Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson stars as pitchman in a new video promoting Amazon's Prime Air delivery service. What we see in the ad — instant home delivery by way of drone — is seriously impressive, but it leaves out an important detail: Amazon Prime Air is still hypothetical, and for now, its legality is still, well, up in the air.
There's a lot for tech obsessives to root for here: Amazon has already iterated several times on its drone designs, and the latest model, which is shown here actually flying, can take off and land vertically while still flying like an airplane at 55 miles per hour. The commercial is mum on U.S. legal barriers, though, and they are many.
Unmanned commercial drone flights are still uniformly illegal in this country, though human-piloted commercial flights are allowed within severely strict regulations that are preventative to Amazon's operations. While the manufacturer has had official FAA approval since April to conduct drone research, there's still no one who can rightly call himself an Amazon Prime Air customer. Amazon even had to film some of its videos outside of the United States in order to avoid legal repercussions. The present state of our drone laws means we'll not see a real, viable Prime Air in effect for some time. Rather than an attempt to change laws with a viral video, Amazon's video presents itself rather as part of a larger campaign for public attention since late 2013. The FAA is under no particular timeline to approve or deny any laws governing the types of drone flights that Amazon would require to fill its many, many orders.
The bottom line: When you're talking about flying robots that fill your Amazon orders in less than an hour, public opinion is easier to win than a court opinion. Earlier this year, Gur Kimchi, Amazon VP of Prime Air said, "Prime Air is trying to get as close as possible to real teleportation without breaking the laws of physics.” If only the US Postal Service’s goals were so lofty.