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?
The way to use the drones is to couple them with Google's autonomous vehicles. The self-driving vehicle drives up to your house and a drone delivers the package to your front door. It then calls your phone and tells you the package is there.
I think it's obvious that Bezos is putting UPS and Fedex on notice. Keep your pricing lower than it costs me to build millions of tiny helicopters!! Effective whether or not it actually gets implemented. At the same time he builds so much loyalty with those of us in love with technological advances. Quite brilliant and bold as usual.
Thanks for writing a sensible piece on this idotic idea. If you have ever flown model aircraft or helicopters you will realize this is complete nonsense. Air currents near the ground and buildings are horrendous and include lots of rotors that will just dump the vehicle.
Bezos clearly is no expert on fluid dynamics or vehicle flight.
First, everyone, please: Don't ever assume that privacy will take care of itself. It won't. It is a right that everyone must pay attention to and treat carefully, and it's a big part of what real democracy is all about.
Privacy will also require some innovative thinking as we get more and more connected, since in many cases the real issue is not how much information is available, but who gets access to it. If only a few have access, you and your society are in trouble, since such highly concentrated power will inevitably be subject to human foibles -- and most humans really, really like power.
The James Madison et al concept of balance of power and cross checks very much comes to mind here, but it will likely need to be broadened in new ways. Physicist and science fiction author David Brin advocates a sort of open-source privacy model in which everyone has equal access to public information. It's a pretty unsettling thought, though arguably not that different from what many people are already doing with Facebook. It's also a lot less scarier than the idea of some very small number of people getting exclusive access to everything. Open privacy in contrast lets everyone be part of the free press -- and that in turn makes it a lot harder for some small number of folks to do really stupid or greedy things without getting caught.
With all of that said, blaming drone cameras as somehow magically putting us over some critical horizon of loss of privacy is, to the say the least, a strangely myopic view of the problem. For example, what other IT capabilities should be banned based on worries about what you could do with them?
Well, the entire Internet of course. Cars too, because they can carry cameras, look at Russia! Of course people can carry small cameras too, so I guess you have to ban all small cameras... so no more smart phones, stop that right now! No bank cameras of course, you know how this stuff creeps in starting with what sounds like a reasonable exception... Facebook? Ohmigosh, I guess you would just sort of have to arrest everyone there, at a minimum? And LinkedIn too? And Twitter? And any social medium? I mean, these nefarious folks are seducing the entire population of the world into giving away all their secrets and enjoy doing it! It's almost like one of those, what do they call them, free-market economies where everyone trusts each other enough to advertise who they are and what they can do freely, so that everyone can make new innovative connections and build new forms of trust.
Less cynically: Ludditing does not enhance privacy. Bezos is trying hard to show how drones can do useful things, and I applaud him for it. By doing so, he will eventually help address the very privacy concerns that folks are worried about. Why? Because he's showing how positive, free-market style options for sometimes scary new ideas can benefit everyone in positive, growth-generating ways. That in turn will produce the political will to ban the truly negative uses of the same technologies, something that's hard to do when people can't see the full spectrum of possible uses.
Flight time is about 10 minutes and the radio range on a fully charged battery is about 1/2 mile or so. Now you add some weigh like a small package and flight time is really short. What sized box will it lift? It would take less time and money to just deliver the package the old fashioned way.
I agree. The legal ramifications and theft will be too much to support such an idea. And with a 10 mile radius, why not just jump into your car and drive to the Amazon 'will call' window and simply pick up your purchase.
Only engineers would get into a discussion about the feasibility of this :-) How much free advertising did Amazon just get by being in the news on the busiest days of shopping?
BTW, I heard this on CBC radio this morning, so I'm not taking credit, but given the timing, you have to think this is a very elaborate piece of marketing.
Meanwhile, back to the feasibility discussion!! I think we need to add cloaking http://media.utoronto.ca/media-releases/thin-active-invisibility-cloak-demonstrated-for-first-time/ and you make the package appear when you are ready to pick it up! Sorry, just wanted to push some local technology :-)