Amazon is "piloting" a new delivery service for customers — literally.
On Dec. 1, Jeff Bezos, the online retail giant’s CEO, announced that his company was testing drones called “octocopters” that would deliver packages to buyers. The Amazon Prime Air service will have staff giving the GPS-enabled units coordinates, and then the vehicles will fly shoebox-sized plastic bins containing items to customer addresses. Bezos told 60 Minutes that the drones will only handle objects up to five pounds, and that the service wouldn’t be ready until at least after 2015.
Amazon is working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to meet compliance, but it’s certainly not a pioneer in the mysterious skies of commercial airspace.
Here are three other groups that have already tried flying similar skies.
1. Domino’s Pizza tested the DomiCopter earlier this year, a drone built to deliver pizzas in the United Kingdom, but people shouldn’t expect this service to hit stateside anytime soon. A company spokesperson claimed that the service was only intended for the UK and CNN claimed that British authorities were unlikely to give it the green light.
2. Taco Bell made headlines in 2012 for its demo of the TacoCopter machine that would perform airborne taco deliveries. Early reports deemed it a hoax and a crafty publicity stunt, and those claims persist to this day.
3. Seattle’s mayor, Mike McGinn, scrapped the city police department’s experimental drone program earlier this year because of outcry from Seattle residents with privacy concerns. The city hadn’t even started using the drones, but citizen fears over the possibility of spying reached a fever pitch, prompting McGinn to pull the plug.
It remains to be seen if Amazon’s drone aspirations will prove anymore successful — or legitimate — than the ones mentioned above.
Some outlets, including CNET, are also questioning whether Amazon Prime Air is a publicity stunt as well. The Huffington Post found the announcement’s timing, on the eve of Dec. 2, Cyber Monday, as a way for Amazon to put its company in the public eye on one of the biggest shopping days of the year.
And for its part, the government is keeping a close eye on the company’s developments to ensure that privacy and safety concerns are addressed. The U.S. Senate will examine their usage for commercial activity, and drone tests will be performed at six state-run testing sites that the FAA will select this year.
Beyond this, the United States has seemed to express support for drone operation in American airspace in the past for various applications, not just commercial use. President Obama signed legislation in 2012 authorizing drone deployment, and the FAA will start issuing permits for remote-controlled drones in 2015.
But it’s still too soon to expect a country where drone deployment is commonplace. Sen. Ted Poe, R-Texas, has introduced a drone privacy bill warning that “companies could use drones for information gathering whether that is taking a photograph of your patio furniture or recording the make and model of your car.”