Amazon has revealed that it is testing the delivery of parcels to customers using unmanned aerial vehicles.
The goal of the new delivery system, known as Prime Air, is to get packages of up to 2.3kg to customers in 30 minutes or less of ordering online, using Octocopter drones.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is yet to approve the use of unmanned drones for civilian purposes, but the firm said they hoped the rules will be in place as early as sometime in 2015 and that they would be ready by then.
Amazon said: "From a technology point of view, we'll be ready to enter commercial operations as soon as the necessary regulations are in place. The Federal Aviation Administration is actively working on rules for unmanned aerial vehicles.”
The FAA has already approved the use of drones for police and government agencies, issuing about 1,400 permits over the past several years, and civilian air space is expected to be opened up to all kinds of drones in the US by 2015 and in Europe by 2016.
Lambert Dopping-Hepenstal from the Institution of Engineering and Technology said: “We are very likely to see a lot of progress in this area over the next decade. However, there are many challenges to overcome. Top of the list is the need to mature the technologies and demonstrate to the regulators that unmanned aircraft can operate safely in our airspace.
"The ASTRAEA programme in the UK is addressing this. Initially we would anticipate that high value packages, such as transplant organs, be candidates for such a service. The most important criteria for their introduction is that they must be at least as safe as the equivalent manned aircraft.”
The expansion of drones for commercial and government use has alarmed some, prompting one Colorado town to consider paying bounties to anyone who shoots down a UAV.
But Amazon was keen to assure people they would pose no threat to public safety.
“Safety will be our top priority, and our vehicles will be built with multiple redundancies and designed to commercial aviation standards,” it said in a website post discussing the technology. “One day, Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road today.”
For a video of a Prime Air drone picking up a package from one of its warehouses and delivering it to the doorstep of a customer's house, visit the E&T Magazine Facebook page.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.