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Amazon's Drone Delivery Plan Has Ups and Downs

By Betty Wang, JD | Last updated on

Online retail giant is working on an exciting new (and incredibly futuristic sounding) delivery plan. Drone delivery, according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, may soon be an option for some consumers, CBS News reports.

Well, not too soon, but this new delivery-by-drone system called Amazon "Prime Air" could be available in as soon as four to five years. The project has been in the works for months, and was revealed on Sunday's "60 Minutes."

While there are some upsides to Amazon's drone delivery plan, it also raises a few down-to-earth legal issues.

Doorstep Delivery by Drones?

First off, what kind of drones are being considered? Amazon's drones are basically flying miniature helicopters (not at all like the armed military drones being used overseas).

The Amazon drone shipping plan, called Prime Air, will essentially guarantee same day delivery by drone aircraft, also known as "octocopters." You can see how it works in this video clip by Amazon:

In a Prime Air demo video that Bezos played for the "60 Minutes" team, octocopter drones will supposedly be able to pick up packages (up to 5 pounds) in small yellow buckets from Amazon's warehouse and supply centers. These items will then be delivered to customers' doorsteps -- only 30 minutes after they click the "purchase" button from Amazon.

Too Good to Be True?

Is there a catch to this too-good-to-be-true plan? We can think of a few legal risks arising from Amazon's drone delivery idea, such as:

  • Run-ins with FAA regulations. In order for Prime Air to properly take off, the drones must ensure that they adhere to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations for air traffic control and safety issues. However, the FAA's drone rules are not in place yet, and they've already missed a 2012 regulatory deadline to issue commercial drone regulations, Forbes reports.
  • Possible injuries. Even if Prime Air meets all FAA regulations, there's the issue of public safety. Who's to say that these drones won't cause injuries? Like all other mechanical devices, drones can malfunction and then even crash, possibly hurting others.
  • Drone-damaged goods. Just like with standard delivery trucks, Amazon runs the risk of possibly dealing with more damaged goods once these drones are in place. What will their return policy for damaged-by-drone goods look like? Will "delivery by aviation" prompt a new set of rules?

As promising as Prime Air sounds, there are still many legal roadblocks to be sorted out first. At this point, only time will tell.

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