I, Drone

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The Amazon Future

Let’s ignore, for a moment, all of the obvious problems with a drone-based Amazon Prime delivery system. Let’s ignore the fact that you can get free stuff if you’re a good shot with a rifle. And let’s ignore the fact that a 10-mile range isn’t much when it comes to underserved rural areas and is a jungle of potential snags and snares in urban, populated areas. Let’s ignore the fact that, unless you’re having Amazon deliver something to your secluded place on Martha’s Vineyard, having a robot drop paperback books on your house sounds like a mess.

Let’s ignore the possibility that a drone falls on a person and gives him or her an Amazon Prime haircut. Or worse, let’s assume for a moment that the FAA allows Bezos to pull this off. Let’s figure out how and where Amazon can pull this off.

First, we know that Amazon has the manpower. They have a team of customer service experts on call 24/7 waiting for you to click the Mayday button on your Kindle Fire HDX. Bezos told me himself that they ramped up this massive operation in a few weeks and the customer service reps didn’t even know what they were preparing for until launch. Amazon can throw people a problem in a second.

Next we have companies like Airware that are building smart systems for unmanned drones. Presumably every Prime drone has to be completely manned and include some sort of emergency return system, but a human brain supplemented with a robot brain means a far smoother ride. Add in a simple robotic eye like Centeye and you’re basically as accurate as a Predator drone, albeit one loaded with copies of Diary Of A Wimpy Kid and not Hellfire missiles.

Finally, we know that Amazon has plenty of last-mile problems and wants to expand. This is the ultimate solution for those. This addresses the “where” of the question. Clearly Amazon isn’t going to fly these things in Manhattan. Instead, they will open brand-new markets for the retail giant.

A truck can pull into a rural hamlet and send out five or six drones in a few hours. They can spread out, like so many reverse honey bees, depositing their payloads and returning to the nest. It saves Amazon millions on shipping, it opens up new markets, and it improves their perception in the areas where delivery saturation is low. I can get Amazon stuff delivered overnight in Brooklyn but in some cases that’s far harder than Amazon would like. These drones are the ultimate in cost savings.

We’ve got to hand it to Bezos. This isn’t anything new – remember the Tacocopter? – but that Bezos is behind it catapults it well into the realm of possibility. Drones, as a tool, are very powerful and very smart. Amazon, as a company, is even more powerful and even smarter. It’s a match made in (dare I say it?) lower altitudes.