Jeff Bezos Is Smiling: Regulators Approve "Limited Drone Deliveries"

Amazon couldn't be happier.

Roughly four years ago, CEO Jeff Bezos surprised investors during a December, 2013 appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes" when he revealed that Amazon was testing delivery via "octocopter" drones, but that the program wouldn't be ready for another "four or five years."

Unfortunately, US regulators had other ideas: Initially, the Federal Aviation Administration stubbornly blocked Amazon from testing its drone technology in the US - forcing it to shift its research to the UK, where it quickly developed. Bezos responded by threatening to move even more of Amazon's research to the United Kingdom.

Back in December 2016, the company revealed that it had successfully completed its first commercial drone delivery (in England, of course). During the intervening years, incremental updates about the program's progress were released in drips and drabs.

Now, after a nearly half-decade wait, the FAA is reportedly preparing to approve "limited package deliveries" using drones during the coming months, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ten pilot programs have reportedly been given permission to begin commercial package deliveries, WSJ said. Furthermore, Amazon is pushing the agency to allow detailed designs on a drone (presumably to paint them with the Amazon logo) and other operating rules.


While the 10 participants weren't named, some "proponents of drone delivery" told WSJ they expect to be ready to operate by the summer, according to FAA official Jay Merkle. And the Amazon executive in charge of the company's "Amazon Air" program told WSJ that the company could be ready to begin drone deliveries in certain test markets early next year.

Amazon officials declined to provide details. But Gur Kimchi, vice president of the company’s package-delivery organization called Prime Air, was hopeful that necessary approvals would be secured by 2019. Responding to questions on the sidelines of the conference about probable locations and timelines to initiate delivery flights, he repeatedly said "ask me next year."

Earl Lawrence, who runs the FAA’s drone-integration office, had a similar upbeat message. Airborne deliveries may be “a lot closer than many of the skeptics think,” he told last week’s gathering. Some experimental efforts already are under way and “they’re getting ready for full-blown operations,” he said in an interview. “We’re processing their applications,” and “I would like to move as quickly as I can.”

Today's report provides some important context for an exclusive published by WSJ over the weekend saying a consortium involving Amazon, GE, Boeing and Alphabet's Google wanted to create a privately funded and operated air-traffic control network that would be separate from  federal controls. 

WSJ said the testing was being supervised by NASA, which, at the behest of the Trump administration - which, despite Silicon Valley's aggressively public resistance to his administration's agenda, is pushing for drone delivery to become a reality, a marked departure from Obama's extremely cautious (some might say stifling) approach.

In conjunction with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, validation tests are slated over the next three months at a handful of sites. The intent is to develop a “totally different, new way of doing things,” Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s senior air-transport technologist who first suggested the idea of an industry-devised solution, told approximately 1,000 attendees at the conference.

The coming flights are intended to explore, among other factors, how such a network would interact, when required, with the Federal Aviation Administration’s existing ground-based radars and human controllers. Another major goal is to ensure swift and easy access to data for law-enforcement agencies looking to identify errant, suspicious or hostile drones.

When it comes to embracing drone technology, the US has lagged Australia, Singapore and the UK. Despite years of studies and advisory panels saying drone deliveries could be accomplished safely, relatively little movement has happened on the government side.

But it appears the Trump administration has made drone deliveries a priority, forcing the FAA to act.

In recent months, however, there has been a marked shift in tone from Washington. Lawmakers increasingly are prodding the FAA and urging swift action. Senior officials at the Transportation Department, which is the FAA’s parent agency, “get calls from the White House fairly regularly” demanding faster decisions, according to Derek Kan, DOT’s undersecretary for policy.

During last week’s conference, FAA officials urged startups and established industry players alike to submit a variety of proposals, repeatedly using the catchphrase “the FAA is open for business.” As long as essential safety standards are met, Mr. Lawrence and his colleagues promised to tailor exemptions and waivers to modify basic rules written decades ago when drones weren’t in the picture.

The FAA’s Mr. Merkle, who has helped implement automated traffic management changes around airports for less-ambitious drone uses, was even more blunt about the agency’s stance. In general, applicants “need to understand what you need (and) when you need it” from the FAA, he said during a conference panel. Encouraging companies to move quickly to try various operational concepts, he said “we’ll help you get there.”

Amazon has said its long-term goal is to pick up packages weighing a maximum of 5 pounds from distribution centers and deliver them to customers within a 20-mile radius. Drones would need to navigate safely over populated areas and landing in pinpoint locations - two of the most biggest impediments to widespread adoption.

But while the cooperation of the FAA is an important and crucial step in the transition to a future where fleets of drones occasionally blot out the sun, local governments are still a major impediment, as local officials worry about angering residents with the noise, privacy and security issues.

In some cases, those principles mean neighborhood controls could pre-empt federal approvals. In announcing the disagreement among participants, Brendan Schulman, co-chair of the task force and a top policy and legal official for drone maker DJI, at the time said participants were “very much looking forward to new direction from the FAA.”

Still, as WSJ explains, the US is moving inexorably toward drone delivery. And with Amazon already working to expand its grocery delivery program, as well as developing a service to compete with FedEx and UPS, Bezos is poised to become king of the sky, as well as the land.

The question for investors, or rather the Fed, is how might this impact the economy (and stocks) as drone deliveries will surely put further thousands of delivery workers out of work, pressuring wages lower, and further pushing back on the Fed's mythical goal of reaching 2% inflation.


HenryKissinger… Took Red Pill Mon, 03/12/2018 - 08:51 Permalink

1) throw a net on the drone

2) zip it into a faraday cage (just in case it is bugged)

3) take it to your basement

4) ... (do what thou wilt)...

5) in short time there will be DIY guides in the internet on how to override one with a raspy and a 4$ antena. (all tiddy within a 3d printed controller)

6) videos in skynetube/instacream/twatter/etc of kids overriding and making drones do "fun" stuff will be blocked in 1 hour and re uploaded in 3 minutes... over and over again, ad infinitum

In reply to by Took Red Pill

TwiceBitten HenryKissinger… Mon, 03/12/2018 - 10:10 Permalink

Could make for some interesting POV "air battle" vidz:

In the red corner....introducing Johnny Skullz with his $500, 120 MPH garage engineered dogfight drone. And fighting out of the blue corner we  have the yellow Bezos bomber - an AMZ quad copter toting a package of new batteries and tickle lube for Suzy Rottencrotch's Chinese made joy toy.

If Johnny can round up 3 of his buddies with their Go Pro equipped fly toys it could make for some near hollywood quality, multi-camera action on You Tube!

The 1st rule of drone club don't talk about drone club ;-)

In reply to by HenryKissinger…

Overfed XBroker1 Mon, 03/12/2018 - 13:05 Permalink

I'm kinda torn on this drone delivery thing. Here's why.

There is this delivery outfit operating in our area called OnTrac. They only hire black kids as delivery drivers. Slovenly black kids who look like they either came just off the ball court, or just rolled out of bed. They don't wear uniforms ala UPS/FeEx, and drive dirty, beat up vans.

They have a tendency to leave packages wherever the pull of gravity is strong enough to wrest them from their grasp.

I guess I'm a racist, 'cause when one of them pulls up, I'm not sure if they are there to deliver a package, or clean me out.

At least the drone is too small to carry off anything of real value.

In reply to by XBroker1

RabbitOne TheSilentMajority Mon, 03/12/2018 - 08:24 Permalink

In my 70 years I have seen the reported demise of plenty of machines and methods. What I learned is people hang on to what works, is easy to maintain and is cheap. And even as it becomes more expense they refuse to give it up because they hate change. A simple test is the next time you are around seniors look at their timepieces. Many still use watch’s over 10 years old...

In reply to by TheSilentMajority

wally_12 RabbitOne Mon, 03/12/2018 - 08:45 Permalink

If true, why are our freeways clogged with semi's shipping goods? We often see more semi's than passenger vehicles on our way to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 60 or 70 years ago, trains efficiently transported goods between major cities. The tracks have been removed and now roads are clogged with trucks. Moving goods by train is much more efficient than 200 trucks at one time.

In reply to by RabbitOne

ebworthen Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:35 Permalink

Can't wait to throw a net over one of these.

Propellers trying to spin to return to the lair of Bezos:  "Vuuuht! Vuuuht!"

Kids stomping on the invader, dogs barking, chewing gum on the camera lens.

Dsyno kralizec Mon, 03/12/2018 - 09:45 Permalink

"Can't wait to throw a net over one of these."

Have you stolen your local UPS truck? Have you stolen a package off your neighbor's porch?

I don't think you'll be stealing a drone, Keyboard Warrior.

But if your juvenile does, they'll have it on camera, along with GPS coordinates, and all the other wonderful sensors/evidence/tracking as you carry it around.

In reply to by kralizec

detached.amusement PrivetHedge Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:46 Permalink

There's only so many of these that are going to get shot down before they give up on it.  People are going to pick those things out of they sky like crazy.  I hope there's an option for "I want a normal regular delivery, even if it takes longer" (because then I can have a reasonable assurance it'll arrive)


and then of course the requisite idiot that shoots down their own delivery and reports it stolen, lmao

In reply to by PrivetHedge

RabbiWood Robert Trip Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:56 Permalink

It's more than that, let's say some HAM radio operator fires up at 250 watts on digital mode.  The interference will be intense.  The drone will have no GPS, no communication back to the warehouse.  The only thing it will have left is acc sensors and vision.  Oh wait, it snowed, it can't see a damn thing.  And that's just by accident.

Even if it does deliver the package, the noise and attention of delivery will cause the Dindus to steal it before you get it; after all, they don't work, but you do.

In reply to by Robert Trip

gatorengineer Mon, 03/12/2018 - 07:55 Permalink

Glad Trumpy and Bezos made piece, I was worried for a while that Amazon might actually have to pay the USPS what it costs to deliver their crap.  I am much happier with taxpayer subsidies for scamazon......