Skip to main content

Amazon executive: our drones 'will be more like horses than cars'

Amazon executive: our drones 'will be more like horses than cars'

Share this story

Amazon's delivery drones will be "more like horses than cars," according to Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president for global public policy. Misener makes the claim in an interview with Yahoo, but he doesn't mean that his company's aerial vehicles will be covered in fur and burdened with a love for sugar — instead, he likens them to horses because they'll automatically avoid obstacles that could be a danger to them.

"Try riding a horse into a tree."

"If you have a small tree in your front yard," Misener explains, "and you want to bang your car into it for some reason, you can do that. Your spouse might not be happy with you, but you can do it. But try riding a horse into the tree. It won't do it. The horse will see the tree and go around it. Same way our drones will not run into trees, because they will know not to run into it." Misener says Amazon's prototype drones have "sense-and-avoid" technology that aims to keep them out of power lines, trees, and other obstacles that could come between them and your ordered items.

That's prototypes, plural. Amazon is working on several variations of drone at the same time, Misener says, and is likely to use different drones when the time comes to actually roll the service out for customers in different locations. "Our customers in the United States live in hot, dry, dusty areas like Phoenix," he says, "but they also live in hot, wet, rainy environments like Orlando, or up in the Colorado Rockies." Their homes, too, are different. "Some live in rural farmhouses, some live in high-rise city skyscrapers, and then everything in between, in suburban and exurban environments." Those that live in larger homes with yards can expect deliveries dropped off there if they're not home when the drone calls, but Misener says Amazon is still working on how to get you your items if you live in an apartment building.

Amazon isn't worried about people shooting drones to get their items

Some have expressed concern that the sight of a drone carrying an Amazon package would entice people along its flight path to break out a rifle and try to shoot it down, but Misener dismisses the fears. "I suppose they could shoot at trucks, too," he says, glossing over the fact that trucks — unlike drones — have human drivers that might not take kindly to being shot at. But he says that Amazon thinks its Prime Air drones will be "as normal as seeing a delivery truck driving down the street someday," reducing the novelty and stopping would-be shooters from intercepting your orders.

More of an immediate concern is the legislation stopping Amazon's drones from getting off the ground. Amazon has proposed a limit that would keep piloted aircraft above 500 feet, while leaving a window from 200 to 400 feet that would allow its Prime Air drone fleet to operate, but the government body has been dragging its feet so far. "We believe that [the FAA] must begin, in earnest, planning for the rules that are more sophisticated, that go to the kinds of operations that Amazon Prime Air will encompass," Misener says. "Other countries already are doing this," he explains. "There's no reason why the United States must be first. We hope it is."