Ask the expert: Can Amazon really use UAS to deliver their stuff?

Posted on Dec 3, 2013 | 0 comments

Online retailer Amazon created quite a buzz Monday when it released a video showcasing a future service it calls PrimeAir. Utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles, Amazon says by 2015, it hopes to deliver purchases to customers’ doorsteps within 30 minutes of order.

Tony Sauerbrey, director of NMC’s Unmanned Aerial Systems program, says that timeline is highly optimistic given existing regulatory hurdles. But he believes the video is just what the doctor ordered for his industry, which struggles with the public perception that unmanned vehicles only serve surveillance and military purposes.

“I was happy to see it. There’s a stigma with this technology, that it’s a spy vehicle or something,” Sauerbrey said. “(Amazon) is showing this technology in a different light. For people to see something like this, the lightbulb starts to go a little bit. People can do cool, peaceful things with it.”

Amazon says PrimeAir could be available to customers who live within ten miles of  a company fulfillment center. While technically possible, Sauerbrey said several barriers must be overcome:

  • The FAA currently bans commercial uses of UAVs
  •  In permitted applications the FAA requires UAV operators to maintain “line of sight,” meaning operators must be able to see the vehicle, remain 100 percent in control of  it, and observe a 1:1 operator-vehicle ratio
  •  Refinement of “sense and avoid” technology that would allow a vehicle to safely fly autonomously, beyond the sight and control of an operato

“It’s probably more than even five years out, to be a completely autonomous operation,” as is portrayed in the video, Sauerbrey said.

But it never hurts to dream.

“It’s a neat example of the technology and what is possible in the future,” he said.

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