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Amazon wants to create a drone superhighway

Get ready for the skies to be filled with drones.

Amazon is proposing airspace be set aside specifically for drones, as part of its plan to someday deliver your packages via these unmanned aerial devices.

The company suggests that commercial drones be allowed to fly at an elevation between 200 and 400 feet, clearing a high-speed transit zone. Below that, space would be set aside for lower-speed hobby drones, while anything above 400 feet would be a no-go zone.

Tim Stevens, editor-at-large at CNET, told CBS News this is all part of Amazon's plan to cut out the delivery middleman. Amazon first revealed its plans for delivery-by-drone on CBS News' "60 Minutes" last December. It hopes the service, called Amazon Prime Air, could be available to customers in four to five years.

"It's interesting. Amazon wants to cut out the delivery companies ... They want to be able to send a package directly to your rooftop using small drones," Stevens said. "They can load a package on a drone. The drone flies off directly to you and you get your package within an hour, maybe in a few minutes."

But Stevens pointed out that the Federal Aviation Administration "is very concerned about these things buzzing around, and I think we should be." The FAA has been developing new regulations aimed at keeping drone usage safe, but rules have not been able to keep up with the spread of the technology.

"Having a couple of drones here and there is not such a big deal. Hundreds of thousands is a bigger deal," he said. "What Amazon is proposing here is to create this kind of window in the sky between 200 and 400 feet in which these drones have to be restricted."

Stevens said companies like Amazon want to develop their delivery system without government interference, over concerns authorities would just slow them down.

But he said some kind of regulations would need to be put in place and technology developed so drones are "able to talk to each other, so they can avoid one another."

"Ultimately, there has to be some kind of standard in place so the one drone can tell the other one, 'Hey, I'm going here please don't crash into me.' Nobody wants that," Stevens said. "If we can make these drones able to dodge each other, at that point, they should be able to take care of themselves."

It's not only about building a better drone. Stevens said an entire ecosystem will probably emerge around drones aimed at ensuring the system works as it's envisioned and can handle such complexities as doormen buildings in New York.

"A big question is where do all these drones go, because not everyone has rooftop access. You certainly can't leave it on the curb outside the building," he said. "It will be question for legislators in New York. If this goes forward, and I think it will, we will probably see buildings advertising drone landing pads and a doorman who goes up there specifically to check on whether a drone has picked up and delivered."

  • Michael Casey

    Michael Casey covers the environment, science and technology for CBSNews.com