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Amazon customers are still waiting for drones

Amazon customers are still waiting for drones

December 4th, 2018 by The Associated Press in Business

FILE- This Dec. 7, 2016, file photo provided by Amazon shows an Amazon Prime Air drone in Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos might have underestimated regulatory obstacles and privacy concerns when he told CBS’ “60 Minutes” in December 2013 that his company would be making drone-borne deliveries within five years. (Amazon via AP, File)

Jeff Bezos boldly predicted five years ago that drones would be carrying Amazon packages to people's doorsteps by now.

Amazon customers are still waiting. And it's unclear when, if ever, this particular order by the company's founder and CEO will arrive.

Bezos made billions of dollars by transforming the retail sector. However, overcoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones appears to be a challenge even for the world's wealthiest man. The result is a blown deadline on his claim to CBS' "60 Minutes" in December 2013 that drones would be making deliveries within five years.

The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like just that — hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too.

Drone usage has grown rapidly in some industries, but mostly outside the retail sector and direct interaction with consumers.

The government estimates that about 110,000 commercial drones are operating in U.S. airspace, and the number is expected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022. They are being used in rural areas for mining and agriculture, for inspecting power lines and pipelines, and for surveying.

Amazon said it is still pushing ahead with plans to use drones for quick deliveries, though the company is staying away from fixed timelines.

"We are committed to making our goal of delivering packages by drones in 30 minutes or less a reality," Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish said. The Seattle-based online retail giant says it has drone development centers in the United States, Austria, France, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Delivery companies have been testing the use of drones to deliver emergency supplies and to cover ground quickly in less populated areas. By contrast, package deliveries would be concentrated in office parks and neighborhoods where there are bigger issues around safety and privacy.

In May, the Trump administration approved a three-year program for private companies and local government agencies to test drones for deliveries, inspections and other tasks.

However, pilot programs by major delivery companies suggest few Americans will be greeted by package-bearing drones any time soon. United Parcel Service tested launching a drone from a delivery truck that was covering a rural route in Florida. DHL Express, the German delivery company, tested the use of drones to deliver medicine from Tanzania to an island in Lake Victoria.