When Amazon announced last week that it would start delivering products by small drones within 30 minutes of you purchasing them and this would be happening in the next few years, voices around the web reacted quickly. It seemed like half the reactions were jokes, as well as serious comments, relating to privacy, safety and other issues that will ultimately be real concerns that Amazon will have to address, while the other half just couldn't stop talking about shooting them down. And then there was this gem:
I missed an Amazon drone delivery. pic.twitter.com/neJxYANj6p— B to A to the R R Y (@QuantumPirate) December 2, 2013
It seems like most people want to know: Is this really feasible within just a few years time? And do we want this type of delivery service? It's safe to say that there will be bumps in the road when Amazon does roll this out, and it may not be exactly when they say, but it also has some potential upsides if they can make it work. Let's check out a few of the pros and cons.
Let's look at the positives. First off, the basic technology is there and it does seem like there are plenty of people ready to use it. There is a company in Australia all set to start drone delivery of textbooks next year, with plans to expand to the US by 2015. If the start-up stays on track, it will be the first drone parcel delivery service in the world. Of course, delivering one type of product to college campuses is not as huge of an undertaking as Amazon delivering its wide variety of goods to cities around the world, but it's important to note that many other companies are looking to drones as delivery vehicles, so this is something we'll be seeing more of.
If Amazon's plan is successful, drone delivery could be better for the environment. A single, battery-powered drone traveling to bring your order versus a large emissions-spewing delivery truck is a vast improvement when it comes to emissions and energy efficiency. The drone also wins out when comparing it to you driving your car to the store for the same items. And if many people are taking advantage of drone delivery, the delivery trucks on the road will be traveling fewer miles with less weight.
If you're thinking this program will just make over-consumption more convenient, a recent article by Time points out that studies show that people actually consume less and make fewer impulse purchases when shopping online than when in a store. Not being face to face with extra items you don't need to buy seems to keep us in check.
What are the downsides and roadblocks? A lot of people have raised concerns over privacy and safety and those are completely legitimate. The drone will use GPS to find your house and will almost definitely have a camera in order to safely land and navigate its surroundings, so while it's very unlikely that Amazon will use that information to collect data on you for the government, or whatever the worry may be, the company will have to have to some privacy protections in place.
The biggest hurdle for Amazon may be the logistics of using the drones to deliver to so many different types of addresses including homes, apartment buildings and commercial properties that each have their own problems to solve for a successful delivery, all while using a fairly vulnerable technology. While there has been lots of annoying chatter about shooting them down, I don't think that will be the biggest issue, but without a human presence, theft and other property damage could be problem. And this logistics nightmare is probably the thing that will be the downfall of the program if there is one. Amazon may have some sophisticated system it's working on to overcome those hurdles, but it will be extremely challenging.
One downside that may interest TreeHuggers is that predatory birds seem to like attacking these small types of drones. As the Atlantic reports, to us, it looks like a delivery drone, but to raptors, it looks like some other large bird moving into their airspace. It might play out a little like this:
Of course, birds already collide with aircraft causing billions in dollars of damage every year, which brings us to the next roadblock.
The FAA won't have new rules in place concerning small drones until 2015, meaning right now it's illegal for Amazon or any other business to use them commercially (hobbyists are excluded from this). Amazon says it will be ready once the new rules are, but we'll see about that. Let's just hope there is some extra consideration for the birds.
If you haven't seen Amazon's demo video of the PrimeAir drone, you can check it out below.