Amazon.com sees delivery drones as future

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Need a quick delivery? Jeff Bezos wants to send in the drones.

That's the not-so-distant reality the Amazon.com CEO envisions, a future in which his company transports packages in 30 minutes or less —using self-guided drones.

While many regulatory hurdles stand in the way, it's not hard to imagine how such a service might change our lives. Forget home delivery. With the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project, Amazon can potentially deliver goods to customers who are camped out in the middle of a field. Here are some novel ways consumer might make use of a delivery drone service:

• Sitting at the ballpark and don't want to pay $8.50 for a beer? No worries, as an Amazon Prime customer, the "Amazon Express Chopper" will bring you a cold six-pack of your favorite craft beer for just $7.

• You're out on a romantic picnic with your girlfriend when the silence is broken by a low buzzing. The chopper slowly approaches her with a diamond ring and a note: Will you marry me?

• Out hiking in the woods and hungry? Don't fret. Amazon will bring you a hot pizza with all the toppings. And don't forget that 30-minutes-or-less guarantee.

• Want the latest news? Twitter and iPhones are so 2013. Amazon will bring you a freshly printed copy of the Bezos-owned Washington Post.

• For the right price, maybe the drone will even change your baby's diaper and fly off with the dirty one.

• Forgot your mother's birthday? No you didn't. Amazon will fly flowers to her doorstep with "hand-signed" card —at any hour.

• Improve your social media appearance with a little help from a well-timed Amazon drone dispatched to hover above you with a smartphone awaiting your word. Just gaze skyward and smile. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will never be the same.

• Autograph hounds will relish sending a drone over the seething masses to get the signature of their favorite celebrity or ballplayer. Just make sure the Amazon drone knows how to spell your name.

• Scorching sun and an empty bottle of sunscreen won't ruin a relaxing day at the beach. Just fill out an Amazon order and a new bottle will quickly arrive. Pay a little extra and the drone might just apply sunscreen to that hard-to-reach spot on your back.

• Finally, an unmanned aircraft could be used to deliver your very own drone. Just don't use the new toy to start delivering goods yourself. If you do, Bezos might send his new drone army after you.

NEW YORK — Amazon.com is working on a way to get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less — by drone.

Consider it the modern version of a pizza delivery boy, minus the boy.

Amazon.com said it's working on the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project in its research and development labs. But the company says it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations.

The project was first reported Sunday by CBS' "60 Minutes."

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a primetime interview that while the octocopters look like something out of science fiction, there's no reason they can't be used as delivery vehicles.

Bezos said the drones can carry packages that weigh up to five pounds, which covers about 86 percent of the items Amazon delivers. The current generation of drones the company is testing has a range of about 10 miles, which Bezos noted could cover a significant portion of the population in urban areas.

While it's tough to say exactly how long it could take the project to get off the ground, Bezos told "60 Minutes" that he thinks it could happen in four or five years.

One of the biggest promises for civilian drone use has been in agriculture.

The unmanned aircraft can fly over large fields and search out bugs, rodents and other animals that might harm crops. Then, thanks to GPS, another drone could come back and spread pesticide on that small quadrant of the field.

Agriculture is also seen as the most-promising use because of the industry's largely unpopulated, wide open spaces. Delivering Amazon packages in midtown Manhattan will be much trickier.

Besides regulatory approval, Amazon's biggest challenge will be to develop a collision avoidance system, said Darryl Jenkins, a consultant who has given up on the commercial airline industry and now focuses on drones.

Who is to blame, Jenkins asked, if the drone hits a bird, crashes into a building? Who is going to insure the deliveries?

There are also technical questions. Who will recharge the drone batteries? How many deliveries can the machines make before needing service?

"Jeff Bezos might be the single person in the universe who could make something like this happen," Jenkins said. "For what it worth, this is a guy who's totally changed retailing."

The biggest losers could be package delivery services like the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx and UPS.

FedEx spokesman Jess Bunn said in an email: "While we can't speculate about this particular technology, I can say that making every customer experience outstanding is our priority, and anything we do from a technology standpoint will be with that in mind."

Amazon's stock dipped $1.98, or less than one percent, to $391.64 in Monday morning's trading.