–Ben Kwan, Attorney

Does anyone else think Amazon’s Jeff Bezos utterly bamboozled Charlie Rose and the good folks over at 60 Minutes last Sunday night?

In his interview with Rose, Bezos unveiled a service he dubs “Amazon Prime Air,” a delivery service that would use autonomous drones to deliver Amazon goods weighing less than five pounds in perhaps as little as 30 minutes after you place your order online.

The Amazon Prime Air delivery drone.
Admittedly, Bezos recognized the many challenges of launching the service. During the 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, he did allude to the dangers of one of these things landing on someone’s head. Look at all those blades! Who is going to patent and market neighborhood landing pads for these things?


Very few mainstream accounts of the Amazon Prime Air drone delivery idea following the big reveal see to cast the incredible notion in any light other than awe and hopeful amazement.

But really?  For a piece of journalism that was otherwise devoted to a cool, adored company’s commitment to innovation, the drone idea was no innovation at all: it was good old fashioned marketing.  And yes, as a few have noted already, it was perfectly placed marketing right on the eve of Cyber Monday.

In the days since, tech writers have lined up to cast doubt on the feasibility of an urban airspace awash in drones ferrying Amazon’s wares.  Many point to the F.A.A.’s Integration of Civil Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in the National Airspace System Roadmap.  The Roadmap describes the guidelines and process for revising F.A.A. rules regarding autonomous flight – rules Bezos alluded to on Sunday.  On page 33, the Roadmap clearly states: “Autonomous operations are not permitted.”

So what’s going on behind the scenes to make this a reality for Amazon?  Is there a team of Amazon lawyers and lobbyists with their sights set on the F.A.A.?  That lab-looking setting in Charlie Rose’s piece – is there a huge team of engineers spending millions to make this a reality in the five-year timeframe Bezos mentioned on Sunday?  What will it take to win this effort?

And that’s just it.  Amazon won when Charlie Rose stepped through that door at Amazon and laid eyes on that drone.  Mr. Rose, a consummate journalist I respect very much, took one look at that thing and did what any of us would have done.  He got some child-like satisfaction over the thought of the thing buzzing above the treetops.  The next morning, just about every local morning news show bantered about it, and the bloggers went bananas.  And Amazon had itself top-of-mind, as we say, when we settled in to our chairs at work on Monday to navigate to wherever it was we go when the boss isn’t looking.