Amazon's drone plans bigger than imagined

Call this a pipe dream all you want, but Amazon is spending research and development dollars on building out these drones, so it's obvious the company is serious about this initiative.

By Staff Apr 11, 2014 11:34AM

Jeff Bezos, chief executive officer of © Patrick Fallon/ZUMA Press/CorbisBy Chris CiacciaTheStreet

In Thursday's letter to shareholdersAmazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos touched on a number of initiatives, but perhaps the biggest is the company's plan for faster delivery. Not only is the Internet retailer really serious about providing a better experience for customers, its drone plans are bigger than anyone imagined.

This particular passage from the letter to shareholders was beyond startling, revealing the ambitious scale of Amazon's plans for drones, which were initially revealed just a few months ago: logo"In partnership with the United States Postal Service, we've begun for the first time to offer Sunday delivery to select cities. Sunday delivery is a win for Amazon customers, and we plan to roll it out to a large portion of the U.S. population throughout 2014. We've created our own fast, last-mile delivery networks in the UK where commercial carriers couldn't support our peak volumes. In India and China, where delivery infrastructure isn't yet mature, you can see Amazon bike couriers delivering packages throughout the major cities. And there is more invention to come. The Prime Air team is already flight testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8."

The fact that Amazon and its Prime Air team are testing 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles (read: drones), and working on gens. 7 and 8, despite the fact they aren't even ready for prime time yet is beyond amazing. We first heard about Amazon's plans for aerial delivery vehicles in December, when Bezos appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes, and showed off the technology to interviewer Charlie Rose. Rose promptly responded with "Oh my God!" when seeing the technology at work.

In December, Amazon said it expects to roll out the service by 2015, and is working with the Federal Aviation Administration to get the drones regulated. "Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations," Amazon said on its Web site. So far, there have been no changes to that plan, and it looks as if Prime Air is still on track for a 2015 roll out, assuming it complies with FAA law.

Prime Air is a clear shot at the business models of UPS (UPS) and FedEx (FDX), as Amazon seeks to take delivery of its packages into its own hands. Amazon does not break out how much in operating expenses it incurs by shipping with UPS and FedEx, but it's clearly a significant portion of expenses. In Amazon's fourth-quarter, it had worldwide shipping costs of $2.344 billion, and $1.21 billion in net shipping costs. Net shipping costs accounted for 4.7 percent of all worldwide sales.

UPS recently announced it was raising 2014 shipping prices by 4.9 percent for "UPS Ground, Air and International, and Air Freight rates within and between the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico," according to a press release. Similarly, FedEx announced in Sept. 2013 that FedEx Express package and freight rates would go up an average of 3.9 percent. To curb those costs in part, Amazon recently announced a deal with the United States Postal Service to deliver packages on Sunday.

During the 60 Minutes interview, Bezos said the drones can carry packages up to 5 pounds for as much as 10 miles, with the drones originating from Amazon's vast fulfillment centers. If Amazon is already working on the seventh and eighth generation versions of these drones, it's not unreasonable to think that, by the time they roll out to the public, they could carry packages larger than 5 pounds, at a distance of longer than 10 miles.

Call this a pipe dream all you want, but Amazon is spending research and development dollars on building out these drones, so it's obvious the company is serious about this initiative. Whether it succeeds or fails, is anyone's guess, but Bezos and team are building upon a moon shoot, much bigger than anyone, including you or I, imagined.

More from TheStreet

Apr 11, 2014 12:27PM

Prime Air will create a great opportunity for someone to invent the Prime Attack drone game. A $500 controller and attack drone to shoot down Prime Air targets.  Great fun for Texans. 

Apr 13, 2014 8:43PM
So how is the item going to be handed off to the receiver.  It's like foot ball when you make the pass there better be a receiver there to make the catch.  In this case you don't want to dropping many of them.
Apr 14, 2014 9:58AM

Why not just sit back and see if this man/company's vision becomes real?

I think they'd make good targets, and provide instant feedback to the creators on what we think about personal airspace and who gets to use it
Apr 14, 2014 9:56AM
"...assuming it complies with FAA law"

haha, no

I can see it now. 


Amazon sends out a letter: 


"Dear Amazon customer, we will be offering 24 hour package delivery starting (when).  In order to suceed we will be setting up a clinic to embed the Head of Household (HoH) with a tracking chip for your convenience in the event you do not carry your phone with you 24/7.   We guarantee your where-a-bouts will never be disclosed to outside entities. (Unless, they have a valid court order or it is deemed necessary by Amazon to divulge this information to further Amazon's goal of total penetration into the lives of our customers.)


Your Head of Household (HoH) can go to the nearest clinic of their town of birth to receive this tracking chip for the small amount of $200.00.  The Federal Gov't will allow this to be paid through the ACA with your 50% coinsurance payment. 

We are excited to offer this service........"


P.S. We will give you free shipping in the amount of one package for each person you sign up for this program.   Get your FREE shipping today.


Apr 11, 2014 9:36PM
Greed greed greed , people are useless , everything should be robots then maybe bozo will be happy
Apr 11, 2014 6:52PM
The USPS mis-deliverd my order, and of course, did not care. Amazon ended up shipping a second unit to cover the error of the USPS. 

Never had this problem with UPS, and who wants to stay home on a Sunday to meet the delivery person?
Apr 11, 2014 2:50PM
There's a lot of road taxes paid by FedEx and UPS to run their trucks on public throughfares. The skies, of course, are also public. The taxes that will have to be paid by Amazon to fly their drones may well make this latest twist on what remains a "mail order" business a revenue benefit to the public.
Apr 11, 2014 4:06PM
 American companies....always working as hard as possible to eliminate American workers! When will we as a people realize this model just isn't working for the American people as a whole at all! Well I correct myself,  its working quite well for that 1% of Americans... very well indeed!
Apr 11, 2014 7:22PM
Wait until the big government progressives start uploading smart phone locations into the NAVs of their own fleet of these things.   Better have the latest copy of the Newspeak dictionary ("climate change", "cultural diversity", "disadvantaged groups", etc.) or that drone payload won't be pleasant.
Apr 11, 2014 5:01PM
Looks like a company with a lot of money to spend on something they are not experts at. Where are the shareholders. Does this company actually make money?
Apr 11, 2014 3:58PM

I can hardly wait for some Amazon drone to hover over my pad and then slowly move to my porch to drop off a package. I don't think Fred Smith, the founder of FedEx, has much to worry about.  

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