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Bryan Preston

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December 2, 2013 - 4:05 pm

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60 Minutes previewed the future last night. Amazon is planning to use drone aircraft to enable 30-minute delivery of many products that we order online.

Charlie Rose: This is?

Jeff Bezos:…is…these are octocopters.

Charlie Rose: Yeah?

Jeff Bezos: These are effectively drones but there’s no reason that they can’t be used as delivery vehicles. Take a look up here so I can show you how it works.

Charlie Rose: All right. We’re talking about delivery here?

Jeff Bezos: We’re talking about delivery. There’s an item going into the vehicle. I know this looks like science fiction. It’s not.

Charlie Rose: Wow!

Jeff Bezos: This is early. This is still…years away. It drops the package.

Charlie Rose: And there’s the package.

Jeff Bezos: You come and get your package. And we can do half hour delivery.

Charlie Rose: Half hour delivery?

Jeff Bezos: Half hour delivery/and we can carry objects, we think, up to five pounds, which covers 86 percent of the items that we deliver.

Charlie Rose: And what is the range between the fulfillment center and where you can do this within…

Jeff Bezos: These…this…this…these gener…

Charlie Rose: 30 minutes?

Jeff Bezos: These generations of vehicles, it could be a 10-mile radius from a fulfillment center. So, in urban areas, you could actually cover very significant portions of the population. And so, it won’t work for everything; you know, we’re not gonna deliver kayaks or table saws this way. These are electric motors, so this is all electric; it’s very green, it’s better than driving trucks around. This is…this is all an R&D project.

Charlie Rose: With drones, there’s somebody sitting somewhere in front of a screen.

Jeff Bezos: Not these; these are autonomous. So you give ‘em instructions of which GPS coordinates to go to, and they take off and they fly to those GPS coordinates.

Charlie Rose: What’s the hardest challenge in making this happen?

Jeff Bezos: The hard part here is putting in all the redundancy, all the reliability, all the systems you need to say, ‘Look, this thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighborhood’…

Charlie Rose doesn’t know what a drone is? Sheesh.

This idea seems cool until you think it through for a bit. Amazon’s drones will be eyesores in the air and electromagnets for lawyers when one of them goes haywire and crashes in someone’s yard or in the middle of a street or, heaven forbid, kills a guy. Human nature can be a nasty thing. Lawfare is strangling innovation in America. Watch octocopter-chasing lawyers have a heyday over Amazon’s drones and its fat wallet. Watch the newspaper Amazon owns defend whatever the company does. And watch environmentalists slow this whole thing down in court.

The hardest part technologically probably isn’t building in redundancy. The hardest part is making sure these things don’t become magnets for thieves (other than the aforementioned lawyers). Where you have valuable product moving, you have the potential for heists. These drones could and probably will become targets, especially if they’re in operation at night. So game that out, and Amazon will end up working with the FAA to either create sky lanes through which its drones will have special permission to travel, which would be protected either from the air or the ground against theft, or they’ll have to arm the drones with countermeasures.

When Amazon merges with Google to perfect the drones’ accuracy, it’s all heading toward SkyNet.
****

Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

Bryan Preston has been a leading conservative blogger and opinionator since founding his first blog in 2001. Bryan is a military veteran, worked for NASA, was a founding blogger and producer at Hot Air, was producer of the Laura Ingraham Show and, most recently before joining PJM, was Communications Director of the Republican Party of Texas.

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All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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Think about an Amazon drone smacking into a vehicle on a high-speed road, or into power lines, or into another aircraft. Field day for the lawyers!
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Can I order a 5 lb. sack of manure from Amazon and have a drone deliver it to another address?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, maybe you can if these guys sign on with them:

http://www.poopegifts.com/
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree. Won't happen for lots of reasons. Wait till these things get blown by a high wind and clunk somebody on the head with a 5-pound payload.

But it also brings up something else interesting. How likely is it that we will ever see mechanical transformational innovations in the United States again. Even if the innovation is wildly beneficial, aren't we already at the point where getting through the regulatory roadblocks is nearly impossible. Could Henry Ford have developed his assembly lines today? Not likely. Those things can be dangerous! and noisy!! and smelly!!! and they discriminate against some class, somewhere. Ditto for the automobile itself, electrical generating plants, airplanes, and on and on.

Recent major innovation has been in electronics and software. Can there ever again be a large-sized mechanical innovation in this country?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I might predict that there's going to be a second element; an Amazon Homing Beacon keyed to your Amazon Prime account. When you order something for instant delivery, you'll unplug your beacon from your PC's USB port (the Amazon server would have uploaded it with a security code when you clicked the "Buy Now With Instant Delivery!" button) and you'll place the beacon on the ground in a clear area of your (back?) yard.

The drone can navigate using GPS to the approximate location, then home in on your personalized beacon and place the package on or next to the beacon, which will send you a "Package Delivered!" notification to your PC/Phone/Tablet.

If the drone doesn't find your beacon, or if the programmed security code doesn't match, it'll return to base and drop off your package for ordinary next-day delivery.

The "lawfare" argument is entirely valid; the proliferation of lawyers in society have been the biggest deadening hand on technological innovation for the last 30 years. But the technical hurdles could probably be overcome; program the drones to fly at 300 feet AGI over the roadways until the beacon signal is detected. The drones will avoid collisions with some low-power equivalent of TCAS; they're small, not particularly fast, and VERY maneuverable. It should be doable.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
The beacon is an excellent idea, but I don't think it needs to be taken outside. It can stay right where it is, and the copter will find the right house, using optical recognition to verify the address.

They could even offer the option to upload your photograph, and the copter would use face recognition to verify delivery.


Of course, none of this technology will ever be abused by a totalitarian government. No, that could never happen.


19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ludite. I for one welcome our new cybernetic masters.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
self driving cars
drone parcel service
roombas

isnt this how "the terminator" started?
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hence the reference to "SkyNet" in Preston's last sentence. That was the master self-aware system that started the takeover by the machines in the Terminator films.
19 weeks ago
19 weeks ago Link To Comment
When Domino's Pizza made this announcement nearly a year ago everybody laughed because we all knew it was a marketing stunt.

Now Amazon pulls the same shtick and suddenly its taken seriously.

Geeze, the rubes never learn.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
All well and good until one runs out of fuel and drops out of the sky onto someone.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
UPS is ordering trucks with ack-ack guns.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
Awwww, come on now, wasn't there some pizza place in NYC that was experimenting with it? Tell me you don't want to have emergency supplies of pizza and beer delivered to your superbowl party by drone?

Anyway, Bezos has it backwards. If you want your stuff in 30 minutes, you should buy your own drone and have it go to the Amazon terminal to pick stuff up. Much easier that way, YOU not Amazon are responsible for any accidental mayhem and the variety of delivery issues, Amazon just has to have a traffic control and scheduling system. And of course Amazon will sell you the drone!

Double-anyway, who needs drones? In ten years I'll send my self-driving car to the depot to pick stuff up for me, if I'm in that big a freakin' hurry.

20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think you're right. Security will be a big issue, unless you use your personal drone to send it to Amazon or wherever.

There may be a way, ultimately, but it might require new infrastructure. The easiest deliveries will be suburbs, where you can create delivery pads or deliver onto decks. Deliveries in urban areas will be more difficult, unless building owners start to use their roofs for something.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
In ten years, I'll 3-D print my self-driving car and stuff.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
In ten years, I'll 3-D print my own Sexbot who will drive my 3-D printed car to do my shopping for me.
20 weeks ago
20 weeks ago Link To Comment
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