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Why You Won't Likely See Amazon Drones In The D.C. Area Any Time Soon

Are you within 10 miles of a fulfillment center?

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos generated a lot of buzz on CBS' 60 Minutes Sunday night when he unveiled Amazon Prime Air — a new service currently in development that would use semi-autonomous drones to deliver packages to customers' doorsteps in 30 minutes or less.

But can it work in the D.C. area?

The plan, according to Bezos, is to guide a fleet of "octocopters" from Amazon fulfillment centers to customers' GPS coordinates.

These generations of vehicles, it could be a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center. So, in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population. And so, it won’t work for everything; you know, we’re not gonna deliver kayaks or table saws this way. These are electric motors, so this is all electric; it’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around.

While the idea sounds revolutionary, the hitch for those in the D.C. area is that Amazon doesn't have any fulfillment centers within 10 miles.

In October, the retailer announced plans to build a 1 million square foot fulfillment center in Baltimore in 2014. That will join the two fulfillment centers in Virginia, in both Chesterfield and Dinwiddie Counties.

When you draw circles with a radius of 10 miles from those fulfillment centers, it covers most of Baltimore up through the Towson area, as well as much of the southern half of Richmond. Most of the D.C. Metro area is well outside those boundaries.

Perhaps that is just as well, because drones currently occupy a murky legal territory, but that may change. The FAA is slated to issue new rules governing unmanned aerial systems in 2015. Regardless, that may not matter. The use of drones, even those flown by hobbyists, are banned in D.C.'s restricted airspace.

So at least for the time being, residents of the District will have to settle for delivery the old-fashioned way.


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