Amazon (AMZN) showed off its drone technology behind Amazon Prime Air to the U.S. public for the first time this week with the help of the FAA. The service is designed to deliver packages weighing up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less by small drones flying at speeds of 50 mph.
The drone was part of the company's first public demonstration of the technology at Amazon's MARS (machine learning, automation, robotics and space exploration) robotics conference in Palm Springs, California on Monday. The drone delivered a box of sunscreen bottles to a target square. After the package was removed from the drone, it flew away.
While Amazon has tested the technology in the U.S. before, it was always on private property. In addition, Amazon released video of the drone doing a test delivery in public last December in the U.K., where it's experiencing less regulatory difficulty.
Amazon Prime Air vice president Gur Kimchi said the delivery brings the company "one step closer to making 30-minute package delivery by drone a reality," according to a statement received by The Verge.
While Amazon has been working on its drone delivery system for some time, it still has a long path ahead of it to get regulatory approval to operate on a large scale for its at least 66 million Prime members. Last year, the FAA released new rules, allowing drone operators to fly small, commercial drones weighing less than 55 pounds during daylight hours, so long as they keep the device within viewing distance of the operator.
On the other hand, the U.K. has been more lax about drones, granting Amazon approval for three new tests to try out, including flying drones out of eyesight in rural and suburban areas, allowing one person to operate more than one automated drone at a time and trying out devices that will allow drones to detect and steer clear of obstacles.
Amazon previously said it would like to start using Amazon Prime Air by the end of 2017. The program currently has development centers in the U.S., the U.K., Austria and Israel, with vehicles being tested in multiple international locations.
Developing its own drone delivery system is in line with Amazon's tendency to build rather than buy new services, Argus Research director of research James Kelleher said. Amazon is also looking into its own truck distribution system as it looks to get away from relying on FedEx (FDX) and UPS (UPS) . In other words, the company goes about its strategy in its own way, not worrying about what Wall Street wants, he explained.
At Recode's third annual Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA dsthis past June, CEO Jeff Bezos made sure to explain that Amazon was not looking to replace FedEx or UPS, but to complement them. "We will take all the capacity that the U.S. Postal Service can give us and that UPS can give us, and we still need to supplement it. So we're not cutting back. We're growing our business with UPS. We're growing our business with the U.S. Postal Service," Bezos said.
Editors' pick: Originally published March 24.
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