This weekend, Amazon announced a new delivery method that has many people excited. Called Amazon Prime Air, the service delivers your order in 30 minutes via a "quadcopter."
Take a moment and watch this video that the company uses to show how the service works.
Amazon openly admits that Amazon Prime Air isn't a delivery method that you can use right now. However, the only major hurdle listed on Amazon's website is the fact that the FAA hasn't cleared its quadcopters for flight yet. The company anticipates approval in 2015.
I'd like to start a discussion on the feasibility of this idea. We can all agree that it is theoretically possible, and that it is also not really doable at the moment, but I think it could be fun to delve deeper. Here are a few of my thoughts.
In a 60 Minutes interview that aired Dec. 1, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said he expects a 10-mile range with the drones. This means that this option would only be available in a few selected areas. You then have to hope that those areas happen to have the product you're after in their distribution centers.
2. Drop zones.
In the video, there is a nice patio placed conveniently for the little drone to land and drop off its delivery. However, in the urban areas where this is targeted it won't be so easy. Where do you intend to land such a drone when there's no yard, only a sidewalk and a street? What about apartment buildings? What about when the tenant isn't present?
Drones falling from the sky? Drones landing in a yard with a pet? Drones colliding with obstacles? The mountain of liability insurance and paperwork seems like enough to bury this entire idea all by itself.
The drones just seem like perfect targets for theft. Not only the items they are carrying, but the drones themselves are likely to go missing. Running a system like this would be like dumping masses of drones into the trash every day. Normal package delivery has problems with packages disappearing from doorsteps; consider for a moment if an expensive piece of technology attached to that delivery could be swatted out of the air or snatched on landing. While I'd like to give our fellow human beings the benefit of the doubt, a certain percentage of loss should be expected.
Amazon mentions 30 minutes in the video several times. While that does sound interesting, I have to wonder how it plans on getting anywhere near that kind of timing. The time it takes for your order to simply go through processing and packaging should consume several times that on any normal day. Maybe Amazon is just referring to transit.
I think it is a cute idea. At this point though, it is just like Ford or Volkswagen trotting out an amazing concept car that will never see production. Sure, we'll learn some things from it, and some aspects may surface one day, but I doubt we'll see this car on the road. What do you think?
I saw Bezos talking about this delivery system on 60 Minutes and I immediately thought it was impractical because of theft and weather. I can image people trying to shoot them down even. Do these things fly well in all types of weather? I didn't think about the apartment number problem. Interesting. Maybe there will be Amazon chimneys on roofs of houses where the drone can deliever without even getting near the ground.
But do we really need stuff in a 1/2 hour? If so, it must be life threatening then and you should probably spend the time getting to the hospital.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.