hands free, you assign operator to a drone, it becomes not only fuel inefficient, but also labor inefficient. It just not is a good delivery method.

  • Report this Comment On April 09, 2014, at 9:16 AM, pondee619 wrote:

    "-- just as we have pilots in planes that could fly themselves, but you want to have that assurance from a safety factor." Which is kinda funny, in a macabre sorta way, when you factor all the aircraft accidents attributable to "pilot error".

    "If you look at all the missions that you could do, just for that, there's a plethora of them --"... whether it be monitoring private persons going about their daily law abiding lives.

    And, as cited by HewO above, the economics of drone delivery is not examined.

  • Report this Comment On April 09, 2014, at 11:20 PM, johnluma wrote:

    I can't imagine how this so-called business delivery system will do anything but lead to mass crime and fear. It could well become an immediate homeland security and police nightmare. Imagine how easy it will be for it to be co-opted by criminals and terrorists who create their own lookalike versions -- for delivery of bombs and IEDs against enemies and wherever crowds gather. One mass slaughter and buzzing skies will become the sound of mass public fear. My bet -- this system will never "lift off." It's too easily corruptible.

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