In The Future, You Could Get Your Amazon Order Delivered By Drone

The online retailer Amazon made a big splash with its announcement of drone-delivered packages, even though the plan isn't fully ready for flight.

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As for what customers are buying today, electronics and clothing lead the way. And how will those products be delivered? One of Cyber Monday's biggest players is Amazon.com. And last night, the company's founder, Jeff Bezos, was on "60 Minutes." He said that in the not-too-distant future customers might have purchases delivered to their driveway by drone.

NPR's Brian Naylor reports his vision may not be all that far-fetched.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: At first glance and perhaps second or third glance, the idea of unmanned drones flitting about delivering packages seems a bit Buck Rogers-ish. As Bezos himself admitted to CBS's Charlie Rose last night, there are some pretty significant logistical hurdles to leap.

JEFF BEZOS: The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, look, this thing can't land on somebody's head while they're walking around in their neighborhood.

CHARLIE ROSE: That's not good.

BEZOS: That's not good.

NAYLOR: There is that, and there's the FAA. The Federal Aviation Administration was ordered by Congress to come up with regulations to govern the use of unmanned civilian drones in the U.S. by 2015. But bureaucracy moves slowly. And even if the FAA can meet that deadline, it may not be ready to immediately sign off on the type of system Bezos has in mind.

Gretchen West, of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, says it's more likely the FAA would approve drone use only if the operator has a line of sight to the aircraft. That's not quite what Bezos has envisioned.

GRETCHEN WEST: The CEO of Amazon basically said that he is looking at finding systems in a 10-mile radius, which would be out of line of sight of the operator. So from that perspective it's still probably several years away beyond the 2015 deadline when we would actually see Amazon being able to do this.

NAYLOR: West says her trade association supports using drones as delivery vehicles. Pepperdine law school Professor Greg McNeal says Bezos's idea is pretty doable, once the regulations get worked out. He sees the possibility of Amazon customers who sign up for a 30-minute drone delivery getting a sort of landing pad that can transmit the GPS coordinates of the customer - not unlike what its Kindle e-reader can do.

GREG MCNEAL: It's possible 15, 20 years from now this is something that our kids will take for granted, that you just go online, order your deodorant and your light bulbs and batteries, and within 30 minutes it gets dropped into our backyard.

NAYLOR: And while Twitter lit up after Bezos's announcement with snarky comments about people shooting down the delivery drones with BB guns and the like, McNeal says that in the not-too-distant future it will be Amazon that has the last laugh.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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