4 reasons why Amazon won’t be shipping by drones anytime soon

Amazon drone

This weekend Amazon Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said he wants small unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — to speed packages to online shoppers as early as 2017, cutting delivery times to as quick as 30 minutes.

It's a bold, imaginative plan - one that could propel a host of technological and legal advancements. It's also really, really difficult to pull off. What follows are just four of the reasons Bezos' Amazon delivery-drones might not get off the ground.

1) Drone delivery flights are illegal, at present: Among other prohibitions, the Federal Aviation Administration bans drone flights over 400 feet altitude and near airports and populated areas. Bezos' plan is for the robots to take off from fulfillment centers near big cities. They might be able to stay below 400 feet and avoid airports. But exactly how can a drone deliver a package to a populated area without flying over a populated area?

Also, the FAA currently bans all commercial uses of drones. Simply stated, you're not allowed to make money off them — which is exactly what Bezos aims to do.

2) Drones are expensive: The drones Bezos showed are "octocopters," and they're not cheap. A high-performance drone — one capable of long-range flight at high speed while also carrying several pounds worth of packages — can set you back $50,000. Middling models are around $3,000. Budget drones such as the $300 AR Parrot are notoriously flimsy and unreliable.

Based on rough calculations, a driver and his truck cost $40,000 a year to acquire and operate. A typical driver can deliver 75 packages a day. It would take at least six drones costing $300,000 to do the same amount of work. The drones would have to fly 12 hour-long, round-trip deliveries five days a week for eight years in order to be even a dollar cheaper than a human driver. The bottom line is that people are probably cheaper.

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