Amazon drones are on the way – five vital questions from privacy to landing

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If a drone falls in a forest, will Amazon give you a refund? The online retailer which sells just about everything has let fly with a plan to deliver packages within 30 minutes of ordering, by drone aircraft.

How do drones actually work?

Amazon floated the idea on the US version of the 60 Minutes current affairs program on Sunday, and showed a video of an eight-rotor ‘octocopter’ robot automatically picking up an orange tub and taking it to a house, where it is dropped off and the octocopter flies away.

The plan would give Amazon the ability to deliver items weighing up to five pounds or 2.3kg, which fit in the not-very-big-but-big-enough orange tub, delivering books to locations within 16 kilometres of an Amazon warehouse, within 30 minutes.

Who is up against Amazon?

The idea is similar to a proposal publicised earlier this year by Zookal, which in mid-October showed off its textbook-delivery drones on Sydney Harbour, with a view to start operating next year. However, they have not made a formal proposal to regulators the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said spokesman Peter Gibson.

How did an Australian start-up beat the world’s biggest innovator in retail to a revolutionary idea? The answer could be found in CASA’s boast that it had legislation for unmanned aerial vehicles in place first, in 2002. US regulation has yet to catch up, meaning Amazon’s proposal comes with a four to five year horizon.

Do drones invade privacy?

At launch, Zookal put to rest privacy fears, which shadowed the Amazon announcement too.

Zookal said their drones would not be built with a camera. The threat to privacy comes when imaginative peeping toms build another drone to look like a Zookal or Amazon drone, which its operators could use to gain access to a property.

Such a device would be a boon for paparazzi or other dark forces, like a new way for Kevin Rudd to take a selfie. CASA’s stance on privacy is that operators must work within federal, state and local laws.

How do they land?

The method of a drone coming in to land is also a live question. Does a flying box with eight spinning blades offer pause for concern that death-from-above is no longer a US-military export, but a local threat?

And is it up to operators to show CASA that their robot will land safely and not shred property, pets or body parts in the process?

CASA is planning to update UAV rules as the 2002 document was based on existing model aircraft regulations. CASA said in a newsletter in October that “the rules were made in 2002 and they no longer adequately reflect developments in technology and the use of remotely piloted aircraft”.

Will drones bring me a sandwich?

Amazon plans to start with books, so it’s logical other goods could get delivered by drones. So will they deliver the humble sandwich?

The idea of delivering sandwiches from the air isn’t actually ridiculous, with Melbourne business Jafflechutes playing with the idea recently.

The company did an experiment where they attached mini-parachutes to hot jaffle sandwiches and set them afloat from a balcony in Melbourne’s Flinders Lane.

Just over 60 jaffles were delivered, and co-founders Adam Grant and David McDonald are still deciding if they want to continue to explore the idea, they told StartupSmart.

Time will tell if drones are flying into offices with lunch for workers at 1pm.

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