3 Things That May Keep Amazon Drones from Delivering Your Stuff

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On Sunday, Amazon.com's (AMZN) Jeff Bezos turned heads with visions of unmanned drones delivering packages in about the same amount of time that it takes to watch a sitcom.

Watching the promotional video is impressive. Someone selects the option to have an order delivered within 30 minutes, and it rolls off the line, then is inserted onto the next available drone, which flies off to deliver the package to its destination.

Unfortunately for folks who like their parcels to arrive as quickly as their pizzas, Prime Air is unlikely to be a reality for shoppers anytime soon. Let's go over a few of the reasons why it may take a long, long time before there's an unmanned aircraft vehicle dropping off a new set of earbuds by your door.

1. It's illegal -- for now.

The FAA does not allow the use of unmanned vehicles for commercial purposes. This may seem to be a temporary stumbling block. Bezos is widely viewed as a visionary, and now he has made delivery drones a topic ripe for revised legislation.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) -- who just happens to head the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee -- will explore the matter early next year. If the flying bots can clear safety and privacy concerns, it could pave the way for regulatory clearance. There are already plans to relax these conditions by 2015, but a lot could happen between now and then. For now, it is simply not allowed.

2. It won't come cheap, even though it could.

Amazon's promotional clip is impressive, but how many drones will it need to satisfy the urges of shoppers who want their goods right away? These are automatons that will have to be able to navigate past suburban power lines and avoid slamming into curious kids or pets as they land on a front porch.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Unmanned drones have been tested as an option to provide relief packages to disaster-ravaged areas, and the reported results showed them to be a far cheaper option than conventional deliveries by truck; but from Amazon, it would more likely be offered as a niche high-end service. In the MIT Technology Review, one MIT professor suggests that Amazon could charge as much as $200 for a five-pound Prime Air delivery.

3. Amazon's bestsellers by 2018 may be digital.

The technology itself isn't a stumbling block. It exists now.

The security risks that some have alluded to are also overblown. Kids won't be shooting at flying drones to grab merchandise. They won't even know that a drone is coming until it's too late, and it would be far easier to just follow a UPS truck around on its route and grab unattended packages off of people's porches. In fact, security should be less of a problem because someone wouldn't be paying a premium for immediate delivery if they weren't there to receive the product.

The real danger to this not happening is that it may not be necessary. Bezos feels that Prime Air could roll out in five years, but what will its orders look like then?

There's a natural weight limit on drone deliveries. An Amazon flying drone isn't going to drop off your new flat screen TV or exercise bike. There are plenty of light yet costly tech gadgets that will still logical items, but don't bet on physical media items being its big sellers.

Amazon should be well aware of this: It has led the charge in replacing CDs, DVDs, books, software, and games with digitally delivered media. In theory, there should be fewer deliveries coming out of Amazon if it nails its goal of being the digital ecosystem of the future.

Yes, consumers will still need to buy the hardware and accessories to enjoy digital media. That's not likely to change in a few years. However, a lot of the media that consumers would naturally want right away may not be around in physical form by the time that Amazon's drones become a reality.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.
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