India to be launch pad for Amazon’s plan to deliver packages using drones; deliveries may start by Diwali

India will be the launch pad for Amazon’s idea of delivering packages using unmanned aerial vehicles or drones, according to people aware of the development. The US-based e-commerce company will start its drone delivery service on a trial basis in Bangalore and Mumbai cities to start with where it currently has warehouses, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

In December, Amazon displayed its pilot project Prime Air drone to the world with much fanfare. After that, several questions have been raised about the plausibility of such an idea, but the company appears to be keen on making headway.

“It could be as early as Diwali,” said one of the inside sources. Amazon said in an official statement that it does “not comment on what we may or may not do in the future”. Amazon’s Prime Air is an Octocopers, a drone fitted with eight rotors. Most recently, Amazon had earlier said that they are developing/designing vehicles that would weigh < 25 kg and travel > 80 kmph. The drone can carry a payload of 2.26 kg, which covers nearly 86% of all the products that are sold on Amazon.

Top-selling products like mobiles and books can likely be delivered within 90 Mins or 3 Hrs for select elite customers. “With regard to consumer acceptance, the good news is that people are not very familiar with the concept (of drones) and won’t start with a bias against it,” said Kartik Hosanagar who is an associate professor of Internet commerce at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Seattle-based Amazon which is founded by billionaire entrepreneur Jeff Bezos and is a successful business in USA, is challenging local indian e-commerce firm Flipkart for leadership in India’s growing online retail market, which is estimated by Crisil to be worth nearly Rs 50,000 crores by 2016. If Amazon uses drones to deliver even one package, it will gain huge publicity helping it upstage Flipkart just at the time when sales will spike because of the festival season in India.

India is an attractive test bed for Amazon because India still hasn’t set up the rules that will govern the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  On the other hand in the USA, private companies such as Amazon are not allowed to fly drones outdoors.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has officially said it was not aware of any such plan by Amazon. As on date Drone operators in India said they don’t have to obtain permits from DGCA for purposes such as surveying sites, aerial photography and wild life protection activities.

While the possibility of operating drones in India exists, it is not without several challenges. “Many companies in India have thought about this. But all are worried about the safety aspect,” said Pritam Ashutosh Sahu of Edall Systems which is a bengaluru based company that builds drones and also trains students on the the underlying technology.

Sahu said the drones have to be tested for flying within city conditions, and that losing communication with the drone is a very real possibility. Given that situation “It can crash into a building, or might attract untoward attention,” said the 28-year-old graduate of aeronautical engineering from Anna University.

Hosanagar of Wharton says that due to lack of familiarity with the drone concept may also mean any mishap or an accident, or even the perceived threat of a mishap, has the potential to be totally misunderstood.
“The regulatory reactions to the technology may be fickle and can change with any untoward event.” He added, “All said and done, India would certainly be an interesting choice,” but observed Amazon needs to watch for Govt regulatory compliance. “A better market would be where regulators lead when it comes to technology use and where consumers have been traditional early adopters.”​

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