Amazon, the king of e-commerce, gets primed for 2016

30 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon Shows Off Prime Air Delivery Drone With Celebrity Guest.

On Sunday, hours before Cyber Monday, Amazon.com Inc. published a video starring TV host Jeremy Clarkson purporting to be from “the not-too-distant future” that showed how its drones could deliver a child’s soccer shoe within 30 minutes. “In time, there will be a whole family of Amazon drones,” Clarkson intoned. When Amazon first made its drone delivery aspirations public, people balked at the idea—much like they did when the company announced the Jetsons-inspired Dash button earlier this year.”It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” Amazon said on its website. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” The drone itself weighs under 55 pounds.

When companies such as Amazon AMZN, -0.79% and Alphabet Inc.’s GOOG, -0.99% GOOGL, -1.30% Google X unit talk about drone delivery as the next iteration of consumer retail technology, the response is sometimes a combination of incredulity and skepticism. Dubbed Amazon Prime Air, the drone delivery program promised to deliver small packages by drone to customers in under 30 minutes, though CEO Jeff Bezos warned that it would take “four or five years” to fine-tune the technology. In the video, the drone takes of vertically, flies to the drop-off spot — in this case, a backyard with an Amazon ‘A’ to mark the landing area — and then touches down vertically to safely deliver the package. Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup Matternet has been running drone deliveries of medical supplies and specimens in countries around the world, including Switzerland, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, since it was founded in 2011. “The technology is here,” said Oliver Evans, Matternet’s head of global business development, who likens skepticism over drone delivery to the quizzical responses to the first motor cars. “It’s much more cost-, energy- and time-efficient to send [a blood sample] via drone, rather than send it in a two-ton car down the highway with a person inside to bring it to a different lab for testing,” said Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet. Here’s a step-by-step look at how Matternet’s drone delivery process works — and how that might translate to the shipping of your own packages in a not-too-distant future.

Amazon, Google, Walmart and other companies are waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to release comprehensive rules and regulations for drone flight. Amazon claims the drone has a range of 15 miles and can fly at more than 55 miles per hour. “This design enables it to fly long distances efficiently and go straight up and down in a safe, agile way. Matternet’s drones can hold up to one kilogram (2.2 pounds) and transport items about 10 miles, traveling up to 40 mph, which is about standard for current drone technology. For companies like Amazon or Google X, that means the delivery starting point, whether a warehouse or store, must be relatively close to delivery locations.

Since Matternet’s drones land for each delivery (unlike drones that drop deliveries), the battery could be replaced after each delivery to increase flight time. There’s a Wal-Mart store located within 5 miles of 70% of the U.S. population, Wal-Mart spokesperson Brian Nick told MarketWatch after the company’s drone announcement in October.

Wal-Mart hasn’t said exactly how it plans to use drones, but an application with regulators mentions delivery from stores to customers’ homes as one possibility. Matternet’s routes generally try to fly in as straight a line as possible, but will take indirect routes to avoid highly populated areas or no-fly zones like airports. The drone automatically stops its propellers so the contents can be retrieved — and the receiver can attach a new package or change the battery so it can fly further.

The FAA now anticipates announcing rules for legal, commercial operation of drones by June 2016, but many companies say the delay is stifling innovation. Matternet is already working with groups like Unicef and Doctors Without Borders, and Raptopoulus says that in countries where there is a pressing need, regulatory hurdles are generally overcome more quickly. “We believe the value of new technology is most valuable where it is clearly needed,” Evans said. “That’s why we wanted to focus on drones delivering medicine and not delivering pizzas.”

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