Amazon Prime Air: 5 Predictions About the Retailer’s Delivery Drones

Delivery drones are coming, bringing a whole host of challenges with them.

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Amazon founder Jeff Bezos took to 60 Minutes last night to announce that his company is in the early stages of a delivery-by-drone system.

You can read more about the idea here but the short version is that tiny helicopters will deliver five-pound-and-under packages to your door within 30 minutes, as long as you live within 10 miles of an Amazon distribution center. Bezos hopes to get the system up and running within the next five years or so, but admitted to Charlie Rose that he’s an optimist and that a lot of things would need to fall into place before such a system goes live.

Assuming Amazon Prime Air eventually launches, though, here are a handful of predictions about the system itself and delivery-by-drone systems in general.

Amazon won’t be the first to launch a consumer delivery-by-drone program at this scale.

You may recall the Domino’s Pizza “DomiCopter” concept that made the rounds earlier this year. Pizza by drone? Now we’re talking. And apparently China is well ahead of the U.S. in the delivery-by-drone department, with a company called SF Express reportedly testing a system “built for delivering packages to remote areas,” reports Quartz.

Here in the U.S., expect something like this Domino’s experiment to take off (pun intended) first. The stakes are much lower: We’re talking about mediocre pizza that in the event of a drone failure or mis-delivery can be redelivered by an actual driver relatively quickly. Domino’s has enough brick-and-mortar locations to provide a meaningful failsafe, in other words.

What happens if this Amazon drone botches your delivery? Will the company then send out a driver from its distribution center to hand-deliver the stick of deodorant you ordered or will the company simply apologize and ship it out normally?

UPS, FedEx and the USPS will complain about unfair competition.

Well, the USPS will definitely complain. If UPS and FedEx are smart, they’ll just build their own drones for delivering small packages. This type of system could conceivably work well for the USPS, of course, given that your daily mail delivery generally weighs less than five pounds, but I can’t imagine the post office pulling something like this together in a timely fashion. Especially a system that can reliably deliver postal mail to a secure location like a mailbox day after day. As for UPS and FedEx, you have to believe both these companies are either already working on delivery-by-drone systems or they’re seriously researching them.

One bad delivery will make for big headlines and an even bigger PR nightmare.

Mark my words: Amazon will make thousands of drone deliveries without incident, and then one drone will drop a package in a swimming pool or, as Bezos worries, hit someone in the head and it’ll be endless fodder for news outlets (ours included – sorry). Can’t you just see Congress getting involved, too? Summoning Bezos to Washington and eliciting dumbed-down explanations of how the Internet, e-commerce and delivery drones work?

People will get all whipped up about privacy.

Amazon may not have to deal with this too much if the first point I make up above comes true. People may be comfortable with delivery drones by the time Amazon Prime Air launches. But there will undoubtedly be a certain subset of people at some point in time who get bent out of shape about the idea of drones flying around and delivering packages. Though Amazon’s system sounds pretty much automated, it’s not far-fetched to think that some drone delivery systems from other companies might have an actual human on the other end guiding things. And you’d have to believe that Amazon would build in some sort of override function where a human could grab control of drones. The “Who’s spying on me?” question would always loom, no matter how automated a system like this gets.

City deliveries will be tough.

IMAG0001

Doug Aamoth / TIME

For the record, I buy a LOT of stuff from Amazon and I love the idea of this drone delivery system. But I’m trying to figure out how this would work for me. I live in the middle of Boston on a narrow street with a steep incline that’s blanketed overhead by power lines. There’s nowhere except a thin strip of sidewalk for a drone to drop a package in front of my house, yet we have a nice, enclosed breezeway for FedEx, UPS and the mailman to leave packages.

I have a tiny, tiny plot o’ land in the back of my house, but for most of the year, there’s a big patio umbrella covering about 80% of the land-able surface area. Ideally, Amazon’s drone would instead drop packages on this flat rooftop that sits outside my third-floor home office (seen in the above photo), but I wonder if that’d even be possible. The drone would have to be smart enough to understand that the GPS coordinates I give it correspond to a rooftop that’s two stories up off the ground, not the actual ground below it.

All these predictions aside, the big takeaway should be that these delivery-by-drone systems will be commonplace within the next decade. There are more than a few kinks to work out, but rest assured that Amazon won’t be the only company with such a system in place. Like it or not, you’ll be looking out your window and seeing package-toting drones buzzing around your neighborhood like common sparrows before you know it.

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58 comments
RichardPhotomanLycett
RichardPhotomanLycett

Technology will overcome all the obstacles mentioned. The real biggie that will scupper this before it gets off the ground is battery power. I bought myself one of these things to try to expand my photography business. It's great for aerial photography,Stills and Movies, but like I say, the battery is the killer. I'll get about 7-10 minutes flight with no payload (apart from a small go pro camera), and that's only really hovering around. If I'm pushing this to 20-25 mph (generally the max for these devices) then this figure drops a fair bit. Battery technology needs a huge leap forwards. Presumably a hydrogen fuel cell. But this seems to be a generation away.

obbieafri
obbieafri

Hm....I wonder, How about people downing the drones to steal packages and resell them? Did you think of that one? Because there's plenty of people where I'm from that would totally do that. what do you gonna say about that?

Http://droidflow.com

Aksa8
Aksa8

One can so easily think of setting up a drone-borne service for delivering, from a considerable hover height, traffic violation notices fashioned from disused blacksmithy anvils, onto roof-tops of wrongly parked cars in one's neighbourhood.

MileyCyrus
MileyCyrus

"I wonder if that’d even be possible. The drone would have to be smart enough to understand that the GPS coordinates I give it correspond to a rooftop that’s two stories up off the ground, not the actual ground below it."

...GPS provides locations in three dimensions...height is one of those.   geez


oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

Please. We're now supposed to have our knickers delivered by flying lawnmowers? Are you kidding me? Do you realize the chaos these things will create? The potential for damage to property and people? Why don't we just bring back the Hindenburg while we're at it? One child gets killed or injured by one of these bladed machines and Jeff Buzzbomb will be delivering his stuff on a bicycle. As well he should.

doodles
doodles

I also saw this on 60 minutes and so my comment will most likely include info seen there as well. 

Well, what a great world this will be to have a ton of these little drones about everywhere.  We get to look out our windows and hang out in our yards and see birds, bugs and shipping drones (for amazon, and every possible competitor or business that decides to do their own). filling the sky for all the people that need their stuff RIGHT NOW!  I understand that it can cut down on delivery trucks, but Fedex is doing more electric, and at least that's one truck for a a lot of packages, not a gobzillian little drones each carrying one package as described in the 60 minute piece. It wasn't  business to business for a drop off zone for customers to pick up -- it was business to customer directly for a light weight order.   This could be great for emergency use of medical, food, health etc items, that someone may need to live, but just to get your shoes or IPAD within the hour? Doesn't seem worth it for something you can actually wait a few days for.   And not only that, it just perpetuates a NEED of NOW - and that is digressing into an infantile mentality when it's for something that is not really needed RIGHT NOW.   However, I know that "I want it now" mentality will not be going away and so that is a losing battle, but at least hopefully it can be done with a bigger picture in mind (but then again, NOW mentality is all about the now.) 

I mean really, why doesn't Amazon just have little boxes in each "subscribed" home and have tubes attached from their hubs to your Amazon box, and then when you order, you can get INSIDE of your house within a few seconds of ordering?  I am sure there would be complaints that Amazon said it would be there in 10 seconds and it took 15!  Oh the horrors of what the future generation will have to endure. 

Anyway, all sarcasm aside.  Even though Amazon says they care about the customers wants, they are no different than any other advertising campaign.  They are creating the want/need  - That's what advertising does - it creates a need for something you didn't even know you wanted or needed.  And in this case the Need is "Now"   

And because of this little drone reveal, they basically got to create one big advertisement through 60 minutes. Definitely got the buzz going!  And perfect timing too - right at the biggest shopping time of the year.  

And people just lap it right up without a thought..  As long as I can get my stuff right now!

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

Hi, I actually have 4 Multicopters myself, unfortunately, because of my real world involvement with these and my exposure as wiki editor for one of the biggest online sites devoted to them I have to express my considerable pessimism for this whole sort of endeavor.

Certainly there will be very important commercial uses of "drones" UAVs, UASs both Multicopters and Fixed wing in the coming years.

But actual home delivery services are extremely unlikely for a whole lot of reasons except possibly for emergency circumstance.

Right now my nearest Amazon Distribution center is 500 miles from here and with current (existing) battery technology, a multicopter would be hard pressed to deliver a package 5 miles let alone 500.

Contrary to what one of the responders said, in order to deliver a 5 pound package the Multicopter would need to weigh at least 15 or 20 pounds and the motors are very powerful, the propellers are razor edged carbon fiber and they spinning blades are about as friendly as a lawnmower, in fact these are flying lawnmowers without blade protectors.

Currently even the highest grade components available are designed with a less than 80 hour use life (the best motors available need to have their bearings replaced every 40 to 80 hours) and most are much less.

Batteries are limited to a couple hundred charge discharge cycles max and reality is often considerably less.

And then there is the safety issue, even assuming you overcame the pretty much insurmountable technical issues, the likelihood that swarms of unmanned drones are going to be allowed to fly around densely populated populated areas is nil.

They are a safety hazard and as soon as this sort of free form application was introduced, those using them for profit wouyld start to cut corners and disaster would result.

Not to speak of the fact that right now at least a drone accident of any kind has about the same sort of public and political impact as the Hindenburg or Titanic.

There are probably thousands of legitimate and useful applications for these things, Amazon and Pizza delivery are not 2 of them.



KC67
KC67

I can't wait to shoot them out of the sky! Nevermind clay pigeons. Now, we'll have drones to shoot at and take the pizza and/or Amazon merchandise. Sounds great.. keep up the good work.. can't wait!! Drone fodder will be everywhere. Then, someone can invent an app for drone tracking, so we can hunt the drones and destroy them and sell the parts.. finders keepers!  This is the dumbest idea this century. I love it!

TimJohnson
TimJohnson

Whoever partners with Google first will have the serious advantage of Google Maps.  I'd bet they're recieving invitations already.

rob_kr28
rob_kr28

I have to agree with Heizzzenberg, we are so far behind in where we should be in this day and age, and we need to allow a change for the future, otherwise we are just being scared to try to move into the future. We should be at the point where flying cars should be a daily event, we should be flying to work, and not stuck in traffic. These little drones are necessary for a more convenient future. If someone is remotely controlling these little guys, then im pretty sure they will avoid phone poles, and anything else. Im also sure amazon wasnt thinking about flying a drone into an apartment building, but rather have a set drop off location where customers would walk to, to pick up their items. I would have to venture a guess that this new system while in its initial phase would only deliver to homes to test it out, and then Apt's and businesses would be implemented.

MrTibbs
MrTibbs

There are a couple of people knocking down Jeff's ideas, but i l like his idea and hope his r&d team can workout all the kinks. It's new and a refreshing idea to home delivery!!

StarWarsWalker
StarWarsWalker

I noticed there are 8 blades on this copter requiring less power and so less injury if it were to touch something or somebody. Remember it only has to lift 5 pounds or less. Obviously this will not be for everyone. I can touch my blades on my quad copter with out injury.. =)  I noticed that most of the people here have noted the limitations but there will always be someone that can overcome these obstacles and achieve a faster, safe and money saving deliveries.  The FED ex founder received a D for his idea for overnight shipping.  The unit will probably run on gps and have exact areas that have already been proven safe for drop zones.  There are drones with kevlar that have been proven hard to take down with gun shot.   Dogs, weather and battery life should make it all interesting but time will tell!! 


Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

Man some of you people have narrow minds...you need to be spoon fed ideas and solutions. It does not necessarily have to go to your doorstep to be successful or relevant. Imagine drones used on the back-end to deliver larger goods to "distribution or pickup centers." Thus you can order your package and have the option of waiting a few days to get it via truck or literally same-day/overnight pickup at a nearby center. People being as impatient as they are would still take advantage of this as they could pickup the package on their way home from work after ordering it at lunch. 

Drones could enable Amazon to help with their logistics and supply chain on the backed without ever putting customers at risk, much like railroads it would not be too hard to setup drone supply routes off the beaten path which could route directly to "pickup buildings" strategically placed by Amazon or like-minded companies...years later once we worked out the kinks and people got more comfortable with drones, Amazon could theoretically reroute and have them delivered to our door.


Oh my...what did I just do...I actually used my brain and thought constructively instead of ranting about what can't be done. This is why there are sheep (majority of you) and those who make things happen and help the world turn. (the rest of us.)

ReverendKyle78
ReverendKyle78

More like a PR stunt that anything else.  Delivery drones?  I don't think so.  Too many FAA rules about flying in residential neighborhoods.  Too many noise complaints (these things aren't exactly quiet).  Too much liability in the event of a crash.  We're not ready for the future yet.

PhilLaRussa
PhilLaRussa

How about people downing the drones to steal packages and resell them? Did you think of that one? Because there's plenty of people where I'm from that would totally do that.

BoyceLandisJr.
BoyceLandisJr.

Hey Mr Doug Aamoth, 

You got some facts wrong about USPS complaining about this drone system.  First of all, the drone delivery system will run into several serious problems enough to either shut this disappointing drone program down or semi-downgraded it to an customer-optional preference for this kind of delivery.   I am a letter carrier for USPS and have experienced many customers choosing to receiving package notifications to pick up packages at local P.O. offices when they are not present at homes (due to security reason).   Also, millions of customers especially in cities are residing in apartments.  How could drone robots enter apartment lobbies to go directly to specific units?   Safety factor is another reason.  There is bound to see some drones crash into telephone hanging wires or poles or cars, and people (lawyers love injury lawsuits).  These possible problems will cut into Amazon's making-money scheme.  Again, I might be wrong, but right now it is sort of far-fetched SciFi scheme cooked by Mr Bezos.

RayLorenzo
RayLorenzo

Nothing but a clever publicity ploy by Bezos. This will never happen perhaps except for a few well rehearsed instances (to get of course more publicity). Think about it. This is a miserably ridiculous idea. 5 pound bricks flying overhead in crowded streets. I can hear Chicken Little right now...

PatriciaGibson
PatriciaGibson

Also the customer pays for the product, then pays for shipping and then pay for Amazon prime monthly. So glad I live near retail outlets and not in my grandmothers day when mail order was relevant. This is why Sears and JCPenney's are failing. I don't want a catalog book even if it is on-line.

I also don't like that Amazon supports ALEC a group that is writing laws for all o the Red states which are not helping their citizens.

kurtybot
kurtybot

@oldwhiteguy is it more probable that a drone is going to chop off your kids head or that he is going to get run over by the mailman? btw, cars are the leading transportation cause of death in humans. perhaps we should just revert to pony express.

MartinHarvey
MartinHarvey

@oldwhiteguy

"One child gets killed or injured by one..."

Why is it that children are more valuable than teens, adults or the elderly?

"One person gets killed or injured by one..."

There I fixed it for you. You just get to be less sanctimonious.

KS256
KS256

@GaryRMcCray Information regarding delivery weight and radius are already available. Amazon claims their drones can deliver packages up to 5lbs to locations within a 10-mile radius of one of their distrubution centers; they never claimed anything ridiculous like the 500 miles you mention. While this certainly limits their service coverage, it should be noted that Amazon has been building more and more distribution centers near urban areas with many customers.

I assume with whatever premium Amazon charges for this premium service, they can afford all the spare batteries and parts they'll ever need, I don't see that being a problem. Also, the technology is likely to improve as industry demands it. In 5 years, we'll have better batteries, more durable parts, ect.


The biggest problems I see are gonna be the deliveries gone awry. One person gets hit by a drone and it'll be a media disaster.  Also, I'm still not clear on how an autonomous drone will determine where the best place to drop the package will be, or in situations where there are a lot of obstacles, what the best route will be. (In cities this could be a nightmare; alleys, lampposts, power lines, small sidewalk clearance, and just a general lack of places to drop packages.)

EricMantia
EricMantia

@KC67  You know who else just can't WAIT to shoot these things out of the sky, right? THIEVES. Thieves will be all over these deliveries like stink on poop. 

rob_kr28
rob_kr28

@KC67 Yes shoot them out of the sky, and get your ass hauled off to jail for not only destruction of property, but destruction of whatever property it lands on, ie  a car, house, person.  Maybe you should see some examples of the law pertaining discharging a firearm in the city

§ 18.2-56.1. Reckless handling of firearms; reckless handling while hunting.

A. It shall be unlawful for any person to handle recklessly any firearm so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person. Any person violating this section shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor / felony.



dallmary
dallmary

@Heizzzenberg you didn't use your brain.  you are actually the narrowest minded of all the commenters so far.   it is a NON-STARTER to have these things flitting all over the sky, regardless of what the destinations are for the drones.  

C_Ryback
C_Ryback

99.99% STUPID

There are needed public works projects that get stalled for decades due to public complaints.

What OweBama 'magic wand' is Bezos going to wave, to calm his opponents?

Charlie Rose, you have been played for a fool. Congrats.


Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@ReverendKyle78it's amazing you don't run Amazon and make a billion dollars... #facepalm Read and Learn:

Man some of you people have narrow minds...you need to be spoon fed ideas and solutions. It does not necessarily have to go to your doorstep to be successful or relevant. Imagine drones used on the back-end to deliver larger goods to "distribution or pickup centers." Thus you can order your package and have the option of waiting a few days to get it via truck or literally same-day/overnight pickup at a nearby center. People being as impatient as they are would still take advantage of this as they could pickup the package on their way home from work after ordering it at lunch. 

 Drones could enable Amazon to help with their logistics and supply chain on the backed without ever putting customers at risk, much like railroads it would not be too hard to setup drone supply routes off the beaten path which could route directly to "pickup buildings" strategically placed by Amazon or like-minded companies...years later once we worked out the kinks and people got more comfortable with drones, Amazon could theoretically reroute and have them delivered to our door. 

Oh my...what did I just do...I actually used my brain and thought constructively instead of ranting about what can't be done. This is why there are sheep (majority of you) and those who make things happen and help the world turn. (the rest of us.)



FalconSteve
FalconSteve

@BoyceLandisJr.

balcony

delivery for apartments

Nanat9887
Nanat9887

@BoyceLandisJr. 

I agree with you. I used to be a letter carrier in Brooklyn, definitely would not, could not work with apartment buildings. I am guessing that it will come to nothing because there are too many risk factors. And those of you that say, "we are not ready for the future", we have already come thus far and there has been a little too much tech that runs our lives already. Worrying about a flying drone is not something that I need  to think about on my way to work or picking up my kid from school. " Watch out son, for flying drones delivering packages". Keep the Post Office alive please!!

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@RayLorenzo

Man some of you people have narrow minds...you need to be spoon fed ideas and solutions. It does not necessarily have to go to your doorstep to be successful or relevant. Imagine drones used on the back-end to deliver larger goods to "distribution or pickup centers." Thus you can order your package and have the option of waiting a few days to get it via truck or literally same-day/overnight pickup at a nearby center. People being as impatient as they are would still take advantage of this as they could pickup the package on their way home from work after ordering it at lunch. 

 Drones could enable Amazon to help with their logistics and supply chain on the backed without ever putting customers at risk, much like railroads it would not be too hard to setup drone supply routes off the beaten path which could route directly to "pickup buildings" strategically placed by Amazon or like-minded companies...years later once we worked out the kinks and people got more comfortable with drones, Amazon could theoretically reroute and have them delivered to our door. 

Oh my...what did I just do...I actually used my brain and thought constructively instead of ranting about what can't be done.


GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

@KS256 @GaryRMcCray 

Maybe Amazon can afford all the spares they will need, but on a simple cost per delivery, the cost of operation would easily exceed the cost of most merchandise delivered unless they are going into the diamond delivery service.

The cost of operation would be staggering.

And I guess with 14 current delivery centers if they multiply that by a thousand or so they could cover a substantial portion of the population except of course for the incredible safety and regulatory obstacles.

This is a publicity stunt which has captured mass media attention, it is NOT a practical proposition by any stretch of the imagination.

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@dallmary @Heizzzenberg ??? a non starter? according to who? you? Calling me narrow-minded and then adding nothing to the conversation really adds to your opinion. We have planes flying in the sky everyday...even tiny ones that crash into buildings on occasion.... big heavy trucks that run over little children once in awhile...does that stop us? No exactly. Let the gorwnups handle this one sport.

ReverendKyle78
ReverendKyle78

@Heizzzenberg @ReverendKyle78I'm not saying that it can't be done.  I'm saying that it won't be done.  Your immature little rant does nothing to change the facts of lawsuit liabilities and FAA regulations that stand in the way ideas like drone delivery.  Do you even know the minimum altitude of aircraft in a residential area?  Didn't think so.  I don't need to be spoon fed ideas.  I just choose to sprinkle my ideas with a little bit of reality, something that you obviously lack.  Notice that I don't rule out the possibility of drone delivery.  I simply say that we're not there yet.  And Amazon, regardless of how big they are, are bound by rules.

"Imagine drones used on the back-end to deliver larger goods..."  You obviously didn't read the article, or you missed the part about drones used to deliver small goods weighing less than 5 pounds.  Try again.


But maybe I'm wrong and in five years we'll see drones flying around the sky delivering all kinds of goods.  Still doesn't explain why you're so butt hurt about it.


garoud
garoud

@Heizzzenberg @ReverendKyle78 your ability to produce a thought does not equals to the quality of the thought itself, nor to the proper respect in presenting such thought. 

ReverendKyle78
ReverendKyle78

@Heizzzenberg @ReverendKyle78 I agree that backend logistics can and will be done.  But that's not what Amazon's idea is.  They are specifically talking about delivery to your door if you live within 10 miles of a distribution center.  And, as a sci-fi junkie, I love the idea of some sort of flying robot delivering packages to my door.  But they're dreaming if they think that this is going to happen in the next five years. 

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@dallmary @Heizzzenberg @ReverendKyle78 

again I agree with your concern, but same goes for drones... they can create paths, lanes routes much like railroads and streets that go directly to certain buildings or areas for pickup, they don't have to go to your house or fly around the street. Think roads basically but for drones.

dallmary
dallmary

@Heizzzenberg @ReverendKyle78 u won't get hit by a truck if you stay out of the street.   u wouldn't be able to dodge drones that easily once you expose yourself by going OUTSIDE.

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@ReverendKyle78 @Heizzzenberg they are floating this idea much like most companies do...aim high at first. Backend logistics can and will be done. As I mentioned, it does not need to go to your house or put you at risk to be successful. Besides in 30 years I'd rather be hit by a drone then a UPS truck.

garoud
garoud

@Heizzzenberg @garoud @ReverendKyle78 I never said I disagree with your post. Nor with your thought. It just lacks quality and respect. I could explain to you why it can be done, I've never said its crazy, and why it cannot be done as a "to your door" delivery, but if you need a costs explanation, a logistics explanation and a safety explanation, then by all means purchase one, I don't do it for free.  And people who makes the world better are nowhere around a comment board, no matter what. I don't make the world better, but you certainly make it worst by lacking proper respect and being aggressive over a discussion. 

And the word is "than", not "then".

Heizzzenberg
Heizzzenberg

@garoud @Heizzzenberg @ReverendKyle78 My thought has a hell of a lot more quality to it then your comment. Wait sorry let me change it... Ipads!? Cars!? Airplanes flying overhead!? that's crazy and can't be done! Think of the children getting hit by trucks or a 747 er um I mean drones... sorry I forgot the majority have nothing to add to make the world better, you sit there on your butts and wait for us to do it for you.