It’s been almost exactly a year since Amazon first announced Prime Air, its efforts to make drones that can deliver packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.
Since then, we haven’t heard much about them from the company.
Jeff Bezos, speaking at Business Insider’s Ignition conference, said that the main hurdle for Prime Air right now is regulatory, not technical, and that he’s saddened to think that America will end up being late to mainstream commercial drone usage because of regulations.
“Technology is not going to be the long pole,” Bezos said. “The long pole is going to be regulatory.”
Sources recently told The Wall Street Journal that the Federal Aviation Administration’s soon-to-be-released proposal for drone rules will specify that commercial drone operators must be certified pilots of manned aircrafts, that drones could only fly during the day, and that they must remain below 400 feet and in view of the operator. Those rules are stricter than expected and would be bad news for Amazon.
Those proposed rules may be unexpected, but they’re not a surprise. Bezos says that Prime Air has the highest ratio of lawyers to engineers of any team at Amazon and admits it’s “hard to predict” when regulators could actually allow something like Prime Air loose. In the meantime, the team is working on getting the tech ready.
“I saw the 10th or 11th generation of the drone, flying around in the cage, and it’s truly remarkable,” Bezos says. “It’s not just the physical airframe, electric motors, and so on — the most interesting part of this is the autopilot, the guidance and control, the machine vision systems that make it all work.”
Earlier this year, German company DHL was authorised to use drones to deliver medicine to an island in the North Sea. Delivery drone startup Matternet has conducted tests in Bhutan and Papua New Guinea. Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget asked Bezos whether he thinks everyone else in the world will start seeing the use of delivery drones before America does.
“I think it is sad but possible that the US could be late,” Bezos said. “Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m being too sceptical. I hope I’m wrong.”
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.