Amazon Prime Air won’t work.
At least, not in the foreseeable future, assuming it ever comes to fruition.
Amazon CEO Jeffrey Bezos wants to cut out the majority of delivery trucks, instead strapping items five pounds and under to the belly of the company’s new drones. Bezos proposes that the electronic couriers could deliver goods to metropolitan customers within a half hour, (where there’d be an Amazon distribution center nearby). The octocopter drones would function within a ten mile radius.
The metal postmen would be able to drop a package on your front lawn a few minutes after you make your morning tea. An interesting proposal, but it faces a myriad of challenges, not least of which is also the most violent - how can Amazon ensure than passersby don’t just steal the dropped packages? Surely the drones can’t wait around for a signature like FedEx and UPS drivers can. Equally doubtful is their ability to fly through inclement weather.
That’s assuming the drones would be allowed to land for deliveries. There’s not much to stop an armed citizen from shooting Amazon’s creations down and taking the loot for their own. Assuming that happens, what would Amazon’s position be? Re-ship, biting into their bottom line? Or ask the customer to pay for another shipping attempt (which would desecrate customer relations)?
I’m sure, with all the positioning systems that Amazon fits to the drones, they’d at least know where their deliveries were disrupted, but what could they really do about it? Local police departments are supposed to do what with GPS coordinates, exactly? Even if the drones are equipped with HD cameras to provide video evidence, that would still only help if the drone wasn’t destroyed by the thief.
Let’s ignore all the brute force and ham-fisted tactics, though. How about remote hacking? Someone will figure out how to get into the drones’ systems and reroute the packages to another location.
Maybe Amazon figures out a way to ensure all of this business will go smoothly, if it’s implemented. So then, how do they pay for all of this? The thought is that, with these drones, the company wouldn’t rely so heavily on UPS anymore to deliver its packages, saving money on fees. That’s nice. But how are they going to offset the cost of the drones to the customers?
An average 3-5 day shipping rate from Amazon is about $5, depending on what you order. Larger items are more expensive, obviously, but the drones wouldn’t be able to ship them. Moot point. But what is the point - how much will shipping normal packages to homes and offices in half an hour going to cost?
To put that into perspective, an average item can set you back about $20 in shipping if you need to today from an Amazon warehouse. Would consumers be willing to pay even half of that to get their parcels in the same time it takes to get a pizza?
And then there’s the big issue - logistics. Sure, the technology behind this idea is really quite clever, but how is a drone supposed to navigate a congested metropolis like New York, especially within Amazon’s constricted time frame? I’d pay to see a drone try to deliver a package to someone on the 20th floor of an office building.
Maybe this is all fantasy anyway - so far, the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t plan to have legislation for the drones to legally operate in civilian airspace until 2015.
It’s an interesting idea, but with the political climate surrounding drones, it’s hard to believe this will happen soon - if at all.
Tech reporter and on-air personality. Ambitious, but not rubbish. CUNY J-School alum and fan of all things that go vroom.