Amazon Prime Air has been in the news recently, on the heels of many other news stories about drones. Amazon touts that the system will be able to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less and that the system will become as normal as mail trucks on the road. Are these realistic claims, or is this just a publicity stunt?

While you may think Amazon’s system will be the first of its kind, the autonomous delivery of goods by drones has been underway since 2011 by the US Navy with its Cargo Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). Although the payload these two systems carry is vastly different (thousands of pounds vs. five pounds), examining the Navy’s solution helps answer questions posed about Amazon’s proposed solution. While we wait to see if Amazon Prime Air will one day fly, let’s analyze how Amazon might approach the significant operational challenges they face in coordinated path planning, package delivery, and safety.