Caleb, respectfully, I couldn't disagree with you more.
It's interesting that as humans we have an inherent optimism bias toward ourselves and an inherent pessimism regarding the outside world (some survivalist goodness there, of course).
This is an amazing story and an even more amazing reaction to me: This technology exists today and the ONLY thing preventing its implementation is regulatory and safety concerns. That's amazing to me. I'm not minimizing them, but we've turned a historical corner when magic is commonplace and human embrace lags. We used to wish for magic; now that we have it, we don't know how to deal with it.
As innovators and engineers, let's celebrate the achievement and convince the world that this stuff will work, will work profitably and safely. Bring on the octocopters. Bring on the autonomous vehicles. Bring on the goodness of IoT.
The harshest criticisms take the form, "If this system won't work everywhere and always then it can't be used anywhere ever." Quite absurd logically. Even conventional airplanes are restricted where and when they fly. Obviously only some customers could benefit from this idea, but why not let then do so?
Some of the objections can be overcome. For example when requesting drone delivery, the customer would have to verify that there is a landing spot and that someone will be standing by to collect the package when delivered.
Interference with manned aircraft need not be a problem, either. Even light planes are not permitted to fly below a certain altitude. If the quadricopter had to stay below that height there should be no collisions.
Weather can be an obstacle, but with modern forecasting the vendor could revert to comventional methods when the weather is unsuitale. The customer simply understands that drone delivery is contingent on conditions.
As for the drone snooping, the nosy operator would do much better with a dedicated vehicle for that purpose. It would carry a much better camera and be able to linger at the target.
Most of the newa about drones these days is their military application for spying and killing. This, however, is far from the complete picture. Drones are already helping conservation efforts, locating missing people, assisting fire and rescue operations, and conducting agricultural surveys. A couple of comments have suggested that these little quadricopters could deliver emergency medical supplies. Thus. even if Amazon's package delivery doesn't work out, the experiment would certainly advance the art for these other useful and even vital functions.
I remain a little skeptical, but I say give it a try.
My initial observation is that this would be exceedingly useful for medical supplies in accidents. Once medical personel get to the accident scene, they often don't have supplies that could be used on the victums, and in major traffic, it takes a long time to get victums to hospital. With ER doctors able to access the patient vitals remotely, this gives a mechanism to quickly deliver drugs before the patient reaches the ER.
Think of trauma victums which could benefit from life saving medicines as soon as possible, or even during large events where there are medical personell, but no fast mechanism to get the patient to an ER - large stadium. Those initial minutes can be crucial for heart attacks/strokes/...
Recall that wireless transmission was ridiculed until it was used by the Titanic to radio for help. Who would have thought everyone would need to talk on the phone in their cars while driving! And electronic tablets to read books and access information - why would anyone need that when we have paper books and libraries?
When I read through some of the comments by my Engineer colleagues, I'm truly surprised at how stupid they assume the Engineers at Amazon actually are when they performed the feasibility studies: Do you think they lack the common sense one would expect from a well-trained Engineer?
Here is my Facebook post to a general audience on the subject of the drone delivery:
Of course, there are catches: • In the version demonstrated, it can only carry up to 5 lbs (~2.3kg), which according to Bezos is 83% of their shipments;
• It has a range of only 10 miles radius from the distribution center. At present, Amazon has 92 of these worldwide, so they would need to add more, smaller ones in urban areas (but see below);
• Wind: As anyone who has flown model aircraft will tell you, these small vehicles are sensitive to winds, both gusts and steady breezes. It's one thing to compensate the flight path for wind, but it drains power, shortening range. In addition, urban areas have tall buildings, which creates all sorts of weird air currents;
• Temperature: To be "environmentally friendly" these drones run on Li-ion batteries, which like to be warm to extract the most energy. Although a propeller becomes slightly more efficient in cold weather, the loss in battery energy more than offsets this. [There's a reason why we'll be depending on petroleum as a transportation fuel, especially for aircraft, into the foreseeable future: It holds much more energy per pound than can be stored in batteries.]
As I somewhat alluded to above, this would need much more R&D to work in an urban area, for things like delivery points, additional wind currents, lack of urban warehouse locations, and so forth. If you bothered to watch the entire 60 Minutes segment on Amazon, you would have noticed that the warehouse they showcased was 1.2 million ft² -- That's about 30 acres under one roof; and about double that in land area when you factor in loading docks, truck staging, etc... -- You're not going to see this in downtown NYC or Chicago any time soon.
On The Other Hand, suburban small parcel delivery is much more feasible, at least in the beginning, as it solves the issues of single family dwelling delivery in low crime areas, and of industrial park siting of the distribution warehouses, which incidentally would be somewhat smaller as they would be limited to items weighing under 5 lbs.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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